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Princess Cruises: Star Princess

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Jul 23, 2016

Terrible experience, first and last Princess cruise for us

My family and I just returned from a 7 day Alaskan cruise on the Star Princess with several other families. I will preface this review with the fact that our older daughter has life threatening food allergies will include useful information for anyone traveling with kids who have food allergies or who themselves have food allergies/sensitivities. Although we were assured they would be able to offer her foods they were unprepared for passengers with

food allergies and had next to nothing available. The typical food was bland, foods were pre-mixed, and they clearly reused earlier food at later meals. The ship was old, not kept clean, and I watched trash and empty glasses sit in public spaces for hours. The gym was outdated, small, and incomplete. Staff was unfriendly and customer service before and during the cruise was below par. The only highlight of the cruise was the destination (Alaska). This was our first and will be our last cruise with Princess.

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By NS_CR

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Jul 21, 2016

Alaska

This will be a lengthy, transparent, and fair review but anyone considering to go on a Princess cruise should read this to help make their decision. My family and I just returned from a 7 day Alaskan cruise on the Star Princess with several other families. I will preface this review with the fact that our older daughter has life threatening food allergies will include useful information for anyone traveling with kids who have food allergies or who

themselves have food allergies/sensitivities. This was our 6th cruise overall, 2nd Alaskan cruise, and the first time on Princess. We have previously cruised on NCL, Disney, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean. We had varying degrees of experiences on these cruise lines but all were positive. By far this experience with Princess ranked at the very bottom and was a very negative experience. Let me start with the pre-cruise issues. Due to my daughter's food allergies, we began to communicate with Princess via phone and email as they requested to make sure we knew how to manage her food situation during our vacation. When we had previously cruised we would normally provide a list of her food allergies and the cruise line would work with us to either ensure their normal stock of allergy friendly food items would work for us or, as was the case with NCL, would purchase the food and have it there for us during our trip. In this case, after providing the list, we were simply told to work with the head maitre d on board. I went back and forth with customer service and in an attempt to find what they stocked and to what degree they would be able to prepare dry packaged foods that we brought in case they did not carry the brands suitable for her. To my surprise neither I nor the customer service representatives could speak directly to the food department. After numerous attempts to obtain more information Princess stopped responding and I was forced to give up. At this point Princess was unwilling to give me any details to help us prepare and had took an odd stance telling me that my daughter's allergies are my responsibility and that I am traveling at my own risk. It was an absurd statement - it's my daughter of course I'm responsible - and was a sign of what was yet to come. Thinking ahead, we packed an entire suitcase of dry food to last the week because we had no idea what to expect. Based on our previous experiences cruising we thought it would be a lot easier once we got on the ship and that they would be adequately prepared. In fact, we thought we were probably unnecessarily worrying. After all, cruise ships have endless food and large staff to ensure guests thoroughly enjoy their vacation. Once on board the ship my wife and I were told to meet with the head waiter in the main dining room. This individual was completely useless. He told us the ship could not prepare any special items for her but that the menu would offer foods she could eat. So, we looked at the menu and for every single item he said would work, we would point to an ingredient which was not allergy friendly. It was at this point I realized this cruise line was completely unprepared for passengers with food allergies. The head waiter then had us meet with another head waiter. This person gave us the same story as the other person and then went on to say that they have a very minimal stock of allergy friendly foods. He brought out 5 items which supposedly were allergy friendly. For non-dairy milk he brought Lactaid. I had to inform his that Lactaid was milk and is suitable for a lactose intolerance but not for a dairy allergy. He also brought cheese, a dairy based cheese. The items which were truly allergy friendly was a corn based pasta, a gluten free pancake mix, and tofu (soy is not an allergy for our daughter). We asked if they could use the ingredients used for other foods and prepare meals which she could eat using the allowed ingredients. I was told that the food was made in bulk and many dishes were pre-mixed or prepared. While understandable for the general population on the ship eating at the buffet, this did not address our situation or for that matter anyone who had food limitations based on health factors or any other reason. It was at this point I broke it down for him and explained that they were totally unprepared for this. For the rest of the trip my daughter ate steamed rice, steamed vegetables, pasta (which we brought), and tofu. We had also brought vegan cheese and gluten free bread so cold cheese sandwiches were a typical lunch. I was grateful she at least had food but this was far beneath the experiences on our other cruises. This head waiter tried to accommodate us but even his hands were tied because of the lack of allergy friendly foods and the pre-mixing of nearly all meals. What was also odd was that we were not allowed to communicate with the head chef. In every other cruising instance we would always speak to the head chef to help plan the meals daily. Rather than being understanding or helpful some of the people, like the first head waiter, acted annoyed. Upon returning to my room after the first night I found a postcard in the onboarding package stating that the corporate offices had "received my pre-boarding food requests" and that they went through "extra care" to ensure there would be product available for her. I certainly don't want to accuse anyone of being dishonest but how on earth do these experiences equate to corporate going through "extra care"?! I even took a picture of the postcard in the case someone from Princess contacts me so I can ask exactly what extra care and efforts were done on our behalves. Let me give some highlights of the ship itself. The gym equipment was outdated and in need of an update, and there wasn't enough equipment for a complete workout. I'm a workout enthusiast and working out on vacations is important. The gym on this ship was very small and the equipment was from the 1990's. You'll be able to get on a treadmill and if you're lucky get in a small amount of dumbbell exercises. Personally, I did enough just to get in some form of exercise but this gym pales in comparison to other cruise lines. Also, it opened late at 7am and everyone I spoke to complained about that. 5am or 6am is typical if not 24 hours. If you want to work out before going on an excursion you probably won't have enough time. The laundry centers were in terrible shape. 1 of the 3 washers on our floor was broken as were 2 of the 3 dryers. The families we were traveling with were on different floors and those also had broken washers and dryers. The quality of the entertainment was just average and the timing of the shows were such that you would either be late for dinner or have to rush in order to not miss the beginning. The ship itself was not dirty but it was a little unkempt. For example, I would see glasses on top of trash cans for hours and in some cases overnight. My experiences with other cruise ships was that any trash would be picked up in a matter of a couple hours or less and the crew would be constantly (literally) wiping down rails, elevators, and doorknobs, etc to avoid spreading of any germs or bacteria. On this cruise I would see staff cleaning the ship in the mornings only. Staterooms were cleaned twice daily, which is normal. The ship also needed maintenance. There were condensation leaks in the hallways that left the carpet wet in a couple of spots, great for growing mold. Our interactions with the staff were inconsistent. In most cases the staff at the buffet were rude and unfriendly. In one instance a waiter brought hot tea and dripped some on the lap of one of the kids traveling with us while pouring into the cup. The waiter's response was "sorry" and he hurried away rather than checking if the child OK. Luckily he had thick pants on otherwise he might have been burnt. On the other hand, our dinner staff were very friendly and served us with a smile every night. These little things, and everything else above, are signs of bad management and a lack of training. It seemed like there are substantial cost-cutting measures in place at the expense of customer satisfaction. Before going on the trip our group discussed how we would communicate with one another. We were excited to hear that Princess had an IOS and Android app with a built in messaging feature. In fact, their website has links to the app. Unfortunately, those links are broken because the app doesn't exist. We did find out that all we had to do was connect with the onboard wifi and that the website internal to the ship had the messenger app. Unfortunately we couldn't have all our party in a single group message because of the 120 character limit on the names. Although the website was very limited in messaging features and was non-intuitive, it was better than nothing. However, the wifi dropped literally every 5-10 minutes. It was completely unstable and required us to refresh our wifi connections continuously all week. On top of that, since they were not using an app there was no vibration notification when a new message came in. I would have rather had clunky walkie-talkie then dealt with this. In this day and age I can't imagine why they would not have a messaging app with online maps as opposed to a website-based messaging system with limited features and giving us paper maps which we have to carry around. After coming back to land I wonder what we paid for. This was not a relaxing vacation for us and we were constantly on edge about out daughter's food situation. Princess was completely unprepared for my daughter and we used our own food daily. The ship was old, small, and the food was both limited and unappetizing. I don't know if the experience was limited to just this ship and/or crew but I will never be vacationing with Princess again nor will I be recommending them to anyone. My advice to anyone would be to avoid them at all costs and go with another cruise line. It was heartbreaking to see what my daughter had to eat for an entire week, 3 times a day. We ate at the buffet and at our assigned dining location (for dinner). They were all consistently bad. The selections were extremely limited. For example, breakfasts lacked dairy alternatives found on every other cruise line which we have traveled such as individual cartons of almond and soy milk. Lunches lacked typical things such as a create your own pasta station as well as a create your own sandwich station. Additionally the food was bland and in many cases the recipes were odd. The staple salmon dish was a fillet covered in a maple syrup and honey concoction; who does that? I was expecting to get some amazing seafood on an Alaskan cruise but that wasn't the case here. If you are vegetarian or vegan, there won't be a single thing for you on the menu and you'll be limited to fruits for dessert (if they don't cover it in rice pudding, which is what Princess typically did). Many things are pre-mixed so there is very little room to adjust any of the dishes. The salad bar at the buffet was worse than what you'd find at typical grocery stores. The specialty coffees (latte's, cappuccino's, etc.) were good but the normal (free) coffee was very watered down and barely drinkable. As all cruise ships do, this one had a pizza bar. The only toppings they offered were pepperoni and onions and it closed at 10:30 pm. We would go to the salad bar to get bell peppers and take it to the pizza stand to have them place it on our order. This was the first time we had to do this and other cruise lines would offer an array of toppings directly at their pizza stand. At dinner it was quite clear they were reusing food from previous nights. For example, chicken soup was the previous days vegetable soup with bits of chicken added. The vegetable samosas (Indian appetizer) was the vegetable mix from breakfast wrapped in a shell and fried. During the week they had 2 specialty lunches, a seafood buffet and a fajita station. These were better than the buffet food but stayed open for only 1.5 hours. We did appreciate the fact that their refried beans were vegetarian (at least that's what they told us) and it was a nice treat since typically refried beans have animal products. But, due to the short time being open many people missed out on the opportunity to enjoy these specialties. They should have been open for at least 2-3 hours. Many people were visibly upset about this and complained. Drinks were below average. I'm not a big drinker but I do enjoy wine. I had only one sip of one glass during the entire cruise. I tried a well-known California Merlot which tasted like it had come from a bottle that was opened for a week. After returning it I tried a basic light beer which tasted equally old. Imagine leaving a beer in the hot sun for several days and then refrigerating it again before drinking in an attempt to "refresh" it. That's what this beer tasted like. For the rest of the trip I drank water, club soda, tea, and cappuccinos. I was traveling with friends who hadn't bought the drink packages and according to them the mixed drinks were ok, on the weaker side, but the prices were reasonable. Our stateroom was aged and small, typical of any cruise, but what was concerning was that it wreaked of urine when we entered for the first time. The smell originated from the bathroom so we asked the stateroom attendant to thoroughly clean and sanitize it again. They were cleaned twice a day although not as thoroughly as I have seen on my previous cruises. Activities were very limited and geared towards a senior crowd. There was a visible lack of variety in the events and they did not cover all ages. What I did like was the daily movies. It did offer a nice addition since the other activities were not of our taste. Alaska is a fantastic place to visit. Don't miss opportunities to see glaciers or go whale watching. Skip out on the totem and village tours in Ketchikan. The people giving the tour are nice but they are manufactured for tourism and don't give the full culture behind the totems and the people. The White Pass Trail excursion in Skagway is very good. We took the bus and train excursion but there are others (longer duration) that do that plus other things. If you have young kids the bus and train version is recommended. I would also recommend booking excursions outside of the ship if you go through a travel agent. We went through Costco and they have an arrangement with an third party excursion company. They were very helpful in picking the most popular excursions and those with the best experiences. The are largely the same as the Princess excursions but are cheaper and offer some things that Princess does not. The review speaks for itself. The high point was, of course, being in Alaska and seeing the natural beauty. The low points were the cruise line, the ship, the food, and the customer service experience. I would definitely go to Alaska again but never again will I go on a cruise with Princess.

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Jul 4, 2016

Anchorage to Vancouver

The excursions did not match the description on the Princess marketing. For example, I paid $1,760 to go fly fishing in Juneau. The Princess description was to take a float plane to a remote stream. We flew less than 10 minutes and fished on the beach. We did catch one salmon. A second fishing excursion in Ketchikan for $800 had us fish on a commercial fishing boat and it was the captain's first day as a charter fisherman - we did not catch

a fish. Cabin had Stains on the walls. Stains on the curtains. Stains on the furniture. Balcony furniture was old and had paint drops on seats. Balcony flooring was some type of plastic decking that was full of dirt and broken pieces. Rust stains everywhere you looked. The excursions are a rip off. We had an an excursion where the vendor did not show. Princess would not refund our excursion fee and accused us of not telling the truth by citing a record that said we did not show. We tracked down the vendor and they admitted that they did not show and we had them tell Princess. Princess then refunded our money. The excursions did not match the description on the Princess marketing. For example, I paid $1,760 to go fly fishing in Juneau. The Princess description was to take a float plane to a remote stream. We flew less than 10 minutes and fished on the beach. We did catch one fish - a salmon. A second salmon fishing excursion in Ketchikan for $800 had us fish on a commercial fishing boat and it was the captain's first day as a charter fisherman - we did not catch a fish. I spent almost $30,000 for this trip and it was a a total failure. Stay away from Star Princess. Nasty!

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Jan 2, 2016

South America

I needed to get away from a depressing time of the year (late autumn, holiday season, feeling cold) and leave some personal problems behind and get away from it all. Princess' slogan is "come back new". I came back travel-weary and with a case of jet-lag due to the numerous time-changes on our journey and on my flight back home. But it's winter and I'm in hibernation mode anyway, and I haven't slept like this in too long, so I can't complain

too much. My clothes still fit by the time I returned too. This is an odd 'complaint' to have, but -- why didn't I gain weight? In fact, once I was back home after this 17 night cruise, I found that I'd lost a bit of weight. Okay, I look better thinner and am hoping to lose a few more pounds, but I recall many years ago taking a 7 nighter on Royal Caribbean and working out a lot daily, and younger with a faster metabolism, that I couldn't help but rapidly put on 8lb that time because the food on that liner was gourmet, several courses, and blew me away. Not saying that the food on Princess was bad, just that I'd been spoilt for it long ago in comparison. One time on my Princess cruise, the Horizon buffet had some luscious raspberry mousse pastries that made my tastebuds sing to the heavens! I took seconds, but wish I'd demanded the recipe from the pastry chef, or at least hoarded several more of those delights and kept them in my cabin's fridge to eat daily for breakfast. I had an inner stateroom. The floor popped under me like a pounding bubble in some spots. I did complain to the maintenance supervisor and on a form in the suggestion box. Some sort of supporting construction pin may have been needed for that flimsy floor. I felt sorry for my downstairs neighbors. I'm under 90lbs and don't walk heavily, and it was only lil' ol' me in the cabin. Also, one day, there was this horrible loud violent disturbing knocking going on above my cabin several times per minute, all day long! I'd also complained about that one to the right outlets. My cabin steward tried blaming it on particularly choppy waters, but I didn't buy that. The carpet was stained even before my stay. I had reserved for a twin bed, but it was 2 twins pushed together, plus a twin bunk on each side (I had to watch my head not to bump into them). So although it was just myself, the cabin accommodated 4 people. Other than that, it wasn't as cramped and claustrophobic as I'd anticipated. A bonus to not having a porthole or balcony was that I USUALLY got to sleep and sleep and sleep with no light seeping in, save for the peephole on my door and the gap under it. The time just FLEW by each and every day. I loved that we had mailboxes and our cabin stewards delivered a copy of the captain's paper nightly, advising us of the following day's weather, nautical stuff and daily schedule of activities. It made for good bedtime reading and helped me plan the next day's activities. There were shows, movies, karaoke. I don't dance or drink or gamble, but there was plenty of that as well. There were various pools, but it was quite windy and not so warm during my voyage, so I didn't get to spend as much time there as I'd hoped. I tried to make it to the gym most days, but I found it on par with that of your average YMCA gym (except for the sea view!). Treadmills weren't monitored for maintenance issues by staff. I had to be told by fellow passengers if one was out of order. It's up to staff to put those sorta signs up on the equipment when needed. The women's locker room/showers/sauna/steamroom were also no more impressive than that of a YMCA. What really upset me the most was that on our last night of the voyage, I went up there to use those facilities, expecting to get to stay until 10pm, when they normally closed. As I approached, the staff welcomed me nicely, no sign on the women's locker room door notifying of anything unusual, and then suddenly, I guess around 8 or so, the steamroom was off and I couldn't open my locker. I told a staff member about it when she came in, and she told me that it was because they were closing early because it was the last night of the voyage. SOME ADVANCE NOTICE WOULD'VE BEEN NICE! Then, she used the master key to unlock my locker, and I told her how long I'd need to shower and dress, but before I could even dry off, 2 maids came in and kicked me out! They wouldn't even let me use the toilet there first; they felt if more important to take the evening off early, so I had to hold it until I got back down to my cabin. Ugh. Even worse, was the so-called 'library'. It was just pitiful! Maybe unless you play mahjongg...the kind with the actual Chinese tiles. If you read, definitely pack a book, or word game puzzle book! And I won't even put into words what I think of the extortionist internet usage fees, but then again, I was on there to unplug anyway. My biggest complaint though was that throughout the decks - especially at the Vista Lounge - there was just too much damned air conditioning! I was freezing, and often retreated early to bed just so I could thaw out! I wish I could've afforded Macchu Pichu, I suppose, and if I could handle the altitude and have better balance to handle it. I went on a few excursions. I complained to the excursion dept about one guide - it may have been at Lima- who seemed to be just "phoning it in". Lima was just too urban for me anyway, even if the guide had been more enthusiastic. On another one, in Costa Rica the guide encouraged us to use the restrooms after getting off the bus and before getting onto a particular numbered boat, but I guess I'm too slow or something because by the time I'd finished, the boat had long left without me and I felt lost and abandoned. I told another boatman, and fortunately, he sped me to the boat I was supposed to be on, and went on with it. Also, if going on your own at ports of call, be extra vigilant about getting scammed. I got scammed by a doctor in Cabo who didn't stamp my prescription as the pharmacy required. As if I knew the law about that in the first place? I guess he knew I didn't. A cabbie in Lima scammed me by not returning for me when I went back to meet him after getting the money for him to take me somewhere important. And I believe a postwoman in Nicaragua scammed me out of $1 by not sending off the postcard and its postage to its proper destination. I had the address right. The purser did not have stamps onboard as advertised and did not accept U.S. postage to send a postcard from the ship's location. Waiters and hosts were super! The perfect balance between acting charming and not fraternizing with passengers. I was very impressed and felt so welcomed at the dining rooms. I also was impressed with my cabin steward. He made a point to not only not wake us, and keep the cabin tidy and stocked, but he always greeted my by name as I went down the hall. Now, that's service. The pursers (or "customer service" or "passenger relations" or whatever they wanna call themselves these days) were always very helpful.

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Jun 26, 2013

Alaska-Inner passage

Our cruise started off with champgne and a greeting from our cabin steward. He went over everything we needed to know about our suite and the services he will be providing and other then that we had limited interaction with him. As for the food, the main dining room was good, the specialty restaurant we had dinner in one night was good, but the buffet was not that good. It did not have a good variety and a lot of the times there were empty bowls

of food with no backup in sight. The food seemed geared for the European traveler and not the American traveler. Since we were upgraded to a suite, we have no complaints about our stateroom. Plenty of things to do and something for everyone. Even though we booked a couple of excursions through the cruise line, we found that you can get a better price booking it online direct from the tour provider. We also found that you can bargain with the tour operators once you are in port, Overall we had a good time, but might look at another cruise line next time.

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Dec 9, 2012

vacation

I have cruised many times on Carnival Cruise Line and I have never been so disappointed in a cruise line like this one to Alaska. I just wanted to have my mom's 1st cruise a wonderful one. My cabin boy never made our room up for 2 days, and asked about our cabin boy nobody knew where he was. Some wait staff was wonderful but a lot did not want to help us out. My mom and I was turned away from one of the restaurants because we didn't have reservations

and we were all dressed up. The food was just ok. Needs more variety. TERRIBLE room attendant. DIDN'T MAKE ROOM UP FOR 2 DAYS. WE MADE OUR BEDS. There wasn't much activities to Alaska. The excursions was wonderful. My overall rating for this is 3&1/2.

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Oct 23, 2011

Mediterranean

The cruise experience was great but spoiled by the noise in the cabin from the entertainment below All the food was excellent The room was good - plenty of room. However, the room E512 was drectly above one of the lounges and the noise and vibration from the bass and the drums prevented any sleep until 12:30am each night. The rooms around this probably suffered the same experience so want to issue this as a warning to other future customers

to check what is below the cabin. Take advantage of all the excursions offered. The "do it on your own" options are good. You are given enough information and tips to get around the cities of Rome, Florence etc

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Jul 27, 2010

Transatlantic and Baltic

The transatlantic voyage was comfortable and pleasant, and the Baltic cruise that followed was too. However, the room service food was mediocre and not available as per their own advertising. In-cabin breakfast choices were far too limited and did not even rate mediocre. Boarding and disembarkation were extremely well organized although the pressure to take Princess transfer services was there and unwarranted. We were warned when disembarking that

taxi services in Copenhagen were limited and expensive; in fact the taxi service took us to our hotel at the same price that the Princess shuttle would have charged to drop us off downtown where we would still have had to take a cab. Food in the dining room was not particularly good, totally lacking in spicing and flavour. Even the old standby of steak was not up to par. After being on board for 28 days, our table crew still could not remember that we liked to have tea with our dinner or that we did not like ground pepper on our salads. Entertainment was generally quite good. The cabin, a standard balcony stateroom, was the smallest balcony cabin we have ever had. When you are on board for more than a week this matters. Besides the bed there were only two chairs and a dresser; no sofa or coffee table, which would not have fit anyway. MEDIOCRE AT BEST! The lack of spicing produced a flavourless hodgepodge. Only the ceasar salad was spicy and then only because we asked for extra parmesan. Often the food was overdone and dry, especially the fish dishes. We always had to ask for extra sauce on our food. Even after 28 days, our table crew could not remember to do that without asking. We attended a special English-style "pub lunch" in one of the specialty restaurants one day - the fish and chips were both soggy and tasteless, typically British. Desserts were pretty good, but the quality varied from day to day. The one highlight was the International Cafe which served snack sandwiches, shrimp salads, etc. which were generally good and had excellent servers. The cappacino was weak but bearable. TINY! So small we will never do a longer trip on the Star Princess again. Ever! Entertainment - the theatre shows - were good, and the port lectures were excellent. The entertainment in the main court was pretty good as well, especially the four women who played classical string music. For the Baltic part of the cruise we strongly recommend the various tours offered in St. Petersburg. They are pricy but good. The same can be said for Talinn's city tour and Gdansk/Danzig. For the other cities, you can often see much the same using the local, and much cheaper, hop on - hop off bus tours. On the atlantic portion of the trip, the Brugges city tour was fabulous. Boarding after some of the tours was aweful because of limited access to the various x-ray machines and security personel, which meant often 2000 people returned from tours within the same half hour period. On several occasions the cruise staff left people standing on the dock without shade, for over an hour before the security people began processing. There were people in wheelchairs and with mobility issues left sitting and standing for that time, without even the offer of water. That happened several times, not just once. I would certainly do this trip again, but not on Princess. The Star Princess cabin is a deal breaker, and the mediocre food does not help. Cabins on other Princess ships were larger, although the in-cabin food was not, and the dining experience, while acceptable, also not up to our expectations. A cruise on Celebrity lines offered much better food, both in the dining room and in the cabin.

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By Anna_CR

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Mar 21, 2010

BALTIC SEA

Four years ago my husband and I were taking vacation on one of the Princess Cruises ships. We were approached by Princess Cruise representative who offered us to buy a future cruise credit. We paid $100 per person (total $200 for 2 people) by our credit card. We were told that if we choose to cruise with Princess within 4 years the Princess Cruises would credit us for $300 toward our cruise payment, otherwise Princess would refund us our $200 as

per our request immediatly. It appeared as a good deal. WHAT A MISTAKE!! Recently four years almost expired. We didn't use our Future Cruise Credit , and I called to Princess Cruises to request my $200 refund. The credit card that we use to pay our $200 four years ago is closed, therefore I requested to send us a check or credit another credit card. Princess cruise representatives(I talked to 3 different people) refused. They said they only would credit our old not existing credit card account! Looks like we never will get our money back. NEVER TRUST PRINCESS CRUISES!

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Jan 24, 2010

San Francisco to Sydney

Great cruise, great service. Food was very good. Anytime-Dining was a formidable option. After reading several negative reviews posted, and though this was not my best cruise ever, I feel the need to speak up and set the record straight. I feel sorry for those passengers who may have had a bad experience. They are either extremely difficult, ugly or unpleasant people (or all of the above) since my experience with Princess has always been great.

The main reason I love Princess is because of the Anytime Dining. Love to be able to eat at my own time and with whomever I want. Needless to say, I hate the fixed time dining (cattle option in my book). I have never (9 cruises on Princess so far) had to wait in line (I am a late eater and that might be working on my favor). The service has usually been very good, and once I find a table and wait staff I really like (usually by the second or third night) I stick to it and then I am treated like a king (they know they will be tipped well at the end). You can reserve the table for the rest of the cruise if you want to be safe, but I never have done so officially, I just tell the wait staff that I will be coming back the next day (and the rest) at around that time and they will save the table for us. The quality of the food is usually very good. A cabin is a cabin is a cabin. Those of you who complain about size, upgrade and go to a mini suite. Cleaning service has always been excellent! Bedding and mattress very comfortable, then again, I weigh less than 150 pounds, so for those of you who have complained about the mattress, hit the gym and skip the buffet. This is the only thing I could complain about on this particular cruise. Usually, on-board activities are many and varied, particularly on the Lido deck, and the background music is good. But on this trip (30 days from San Francisco to Sydney) it was lacking. Very low music by the pool, little selection on Movies under the stars, etc. It got a bit better once we complained, so at least they did react. Visit the Volcanoes in Hawaii (including Molokini, which is underwater). Bora Bora shark feeding a must. Rent a go-cart in Moorea. Cannot say enough good things about the ship and the service, and about Princess overall. Try the Specialty restaurants for an unforgettable culinary experience, but don't refuse the pizza by the pool either. It is all good. This is a great 30 day cruise. Once we disembarked in Sydney, we saw the ship leave for LA, and we wished we could be back on it. Once we got back home, we booked 4 cruises for February and March 2010, one after the other for a total of 58 cruising days (32 days on the Star from Santiago to Fort Lauderdale). That really tells you how good it was.

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Aug 12, 2009

Scandinavia

My biggest issue was with communication on the ship. I had an emergency occur back home. A co-worker and close friend's husband was killed in Iraq on the very first day of the cruise. Multiple people tried to contact the ship and could not get through to anyone, got the runaround as to why we couldn't connect or got disconnected. I did not find out for over a week that this happened and I was devastated. How did I find out? I checked my email and

found a message from a family member to call home immediately. So I called from the ship, which ended up costing us about $30 per phone call, to receive the horrible news. There is no excuse for family member's in an emergency not to be able to call and get a hold of their loved ones. Food was the worst of the 4 cruises I have been on. We have been on 4 different cruise lines and this was by far the worst quality and least variety. Their "choose your dining time" option is a farce. There are still only 2 dining times only now you have to wake up early to call and make a reservation to ensure that you get into the seating that you want. If you just show up at dinner you are going to have you wait, sometimes for well over an hour. I was on the list for the assigned seating because my mother has a medical condition that involves a special diet and I knew that having the same waiter every night would have been a better option. That request was not honored, nor was my request for the special diet. No one in the dining room was very educated on what she could eat or what was really in the food. My mom was very limited on what she could eat on the entire trip because of this. To top all of this off about 2 days into the trip, they began to serve the buffet. This was both annoying and made the area in there small buffet very cramped. However it took them several more days to put out a notice to the passengers why they were doing this. They were able to keep it contained but they should have been more upfront with the passengers. Onboard activities were very redundant. Mostly trivia games which my family likes but that is pretty much all there was. We did enjoy the fruit and vegetable carving demonstration.

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Aug 5, 2009

Alaska

Princess Cruises customer services are so unreliable! They refuse to take responsibilities of information given by their representative when reporting delay in checking-in for the cruise. When I called to report delay, one of the reps told me that I could either get a refund or board at the next port if I miss the ship in Seattle. I finally made to port in Seattle, but their equipment malfunctioned and missed the ship sailing. I was told that

I could not join the cruise at the next port by the crew at the port. Now Princess Cruises refused to take responsibilities and compensations (refund/reschedule)!

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Nov 9, 2008

Mexico

We have cruised many times before with Princess as well as RCL, NCL, and HA, we have never experienced such an over all unsatisfactory experience, from our waiter displaying a tantrum our first night to rudness in the pursers office to a general lack of friendliness from the staff. Our waiter never did improve we had 2nd seating traditional and did not change time our seating, as we had very nice table mates. Our stateroom attendant did a first class

job. Ship was clean. Entertainment was not up to usual standard. Horizon Court buffet was good tradtional dinning room was inconsistant. Lacked variety not up to previous experiences head waiter said menu had just been re-done. We last cruised on Dawn Princess January 08 was much better. Clean spacious and well maintained by our attendant. Mrs Hibbert is a paraplegic, wheelchair accessible staterooms are very good. Wheelchair accessible van tours are available from the dock in PV very resonable and safe.

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Oct 3, 2007

Mediterranean

This was our first cruise on one of the big ships. We had gone to Alaska on the Sun Princess in 2005 and loved it. It held just under 2000 passengers and the Star holds 2600. Princess does a great job with embarkation. It was very well organized and quick. Our room was great with a large balcony and plenty of storage. We were on the Caribe deck and our balcony was larger than the balconies on all the other the decks, so ask for the Caribe

deck if the balcony is important to you. By reading other reviews, we knew that there is little privacy on the balconies and you can see a lot of people and they can see you. Some folks did not remember that fact and I saw a few underdressed people step out to admire the new port each morning and moon the people on other balconies. If you ask your steward for a robe, you can borrow one for the entire cruise.  The Aloha deck is the only one where people can't see onto your balcony, but they are smaller balconies. The itinerary was great. We loved Florence, Athens and the Greek Isles. We went on one Princess shore excursion. It was well organized, but you visit a spot with several hundred others and get a cookie cutter tour. We were a group of 10 and one of folks had time to research and book private tours for us before we left. They ended up being cheaper and we had much better tours. Do this only if you can spend the time to read reviews and contact people who are licensed and recommended. If you don't have that luxury, the Princess trips are just fine and worry free. My only issues with this cruise were service and the food. We met our steward on the first day and then never saw him again. Our cabin got made up, but it was very slipshod. After a few days, we started seeing a new guy, but he never introduced himself...we don't know what happened. I suggest taking some post-its and if you need something, write it on a post-it and put it on the bathroom mirror. We never got fresh pool towels, water was not replaced, some days a floor mat others no floor mat. The servers in the dining rooms and buffet were pre-occupied and not very friendly. The two premium restaurants (Steak and Italian) had better service. I felt the ship was too big and the servers just couldn't keep up. The food was plentiful and better in the dining room than the buffet. Maybe I am jaded because I entertain for business and take clients to really high end restaurants. The food was like Olive Garden, Fridays, Carrows, Red Lobster, Applebees, Black Angus, etc. It was good, but certainly not great. The Sterling Steak House was a step up, but don't expect Ruth Chris' or Morton's. The buffet was like at a mid range hotel in Vegas...good, but sometimes things that should have been hot weren't. The Trident Grill and the pizza place by the pool were great lunch options. The brats, burgers and pizza were very good! I wish they had been open a little later so they could have been a dinner option. We enjoyed the variety of shows, the miniature golf, the bar entertainment, the casino and the activities. We will cruise again. We are looking at a Princess cruise through the Panama Canal in 2009. We will go on a smaller ship...we like a more intimate experience. Happy sailing.    

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Jun 19, 2007

Scandanavia

WEATHER – We had no idea what to expect.  I was obsessed with Weather.com for the two weeks prior to our trip – and the forecast was for rain or showers every day.  We ended up only having two days of rain – it was beautiful weather – pants or Capri's and a light jacket….I don’t think my husband wore pants at all except to dress for dinner.  Our cabin was close to mid-ship which is best for stability, but there was one

night when it seemed a bit “rolly” and I was slightly punk, but I take along ginger tablets which are great.  PASSENGER ATMOSPHERE – The make-up was mostly Americans and a large fraction of Australians….but there was an international flavor that was interesting.  Both our other cruises were in the Caribbean and we were pleasantly surprised that there was a far less partying atmosphere on this cruise.  Seemed to be more sophisticated and low key.  Our two kids found an international group of friends to hang with and had a blast trying to communicate in their broken high school French and German….though kids from other countries usually speak English. EMBARKATION –Smooth and easy.  We waited for our noon check-in time, but many people said they checked in earlier.  CABIN – Dolphin deck, interior stateroom.  It was our first time in an interior cabin and I missed daylight, but it sort of forced us out of the room into public areas and we met far more people and participated in more activities. For four people (two adults, two teens) we had to stay pretty organized n the stateroom being there is little storage – one full sized closet, a closeted shelving unit and some small drawers.  Probably perfect for two.  I tried to hang most of our clothes (asked for more hangers which were willingly provided), and shoved the suitcases under the beds.  Every time I turned around our attendant had put clean, fresh towels in the room…he was a real gem – helpful, friendly, greeting us by name.  Our beds were comfortable, and the blankets soft and plush.  What helped out a lot with space – especially getting ready for dinners – was that the two guys would leave the room to sit in the Jacuzzi then shower in the spa bathroom which was far more luxurious than the shower in the stateroom anyway.  When they returned, we girls would be ready and would leave them to wait outside the dining room while they dressed. DINING – We were disappointed to miss the late dining selection when we booked, which we enjoyed on our other cruises, but ended up really happy with anytime dining.  The cruise is a busy one and it was a relief not to have to cut anything short in order to make a dinner time.  We had to wait a couple of nights – once for about thirty minutes, but learned to avoid the rush (6-8p), or call ahead for a reservation if we were meeting with another family.  We were a bit disappointed with the food…not as good as we’d had on the Grand or the Golden…or maybe it’s that Princess has the same food for every ship, every cruise and it was getting a little tired. The service was wonderful. A couple of nights, when we were just too tired to dress for dinner, we opted for the buffet…which is good, solid food.  Some of it seemed to be the same things as in the dining room anyway.  Desserts at the buffet are usually a disappointment for us.  They may look varied, but always seem to taste the same.  I wish they’d offer more decaffeinated tea selections besides just mint or chamomile.  We’re always happy with the pizza on the Princess, but there were no hamburgers and onion rings offered at the grill on this cruise which was a letdown. One night the kids ordered room service which took over an hour for delivery.  Tea time in one of the dining rooms (I think it was the Capri) each afternoon at 3p is something we really enjoyed.  One afternoon my daughter and I dragged her 17 year old brother and his friend down to tea and the ended up taking it every day afterward and bringing along all the teens they could muster! ACTIVITIES – We’re big on ping-pong and there were quite a few tournaments set up by the cruise director (may I say here that my husband is a two time gold medal winner for that cruise!!).  It was a blast to play people from many different countries – cheering side by side. We did have a couple of sea days which were greatly needed after the exciting ports.  We resented those sea days while we planned, but deeply appreciated them in the course of the cruise.  In fact, the weather on one was warm enough for sunning by the pool.  There were some fun events – a fruit and vegetable carving demonstration, ice carving, martini mixing, putting contest….fun things to watch.  There was a galley tour that we were sorry to miss as it was scheduled at a time we couldn’t make.  There are really a lot of possibilities if you keep up with your Princess Patter which is a nightly newsletter letting you know what’s happening each coming day – it’s put into your mailbox each evening.….we aren’t drawn to shows, but had a blast when passenger karaoke was offered in the Explorers lounge many times during the cruise….that’s probably the best entertainment we’ve had in a long time. On ship boutiques in the Atrium court grow as the cruise progresses.  Though I peruse, and sometimes buy, I prefer to get my souvenirs in port….better variety and prices, especially in St. Petersburg. We didn’t use the spa for services, but the guys showered there most evenings and thought those showers far more elegant then the one in the stateroom.  LAUNDRY – I waited about five days to do any wash and I think 90% of the ships passengers did the same thing.  Lines were horrendous and competitive and some floors had broken machines.  Coin dispensers were empty, and the line for the purser was loooong…plan ahead.  They close at around 10p, so my plan to do laundry late at night didn’t pan out. PORT’S OF CALL – Copenhagen – we had two nights (one full day) before the cruise so did a lot of walking around – the crown jewels in Rosenberg Castle were impressive.  We skipped Tivoli although all the books call it the number one attraction.  We enjoyed walking along the Stroget (shopping district), catching street entertainers, looking at the beautiful Danes, and grabbing ice cream at Nyhavn - a row of bars and restaurants along the historic canal.  It’s beautiful at night.  We also picked up a couple of ‘rental’ bikes – put 5 kr in the slot which unlocks the bike, then when you’re done lock it back up and your coin is returned.  We also had one night at the tail end of the cruise which we decided to spend in Draggor – a small fishing town about 30 minutes from the city.  The guys went golfing and we girls rented bikes, but there was little to do – could’ve been done in an afternoon and another night in the city instead. Oslo – The city area is a medium distance walk from the port.  We caught a ferry across to KonTiki – had all read the book so enjoyed the museum and the film.  Skipped the Vasa to catch the ferry back and walk the city a bit.  It’s cosmopolitan and cold feeling, but one of our son’s favorites on the cruise.  Friends enjoyed the sculpture gardens very much and I wondered if we should have taken the time for that, but there were sculptures by that same artist along the water so we got enough look at his work as our family cares to see. Gdynia – It seemed most people had scheduled a cruise bus ride/tour to Gdansk and all were disappointed that they’d spent good money on wasted traffic time and not such an interesting destination….you don’t get a very long time in port.  We opted to walk a ways in from the dock area and hail a cab which took us the main shopping district in Gdynia.  The town still has a leftover Soviet block flavor which was such a change from Copenhagen and Oslo and we were pretty impacted by the difference.  We’re of Russian decent, and when we found a darling farmers market on our return walk where we found delicious dill pickles, borscht, galoopsi (cabbage rolls) at a small stand in the marketplace (where we Americans might have a burger stand) it was wonderful food that recalled meals at grandma’s.  We were satisfied with staying in Gdynia after talking to so many who went into Gdansk.  Most who we spoke to wondered why the ship even stops there and thought it would’ve been better to have more time in Stockholm.  I liked the contrast…showing our kids how different life can be under certain political systems and how long it can take to repair such oppression. Tallin – This day it poured rain and we still had an absolute blast!  The old town is an easy walk from the dock.  We walked the streets with a torn out section of a Rick Steve’s guide which included a gorgeous Russian Orthodox church, stopped for lunch and also hot chocolate – both times receiving snooty and rude service – but that’s all part of the fun.  Climbed to the top of some tower and spit off (a family tradition).  Amber EVERYWHERE!!!  And juniper trivets, woolens….the best place to shop as far as I was concerned and I’m a big shopper on vacations.  Best prices and variety…shop employees were friendly and most spoke English.  The town is charming.  St. Petersburg – My in’laws had been many times and recommended a private tour guide named Genaydi which worked out fantastically.  For two days, four people, we spent about $300.00 and never had to wait in a line.  Went to Church of the Savior of the Spilt Blood, Catherine Palace, Peterhof, the Hermitage, St. Isaac’s, Peter and Paul fortress and spent some time just wandering ourselves (we got visas and my husband speaks Russian).  I would highly recommend both palaces.  Being we’re not big museum people we all could’ve easily skipped the Hermitage (I know some people would have a fit that we think that…but that’s the honest truth – it really frustrated Genaydi who was filled with knowledge about the art).  But Church of the Savior is so gorgeously what we think as being typically onion dome…so picturesque - and is near a super bazaar (across the street) where we got sensational deals on lacquer boxes and other souvenirs.  Genaydi also drove us out (at my request) to the Lomonosov (porcelain) Factory store where I made some purchases that you can’t find here in the states nor online.  It’s a bit tricky to get in and out of the docking area here.  The ship docks in a industrial port a ways out of the city.  You catch a cab (it’s a long walk) that takes you to the entry gate where we then met Genaydi who drove us everywhere.  The cruise line warns that unless you take an official cruise tour you will need a visa, but it is my understanding that if you are with an official tour guide certified by Russian authorities you do not need one either as long as you stay with that guide.  We could’ve probably saved $$ and skipped the visas, but my husband wanted to do some wandering on his own anyway.  We had friend who took the “hidden treasures” tour with the cruise and loved. Helsinki – Our daughter’s favorite…this is a beautiful, warm and design oriented city.  She’s big on Danish modern so had a ball looking at all the shops had to offer.  We took the city bus in from port– bought round trip tickets which were cheap and then walked up the tree-lined, entertainment strewn street to the farmers market where we found vegetables and food that we’d never seen before.  Had lunch then hiked it up to the Orthodox Church, next to the steps of the Senate where we enjoyed ice cream cones and people watched.  Across from the Senate steps – to your left as you walk down – there is a corner shop with wonderful locally made arts and crafts….wish I’d had a little more time to spend it there, but the others were getting ready to move on.  We chose to then sit at one of the many outdoor cafés, order coffee, tea and cocoa, re-energizing as we enjoyed the warm sun.  The guys wanted to head back for a ping-pong tournament, so being that we already had our return bus tickets and felt safe, we girls separated to do our own thing and caught the last bus back to the ship easily. Stockholm -  This cruise is exhausting…so many wonderful port cities – and by the time we got here we were just plum wore out.  It was a very short allotted time, so we caught a bus into the main part of the city and walked the narrow, cobblestone streets…viewed the crown jewels which were less impressive to us than those in Copenhagen.  Missed the changing of the guard which was really the main thing I wanted to see.  It began to totally pour rain, so being weary, we caught the bus back and took naps on the ship.  By this time everyone was beginning to wear down and there were many people reading and snoozing at the enclosed pool area.  As I said earlier, I wish we’d had more time in this city so that we could’ve ventured further, but we were so tired I’m not sure if that would’ve worked out anyway.  Overall we really like Princess.  The service has always been outstanding.  After three cruises – all on sister ships – we’re ready to try another line.  Our next cruise is just going to be the two of us so we can upgrade a bit, but if we ever take the family again I’m positive we’d sail Princess.     

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Apr 20, 2007

Western Caribbean

Embarkation • Excellent – handled very well. Porters were quick to handle and take luggage, even though we had a lot, (fist time cruise, over packed). Line was very long and we checked in at around 2:30pm, after 2:00pm is what was recommended. Personnel in line had all forms that we would need to pass though into processing. Security was slow but needed and not as invasive as airports. We had to sit in the waiting area just after

security due to long lines at processing. Did not wait long, but the personnel helping would have done all a favor by NOT announcing that they would go by rows, after the hundreds were already sitting, as this caused masses to jump and push to be in the front rows. Once inside, we handled quickly at the desk, even though we did not have a room assignment from the cruise line in our paperwork. Paperwork for my wife went smoothly, as her passport (sent in 10 weeks earlier) had not arrived and they kept her birth certificate with the application. Overall, it took about an hour to hour and fifteen before we were on board. Once on board, there was confusion as to where we were at, but that seemed to be the norm with most people. Once we found a map and found out we only had three floors to go up, we walked, rather than wait the long elevator lines. Room • While quite small, for anyone who hasn’t cruised before, it was laid out nicely and had plenty of storage and space, even though we over packed (few more hangers would have helped). Everything worked fine, except for the TV, which would lose signal from time to time, but as to be expected. The shower was quite the trick for me and my wife. I am a fairly large man, 6ft 1 inch, 240lbs and there was no room to move. Even my wife who is 5ft 2 inches and 130lbs had a difficult time, but we managed. The toilet, just so you know, is like and airplane, in that you have to close the lid to flush and be prepared for the noise. We had booked and ocean view room, which we got, but you had to look under the life boat to see it. Will know to ask next time. Also, since we did not have a room at embarkation, when we booked 3 months early? Our room was originally for another couple, by their name being on the door the whole trip, it caused issues with our on board card and telephone messaging that took until the end of the cruise to correct. Ship • Layout was very good and the on board offering were excellent. While the ship was 8years old, other than the upper deck carpeting, there were little signs on wear and tear. The pools were cold, but other than the main pool, always available and clean. Bars were plentiful and busy, especially on sea days. Would have like to seen the restaurants a little more distributed throughout, but I understand that is not in the ship builder’s interest. Spa was wonderful, over priced, but considering you were a trapped audience, not too bad. They did screw up our reservations. As we made them online before leaving, yet they did not have them when we got on board? STRONGLY, recommend that you check everything when you get on board. Dining/Food/bars • Dining in the restaurants was excellent. The food was above average restaurant quality and the specialty restaurants (premium cover charge) were world class, well worth the extra to try a couple time. Service in the restaurants was first class, never wanting or waiting for anything. Buffet food was top notch and the concern over cleanliness was over the top. I had never been to a buffet where they SERVED the food for you. All restaurant/buffet/burger bar/pizza bars required you to sanitize your hands before seating, in front of the staff. Great Idea! While the food was better in the specialty restaurants, and I recommend trying them several times each, that would be the limit. The buffet could use some work on their desserts to bring them in line with the restaurants, as they were trying too hard to make something different and they ended up all tasting the same, with just a different look to them. Stick with more traditional items, (cheese cakes, pies, cakes and ice cream (cheap to make soft serve, but none available, and all ice cream you had to pay for)) especially when 80% + were Americans/Canadians on board. The food bars were just okay, but were very quick. I highly recommend the burger bar in the morning for a cook to order omelets. Buffet could use some more seating for the peak hours and/or quicker clean-up service. Some tables had cards to reserve your area when going back for seconds, but not all. Which we found out several times when we came back to our table and people were sitting there eating? While the bars were well stocked and the bartenders trained on all drinks, there were just not enough of them during peak times and sea days. There were not nearly enough waiter/waitresses to take and deliver orders in any kind of timely manner, as the first sea day we waited over and hour for drinks and the ice was nearly melted and my beer warm. After that, we always went to get drinks ourselves. This got really bad on their private island. Staff • Could not have been better. Room staff was exceptional, even on the days we slept in. Waiters/waitresses were top notch, but overworked/understaffed in the buffet area and bar service area. Even the purser’s desk, which seemed to always have a long line, was quick and efficient. Entertainment/Activities • Shows and comedians were as good as or better than shows on land in big cities. Could have been better with a few adult only shows, as they pushed the limit with children in the theater. Plenty of seating and only few blocked views. Since they had multiple shows, it was easy to get to one or the other, if there was a big crowd. But with any shows that have open seating, come early to avoid the search. There were so many other activities going on, that we could not even come close to seeing them all. They were well diverse and scheduled nicely, catering to all different types and personal choices. Pool side game and lounge game were an absolute riot, to watch or participate in. Try to see as many as possible, ice carvings, bartender wars and food demos were great. Only down item, it was my wife’s birthday the day before we left and our anniversary just two weeks before that. We booked them both for special request while we were on board, but got only one balloon and a note on the door for Happy Anniversary, which was far less than other received through out the ship. Ports • Ocho Rios – did not get in due to what the captain called gale force winds. Did not seem as rough as when we were in Cozumel, but he is the captain. • Grand Cayman – Had booked trip to 7 mile beach. Beach was well worth it, but the cattle car bus trip and times, should have spent just a couple bucks and took a cab. Shopping was excellent, was worth the time spent listening to the ships shopping guides on board, as they pointed to some great deals. Be careful though, as what they consider deals, the average folks like us, was still kind of expensive. • Cozumel – great weather and nice docking, versus tender. We booked a trip to Tolum ruins. Since the hurricanes of the last few years, the area is being rebuilt, so after a very rough ferry ride to Playa De Carma, we had to walk 10 blocks to the bus station. Guides were top notch and new everything about the area. Did not like that they stopped at a trinket store on the way, just to get us to buy things. The lunch provided, was poor and we were not sure we should eat it. Had some with out ill affects, so? The ruins were wonderful, if you like that type of thing, which I did and the wife didn’t. The heat didn’t help and the guide, while extremely good, was bit long winded, due to large crowd and hard to hear, so there was a lot of repeating. The view off the cliffs was breath taking. Bit surprise to go down to the beach and see topless sunbathers in such a very public place, but then again, us Americans are so far behind the rest of the world. Having traveled it, I was not shocked, but my wife was taken aback. There was no time for shopping with this tour, except in Playa De Carma, which they did not give us any information about on the boat, and the were hundreds of people who took this excursions. The locals try to sell you everything, so buyers beware. • Princess Cays – very good time had here. Relaxing, this is what we choose to do. Rented a Cabana, which was just a small tent over two chairs, but worth it. Snorkeling was wonderful, but the gear rental was over priced. I recommend going away from the powered equipment area if you want to relax, as they is too much going on and the kids are loud. BBQ was well prepared, but there was not nearly enough seating. Bars were slow in getting going and shut down too early. Shopping was good, but go through the security checkpoint and visit the locals on the back side of the island. Prices were 50% lower! Disembarkation • This was the only real down side to the whole cruise. Not sure why they ask for you plane information when booking the cruise, as they did not take that into consideration when scheduling your disembarkation. We tried to change it at the purser’s desk, but were told this was the order and to get our luggage, we had to follow it. Told they would have everyone off by 9:00am at the latest, which we didn’t get off until nearly 10 and we had an 11:00am flight. The bus was terribly slow and the driver hit us up to know that he was expecting tips for handling our luggage at the airport. When we arrive, he would not let anyone off until he unloaded all the luggage, this was a Grey Hound, packed to the limit! He said it was cruise line rules, yet the other busses pulling up from Princess, were getting off. When my wife and I tried to get off, as it was 10:20, he yelled at us to get back and stay on the bus. Needless to say, we missed out flight and had to change flights to the only one available, which got us in two hours later and had several stops/changes. We barely made that one to, as the airport security was long and extremely rude/slow. Overall • I would recommend this cruise to all, especially as a first timer. This was a really good time of the year for fewer children on the cruise, which we were not concern about, but was a bonus. I would only recommend doing it early in the year, March maybe, as it was extremely warm some days.    

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Apr 20, 2007

Western Caribbean

The Star Princess is a lovely, classy ship. I have some negative comments, but overall I would definitely sail on her again without hesitation. Food: The food is sensational. The service in the main dining room was not up to our expectations, so our group chose to dine in the Horizon Court. We were asked to clean our hands with a sanitizing solution every time we entered the buffet line. There are two entrances in the line with sanitizing

solutions at both ends. Because of this, people are bumping into each other all of the time because there is no one line for in and out. It was aggravating. Although we came to the conclusion that having these sanitizing stations at both entrances, the cruise line was trying there best to prevent an outbreak of food poisoning, they really should look into another way to do this. Sabatinos Italian Restaurant: The food was out of this world and the service was wonderful. Well worth the extra price paid. Tequilas Steak House: Great steaks and great service. Well worth the extra price. Entertainment: Our group attended but was not impressed with the entertainment in the main theater. We have seen better entertainment on other cruise lines. Dancers were great, but the singers were not. Decks: There is plenty of room for sun bathing on this ship. There are plenty of pools and hot tubs. It is really laid out well to accommodate the passengers. There were children in pools and hot tubs that were clearly labeled “Adults Only.” This was not enforced by the cruise line. I have nothing against children, but kids in diapers should not be allowed in hot tubs or pools that are for adults. There are areas which are marked for kids, and that is where they should be. We were in a hot tub that kids were using as a swimming pool diving and swimming over our bodies and splashing salt water into our drinks. The parents were no where to be found. I did not appreciate baby sitting 5 year olds. Yes, we could have gotten out, but decided we were not being chased out by kids. Excursions: We were disappointed because we were unable to port in Jamaica because of high winds. Safety comes first. Our next stop was The Caymans where we had booked a trip to Sting Ray City. I went to Sting Ray City 3 years ago and could not wait to do it again. My friends were looking forward to it also. We tendered into shore and our tour guide said that “if you were not a strong swimmer he would recommend that you cancel this tour” because the boat would not be able to anchor on the sandbar and you would have to swim for it. Two people in our group could not swim at all and we had to cancel. We were refunded the price of the tour. Later on in the day, we spoke to people who had gone to Sting Ray City. We were told that no one had to swim for the sandbar. I was hopping mad and extremely disappointed. I had booked the cruise specifically because they had this as an excursion. In Cozumel, we went to Passion Island, Beautiful place to spend the day. Beach was clean. If you are smokers, make sure you bring your smokes with you. I unfortunately did not and had to purchase a pack on this island. I was charged $10 a pack. I told the vendor that I was not going to pay him $10 a pack I thought he was kidding!!! He charged me $8 for the pack. I told him that I was going to my tour guide and bringing him back to this rip off artist and if he wanted to charge me a fair price, that this was his last chance to do so. He did not budge, so the guy got in a lot of trouble and probably lost his job. I ended up paying $5 per pack. My tour guide said I should have paid him $2.50. The moral of this story, BRING YOUR OWN. Taxis: This had nothing to do with the cruise line as we did not purchase transfers and therefore we were on our own. We had two separate cabs we got in Fort Lauderdale airport to go to the ship. My cab driver pulled up to some gate and was told that we were not allowed to enter until 1:00. Our other cab was no where in sight. We asked our driver to bring us to a local bar. He drove around and around with the meter going up and up. Meanwhile I celled my friends in the other cab to tell them what happened. They were at the pier and had no problems getting in. We were scammed by this driver who deliberately brought us to the wrong gate in order to rack up the price. He eventually brought us to the right gate where we united with our friends. We paid $16.50, our friends paid $11.00. I am contacting Yellow Cab and reporting this rip off artist also. Lessons learned the hard way. I would definitely recommend to anyone this cruise ship. The staff was pleasant, service overall good, the ship clean and beautiful.  

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Mar 31, 2007

Western Caribbean

First Cruise Won't Be Our Last - My wife and I enjoyed our first cruise on the Star Princess. Needing to get far away from Seattle winter weather we opted for spending Spring Break in more tropical conditions. Princess Cruises provided the atmosphere and climate that met our desired plans to perfection. Travel arrangements to Port Everglades were flawless. We arrived in plenty of time to board the ship by 1:00 PM and enjoy the deck

activities already underway before departure at 5:30 PM. Our balcony cabin was on Carib deck, room C 102, the foremost cabin on the starboard side on the deck level. The spacious accommodations were excellent and included an oversized balcony deck perfect for picture taking. This balcony actually had an access door to the crew's deck, expanding our picture taking experience. Our cabin steward was excellent and went out of his way to pamper us. Our first stop was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We were excited to do the Dunns River Falls climb, but were anxious about holding hands together with other cruise members to make this 600 ft climb. So, we cancelled the shipboard excursion ($89 each), grabbed a cab (ask for Earl), and beat the ship crowd to the falls. We paid the $15 entrance fee and had the falls almost to ourselves. The climb was tricky in spots. I was so glad not to be holding onto someone's hand as both hands and feet were needed to traverse the slippery rocks (we took the thrill seeker approach up). The water was warm, the air temperature was hot, and we enjoyed every second of this adventure. The money we saved went to buy celebratory drinks later that evening. I'd definitely do this again. On to Grand Cayman. The excursion trip to the Stingray Bar was the highlight of the entire trip. We spent an hour with the many stingrays that were swarming in between and around us in the shallow waters. We held stingrays and were given stingray backrubs too! The boat trip out was worth the wait, though the combined snorkeling wasn't as interesting as we'd hoped. The stingray adventure made up for that. You have to do this. We'll do it again. Cozumel was our next stop. We docked opposite a Royal Caribbean ship, never believing that two sips could be that close together without bumping bridge decks. We shopped all day and had a fun time at Margaritaville (be ready for the free shot). Great shopping day. From there we sailed to the Bahamas and Princess Cays. The weather here was cooler, and we had some rain. We also had a fun time snorkeling in the shallow areas at the beach. Even here a buffet was provided, you can't ask for more than that. The return ride back by tender provided even more excitement than we anticipated. We hit high swells that felt like we were riding an express rollercoaster to Davy Jones's locker. We were glad to be below decks on that ride. Those on the upper viewing area were soaked and seasick by the time we got back to the ship. Onboard parties and a never ending buffet helped calm nerves and settle stomachs. This first cruise of ours had everything we wanted in a real vacation. Onboard entertainment was as excellent as it was varied. Ship personnel were extremely polite, efficient, and friendly. We stayed up late, got up early (you don't want to sleep through this opportunity), and had a ball. We're already making plans for our next adventure with Princess Cruises.  

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Nov 25, 2006

Western Caribbean

This was my first cruise and I expected to be blown away with the ship, the service and the food but was disappointed on all accounts. The ship itself was nothing to WOW over, the food for the most part was mediocre and a few nights it was undercooked to the point that I didn’t eat it. The buffet was anything but appealing, I did eat some of the fruit. Everybody told me that I would gain at least 5 to 10 lbs., well I came back the

same weight as when I left, probably because of the poor quality of the food and we walked the steps so much because it took FOREVER to catch a elevator. I spent the extra money for a suite with a balcony but the balcony jetted so far out from the boat that there was absolutely no privacy at ALL. The whole ship could look right down on us and I was literally afraid that someone would drop something on my head. It wasn’t enjoyable to sit on the balcony, what a BIG disappointment that was!!!! There were only a couple of stores aboard to shop in and they were small and severely limited to what you could purchase, that they weren’t even worth the time. My steward was anything but attentive, I saw him about two times during my 7 night stay, really 6 ½ night cruise because the last night they closed everything really early…..except for the bars….go figure, you pay for that! Getting on the ship in Fort Lauderdale was a nightmare, they huddled us in the airport for about 2 hours and then the bus transportation was so unorganized it was almost funny. We reached the ship and another 2 ½ hours standing in line to get on the ship……if it wasn’t already paid for I would of left! On the upside my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary while onboard (which they didn’t even acknowledge) and the weather was great!! The seas were mostly calm and the cigars were good, of course the cigar lounge was always full of people smoking cigarettes and watching sports on TV so I smoked mostly on my balcony with the rest of the boat as my company. I would love to go on another cruise but definitely with another cruise line, my wife went before on Royal Caribbean and loved the boat, food and service, that’s what I get for not listening to the wife. From now on she has my full attention………well until next year…………Happy Cruising and Happy Holidays!!!  

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Nov 18, 2006

Western Caribbean

Party of four adults traveling together, two aged 82 and 65 years. Upon check in at the airport no seats had been reserved by Princess so we had to sit in the four corners of the plane for the 10 hour flight - very distressing for the 82 year old - although we had booked under one reference number! Medical conditions advised and documented by doctors were totally ignored by Princess. We queued at Miami airport for over an hour waiting

for a bus to take us on a 20 minute journey to the hotel. Next day we queued for over 2 hours at the port in heat with no seats, drinks, wheelchairs, toilets or entertainment. Really how hard would it be to have a steel band playing and a few bus boys with a tray of water and juice????? The cabin was a pleasant surprise as the mirrors were well placed to make it look as big as possible. A major complaint was with the quality of the food. It comprised very poor quality, inexpensive cuts of meat and seafood. The overall impression of the generally tasteless and sometimes bad tasting food was that it was not fresh, probably previously frozen and was in limited quantities. The desserts were unimaginative, bland and fairly tasteless and the fruit was second quality under-ripe or bruised. The pastries tasted stale and certainly did not have a homemade flavor about them. Hardly the 5* award winning gourmet experience advertised in Princess literature. We were allocated to the Amalfi Dining room where the service was very poor. We were badgered into making our selections from the menu quickly and any questions were met with a brusque sharp reply. I believe the main problems were due to a lack of training of the staff who were at best in short supply and at worst inexperienced and rude. The food was substandard, cheap and not well presented. We ordered a bottle of water and a bottle of wine. One glass of each was poured and the bottles taken away to be put on ice. We did not get any more drinks until our meal was finished and only then when we got up from our seats and asked for them. The people on the next table complained bitterly about the quality of the food and every evening thereafter they had the maitre d’ hotel, head waiter and several waiters taking care of them. This only exacerbated the problem for the rest of the diners, including ourselves, who were already receiving poor service. We tried arriving at the restaurant at different times to see if this would ease the problem but to no avail. The Horizon Restaurant was no better. There was a constant queue and they often ran out of plates and cutlery. I object to being asked to pay a cover charge to dine in restaurants on the ship as I have already paid for my food in with the price of the cruise. It appears that all efforts are concentrated on the premium dining so it seems that it is acceptable that the standard service has become second rate dining. I was also shocked to find that charges were being made for so many things such as after dinner cappuccino, craft classes and ice cream. It seems that the staff are aware that a daily charge is applied to every passenger to cover tips so there is no requirement for them to go the extra mile to provide a quality service. The entertainment on the ship left a lot to be desired. The noise around the pool each day was a clear deterrent to any one with normal hearing and was more akin to a holiday camp than a cruise ship. We attended the Captain’s cocktail party and sat in the Atrium for two hours. At no time were we offered a drink and when we asked for a drink we were told it had all finished. There was a queue every day for the bingo tickets – more queuing. There was no movie under the stars. The cabaret shows were reasonable but were repeated during the week and so the choice was limited. We disembarked at Ocho Rios and were charged US$6.00 each for a return journey to the shops in a bus. We were told that it was too far to walk to the shopping centre, which turned out to be less than 250 yards away. We sat waiting for the bus to leave for longer than it would have taken to walk to the shops. When we disembarked at Cozumel for a trip we had booked we were made to wait on the quay for over an hour in the baking sun with no refreshments or seats available only to be loaded into taxis to our destination. Why did we have to wait? The trip we had booked was a dolphin swim and snorkel adventure. We had the swim with the dolphin and then were literally frog-marched to a viewing room to view the video. We were told there was no time to get a towel we had to go immediately to the viewing room. From there we were directed to the shop to buy the photographs and video. There was no snorkel adventure. We had paid for something that was not available. We were also charged US$30 for my 82 year old grandmother to come along as an observer. What a joke. She was not able to stand for the duration of the swim and was not allowed to take a chair to a position where she could view the dolphins. When we arrived at Princess Keys we were allocated colored tickets to access the tenders. It took three hours queuing to get off the ship. This left us with less time ashore than we had queued. We had to queue for photographs, then queue to view them, then queue to buy them. We had to queue for absolutely everything on the ship. It is evident that Princess is making cost cuts in every area and not providing the quality service that people expect. It should be renamed Princess Queues. Princess have offered a small discount off a future cruise as compensation for this travesty of a holiday. I will never cruise with this company again.  

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Mar 12, 2006

Western Caribbean

Arrival in Florida This cruise we traveled with my 2 daughters (22 and 24) and my mother and step-dad. My third cruise, Dan’s second. We flew ‘JetBlue’ to Ft. Lauderdale the day before departure and stayed at the AmeriSuites on 10th Street. Very close to Port Everglades, many restaurants and shops within walking distance, including a very nice wine store. The hotel was quite clean and staff friendly. Nice breakfast included – eggs,

waffles, Danish, bagels, toast, fruit, etc.., shuttle to Port every 15 minutes or so. Price was very reasonable. Embarkation Arrived at the port at 9:30am, a little early, but fun to watch everyone else arriving. This time we sat in the terminal awaiting the embarkation process to start, not outside as we did on previous cruise. Embarkation started at 11:35am, went very smoothly. Only one staff person was what I considered rude, she was on a power trip. After we received our room key we were told to proceed to the ship. As we approached the escalator, one employee stopped us and told that “you will just have to wait, they aren’t boarding yet”. Of course we just watched approximately 30 people board. She held the line for about 4 minutes when a senior staffer approached her and asked what she was holding everyone for? Definitely a little bite with his bark. We then were allowed to embark. We were in our rooms by 12:00 noon. Staff – Everyone was so friendly and professional. They made you feel so welcome and absolutely waited on you hand and foot. I could not ask for better service, felt very spoiled! Staterooms We stayed in a balcony stateroom on Baja. Room was spacious, balcony was NOT. The balcony had a small table and 2 armless chairs – the chairs were very uncomfortable, not ones that you could sit and relax or read on. I think the balcony was about 4 – 5 feet X 10 feet, not very big. The balconies on Caribe Deck were much larger – 10 X 10 as well as the balconies with mini-suites and suites. Room had a queen bed, desk with chair, refrigerator, TV, chair, and 2 end tables, plenty of room. The mirror behind the bed also added some depth to the room. The closet area was quite spacious, also had a cabinet for storage with a Safe. We had a full length mirror near the very small bathroom – just a shower, no tub. You do NOT want to bend over in this shower! A small pipe protrudes from inside the shower at the wrong place if you know what I mean. Our room steward – Edgardo- introduced himself right away, very friendly and very efficient. He cleaned our rooms 2 times a day, and he always knew the right time to do so. Ice, wine glasses and fresh towels were always in our room. Princess also provides a hairdryer, shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. My daughters had an inside stateroom, I was surprised at how much room was there- only difference appeared to be that they had no balcony. Public Areas Beautiful! Not sure how many bar/lounge areas were available inside, let alone outside. Princess has every detail covered. There is literally something for everyone on this ship, from folks that like to party to those that like to kick back and relax. We enjoyed the aft pool – adult only. We also did not experience any of the chair hogging that many people complain about. The spa pool was also adult only, but a little more crowed than we like – still very enjoyable. Many ‘spring-breakers’ on this cruise as well as small children. I must say that the children were well-behaved as well as the college students. Entertainment- Saw some comedy shows, very funny! Did not enjoy the hypnotist - I thought her got a little raunchy, especially with children attending the early show. Box office movies played everyday, good movies on the television (watched these while getting ready for the evening). Terrific shows in the Princess Theatre..can't say enough about the entertainment! Dining and Food We thought the food was terrific! Horizon Court had many offerings, fruit, salad, many hot entrees, breads, desserts, the list goes on! Water, coffee, and iced tea were offered all day at no additional cost. I’m not a coffee drinker, but step-dad and daughter are, they said the coffee was very good. Juice was offered for breakfast as well. We did purchase a coke card for $31.95 for a 7 day cruise. This was worth it for me; I drink approximately 3-4 diet sodas a day. If you purchased a can the cost was $1.50 per can. With the Coke card, I just asked for a large diet coke, which holds the equivalent of 2-3 cans! Some days I would drink 2 of the large glasses, so definitely got my money’s worth. If you do not drink this much soda, the card may not be worth it to you – buy it by the can. Ice cream at ‘Scoops’ was an additional charge, but Horizon Court had ice cream at no charge everyday at 3:30pm. The dining rooms also had ice cream every night. The pizza on Princess was to die for…..an absolute must have. Food and service in the dining rooms were excellent. We thoroughly enjoyed every morsel. Antonio “Cebola” was our waiter, he was outstanding! Food preparation exceeded our expectations – but keep in mind that this is a subjective finding; everyone has a different palate ? I could not eat everything that was served – too much food. We only ate in the dining room for our evening meals; we ate in the Horizon Court for all daytime meals. We love the ‘anytime’ dining, never had to wait but 2-3 minutes. We did attend a wine tasting for $25.00 each. Sampled some very high priced wines, we completely enjoyed it. We are not wine connoisseurs, but do enjoy a good glass of wine. Excursions Cozumel – no excursions, just shopping in the downtown area. Hurricane Wilma pretty much destroyed all that was beautiful along the beaches. The only thing that will bring back the beauty of the area is money spent by tourists. Cozumel has the manpower to rebuild, but not the money. We made a few purchases and ate in Panchos Backyard – great margaritas and Mexican food. Grand Caymans – Stingray City – wonderful day! Well worth the money. Island was beautiful. It was apparent that Wilma had done some damage to this island, but the Caymans have the money, not necessarily as much manpower, to rebuild the area to its former state. Montego Bay – beautiful island, although somewhat scary in some places. We did not venture anywhere that was not recommended. Did some shopping, the folks in Jamaica are so poor, but so appreciative of anything you can offer them. I definitely felt like a ‘spoiled American’. We got off this beautiful ship after eating a wonderful meal, wearing comfortable shoes, with my family….what else could a person want?, just to see how very little these wonderful people have. EVERYONE we encountered asked us to return to their island and to please tell our friends. Tourism seems to be all they have. Princess Cays – BEAUTIFUL day!! Lovely island. Very relaxing. Something for everyone – volleyball, paddle boats, floating, snorkeling, relaxing on the beach….wonderful way to end the week. Disembarkation Could not have been easier. Our flight was at 11:00 am, we were off the ship and to the airport by 9:30 am. Boarded our plane by 10:30 and away we went. Oh, one more thing. We already booked our next cruise while on this cruise. We will be sailing the Caribbean Princess Jan. 2007.  

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Mar 12, 2006

Western Caribbean

I absolutely agree with all the positive comments and reviews. I loved my first cruise on Golden Princess and was expecting the second one to be as great. Unfortunately, I have to make an important comment for the non-smokers or people with allergies to smoke. The passenger in the cabin across from ours smoked cigars. The first evening going back to our room we noticed that the hallway by our cabin smelled cigar smoke so badly that we felt

it in our cabin. Imagine having to breathe cigar smoke in your room all night long! I called the pursers desk immediately asking to do something about it and I asked about the smoking policy. I was surprised to find out that there are no nonsmoking rooms, passengers are allowed to smoke in any cabin (even cigars). The only thing is Princess is asking to refrain from smoking cigars in public places. In this particular case all crew members from Pursers desk in supervisory positions were protecting the rights of smokers to smoke in their rooms, never mind that public areas like hallways were contaminated with cigar smoke as the result. They were dispatching cleaning crews to do extra cleaning in the hallway and the cleaning crew was great, but they are not there 24 hrs a day and it took me about 5 days calling the pursers desk and asking to send the crew and the crew would come some time after the call and do their job but the guy would smoke again etc. By day 6 I got tired and gave up. Needless to say, my vacation was ruined by that. If you have smoke allergies, breathing uncontaminated air is much more important then food or entertainment. In response to advocates of smokers' rights I can only say - smokers have a choice to smoke in cigar bars, on balconies and move to another place to smoke their cigar, they do not have to smoke in their room. Nonsmokers do not have a choice where to sleep and they are stuck breathing contaminated air even in their cabins because Princess is so protective of the smokers' rights.I consider this very unfair and discriminating against nonsmokers, not to mention fire hazardous. And the fire on Star Princess next cruise after ours proves the point. I hate to say I told you so, but having no nonsmoking room blocks and no smoking room blocks with extra fire precautions in the smoking blocks is asking for trouble. If not for the benefit of nonsmokers, at least for fire safety Princess should change their smoking policy, separate smoking cabin blocks from nonsmoking cabin blocks and enforce more strict fire safety measures in the smoking section. I feel very bad about the fire that happened yesterday and about the passengers that had a tragedy instead of great vacation experience. My next cruise will depend on Princess changing their smoking policy to a more fair one, kind of like something that hotels have. I loved everything else though, the teen Off-Limits program is great. My teenage son had a great time.

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Feb 26, 2006

Western Caribbean

This was our first cruise with Princess. I made the mistake of reading too many reviews before we left...leaving me worrying about what we were in for. But what I found, for myself, was a wonderful cruise. It was one of the most relaxing cruises we've had. Last year we did the southern Caribbean, and loved it, but an island a day was hectic. This one had more days at sea...and we had a balcony for the first time, which we really enjoyed.

We made the most of the room service; I sometimes wonder if people use it? Coffee on the balcony every morning was heaven for us. My only complaint. it would have been nice to have loungers on the balcony, chairs were not the most comfortable, but even still, I don’t think we’ll cruise again without a balcony.   We found the public areas to be very spacious, a lot of pools to choose from, we travel without the kids, so it was nice to see there were 2 adult only pools. One of the reviews I was seeing a lot was this constant complaint about chair hogging and not enough chairs, I don’t know what ship these people were on, but there were loads of chairs everywhere. Maybe the chair hogging referred to the area around the main pool, but this was something we didn’t seem to notice. Pools are also fresh water, which is nice. Service overall was good…even the room service, they would say about 20 minutes. only to arrive in less than 10 depending on what you ordered. We chose anytime dining which was new to us, but found we loved it. It was nice to not have to rush for dinner, and we only waited one night for about 10 minutes. Food was good in the dining room; buffets got to be the same ol’ same ol’…but were always fresh. Coffee…well that’s another story, it was a hit and miss, mostly a miss, let’s face it, they aren’t making money on the coffee, so it was basically bad. too bad no coffee makers in the rooms. One thing they did have though was a room on every floor for doing some extra laundry or ironing, this was a great idea since no irons in the rooms anymore. Hope this gives a basic idea of what to expect, we would have to say this was the nicest cruise ship we’ve been on, and would book again with Princess. We have been on Royal Caribbean which is comparable to Princess, and Celebrity…which was just to ‘hoity toity’ for us layed back Canadians!  

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Jan 29, 2006

Western Caribbean

“DO NOT BOOK ON-LINE, DO NOT BOOK WITH 1-800-PRINCESS” This was my 7th Caribbean cruise and the 4th with Princess. I’m a Princess Captains Circle Member (for what ever good that is worth) and have been on all of the Star Princess Sister ships. The only commitment I’ll make about the cruise service and food is that it has deteriorated since being acquired by Carnival. Be for warned. The big problem I had was being “UPGRADED”.

When we arrived at the embarkation building, we walked up to the Lido deck booth to check in because our booking confirmation was for cabin L222. We loved being on the Lido deck because the pools, Jacuzzis and Horizon Court (buffet) are on the same deck and a short walk from your cabin. The cabins are the highest up on the ship and the view is fantastic. Most Lido deck cabins have an overhead cover and are very private. Another real plus is not having to depend so much on those dreaded elevators. My mistake was booking my cabin by using the 800 PRINCESS number. Of course you can book on-line but I’m not very comfortable with that, I can view on-line exactly what rooms are available and request the exact cabin I want while I’m on the phone with the Princess sales representative. Needless to say I was very angry at being pushed out of my cabin for the reason I suspect is a power travel agency or a large group that wanted to stay around the same area and Princess accommodated. I went to the pursers desk and of course got nowhere with the counter person so I asked to speak with a supervisor. After a short wait an officer named Robyn came out (no doubt after reading my profile) and from this point on Princess Cruises lost a loyal customer. She kept repeating that this was an upgrade and I should be happy with the cabin I’m receiving (D118). I demanded the room in which we were confirmed (L222) and she flatly refused. She said the ship was completely full and I had no choice but to accept their “UPGRADE”. Please Robyn, I’m not that stupid. Yes D118 is a mini suite and you get a small tub instead of a shower and a nasty couch that you’ll never sit in. D118 is 3 cabins from the bow of the ship and if I can sum up our experience of riding in this cabin the best word I can think of is “MOTION”. Frankly these are cabins that nobody wants because when the ship is moving the balcony is useless. There is so much wind and buffeting from the slip stream coming of the front of this ship that you keep the door closed and just have to be content looking out the window. The Dolphin deck is the lowest balcony deck so everyone can look in (even the bridge) and there is no cover. People, read the passage contract (terms and conditions) Princess has available on-line. I finally did and frankly you have no rights to a cabin number guarantee. I guess the only alternative is to book your cruise with a power travel agent so you’ll have the opportunity to bump someone else from their cabin. DO NOT BOOK ON-LINE OR CALL 800 PRINCESS, You’re nobody to Princess. Next time I’ll go with RCCL until Carnival acquires them.

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Jan 22, 2006

Western Caribbean

We had an overall wonderful experience on this cruise. First off I would like to say that I went with a group on 10 people which was a journey to coordinate and this vacation was much needed after that. The Ship- This is a very nice looking ship. The decor is your typical cruise ship. The rooms I found were spacious in comparison to my past cruise with royal carribean. We had an Window room which was nice. Theclosets were large and

there was plenty of space for your belongings. The food: We chose the anytime dining option which I loved. Considering we were a group of 10 we had no problem with seating. We had problems getting reservations because of our group size but when we arrived at the resturaunt we had a 10 minute wait at the most. My only complaint would have to be the dining room hostess and the Maitere 'D. One night my husband chose to wear a hat to dinner. He was dressed in slacks and a very nice button down shirt along with this hat. Mind you this was not a baseball cap but a dressy hat. When we arrived the hostess asked him to remove his hat. He did so but upon entering the Portofino dining room we noticed that their were to other people in the restaurant wearing baseball caps so he put his hat back on. The hostess notice this an immedatly informed the Maitere'D who immediately came over to ask him to remove his hat. He asked why and was told that hats and t-shirts were not allowed because they would offend people. He again removed it when 2 other people entered the dining room wearing NY hats and T shirts with offensive remarks on them. The Maitere'D and hostess very nicely escorted them to their table and did not ask them to remove their hats. Through out the night this was a common scene we were extremely offended and he put his hat back on. Immediately they began making a fuss. they would each come over and talk to the waiter and other Maitere' D's right in front of our table and make gestures as to the hat. It made us feel very uncomfortable and singled out. The food in the dining room however was exceptional. I really recommend the fettuccini ask for this topped with chicken mmmm... The buffet food was ok but the PIZZA!!!! WOW delicious! The shows and activities were great and we had such a good time. We would definitely cruise with them again.

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Jan 15, 2006

Western Caribbean

We just returned from a wonderful 7 day cruise on the Star Princess. I am 50 and my husband is 56. High winds cancelled one of our ports, but did not effect our overall enjoyment of the trip. We flew from Detroit to FLL on Saturday and took a cab to the Holiday Inn Beach Hotel. The cab fare was more than we expected at $27. We enjoyed the view of the ocean and the pizza at Primanti’s one block away, but next time we will stay at Holiday

Inn Express which is much closer to the port. Sunday we took a cab for $20 to the port at 11 a.m. Embarkation went well and we were in our balcony room on the Aloha deck by noon. After a buffet lunch we went to the gym for a ½ hour on the treadmill. The rest of the day we re-explored the ship (we were on the Star last year), had dinner at the Capri, and went for a late evening soak in the hot tub. During the week we participated in several ship activities. We went to ballroom dance lessons with Peter that were fun and informative. We had a blast at the “Majority Rules” game, the Country Western party at the Explorer, the “Marriage Game” and Island Night. We went to several movies, the best being “Flight Plan” with Jodie Foster. All sea days we went to the gym in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. Most nights we reserved a table for two at 6 p.m. at the Capri. Two nights we went to the buffet. This worked out especially well the night the buffet was carving prime rib as I love this dish, but don’t want to order a full portion at the dining room. At Cozumel I highly recommend the excursion to X-Caret if you like snorkeling. We did the underground river snorkeling and it was great. Afterwards we enjoyed lunch and beer on the beach, then viewed the Mayan Village and animal exhibits. Don’t forget to take Dramamine before the ferry ride to the main land if seasickness is an issue for you. We sailed by Grand Cayman due to high winds, but Princess quickly added new daytime activities to make our sea day more enjoyable. At Montego Bay we did the Catamaran Snorkel and Doctor’s Cove Beach tour. The snorkeling was great. At the beach we enjoyed a beer and relaxation. We have already booked our next cruise to the Mexican Riviera on the Sapphire Princess. I can’t wait!

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Jan 15, 2006

Western Caribbean

Embarkation: As in other reviews, the port is actually very close to the Fort Lauderdale airport. We purchased transfers to get us to and from the airport. All in all the whole process took about 1 ½ hours. Once we got to the boat terminal, things moved very quickly! Next time we would use the advice from another member and probably skip the transfers and get a taxi to speed things up as we would have had more time to drink, but we were

nervous and had already paid for the transfers. Room: We were in room E205. Our room was actually pretty big. We were expecting a room size like you see on trains, but this was great. We also splurged and got a balcony room, so could watch the world go by. It was really nice to sit outside at night and just listen to the waves. The room location was pretty good. We were on the lowest level possible for rooms. Our room was in the front of the boat and there were about four balcony rooms in a row. These rooms were protected from the other balconies above. It's hard to describe, but the rooms were very private. In fact, we never heard any of our neighbors, above or next to us. There was a deck in front of our balcony (the promenade deck) where anyone could walk, but you couldn't see into the balcony, unless you were looking hard, due to mirrored glass. Every once in awhile we could hear music from the shows in the Theatre below us, but it always ended by 11 p.m. so it was no bother to us. Our room steward did a nice job. We didn't get any towel animals (which I had expected), but our room was always clean. We had turndown service every night with chocolates and fresh towels!! We learned quickly that in order to get coffee in the morning we needed to sign up for continental breakfast, which we did. Our coffee was always on time and usually early. Our twin beds were pushed together and very comfortable. Either that or we were exhausted and just fell asleep as soon as we hit the bed! We even had satellite TV in our room. Only like one or two movie channels, but hey... it was nice to have! Dining: We had anytime dining, which meant we could go to the Portofino or Capri dining rooms whenever we wanted and sit with whomever we wanted (if anyone). We ended up in the Capri with Pirantya and Seksan (table 56) as our waiters. They were fantastic and we ended up sitting with them for four evenings. The maitre de always asked us if we wanted to sit with others, but we always said no, because we ate a lot and we could have embarrassed ourselves around strangers. We only had to wait one evening for about five minutes for our table. So we had our own table for two! But that's okay, because we ate a lot and we could have embarrassed ourselves around strangers. The food was awesome. Okay, keep in mind that they are cooking for 2,600 people, so you have to expect either not so quality or not so great food. But we really didn't find that. There was only one meal (beef tenderloins) that I was really disappointed in and it was just that it was too well done for my taste. Also, we didn't find the shrimp cocktail that great. The shrimp were pretty wimpy in size, nothing special at all about them. All of the food is presented as artwork. The portions are small, but you usually are stuffed from bread (EXCELLENT), soup, salad, and appetizers that by the time it comes around you don't mind. If you don't like fancy foods or trying new things, you might have a hard time. I don't and a couple nights I ended up with Fettuccine Alfredo (not to heavy on the sauce in an excellent parmesan friccata bowl.. YUMM).. What we liked about our waiter (and we have heard that this is what cruises are all about) was that he was always encouraging us to try different things. He didn't grimace when we ordered three appetizers and more bread. My standard is if they can keep my water glass full without me having to wait or remind and they did this wonderfully. I fell in love with the waiters when I couldn't decide between desserts, so Pirantya brought me both!!!! We never ate breakfast or lunch in the main dining room. We usually ate continental or went to the horizon court if time permitted. They did a good job with their foods. I found everything to be good, hot and a good selection. We always found a place to sit, but during peak times we had to look for it. We often sat out on the back by the pool. The pastries at the horizon court were always very yummy and we thought the pastry chef deserved the employee of the month award that he had won in December! We also ate at Scoops ice cream. It doesn't make sense that they charge for this and we should have waited. There was ice cream on the menu every night, but on a hot day it just tasted perfect. The cost was pretty cheap and it was okay ice cream. We ate at the grill. I had a cheeseburger that was dry and burnt with good fries. My husband order a hot dog and said it was great! We also had Pizza too and that was always excellent! Dress: This was one of our biggest concerns. We weren't sure what to where, how much, etc. So we brought it all. We didn't need it all! Next time I will only bring one formal outfit and either skip the second formal night (probably not because that was when they had lobster tail) or wear the same outfit. I looked into dry cleaning on board and it wasn't that expensive. We each brought two bathing suits and we were glad we did because we were in the most of the time. Really during the day you only need shorts and t-shirts. Of course it all depends on what you are doing. As mentioned before we didn't eat lunch in the formal dining rooms, but we usually weren't there or didn't feel appropriately dressed, so we ate at the buffet. A couple times we saw people in bathing suits and cover ups, but mostly shorts and t-shirts. Most "smart casual" nights the men wore khakis and polo's and the women wore dresses/skirts outfits. We never really saw anyone eating in the dining room with jeans on or shorts. On formal nights, some people weren't very dressy and certainly not formal, while a few women were dressed in formal dresses. Many men had tuxedos. Most had dark suits. Activities: What can I say, but wow. There was so much to do. However, we didn't do too much of it. During the day we tended to be sun seekers and at night we hit either the casino or the shows or sometimes both. We especially spent a lot of time and money in the casino. We didn't find the paybacks good at all. Could have been bad luck, but we were expecting looser slots. I have been told it was Vegas style shows, but having never been I couldn't tell you. I can tell you that the stages were very elaborate and the entertainers were great. We saw Dance!, Live Wire, Give my Regards, Fernandez the hypnotist, and Cinematastic!. They were all very well done. Fernandez the hypnotist was great. His show is very hilarious! We tried to see some comedian shows, however they appeared to book early, so I recommend if you want to go leave early to get a seat. They had new films, but we figured that was something we could do from home, so we skipped them. During the day we did a few activities (but mostly relaxed). We saw the ice carving show, the wine tasting, frozen cocktail demonstrationJ, played bingo and the shopping talk regarding the ports. The shopping talk was very very informative, but don't waste your money on the Savvy Traveler. On the last at sea day we went to the culinary demonstration and galley tour. This was one of the best shows on the boat. All I can say is poor Chef Mario.... Don't miss this one!! The tour was okay, but you just walked in and out, that was about it. We saw the Captain's Gala Welcome and the Champagne and bubbles waterfall party. Both times we heard it was free drinks and appetizers, but they went VERY quickly and you had to be practically rude to get them. We had pretty rough weather for the Champagne waterfall and we were pretty amazed that it didn't tip over. Those guys are good!! The boutiques have everything you could need. I made the mistake of packing every little medicine that I thought I would need. The price wasn't too outrageous and you billed it right to your room. The cruise ship had great sales throughout the trip that if you weren't into shopping ashore, you could get good deals on jewelry and t-shirts during their sales. Everywhere you went you got your picture taken. Now I know that I should have been prepared, but it was a bit overwhelming. On the first formal night we decided to have our picture taken by the grand staircase and the wait was pretty long. Then we realized that they were doing as many pictures as you wanted. They would take your picture as a couple in a few different poses and then take your pictures separately. It was a bit too much. The wait was worth having the picture in front of the staircase though. Pictures were priced okay. Throughout the cruise they videotape which you can buy at the end of the cruise. It was pretty neat to watch as they showed the film on the TV so you could see the previous day's events. They really got some good shots of folks and for them it might have been worth purchasing. Drink prices were pretty on target. We didn't find anything outrageously high. We bought the coke card for $40 bucks and we got our money out of it. Everyone was very happy to help us and get us drinks all the time. We never really had to wait or had bad service. Granted they are never in a hurry, but hey... you're on vacation. Shore Excursions: Well you should be expected for schedule changes as you never know what the weather is going to bring or other things. Our first stop was Cozumel and we had to tender in because, as the captain said "the pier is not damaged. It is missing!". Cozumel appears to be working hard to get back to where they might have been before the hurricane, but they still have a way to go. Great shopping can be found right at the end of the pier and we found some steals on silver jewelry. Tendering was a quick process even with four other ships in port. In Cozumel, we took the San Gervasio Ruins tour. It was very interesting and an exciting first glimpse into the Mayans. We didn't want to take the full 8 hour trip to Tulum, so we were pretty satisfied. Well I was. Apparantly my husband was under the impression that he was going to see BIG structures and such, so he was a bit disappointed. We were nervous that if we want off to a beach unsupervised or something that we would miss the boat, so we quickly headed back after shopping at the port. What we found was the boat was pretty empty. (Actually I should point out that the boat never felt very crowed! At least not that 2,600 people were on it. We always found a deck chair even on at sea days, although the ones closest to the pools and bars filled up quickly. But by the front and back of the boat, they were always pretty open. Service was good too, while we were laying out in the sun.) So we hung out on the boat after Cozumel. Next time I would like to explore into the city more and do more shopping or snorkeling. The next day we were scheduled for Grand Cayman. That morning we found out that we would not be stopping in Grand Cayman because the captain said the port was closed for an inspection of some sort and bad weather. So we had another full day on the ship. Everyone seemed pretty bummed, but oh well... what can you do? The following day we arrived in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Well, this is a hustle and bustle town. The weather was a bit rough, so we ended up anchoring off shore and tendering in. This delayed us about an hour. Our shore excursion was the Countryside tour with lunch. It wasn't a bad deal. We got a tour of downtown Montego Bay and a bumpy ride up into the mountains. Along the way the tour guide gave us information about Jamaica. We arrived at a plantation and got a little show with a coconut tree climber, a banana farmer and a demonstration on how to make the best pina colada. Then we took a bamboo raft ride down the Martha Brae River. The river was pretty shallow and murky at times, so I wouldn't want to swim in it, but it was nice to see the real countryside. Lunch was back at the plantation and included Jamaican jerk bbq chicken, coleslaw and rice and beans (the best!). We arrived downtown to do some quick shopping and that was an interesting venture. There were cars and people everyone. I didn't get asked to have my hair braided, but several women asked me if I wanted to take their picture (they had baskets of fruit on their head). We wrapped up our shopping trip quickly and headed back to the boat once again and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon on deck! At Princess Cays we had pre-booked snorkel gear, a float and cabana. Next time I wouldn't get any of these. There were two beaches. One to the right of where the tenders docked and one to the left. Bars were close to the beaches on each side, as were bathrooms and lunch areas. The beach to left was pretty empty and that is where the cabanas were. We decided that was a great sign. However, we found out that the beach was pretty stinky. The bottom of the beach was really rough with rocks and it was VERY difficult to get out to the water. Once out in the water it was very murky and there was nothing really to see. We spend maybe 20 minutes snorkeling (10 minutes getting in and out of the water) and returned the gear and float. We think that the other beach is where they really wanted you to swim and snorkel. We rented the cabana because we were worried we would fry to a crisp. However, the beach is actually beautiful and has a ton of palm trees. We saw a lot of chairs with good shade and a great breeze. We wouldn't waste our money on a cabana next time. There was a bbq lunch available and the island was private, but we decided to go back to the boat for lunch and hang out at the pool. Disembarkation: Disembarkation was very quick. We peeled out of our room by 8 a.m. and headed for breakfast as we could tell from our notice that we were going to be one of the last groups called. Well we got nervous and hurried through breakfast and went back to wait to be called. We sat outside for a bit and pretty quickly we were off the boat. It seemed to be well organized and they give you so much information about it that you really can't screw up. We found our suitcases in the terminal, checked with customs and was quickly directed to our transfer. They didn't wait for the entire bus to fill up and took us to the airport. In fact, our flight home was at 1:00 p.m. and we were at the airport by 11 a.m. What we didn't plan and would do differently is this... you have to set your luggage outside your door at night when you retire. So we pulled out our clothes for tomorrow. We also thought... we can't wear pj's and should sleep nude because we will have to carry dirty pjs around all day. So we peeled everything off and put the luggage in the hallway. The next morning we got dressed and took off. It never occurred to us that we would be collecting all our luggage in the terminal and could re-arrange our suitcases however we wanted (ie. Taking out dirty clothes from carryon and packing in checked baggage). Duh... Oh well I guess the whole "love boat" thing was getting to us. We arrived home safe and sound in Detroit and already planning our next vacation. Would we cruise again...? YES. Would we cruise Princess.... YES.

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Jan 8, 2006

7 Day Western Caribbean

Overall, our cruise onboard the Star Princess left a lot of room for improvement. Our first cruise was with Celebrity, and we would definitely cruise with them again! I think the biggest problem with Princess is that they automatically charge the gratuities to your shipboard account, which means the staff don’t seem to be working as hard for your tips! Princess charges $10 per person per day, and to make matters worse, they even suggested

on our cruise that we may want to give an additional tip to those employees that provide “good service.” Isn’t that what the gratuities are for in the first place? You can have the gratuities removed from your shipboard account, but you have to make a special request at the Purser’s desk. We made the request on the first day, and then when we got our final bill, the gratuities were STILL included! I went to the Purser’s desk and explained I had already tipped my waiters, room steward, etc. myself (personally) and I wanted the additional gratuities removed. I also explained this was my SECOND request to have this done. The person I dealt with didn’t seem to care, and didn’t even apologize for the error. He was very unfriendly and it seemed like he was doing me a favour by correcting my account. I agree with everyone who has said that Princess’ service is not as good as Celebrity’s service. Our waiter at dinner was also not very friendly, and didn’t even know our names (whereas our waiter on Celebrity had a conversation with us every evening!) The waiters around the pools, at the bars, etc. were OK, but did not go above & beyond to provide good service. The service at the ice cream parlour was also poor; you could tell that both of the girls that worked there on a regular basis had absolutely NO interest in being there! On a positive note, the best part of the cruise was definitely the entertainment. All of the shows we went to were top-notch, and there was a unique theme every night. The singers and dancers were all very talented and we were very impressed. We also thought the comedians were great and very funny. The food was OK, but nothing special. You could tell that they were trying to save money in a lot of areas. The food at the specialty restaurants was very good, but of course you had to pay an additional fee to eat there. I expected much more from the main dining room. At the buffet, there was no fruit punch or lemonade available as there was on Celebrity. There was only water or iced tea, and anything else had to be purchased. The food selection at the buffets was not very impressive. Our cabin (A230) was nice and had a covered balcony. I agree the washrooms on this ship are very small, but that wasn’t a major concern for us. Our room steward (“Joe”) was great, and he did an excellent job cleaning our room every day. We asked for extra towels one day, and he was there within 1 minute. His service was probably the best out of everyone we dealt with on this ship. Embarkation & disembarkation was good and very efficient. When we boarded Celebrity, we were given a “welcome drink” as soon as we got on the ship. There were no extra touches like that with Princess. The pools were nice and clean, but there were definitely a high percentage of people “reserving” lounge chairs. On two occasions, we couldn’t find a chair anywhere on the deck, even though we checked every single area! Princess says that they will remove items left on chairs for more than 30 minutes, but this was clearly not enforced. We also saw staff members using the lounge chairs by the pool (they were wearing their name tags!) and thought it was very strange that staff were allowed to use the guest facilities, especially given there weren’t even enough chairs for all of the guests. On that note, we also staff eating at the specialty restaurants on several occasions. That’s fine if they want to allow their staff to eat at the restaurants, but they definitely shouldn’t be wearing their uniforms! We were also told that reservations for the specialty restaurants were very hard to get (we booked ours on the first day) so I don’t understand why they would turn away guests, while allowing staff members to eat there. We also had a problem with the shopping “directors”… We purchased a couple bottles of wine in Grand Cayman and were told it would be delivered to our stateroom that evening (although liquor would not be delivered until the end of the cruise). The wine never arrived, and we were first told that we could not get it until the end of the cruise. Once we sorted out the confusion and confirmed that we COULD get our wine in our room, we were told that the shopping directors were the only two with the key to get our wine. The operator on the phone paged them several times, and they couldn’t be found anywhere. After several frustrating phone calls, I asked to speak to the manager in charge at the Purser’s Desk as he/she must have a key. I was told there was no one I could speak to, and the person on the phone was actually quite rude. We ended up getting our wine much later that evening, with no apology for the delay. Overall we were not impressed with the customer service or the food on Princess, and we would not cruise with them again.

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Dec 18, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

After a congested time at FLL baggage claim, we finally retrieved our luggage, contacted the Princess Representative and boarded our transfer to Port Everglades Pier. It is a very short trip and could easily be done in a taxi. Even though it was Sunday morning, the traffic was very heavy. When we arrived at the pier, there was an enormously long line outside. The Platinum passengers had their own entrance for quick check in. The line

outside went very quickly, through security and on to our deck’s check-in line. We were third in line and were checked in quickly. Staterooms were ready, and then off to buffet lunch. We were on agent rates and had a choice of 4 obstructed outside cabins, aft on Emerald Deck. In my opinion, they are partially obstructed because there is only rigging outside the window. Except for occasional staff, we can see out just fine. The four cabins on Port Side are E714, E712, E710 & E708. I chose E712 but actually E710 would have been better because of less obstruction. I do miss the outside air of a balcony cabin, though. The lunch buffet was very limited today. We preferred to take out tray out to the covered swimming pool area. Dining: When we booked the cruise we requested Traditional Dining, First Seating. That was 2 months ago and we went on the waitlist. By sailing time we had not cleared the waitlist so we had to go to the Matre d and “beg” for an assigned table. There is only one traditional dining room so he assigned us a table at 5:45 pm in the Capri Dining Room with others who had the same request. Only one other couple showed up that night at our table for six. The Matre d told us that we could invite anyone we met to join us but he did not assign anyone else to our table. The second evening, my husband went to the Matre d and snagged the next couple in line. Now, I think we have 2 other delightful couples for dinner. My opinion is that the Anytime Dining is not working for Princess when there are so many people who want Traditional Dining. We understood that the waitlist for second dining was up to 284 requests at the time of sailing. That is a lot of couples or families who wanted Traditional Dining. Cabins: The ship is completely full so I can comment only on our cabin. The size is very adequate but we only have a barrel chair instead of a couch. The refrigerator is very nice to have and the counter on top is a great “catch all.” We have much more storage space than we need. It is nice to have it scattered about the cabin. I, especially like the long closet rod with more storage room than I have at home. The safe is in the tall closet cupboard and had good light. The air circulation in the bathroom must be good because the shower curtain is not sticking to me. I love the shelf under the sink. It is great for those things that you don’t use very often but want in the bathroom. Because we didn’t have a suite with the upgraded mattresses, we requested a foam bed pad immediately and soft pillows. What a difference in the quality of our rest. As part of the ship’s holiday decorations, each cabin’s message box had a holiday decoration. Our cabin steward is very nice and gets the cabin cleaned in the appropriate time, but is not observant of unrequested needs. For instance, we ran out of hand lotion but had lots of packages of shampoo and conditioner. I really find those paper packages of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion, tacky. But, they are better than the dispensers on some ships. Dining Rooms: There are three main dining rooms: Amalfi for traditional, Portofino and Capri for Anytime, with the exception of a number of tables which are pre assigned, like ours. Service is very good and food has been excellent. I like the arrangement of the tables, sizes and arrangement is in a scattered manner with the wait stations being almost invisible. The wait stations are small and food is whisked away quickly. Unlike many cruise lines, the tables are not set with ten pieces of silverware at the beginning of a meal. There is only a knife and fork. But, after each course, the waiter or assistant waiter brings the appropriate new silverware to each person. It is done very subtly. The down side is that the crumbs are not removed from the table after the main meal and before dessert. Sabatini’s is the Italian specialty restaurant at $20 per person. It was outstanding. You only choose your Entrée. For all the other courses you are offered all the selections by a waiter with a tray. All the food was excellent except the Langostinos which was an Entrée selection. Tequila’s is the specialty steak house for $15 cover charge. In this restaurant you order from each course. At our table for six, three of us ordered the tenderloin cooked medium. Two of them were overcooked and one was correct. It was late and we didn’t want to take the time to complain. However, when I told the waiter that we wanted to make the 8:45 pm show, he didn’t even offer me coffee or tea and seemed to slow down the whole process. Everyone else was offered tea or coffee. I guess a man should have made that request. I still have trouble being an assertive woman in a “man’s world.” I want equal respect. Horizon Court is the buffet and is very limited in its selections for all meals. When we do have to eat there, I do appreciate that the tables are cleaned and someone is roaming offering coffee, water and juice at breakfast. There are a number of different places to take your tray besides in the buffet area! The Omlette Station, pizza bar and Trident Grill for hamburgers and hot dogs is two swimming pools away from the Horizon Court. That seems like poor planning. There are multiple pools and hot tubs throughout Decks 14, 15 & 16. If you go in the Spa there is a wave pool and two hot tubs out doors. You can then use the steam and saunas in the dressing rooms and shower before returning to your room and it is free. However, nobody tells you this. Gym: This area seems very small for this size ship but it is neatly arranged with treadmills facing the windows. At the beginning of the cruise the gym was very busy in the mornings but I understand that only lasted a couple of days. I did not use the spa or talk to anyone who did. We appreciated the Laundromat facilities as did many other passengers. Wash is $1.00 and dry is 50 cents. I brought my own detergent. Bars & Lounges: There are many of these scattered around the ship, some have music and others don’t. We dine with a couple who like to dance and are really enjoying the variety of music and dance venues. Internet: We brought our laptop which was very easy to use. However, the only area for good wireless connection was on deck five midship. The price seemed good to us. It was $10.50 per 30 minutes and you buy a card at the Purser’s desk with passcodes. For those using ship’s computers, there is a good sized lab on Deck 7 across from Tequila’s restaurant. There were a number of computer classes at $25 or private lessons available at $75. Boutiques are on Decks 6 & 7 midship and are nicely arranged around the atrium. Entertainment: We prefer the large singing and dancing shows which were excellent. Both the Princess Theatre and the Vista Lounge were used for those presentations. There was the usual comedians and a wonderful piano player. The Princess Theatre is stadium seating from Deck 6 to Deck 7 but only one level. The lift between rows is enough for everyone to be able to see well. For big shows, be sure to arrive at least 30+ minutes early. One of the attractions we did not see was the Skywalkers Night Club which is aft on Deck 17 and approached by a walkway from the aft lift on Deck 16. Public Restrooms: There are many, well placed restrooms about the ship. It is usually easy to find one. After dealing with a mother in a wheel chair for several years, I applaud Princess for their handicap facilities which are scattered about the ship. You can easily get two people, a wheel chair and have lots of room to turn around in the handicap stalls, plus the bonus of having a wheel chair accessible sink available in the stall. Hooray for the architect who figured it out. The down side is the paper towels, low quality recycled paper. Not a nice touch. But the restrooms are always clean. Photoshop: It is well placed, mid ship with a wide walkway because it is a well traveled area. I was disappointed that at port disembarkation the photographer didn’t have any cute placards to stand behind announcing the port. It was just a picture on the ramp. Kids’ Program: We did not personally inspect that area but it seemed large and kids of all ages were participating. The cruise director’s staff seems to be busy, planning and executing a variety of activities to keep the passengers occupied. The Future Cruise Specialist was busy selling cruises every day. I hope their travel agents were notified. Our itinerary has been from FLL to St. Vincent, Grenada, St. Lucia, Martinique, St. Thomas, and Princess Cay. This should be the very end of the rainy season but we have had some rain everyday with lots of clouds. Today, December 26, is our last day at sea and the sky is still overcast at 1 pm. Definitely a day to be staying inside. Our day at Princess Cay was probably the best weather. Many people expressed the wish to have several days there. This is our first time at Princess Cay. I am sure there were enough loungers for every person on the ship. Lots of sun and lots of shade were available. We got off the ship early and were able to secure one of the natural palapas. I understand you can also pre-reserve covered “huts” for your family. They take 2 or 3 loungers. There are many native vendors who take cash only and several shops operated by the cruise line where you can use your key card. There are several bars with roaming waiters. Service was great. Lunch was served in two different locations at noon. It was a nice variety of picnic food. You can eat at tables in a covered area or take food back to your lounger. The water is beautiful and there are lots of water activities. The only down side was that we had to leave the beach at 2 pm. All day would have been much better, especially since this was our only day of sunshine for the whole day.

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Nov 20, 2005

Western Caribbean

A little bit of history Some would like to know from what perspective this review is based on. I'm a 31-year-old male from Ohio and this makes my 8th cruise. Of my previous cruises, six were Carnival ships and one was Royal Caribbean. I like the fun atmosphere, good food, and good service that seem to be the standard on Carnival ships. I know these aren't considered "luxury" cruises, and I believe my expectations are reasonable. As

I have mentioned in previous reviews, there are always an abundance of things to do on a cruise. This review will of course highlight only what we chose to do. If you enjoy this review, you can check out the other two I wrote for this site. Carnival Elation: http://www.cruisereviews.com/CarnivalCruiseLines/Elation24.htm Carnival Glory: http://www.cruisereviews.com/CarnivalCruiseLines/CarnivalGlory13.htm If you want to contact me, I can be reached at: Lorne_torres at NO SPAM hotmail.com (format like a regular e-mail address.) Day 1 (Sail away) Getting to the ship We took a straight flight from Cleveland to Fort Lauderdale via Continental. The flight went well and arrived in about 2 hours 20 minutes. After getting our bags from the terminal, we took a taxi over to the ship. This proved to be the best way to go because the port is a mere10 minutes from the airport and it doesn’t make sense to load yourself into a crowded bus, wait for it to fill up, and wait some more while they load a million pieces of luggage into the cargo space. I’m not big on waiting and by opting to go with cab service (an abundance of taxis were ready and waiting), you can get to the ship much more quickly and efficiently. Check-in Check-in was the smoothest I've ever experienced on any cruise line. I don't know if that had anything to do with filling out the boarding information online, or if it had to do with the time we arrived (around 1:00pm), or whether it was just normal Princess embarkation. Whatever the case, it was FAST! Not a single line to wait in other than the 3-minute security line. The ship As I first walked into the ship's atrium, I was a bit under whelmed by the overall look of things. But, after having a few days to look around, the ship's decor and "feel" grew on me. I was more used to a “Vegas” look, and this ship had a more refined look. All of the ship's “places to be” were put in the right spots. Elevator speed was about on par with other cruises. Upon thinking about how other ships are laid out, I felt this one had a very well thought-out design. Our Room We were convinced we would get a “ghetto room” (i.e. joke terminology for a super small room with no window) since we opted for an inside cabin. For this sailing, which was during the week of November 20th-27th 2005, we paid $750.00 per person. It was actually a pretty big room. I'm used to Carnival rooms which are considered big. However, this one seemed bigger. I'm guessing it was about 160 square feet. We had a bed that was about queen-size (two single beds pushed together) and I had no problems sleeping on it. We also had a pretty decent sized window. Next time, I think I'm going to go for a balcony suite though. The bathroom was tiny, as cruise bathrooms generally are. But, that was okay. I don't spend that much time in it. I would change the shower size though since it was quite small. It's a good thing I'm not a “big guy” because I don't know how large people would fit in the thing. I'm guessing they take their baths in the pool. Carnival seems to have their "ghetto" rooms at the bottom of the ship (i.e. 3, 4 etc) and then everything else above (at least that has been the case with the Carnival ships I've been on). This ship has the "ghetto" rooms starting on deck 8 and then I would assume they get better as you go up. Most of the "places to be" (lounges, show areas, dining rooms, bars, shopping areas, etc) can be found on decks 5, 6, and 7 (except for the dance club and a few other things). We are big bottled water drinkers. So, when we got there we noticed that they had Dannon spring water (1.5L) @ $2.95 per bottle. I paged the room steward and ordered 10 bottles right off the bat (we go through that in a couple of days). He brought it to us within 5 minutes. Nice. The only thing we didn't have in our cabin was a supply of washcloths (which my wife absolutely must have in order to wash her face before she can go to bed).We reminded the cabin steward twice (once in the afternoon and once in the evening) that we were in need of washcloths. It took awhile to receive them. But, he apologized and said they were really busy. No problem. We aren't hard to please. But, we do enjoy good service. :) One thing we noticed nightly was the sound of the Princess Theater. Since we stayed in E211 (and were right above the theater), there were definitely bass sounds that we heard reverberating from below. Not a big deal when we were awake. But, we didn't appreciate the noise when we were trying to get some sleep. They had a fruit bowl card that you could fill out and hang on the door. So, we chose the items that we wanted and they came the next day around 4:00pm. The bananas and apples were fine. However, the oranges and pears looked horrible. I liked where the TV was placed, although it was difficult for the remote control to reach it at the normal angles. I was also hoping for the “on TV” excursion ordering and invoice viewing. On Carnival, you can order your excursions (instead of waiting in a line to order them), or view your cabin invoice (up to the minute charges) on the TV to check discrepancies instead of going to the purser to get a paper invoice. I was really disappointed that this ship didn't offer that service as it makes things much more convenient for guests. The channel selection wasn't the best. But, it had a movie channel, a cartoon channel, CNN, ship frontal camera, ship stats, etc. The majority of the time, the channel reception was pretty choppy when trying to watch movies or programs. Oh, and no towel animals the entire cruise. Not sure if this is standard for Princess or whether our cabin steward chose not to make them. Please iron my clothes Since it isn't convenient to iron certain pieces of clothing every night for dinner, I had our room steward pick up 4 shirts and 1 pair of dress pants. More on that later. Life boat drill / Muster station drill (blah blah whatever) Yes, safety rocks... but not when the chances of you sinking at sea these days has been reduced to hardly anything. This muster drill was much more elaborate compared to Carnival. We had to meet in the main theater and listen to at least 20-30 minutes of drivel before we could leave. I heard a guy next to me say that we should have some sort of “life boat drill certification” so that we didn't have to attend anymore muster drills in the future after obtaining the certification. I agree 100%. When was the last time a cruise ship sank? Welcome aboard show (I think) :) If you sit at the front of the theater (at least this night) forget about bar service. I had to go to the bar in the back to get a drink. Different from Carnival is the fact that the welcome aboard show has the senior staff (shopping guy, Internet guy, art person etc...) peddling their wares as they introduce themselves. After that, it was time for the comedian Scott Wyler. He was a pretty funny guy. I was laughing for most of the show. His mannerisms and gestures made for a pretty entertaining show. I'm real big on sitting in the front row (or as close as possible), since you get to see a lot more by watching someone that close. I think you miss a quite a bit when you sit far away. I was looking forward to seeing this guy again. Nighttime wandering I'm big on going up to the top deck to check out the windiest part of the ship at night. Anyway, the best part of the ship (the front) was blocked off with a "Strong winds/ No entry" sign. Well, I went over the rope anyway. It's always the best part of the ship in my opinion. No one was there,  it had an excellent view of the water, the wind was gushing, and I felt peaceful. I was all set with my bucket of beer (5 Dos Equis XXX in a bucket @ $16.95 (includes tip)) and my 20 gigger iPod. Day 2 (Day at Sea) Afternoon wandering. We wandered around for awhile and noticed there was a movie playing in the main theater. Batman Begins. We opted not to spend the time watching it since we had already seen it when it first came out. It was nice to know they have movies playing from time to time. They ended up showing about 3-4 movies during the week. We didn’t watch any of them. But, when we had poked our heads in a couple of times, the theatre was never crowded. Press my clothes please.... Okay, so we are in our room at 3pm to take a little nap. I woke up around 4pm and still no clothes. I waited until 4:26 (mind you, we are going to eat dinner around 5:30) and then I paged the room steward. No answer. I called the pursers desk and she said she would talk to Housekeeping to find out the status. She then called back a few minutes later and let me know that my room steward would be bringing my clothes by. I can't get ready for formal night until I get my dress shirt and pants.  :( A knock at the door at 5:05pm with my clothes. Good thing I get ready fast. :) If the rooms only had irons and ironing boards. They have these on each floor. But, since it's open to the public, there are often lines. Who wants to waste valuable cruise time waiting in line to iron? Fernando the Hypnotist (Vista Lounge) He had an 8:45pm show and a 10:45pm show. I went to both of them because it's hilarious to watch people get zonked out and make idiots of themselves. :) Some of the things he had them do was dance like a ballerina, rock out like AC/DC, believe they are naked, believe the audience is naked, make them feel like they are watching a funny movie, a sad movie, then an adult film. There was a Mormon guy and a rapper guy that were hypnotized and they were both hysterical. The one rapped to Young MC's "Bust a Move" in Chinese (the kid's interpretation of Chinese, that is). The Mormon guy was very scared when told he was watching an “adult film”. There was a Broadway style show called “Dance” in the main theater tonight.  But, we skipped it because we've seen those types of shows about a million times and they are all about the same with minor differences. I have no clue how it was. Day 3 (Day at sea due to weather) First stop Cozumel Nope... no stop today. The weather was bad (so said the captain) even though the sun was out. I guess it had something to do with the winds and the safety of tendering people ashore. That stinks because we were going to do the two person speedboat excursion. Oh well. I saved $219.00. Back to the room to get some more sleep since we set our alarms for 7:30am to make the excursion on time. It would have been nice to know this before we left our rooms. Finding a seat on deck Hahahah... nope. We looked for two seats for about 2 hours. Towels, books, sandals, plates, you name it. They were all on the chairs. This even in spite of the fact that the Princess Patter ( the info sheet delivered to your cabin each day) stated that there will be no saving deck chairs and that any articles left for more than 30 minutes will be picked up and taken to a designated area. That was a total joke. I was very close to picking up someone’s stuff and moving it myself. There was always one chair here and one there. But, these were only in the worst parts of the ship (i.e. where no sun was hitting at the time). The kicker was watching people put their towels on their chairs and go all the way to the buffet (on the other side of the ship) and bring their food back and sit on the deck chair. This type of seat holding should be banned on all cruise ships and according to the Princess Patter, it is banned on Princess ships. But, no action was ever taken. If you can't stay at your chair (or have at least one person in your party watch over the chair) then you shouldn't be able to hold a seat. We finally found two in the sun around 2pm in a secluded corner. That would have been great except for the fact that we smelled strong boat fumes. I think we'll have to get the chairs early next time. I don't know if the overcrowding on the top deck was because everyone had their bathing suits on to get ready for their excursions in Cozumel and then due to cancellation everyone decided to go up top, or just that there weren't too many day activities going on inside because most people get off the ship while in port, or just a lot of sunbathers for this trip. Comedian / Magician (James “The Kid” Michael) This guy was nuts. I think he was on speed or something prior to doing the show based on how charged and energetic he was and how quickly he delivered one liner after one liner. Very different kind of act. He only did about 4 or 5 magic tricks. But, they were pretty good ones. Definitely much better than some of the substandard ones I've seen in the past. He even had a trick with a live skunk that gets a few people to jump. Good stuff. Day 4 (Grand Cayman) Stingray City Snorkel We took the tender to the pier (on deck 4) and waited about 10 minutes to board. The tender ride is about 10-15 minutes. Once we got to the pier (we got there about an hour before our excursion time) there was a very small beach area that we enjoyed. Although it was a bit rocky, we had a good time relaxing there and even found several hermit crabs. The water seemed cold at first. But, it soon became very warm. I was ready for the stingray snorkel. After we were done at the beach, we met at the time specified (1:15pm) and headed off to the bus which took us to the boat. The boat was a nice size and we didn't feel crowded. We were able to see a lot of stingrays. I pulled from the bucket of food a few times to feed them. Very awesome and friendly creatures. Sometimes it could be a little overwhelming especially when there are two or three swimming by you at the same time. But, definitely worth it. You were given about 45 minutes in the water with them. The time passes way too quickly. So, enjoy every minute of it! On our way back they were offering Stingray City beer for $4.00 a bottle. Very good beer, tasted like a micro brew. After getting back, we had to wait in a HUGE line for the tender. (I do mean HUGE!!) Although the line moved at a decent pace, we still had to wait quite awhile. They need to build an area for the cruise ships to dock in Grand Cayman. This port has been around for awhile. So, I don't know why they haven't done this yet. All in all a great tour. Comedian Show (Scott Wyler 2nd night) He went for at least an hour. It was great how he was commenting on the tender line from Grand Cayman and making fun of how long it took. Day 5 (Montego Bay Jamaica) Countryside tour with lunch This tour was pretty enjoyable. They take you on a river raft ride down the Great River. Beautiful scenery and very quiet. Our raft captain was Sherman. He said he's been rafting for 16 years. It's amazing how they have to make their own rafts every 10 months. Each time a river tour has ended, they have to bring the raft back upstream manually (which takes 2 hours). They get paid 7 American dollars per trip (45 minutes down and 2 hours up). Good thing 1 American dollar equals 60 Jamaican. We gave the guy an extra $10.00 at the end. Along the way, he showed us the “touch me not” plants. When you touch them, they close up and open back up in 5-10 minutes. They were amazing! I've never seen anything like it. He also showed us the (I think he said) “Fifi flower”. Once you take it apart, you can use the inside part of it to create a very loud whistle by putting it between your lips. Then he showed us a natural waterfall which the locals drink from. It started to rain mid-tour which added to the beauty (since it was light rain). But, then it started getting a little cold. Good thing it stopped about 5 minutes later. After the raft ride, it was off to watch a guy climb a coconut tree and taste the fresh coconut milk and meat. I love fresh coconut. It's great for your blood pressure, heart, liver, and kidney cleansing. The locals say it's great for hangovers (which I’m sure is due to the natural electrolytes in the water). They also say “One a day keeps the doctor away” as we would normally say for apples. Time for some more tasting around the corner where we sat and listened to them talk about Blue Mountain coffee, bananas (and banana rum), and coconut. We were able to taste banana liqueur, and FRESH Pina Colada. And when I say fresh, I mean it was the best I’ve ever had. Only natural ingredients were used. No syrup and other garbage like that. They said if any of your friends want the recipe, they need to go to Jamaica. After that, we met the “banana man”. He drove us on a tractor around the banana plantation. He described every part of the banana plant, from the base to the flower and then he sung us a song “daylight come and me wanna go home”. No part of the banana or tree goes unused. Just how it should be. Time for our lunch, which was a small but great-tasting authentic Jamaican buffet. Barbecued chicken, rice and beans, coleslaw, rolls, and red punch (I couldn't tell if it had alcohol in it or not because I had already consumed a few drinks). After lunch, it was off to shop downtown. We noted an interesting thing about this part of the tour. After exiting the bus, one of the guides said that we should “shop only in this direction” pointing to the Indian/Pakistani shops and not the local Jamaican shops (obviously the tour guides are getting paid on the side from the owners of the stores they urged us to shop in). We also came to find that the shops the guide recommended were charging more for their merchandise. We had a few locals come up to us and tell us what was going on. They said things are cheaper buying from locals and not the shops our tour guide was recommending. After getting back to the terminal building and telling some of the local bartenders, they seemed ticked off and with good reason. Sadly, this was another case of good old human greed at its finest. We found this out after buying from the Indian stores. On the other hand, I was approached by 3 locals asking me if I wanted some smoke and one even went into detail telling me he had black hash. We aren't in Kansas any more Toto. Like most of these tours, everyone wants your money. From the Banana guy, to the guy making the pina coladas, the tour guide, and even the guy who climbs the coconut tree. So be prepared to bust out the tips. Overall a very nice tour. I would recommend trying it once and I'd go back for the rafting more than once. Bar in the Jamaican Terminal building This bar has a nice little secret. The beer is cheaper than on the ship, and they have these meat pies called “Juici Beef patties” for $1.50. Man, those things are addictive. We had two of them and I could have easily had more. Spotlight Cabaret (Live Wire – Celtic Music) Very talented guitar/violin couple. In addition to playing their instruments, they also sing and do a little comedy. Both were awesome to watch. They did a few goodies like "Dueling Banjos", "The Devil Went Down to Georgia", and a few other popular songs as well as a couple of their own. I'm diggin it. Give My Regards (Broadway style show #2) The 4 main singers had excellent voices. I'm not really into these types of shows as they all usually seem about the same. However, they all did a good job, had great audience contact, and didn't have any foul-ups. I was talking to a couple next to me and they were there to see the show for the second time and another couple had seen it 3 times. Deck party First of all, the "party" was hard to find as just about every part of the ship up top seemed quiet and deserted. Finally, we found it at a very small part of the ship all they way in the back. That's great and all if you want to spotlight a band (which they did) But, it was insanely crowded to the point where you could hardly move. I like when other ships have this by the main pool area of the ship. You feel less like sardines that way. Even though the music was good, we left after about 5 minutes and had some late night buffet. At this point in the cruise, food does not have the same appeal as it did in the beginning since you are completely loaded with it at all times. Off to the room with our full bellies. :) Day 6 (Day at Sea) My experience at Scoops Ice Cream Parlor We decided to get some ice cream. There was a little line (about 5 or so people ahead of us) and it moved pretty quickly. They do charge for their ice cream ($1.50 for soft serve and $3.75 for everything else). I had a Strawberry Landslide and my wife had chocolate soft serve in a cone. I tasted hers and it was just average soft serve. But, the Strawberry Landslide was delicious! I would definitely recommend them for their hard serve ice cream sundaes! How about a deck chair? Today it was a bit easier to get a deck chair than it was on the “missing Cozumel” day. I'm guessing because most of the people were sunburned and/or they got it out of their system the first day they hogged all the chairs. Cinematastic This was another Broadway-style show. There were about 3 acts that I liked (and I'm not really into these types of shows as I mentioned before). They did a Titanic/Ghost combo, a Cirque du Soleil imitation, and a few other things Cabaret Spotlight (Comedian David Deeble) This guy has a very unique way of combining comedy and juggling. Even though I thought he was funny, he didn't as many laughs as the other comedians. He reminded me of a skinnier Kevin Ferlin (http://www.whyimright.com). Hi Kevin! His sense of humor was spot on. But, most people didn’t get it. His act was a blend of self-deprecating comments, dry humor, and semi-risky stunts. Good job, David. :) Late Night show (Fernandez the Hypnotist and his Jerry Springer show) Wow... this show was one of the funniest I've seen in a long time. The final 7 volunteers that were left (after the other 13 were weeded out) had some outrageous commentary. Especially the part where he tells the girls they now have “male members” and then tells the guys that they no longer have one. The reactions were just hysterical. Then, there was a part in the Jerry Springer segment where he asked them to “tell a secret” to their pretend family. Ahh never mind, it would take too long to explain that one. Anyway, the stuff they were coming up with was priceless and completely convincing. Day 7 (Princess Cays) Wow! I wish we could have stayed here for a couple of days! This place had a resort quality to it. There were so many things to do........everything from snorkeling, banana-boating, to aqua-biking, sailing etc.. It was a gorgeous day and I overheard many people say they wanted to stay another night. When it was time to return to the ship, the tender line was pretty long again. It was a little faster than the tender line in Grand Cayman though. I picked up one of the souvenir monkey coconut heads (it comes with a drink in it) that doubles as a piggy bank ($3.00 extra when you buy a frozen drink). Back on the ship for some relaxation I wanted to lie in the sun for as long as possible on this final day, before heading back to our incessantly gray and gloomy state. I was able to find a deck chair in the sun and near the bar (yes...it was a miracle). I hopped in the pool and it seemed to be chlorinated water instead of the saltwater that you normally get in Carnival pools. Going back and forth between the cold pool water and the hot deck chair while having a Bass Ale was nothing less than bliss. At this point, I was finally feeling the relaxation of the cruise. Of course....now that I had to leave the next day. Photo gallery They gallery was nicely laid out. But, it was jam-packed with people all the time. They really do need a bigger area. This was always the most crowded area of the ship and you had to go through there to get to one of the main theatres. It was quite aggravating trying to navigate through the sea of people agonizing over which photos to choose. Oh well. Every ship we have ever been on seems to have this same issue. Final show (Live Wire and James “The Kid” Michael) Pretty decent show. The first part was more of the guitar/violin couple and then the second part was more magic from “The Kid”. I thought it was entertaining. However, it seemed to be a bit short. Time for bed now as we could both barely keep our eyes open. We put our tags on our suitcases and left them outside our door. They were picked up within the hour. Day 8 (Disembarkation) Upon waking up this morning, we found that the final invoice was placed in our cabin mailbox. A not-so-horrible $947.00 (roughly). Disembarkation was fairly smooth even though it took awhile for our cabin to be called. We were off the ship around 10:00am. Customs was pretty quick, especially if you have a passport instead of birth cert/ID. The one thing we had a problem with was the fact that when we finally found our luggage, two of the suitcases were badly damaged. The wheels were torn off one and the other had massive dents in it. I swear, luggage must have a big “BEAT ME TO DEATH” sign on it. Or at least that's what the staff must think. We then took a Taxi back to the airport (cost was $11.70 and I gave the lady a $20.00). The drive back was faster than it was on the way to the ship. Food in general We didn't do any dining room breakfasts or lunches. So, I can't tell you how they were. Buffet Breakfasts We went to the buffet most mornings. I tried a variety of the offerings. Everything was pretty good except for the scrambled eggs. They have no taste. I'm not even sure they are real eggs. Possibly an egg product. They did have regular fried eggs which were good. I stuck with those for the rest of the trip. Other types of items included sausage, turkey sausage, baked tomatoes, omelets, potatoes, rice and beans, cold cereal, oatmeal, fruit, milk, pancakes, french toast, muffins, danishes and sometimes they fish such as smoked salmon. Buffet lunches Buffets are located on the Lido deck (both sides of deck 14). I'm not quite sure which buffet we ate at. But, they had their buffet laid out quite a bit differently (and in a much less user-friendly manner) than we have previously seen on Carnival ships. There were theater-style rope railings almost indicating a direction in which to go. However, there were several different sections to the buffet and there were no “enter here” or “exit here” signs. Needless to say, it was sort of chaotic. People were cutting in line and I'm not quite sure they knew what  to do and where to go (and neither did we). So, we just darted in and out of the sections that had the items we wanted and tried to dodge other people in the mean time. This seemed to be the only way to do it. I'm guessing it's a joke played on the passengers for fun. :) The food at lunch was slightly above average for a buffet meal. There was always a decent variety and the offerings seemed to change slightly from day to day. The buffet included items such as sushi, vegetarian burritos, salad, cheese, sandwiches (different every day), rice and beans, and a many other odds and ends which were all pretty good. Finding a table close to the buffet was a challenge, especially if you wanted a window seat Anytime dining I was a little leery about trying this new form of dining. Although my wife was also a little hesitant to try it, she wanted me to make the decision. So, I decided it would be good to give the "anytime dining" a try. Our first night we went to the Capri dining room because it opens at 5:30pm (the Portofino opens at 6:00pm). We got there at 5:30, and by 5:33 they opened the doors and we were the first ones in the dining room. We made sure to get there early because I had heard horror stories of people waiting around forever to eat and I didn't want to miss the show. Anyway, we had a very nice dinner the first night (I had fillet of Zander). Some of the differences we noticed about Princess dinners (as opposed to Carnival) were that the bread was on the table instead of the bus boys bringing it to you, the waiter served you the alcoholic beverages (which was nice) instead of having a barmaid come by during dinner, and they had an "always available" set of appetizers, entrees, and desserts that you could pick from no matter what night it was. Oh, and they used the little crumb scrapers to clean your table before dessert. Nice little touch. :) Another thing I noticed was that both of the waiters that came to our table (they were both waiters, no busboy/assistant waiter) offered to sell a bottle of wine and said that if we didn't drink it all, they would save it for the next night and it would be cheaper than getting individual glasses. The actual cost was about the same. If you order a bottle of wine and do not finish it at the table you can have them put a tag on it and they will hold onto it until the next dinner. The next night you just tell them your cabin number and they bring your bottle of wine back to your table. The other option is just to take the bottle with you. Since there are already many other reviews out there that discuss what types of food you can order on the ship, I'll just mention a few that I had.........swordfish, eggplant parmesan, salad, shrimp cocktail, cheese plates, chilled soups, etc...etc.. etc.. The review below is for you if you want to know about all the food in detail: http://www.cruisereviews.com/PrincessCruises/StarPrincess59.htm First formal night dinner. We sat at a different table in the Capri dining room this night (#32) and had a much nicer dining experience. I suggest getting there early by 5:20 or 5:25pm to avoid waiting. I hate to wait because I don't want to have to rush or miss any of the shows. When you go at this time, there are no more than 5 or 6 couples waiting for dinner. You are seated within minutes. Most of the people were dressed in suits, some were dressed in tuxes. There were a few people (not many) walking around the ship in casual clothes. On Carnival ships, you tend to see more people in casual attire on the formal nights. Second Formal night dinner (Sabatini's) We chose to spend the extra $20.00 per person to dine at Sabatini's Trattoria on the final formal night. Our reservation was for 6:00pm. Please go to this place with a completely (and I do stress completely) empty stomach. We were “fairly” hungry when we went and were stuffed halfway through the meal. The potato pillows and the “flan-like” dessert are scrumptious. They keep bringing you food, and more food, and then more food. It was all very nice. But, now I know why Italians can get rather large. :) Prego's Pizza The pizza was very good (not as good as Carnival's). But, it was much better than Royal Caribbean’s. The taste was good. However, the slices were so paper-thin that they would just fall apart. The had a few different pizzas to chose from and there were also the usual side offerings such as pepper seeds, parmesan cheese, and what looked like oregano to sprinkle on your pizza. Experience with Room Service. Generally room service took about 20-30 minutes no matter what you ordered. I always tipped them at least 3-5 bucks. The guys who came were very professional. Sometimes it could take awhile for them to answer the phone (one time I sat on hold for 5 minutes). I always received what I ordered except for one time when they didn’t bring the flan. Drink Quality We generally ordered drinks like vodka and soda, Becks beer, Dewar’s and soda, and Crown Royal and soda. We had a few other odds and ends like Strawberry Daiquiri, Passion fruit something or another, and a couple others. The normal drinks were fine. But, the sweet ones were way too sweet and syrupy. Most people seemed fine with it though. So, if you have the typical American taste (i.e. liking things that are very sweet or very salty), you'll do just fine with them. :) Activities aboard The daily activities that Princess has are things like quizzes, shuffleboard, ceramics classes, dance classes, trivia, line dancing, scavenger hunts, bingo, ping pong, putt putt course, pool games, art auctions, movies, afternoon tea, water volleyball, live music at the piano bar, the wheelhouse bar, the vista lounge, nightly shows, spa treatments, ice carving demonstrations, snorkel lessons, outburst game, card playing get-togethers, getting tan on the sundeck, pictionary, shopping, Casino games, and eat, eat, eat, etc... Definitely no lack of things to do. People to note: There were 3 individuals who I thought made this cruise nice. Two in the dining room and one in the lobby bar. Great dining room staff: Anna (from Poland) and Wojtek (also from Poland), the barmaid (I can't remember her name now) is from Portugal. She was very, very nice. The cruise director was decent. But, he wasn’t on the stage for very long at any one time. Princess Theater and Vista Lounge Both could accommodate large groups of people. Obviously, the theater can hold more and most of the time they did put the right show in the appropriate place. There were a couple of times however, where the main shows would be in the Vista Lounge and it would be packed with people standing. The Princess Theater had mini tables built into each chair (it was made so that it just folded out of one of the chair arms). This was nice because if you wanted a drink, you could place it there. Otherwise, you had no extra table or stand getting in your way. Also, I noticed that there weren’t any support columns (typical on Carnival) in the Princess Theatre that would get in the way of viewing the show. Although, there were some in the Vista Lounge that could obstruct one's view of the show. Differences from Carnival They (meaning Princess)… Didn’t shove Bingo down your throat. Made their pools and Jacuzzis available for use 24 hours a day. Have much better water pressure in the shower. Didn’t bother you with “pages” in your cabin. If you wanted to hear the ships announcements, you could turn to a certain channel on your TV. Didn’t have as many “day games” in the theater or lounges. They just had "talks" that were for encouraging passengers to buy more cruises, services, or items. Have a frequent cruiser benefits program (Gold, Platinum, etc..) Have less of a party atmosphere and cater to a more “mature” environment Have a better in-room safe. This is nice because you just type a 4-digit code instead of having to swipe a card. -Have better quality shows. The dancers, the singers, and the lighting and sound effects seem more “Vegas-like” than Carnival. Have less food selection on their buffet than Carnival. Carnival shines compared to Princess in this area. Have a decent nightclub. However, the music wasn’t that great. They tried to mix it up with some really old stuff that shouldn’t be played at clubs anymore. Conclusion We had a good time on this ship. But, it took a little while to get used to. When you have taken several cruises with one line, it’s hard to change unless the change is for the better. Would I go on Princess again? Probably not. The next time I take a cruise, I will choose either a smaller, more exclusive ship from a different line or another Carnival cruise. I guess I’m a just Carnie at heart.

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Oct 22, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

One week prior to departure, all eyes were on Hurricane Wilma, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Caribbean. At first it was thought Wilma would pass over South Florida on Friday morning the Oct. 21st. However, unfortunately for those living in Cozumel and Cancun Wilma, a category 5 hurricane, stalled and pounded both of these resort areas for two days. Finally, she made a hairpin turn and headed straight for Florida and the Keys.

She was not downgraded to a tropical storm as predicted, but rather on Monday the 24th she crossed over the width of South Florida and struck directly everywhere from Miami north to West Palm Beach, as a Category 2 or 3. We were lucky, the Star Princess sailed into Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday the 23rd and disembarked her passengers just in time. We embarked at noon (even though our ticket suggested 2:00pm as the optimum embarkation time). We felt with Wilma breathing down our necks, we should anticipate the boarding time, and we were right. Star Princess anticipated sailing time by an hour and a half. We sailed at 3:30pm, since Port Everglades was shutting down for hurricane safety reasons. This cruise was to become an exercise in flexibility; at first most of the passengers were just happy that it was not canceled due to the weather. However, Commodore Cesare Ditel made welcomed itinerary changes; after all, safety comes first! He is the Senior Commander on the Princess Lines and we were delighted to place ourselves in his very capable hands. Sunday we set sail for Ocho Rios, Jamaica; then Monday at 3:30pm it was announced that our course was changed to San Juan, Puerto Rico. We berthed there at 5:30pm on Tuesday. The new itinerary included St. Thomas USVI, Tortola BVI, and Princess Cays, Bahamas. EMBARKATION Embarkation was speedy and orderly; we had wheelchair assistance from the moment we entered the port terminal straight through to our stateroom on Caribe Deck 10. We were located by the forward lifts (elevators) and had been assigned to the Amalfi Dining Room which was aft, a long walk from our cabin. We immediately went to see the 2nd Maitre D' Vincenzo Petrucci, who kindly changed us to the Portofino Dining Room Midship. We had a table for two by the window --- Excellent. We heard comments about first night dining experiences. With "Personal Choice Dining," it is always better to speak with the Maitre D' when arriving on board, rather than waiting for dinner time and ending up in a crowd of passengers attempting to make changes. All set, we headed for the Welcome Aboard Buffet. It was ample and delicious, but a bit rushed for some, since the Boat Drill had been moved up an hour earlier to accommodate early sailing. We started our cruise with Hurricane Wilma nipping at our heels. We learned that the hurricane eye passed directly over our home in Boca Raton, FL and did major redecorating of our trees and landscaping while blowing out our pool screen structure. We saw the devastation in Ft. Lauderdale on our way home. High rises in both Miami and Ft. Lauderdale had most of their windows blown out and South Floridians would remain without electricity and traffic lights for weeks. Miami was closed to non residents for over one week. Nature's fury was evident all around. THE SHIP The Star Princess is one of four of the Grand Class Ships: The Grand Princess, the Golden Princess, and the Sapphire Princess are her sister ships. The bronze plaque on board the Star states she was built in the Fincantieri Monfalcone Shipyard, Cantieri Navali, Italy. She is hull #6051 launched in 2002 at a cost of $450 million, and she is exquisite. Her length is 951 feet; beam is 159 feet including the bridge wing; her tonnage is 109,000 and her draft only 26 feet. Her maximum speed is 24 knots and she has Bermuda registry. The Star has 18 decks, 1,301 cabins and eighty percent of her outside cabins have balconies. She has 28 wheelchair accessible cabins (18 outside, 10 inside). There were 2,800 passengers on board with a crew of 1,200 which is a great passenger to crew ratio. Her crew is listed as British and Italian reflecting the origins of Princess --- The merger of Sitmar Italian Line and P&O British lines. Star Princess has the same elegant all white exterior of her sister ships. There are four swimming pools and nine whirlpool spas; there are three main dining rooms: the Amalfi, the Capri and the Portofino (all in the same lustrous maple wood paneling with brass and etched glass wall sconces. The ceilings are studded with tiny twinkling star lights. There are gold gilt ceiling moldings, elegant draperies of blue and gold and all table linens are the lovely "Fili d'Oro." There are seven other dining venues including the Horizon Court Buffet (24 hour service) Tequila's (southwestern style with reservations and a nominal charge) Sabatini's Trattoria (fine upscale Italian dining, reservations required and a nominal fee) and Prego's Poolside Pizzeria and the Trident Grille. The Star Princess, like her sister ships, is easily spotted in port or on the seas, due to the unique rear "spoiler" high over her stern, which houses the Skywalkers Night Club (deck 17) accessible by a moving walkway (Skywalk). This vision of space has a raised dance floor and lots of chrome trim. The ceiling is starred and the carpeting has planets comets and asteroids. From up here in the day time cruisers can look down on the Sports Deck and the ocean. Gala Deck 4 has the medical center. Plaza Deck 5 forward has a Laundromat and cabins. Midship are the Art Gallery, Reception and Tour offices, the Lobby Bar, Library and Card Room and on board shops. Toward aft is the Capri Dining Room and the Galley. Fiesta Deck 6 forward is the Princess Theater (with stairs to the theater), Shooters Bar, the Video Arcade, the Grand Casino, the Reception Desk, Boutiques and the Portofino Dining Room, the Galley and the Amalfi Dining Room aft. Promenade Deck 7 forward is the Princess theater balcony with wheelchair access ramps and the last three rows reserved for passengers with limited mobility. The last row had room for wheelchairs and seats for companions. Excellent! When going toward midship there is the Promenade Bar, the Internet Cafe, Tequila's alternative dining, the lovely wedding chapel and the Boutiques. These venues are arranged along a serpentine corridor. Toward aft is the Explorers Showroom, the Wheelhouse Bar, Sabatini's Trattoria and the Photo Shop (there is excellent photography on board with formal and black and white sittings available). All the way aft is the Vista Lounge with an intimate design and stage. All seats here have a great view of the stage. Emerald Deck 8, Dolphin Deck 9, Caribe Deck 10, Baja Deck 11 and Aloha Deck 12 are all staterooms and there are Laundromats on every deck. Lido Deck 14 has staterooms forward. Toward midship are Neptune's Reef and pool area, Mermaid's Tail Bar, Prego Pizza, Trident Grill and the Conservatory. Midship are the Calypso Reef and Pool. Aft are the Horizon Food Court & Terrace and the Outrigger Bar. Sun Deck 15 forward has the Gymnasium with many types of exercise machines, the Oriental Lotus Spa and Current Pool. Here Vincent enjoyed the whirlpool and Mary the current pool, whose temperature was perfect! This area is decorated with an Asian theme with murals, a statue in lotus position and a huge gong resembling a bell. It is very beautiful especially in the morning. Midship are the Tradewinds Bar and Princess Links with Putting Green and Golf Course Simulator. Aft is the Fun Zone and Off Limits the teen area. Sports Deck 16 forward is Center Court, the Jogging Track and the top deck of Fun Zone and Off Limits. Sky Deck 17 is the Skywalkers Night Club suspended high above the ship. This ship has very simple, clean lines of design and lovely unique art work. There is interesting original art work in every stairwell, but the ship itself is a design jewel or STAR. FOOD SERVICE Here is where Star Princess shines. The service under Passenger Services Director Gianfranco Sampiero is excellent. The ship is in pristine condition and her crew is on its toes. We were impressed by Executive Chef Mario Rotti and his exquisite dishes. The Senior Maitre D' Mario Propato is assisted by three other Maitre D's. In the Amalfi was Vincenzo, and in the Capri was Roberto and in the Portofino, where we dined, was Rodel De Leon. These accomplished men kept the dining room staff humming. Assistant Maitre D' Antonio Mesquita, our Waiter Jon Dumitrescu and his assistant Preecha Homsombath made sure that everything was perfect. The service was impeccable. The meals were always nicely paced each evening. Food temperature was perfect. All items were varied, innovative, fresh and plated to please the eye and the palate. We had each morning Continental breakfast in our stateroom: juice, coffee, tea, milk, cold cereals, rolls, Danish and croissants. It was always on time and served by the crew in their formal white "Bell Hop" jackets. Lunch was always available in the Dining Room or the Buffet on Deck 14. At lunch we were served wonderfully by Jansud Thammarat, Jindapong Niwat and their assistant Aji. We like the Dining Room best with appetizers like Roast Beef Andalouse (Spanish Style), Fried Calamari, Vitello Tonnato (thinly sliced veal with tuna sauce and capers), Bresaola (air cured beef with arugula and sliced Parmesan cheese, broiled mushroom and eggplant, etc.. Soups included hot ones like minestrone, French onion, cream of mushroom or asparagus, split pea, chicken broth with matzo balls, and cold ones like gaspacho. Salads were varied and included iceberg, Romaine, endive, and watercress etc. and were combined with fruits and nuts. Everyday the noon menu had two pasta selections such as the following: spaghetti aglio olio and peperoncino; lasagna; fusilli with tomato and eggplant; rigatoni carbonara (with eggs, bacon, and cream sauce). Entrees included Salad Nicoise, chili, Chicken Oriental, Blintzes, fish and chips, Cobb Salad and London Mixed Grill (beef, lamb, and English banger), Red snapper, and Savory Short Ribs. Desserts were terrific cakes, pies, ice cream, yogurts and sherbets, all made fresh on board, plus fresh fruits and cheese plates of famous international varieties (Edam, Brie, Ricotta, Parmigiano, etc.). Dinner was the same as above only more irresistible dishes. Chef Rotti definitely believes in variety and each evening in the Portofino was a feast. We have to mention the table for twelve next to ours was the Oldani Family Reunion: The rightfully proud mother was radiant every night seated at the head of her beautiful family. As our three year old grandson Nicolas says when the family is all together "It's just like a party!" Mrs. Oldani-Asensio celebrated all week with her four sons and daughter and their spouses. They even had their own Captain USN, so it was dinner with the Captain every night! A typical dinner menu had at least twenty selections, not including the Dessert Menu which usually had upwards of ten offerings. Appetizers included Lobster Terrine, Antipasti of Prosciutto and Cantaloupe, Shrimp Cocktail (always available) and Eggplant Parmigiana, etc. Soups were the classics bisques, onion etc., plus cold fantasies like Pina Colada, cream with rum, etc. Salads were fresh and included radicchio, Boston Bib, baby spinach, watercress and arugula combined with various nuts and fruits. Entrees had a different unique pasta course each night: i.e., Pasta with lemon chicken and broccoli in a tomato sauce. Unique items like filet of Zander fish, or a lobster turnover demand tasting. Yet, there was also standard holiday fare like Smoked Virginia Ham, Nebraska Prime Rib, Roasted Turkey, Pot Roast with Polenta, Rock Cornish Hen, Roasted Leg of Lamb and Shrimp Fra Diavolo or Boneless Chicken Kiev. Each menu was nicely balanced with an "Always Available" selection: Salmon Filet, Beef Filet, Chicken Breast, Fettuccine Alfredo, or vegetarian and healthy alternatives. Desserts each evening were so tantalizing, that even when Vincent said no dessert tonight, he failed to stick to it. There were Soufflés, Tiramisu, Pear tart, Creme Brulees, Yam Pie, Black Forest Torte, a Duet of White and Dark Chocolate Mousses, Ice cream Bombes, Cheesecakes, and not to mention Swan Puffs swimming on a chocolate lake. The only way to survive a culinary cruise like this one is to ask for appetizer portions, we did, and it was wonderful to sample so many delicacies. We also dined at Sabatini's Trattoria where "pranzo" Italian dinner is served with impeccable style. Food and Beverage Manager David Montes is in charge with Asst. Maitre D' Roberto Casula. Our two waiters were Gabriel Albu and Francesco Szeasz, both of whom spoke Italian to Vincent. Excellent! Pizzaiolo Demetrio Sobremonte especially makes and bakes focaccia and individual pizzas and garlic breads. They are wonderful and made to the patron's taste. When we asked for extra crispy, Demetrios responded "A La Commodore Cesare." A meal in Sabatini's is an event: three hours of twenty or so courses, music and endless attention. It truly brings Italian food and service on board to the zenith. For the main entree Mary had the Lobster Tails and Vincent the Sea Scallops. The meal begins with an endless series of appetizers including Caviar, and deep fried Camembert cheese; then, a medley of pastas including Spaghetti and Vongole, Cannelloni and the lightest Ricotta Gnocchi ever. Chef Rotti's specially prepared Lucullus was superb (pasta and mozzarella sealed in a packet of eggplant and baked). Entrees are excellent, Mary had the Lobster Tails and Vincent the Sea Scallops. The dinner ended with limoncello, a Neapolitan liquor made on board with lemons. This dinner could be called "Sapori d'Italia" (flavors of Italy), an excellent gourmet tour of Italy! CABIN Stateroom C304 on Deck 10 Caribe is wheelchair accessible. When entering on the left is a huge bathroom with safety rails all around and an oversized 5'x5' shower. There is a single sink with a triple mirror with shelves for toiletries. Then there is a double bed flanked by two bureaus (six drawers in each and reading lamps). The far wall is all floor to ceiling windows to the large 10'x16' balcony, which held two chairs, two chaises a foot stool and a small table. When entering on the right there is a wide foyer, a triple armoire with hangers and shelves and a personal mini safe. Next, there is a mini bar, small refrigerator, and a TV. There is a large desk/vanity with three large drawers and a thin paper drawer and a hair dryer. The room also has a coffee table and two upholstered barrel chairs. The colors are restful and our Steward Miguel Pineda was terrific. ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Tim Donovan is an engaging MC for the week's many activities: quiz and game shows, dance classes, Pilates, Yoga, port lectures, Scholarship at Sea Program, galley tour and a cooking show (which was a hilarious comedy involving the Chefs, Maitre D's and the audience) pottery classes, etc. There is something for all, but one may just stroll on the Promenade, sit in a deck chair and watch the sea or read a book. The Las Vegas Style shows each evening were very entertaining. The Princess Fun Zone has three categories: Princess Pelicans ages 3 to 7 yrs. (enroll from morning to night if you like); Princess Pirateers ages 8 to 12 yrs., with activities such as arts and crafts, sports tournaments, ship board Olympics, Scavenger Hunts, and "Edutainment"); The Off Limits, for ages 13 to 17 yrs., has a teen center with video games, movies, giant screen TV, ping pong, and jukeboxes. There are Teen Only Disco and Dinner Parties, Sports Tournaments and Shipboard Olympics. We have noticed on cruises that the youngsters, like the adults, soon find each other and have a great time. PORTS OF CALL Day 1. Ft. Lauderdale Depart 3:30pm Day 2. At Sea Day 3. San Juan, Puerto Rico Arrive 5:30pm Depart Midnight Day 4. St. Thomas, USVI Arrive 7:30am Depart 5:30pm Day 5. Tortola, BVI Arrive 7:15am Depart 5:50pm We had an excellent tour of Tortola by bus. We enjoyed spectacular views of the island's high peaks and beautiful crystal clear waters and beaches. Some of the ride had elements of a roller coaster. This Island is the play ground of the rich and famous like Virgin Airlines owner Brandson, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby, etc. There is great wealth here and abject poverty living side by side. Day 6. At Sea Day 7 .Princess Cays, Bahamas We sailed near Princess Cays where the ship had planned a Barbecue, shore and water fun, but unfortunately the sea was too rough to tender ashore safely, so the stop was canceled. Thus the day was spent on board with great fun and of course more casino and shopping time. Day 8. Ft. Lauderdale Arrive 6:30am The Port Everglades we returned to was vastly different than the one we sailed out of just one week before. Hurricane Wilma had left her mark every where. DEBARKATION Princess does not rush passengers out of their stateroom or off the ship. Passengers are advised to wait in their staterooms or in the public lounges, and not in the gangway area, until their luggage tag colors are called, so that an orderly exit can be achieved. However, as usual some passengers do not comply. We hated to say good-bye to our new friends and especially our old one: PSD Gianfranco Sampiero. We had wheelchair assistance from our stateroom through passport check and customs right out to the curb. No problem. CONCLUSION The change of the itinerary did not affect our enjoyment of this cruise, even though we heard some people manifesting their disappointment when the Commodore announced it from the bridge. We have cruised many times in the Caribbean, so it does not matter which ports we visit. We now cruise for the enjoyment of the ship, service and, most of all, the delicious cuisine, which on Princess ships is one of the best at sea. Moreover, for us cruising is resting and relaxation, which we had plenty this time, escaping the daily routines of our life on land and, in this case, getting away from the fury of hurricane Wilma. When we returned home, we were happy to hear that the electricity had just been restored the evening before. How lucky can you get? Gratuities are automatically charged to your sea pass card --- unlike some other lines where you must sign a request. There was a mix-up and gratuities were not charged. Vincent noticed the error when our final account statement arrived and the lovely Jr. Asst. Purser Yolanda Mills Rosati made the adjustment. It is very important to check your final statement for discrepancies. The hard working staff deserves proper recompense! While on board, we have booked another future cruise on Princess, yet to be determined. Our next cruises are on the Navigator of the Seas, Dec. 3rd, on the Costa Magica, Jan. 8th, and on the Carnival Liberty, Jan. 29th. By then we'll have planned a few more cruises for the Spring/Summer 2006, and in the autumn we'll cruise on the new behemoth Freedom of the Seas. Happy Cruising!

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May 14, 2005

BalticStar

Princess BALTICS May 2005: CRUISE REVIEW and PORT GUIDE (lengthy) BACKGROUND: I am in my late fifties and with my wife have been on sixteen previous cruises on six different cruise lines. What follows is a highly personalized review, with travel suggestions for the budget-minded cruiser. Since this review is quite lengthy, I have HIGHLIGHTED paragraphs with a key phrase in all caps so that the reader can skip down to any topic of particular

interest. I will begin with general cruise information, followed by specific Star Princess information, and end with suggestions for independent port of call excursions. Please remember that prices and itineraries change, and some of the following information may not be accurate at the time of your cruise. Although our cruise was on the Star Princess, the general cruise information and the port information given in this review should be useful to any cruiser on a Baltic itinerary. LAST THINGS FIRST: In summary, this is a very enjoyable 10 night, port-intensive cruise on an enormous (109,000 tons, 2600 passengers, and 1100 crew) but well-designed and well-run ship, cruising round trip from Copenhagen, and calling at easy-to-enjoy ports in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. PROs: Very reasonable cruise price ($1,100 per person for the best inside cabin category including all port fees and taxes, which is especially important now that the dollar is worth so little in Europe); great ports of call (each is or was an historic capital); ease of making inexpensive independent shore excursions (great public transport); ease of communication (almost everyone in Scandinavia speaks English). CONs: Expensive airfares to Europe in high season; expensive visas (or non-visa shore excursions) in St. Petersburg; distance from the dock to the city center in several of the ports; different currencies in almost every port (more about all of these issues later in this review). ITINERARY: This cruise begins and ends in Copenhagen, with stops at Nynashamn (for Stockholm), Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Gdynia (for Gdansk/Danzig), and Oslo. This itinerary alternates between Oslo and Warnemunde (for Berlin) based on departure date. The disadvantage of this itinerary is that only a part day is available in Stockholm, Tallinn, and Oslo. The advantage is that this cruise begins and ends in the Baltic area, and one does not waste cruise days (and expenses) repositioning from England or Holland to the Baltic Sea. There are two days at sea, near the beginning and end of the cruise, to recover from jet lag and excursion fatigue. SECTION 1 -- GENERAL CRUISE INFORMATION WHY CRUISE IN EUROPE: European cruises tend to be expensive relative to North American cruises, especially when one adds the cost of airfare from the U.S. However, cruising is a way of controlling your costs by pre-paying most of your expenses in U.S. dollars. In addition, most European cruise ports are user-friendly and can be thoroughly explored for about $10 per person (see port sightseeing suggestions below). Some of our favorite cruise lines like Celebrity and Holland have recently priced their European (and Alaskan) cruises out of our market, but Princess offers some very reasonable cruise fares in this region, and we were very happy with the quality of this Princess cruise. Ironically, while on this cruise I received an e-mail from Princess advertising that their subsequent Baltic Star Princess cruise departures were being discounted even further, beginning at $800 per person (I don’t know if port and tax were included) for an inside cabin during late May and June, 2005. Such news is always frustrating for those who have already booked and paid for a cruise, but cruises are like stocks or airline tickets – someone has always paid less than you did, so don’t sweat it. If you did your homework, you still got a good value. WHY CRUISE THE BALTICS: European cruises are ideal for some itineraries like the Greek islands, the Turkish coast, or the Norwegian fjords. For sightseeing in Europe I usually prefer a land-based vacation because most of the great cultural centers are not easily accessible by cruise ship (Paris, Berlin, Madrid, and London are all too far from the nearest port for an easy day trip). The Baltic nations are an exception – because of their sea-faring history, each of these nations placed its main city on the coast, and each of these cities has its own unique flavor. CHOOSING A SHIP: Once you know where you want to cruise, the next major question is which ship to take. Part of the decision will be the price. Unfortunately some cruise lines no longer allow travel agents to discount fares as they did in the past. As a result, we switched to Princess. Our only previous Princess cruise was on their small and elegant Tahitian Princess. We were a bit worried about the large size of the Star Princess, but when we looked at the space ratio (which is a rough estimate of space per passenger based on the ship’s tonnage and passenger capacity), we relaxed. There were a few times when embarkation or disembarkation at ports of call was slow because of the ship’s large size, but we never felt crowded onboard. SPACE RATIO is an indication not only of the adequacy of public areas but also the roominess of the average cabin. In general, luxury ships have space ratios above 50. Premium ships are usually in the mid to upper 40’s. Most standard ships are usually above 40. Mass-market ships are often in the 30’s. To determine the space ratio of a ship, use the brochure or the internet to find the ship’s tonnage and divide this by the average passenger capacity (two per cabin, not the maximum capacity). For example, the Star Princess is 109,000 tons, divided by 2,600 passengers gives 42 tons of space per passenger (tonnage is a measure of enclosed space rather than weight). Space ratios can be a surprise. The new Caribbean Princess class of ships has essentially the same hull and public areas as the Star Princess class of ships, but the Caribbean class adds an entire extra deck of passenger cabins, so their space ratio (36.5) is significantly less than that of the Star class, even though the ships look alike. Space ratio is not always reliable, but often we use it to provide an estimate of cruise ship comfort. CRUISE REVIEW WEB SITES and their cruise forums can provide an excellent guide, but since you are reading this you probably already use them. Among my favorites are www.cruise-addicts.com, www.cruisemates.com, and www.cruisereviews.com. They all offer a wealth of information in addition to their reviews and forums, and some have e-mail alerts regarding cruise bargains and cruise industry news. Planning a cruise is sometimes half the fun, and these web sites are a good way to do this. FINDING THE BEST CRUISE PRICE AND AGENT: The internet has revolutionized cruising. There are several web sites with excellent information about cruise opportunities, with information about ships, itineraries, and current prices. I often refer to www.icruise.com, www.cruise.com, www.cruisetar.com, and www.cheapertravel.com. The latter is the site of Pavlus Travel, which provides excellent discounts on name brand land and cruise operators. We used Pavlus to book this cruise, and relied on their web booking engine, which offers an additional discount to the price. We have always been happy with Pavlus’s service and prices. Unfortunately, some major cruise lines are trying to block agents from offering discounts, and more and more often prices are not available on the net – one must call the agent to price the cruise. In the end, this means we will either be cruising less often or will switch cruise lines (as we did for this cruise) to those cruise lines whose prices are more transparent (and a better value). PRE-CRUISE PREPARATIONS: Besides making sure that your passport has an expiration date more than 6 months after your last travel day and that you have any visas necessary based on your nationality and ports of call, the best preparation is to PACK LIGHT and to buy (or copy from your library) maps and guidebook INFORMATION ABOUT PORTS OF CALL. I am always amazed by the number of cruisers who travel unprepared for what they will see and do in ports of call. Travel is an education, and that education should begin as soon as you book your cruise. PACKING LIGHT is easy. My wife and I each travel all over the world with only a regulation (21x13x8 inch) airline carry-on bag with wheels, even when cruising. This allows maximum flexibility and peace of mind. When cruising I take three outfits: one formal, one informal, and one casual. The formal outfit is a black suit with white shirt and tie; the informal is a sport jacket with matching shirt and slacks; the casual is a knit shirt and nylon pants. I wear black shoes with rubber soles. In the tropics I add a T-shirt, shorts, sun hat, Teva-style sandals, and umbrella. In cool climates I add a turtleneck, polypro sweater/jacket, a warm cap, and a Goretex-type rain jacket/windbreaker. My wife’s travel clothes are analogous – she packs cocktail slacks and a designer jacket for formal wear; a sweater, blouse and black slacks for informal wear; and a knit top and nylon slacks for casual wear. She also takes a pair joggers, Teva-style sandals, and (on cruises) low heels. Microfiber clothes don’t need ironing and they can be hand-washed in the evening, towel-wrung, and hung in your room at night (we pack a few lightweight plastic hangers for this). The clothes will be dry by morning. Leave your blue jeans at home (you’re not that young and they’re not that practical). Don’t worry about impressing any “fashionistas” onboard your cruise ship -- they are more interested in what they themselves look like than what you look like. A GOOD GUIDEBOOK with maps makes all of the difference when traveling, even on a cruise. I recommend Rick Steves guides for major European cities and Lonely Planet guides for great maps and details about every other corner of the world. Not having a guidebook makes a cruiser dependent on package tours, which are usually high quality but relatively expensive, and they may not cater to a cruiser’s personal interests. Photocopy the guidebook chapters about your ports of call so that you can carry just a few pages ashore and discard the copies (or give them to your steward for his/her shore leave) after you have used them. Pre-cruise reading is the best investment you can make in getting the most out of your vacation. JOHN LAWRENCE, the cruise director on our Star Princess departure deserves special mention at this point. He provides the very best port of call information we have ever encountered on any cruise. He does it with clear directions (and photos) of how to travel to (and within) each port city on your own using public transportation. He includes great background and sightseeing information for each port. Fortunately his presentations are repeated on your cabin TV the evening before each port of call. He deserves the NOBEL PRIZE for cruise directors! None of our previous cruise directors has come close in this important service. AIRFARE: Perhaps the greatest downside of European cruising is the high price of airfare from the US to the embarkation port, especially since the European cruise season overlaps the high season airfares. We have had better luck purchasing our own airline tickets rather than relying on the cruise line. As an example, we were quoted $1350 per person for airfare from our local midwestern airport by the cruise line, and that does not allow a choice of airlines or routings (unless surcharged). On the net we found that one-stop airfares were $1150 and two-stop airfares were $850 for the dates we needed. In the end, we drove farther to a hub airport and took Icelandic Airlines for $680 per person. The limiting factor in our choice of airlines was that the cruise begins disembarking at 0600 but Princess recommends not taking any return flight before 1130, which left us few options for any airport near our home. A small airline like Icelandic can be a problem if there is a delay since there are few or no alternate flights to get one to the cruise dock in time. That is not a problem when one purchases air through the cruise line. Staying overnight in Copenhagen before the cruise might be an enjoyable insurance against delays or lost baggage. Icelandic Airlines is very strict about carry-on bag weight – no more than 10 pounds, which is the weight of a good quality carry-on when empty! We are used to their games and simply empty our carry-ons into our day packs, check the empty carry-ons, and take the day packs onboard the plane. Ironically, the overhead bins have been almost empty on our flights. Because of this policy against our carry-ons and because of their “thin” coverage of European routes, we would certainly never recommend Icelandic Airlines to friends. We try to avoid Icelandic Airlines when we can, but it did the job for us in this case. MONEY MATTERS: One advantage of cruising is that most expenses can be charged to one’s shipboard account, which is billed in US dollars to one’s US credit card. If one’s credit card is in some other currency, the ship will make the currency conversion before charging. I do not know what the conversion rate is, and suggest that any non-US cruiser look into this before agreeing to credit card charges onboard. A useful alternative is to take travelers checks in US dollars and cash them on board as needed. There is no fee for cashing them and one gets full value in US cash. Just be careful to count your cash – twice I have been shorted $100 by the purser when cashing travelers checks, and one of those times was on this cruise. Luckily I caught it both times. There is no receipt for these transactions, and you will have no recourse once you leave the pursers’ desk if there has been an error. While in port, we always rely on ATMs. They are widely available in Europe and work well with our local bank cards (make certain your card has a 4 digit pin, which is the standard around the world). Do NOT use your credit card or your shipboard account for a cash advance on the ship or in port – this carries a hefty fee (3% or more) and possibly additional interest. Using a credit card for purchases is fine, but keep in mind that VISA now charges a conversion fee of 1% for all transactions in foreign (non-US) currencies. SECTION 2 – STAR PRINCESS INFORMATION PRE-CRUISE BROCHURES: Princess has useful pre-cruise information in its brochures regarding what to expect on board, how one can be reached while cruising, etc. It also has a separate beautiful brochure detailing its shore excursion options for the Baltics. Even if you do not take their excursions, this brochure will provide you ideas for your own independent shore excursions, and it makes a great resource for photos and captions if you “scrapbook” your travels. Both these brochures should arrive with your pre-cruise documents. I also like to tear out and pack the sales brochure deck plans for the ship, since these are more detailed than the pocket guides you will find in your cabin. These deck plans are great for selecting your cabin and for the first day or two onboard when finding one’s way to the library or dining room or internet salon can be a challenge. My only major complaint about Princess Cruise’s pre-cruise information is that it includes absolutely nothing about the initial location of the ship. They assume one will purchase their airport to ship transfers (which cost a great deal more than public transportation). Some cruise lines are wise enough to include the name of the dock and directions how to reach it. Princess should print the name and location of its embarkation docks so that independent travelers can find them by taxi or other public transport. PRE-EMBARKATION: The Star Princess docks at Copenhagen’s Orientkaj (Orient Quay) which is north of Copenhagen’s center. It is in the Frihavn complex, but that complex is several miles long. We met several passengers whose taxis took them to the Langeliniekaj, which is a popular cruise terminal (near the Little Mermaid statue), but which is two miles from the Orientkaj. One person we met on the cruise said that she and her mother were dropped by their taxi at the wrong quay, and they had to walk the two miles along the waterfront with their suitcases since they could not find another taxi. GETTING FROM CPH AIRPORT TO THE SHIP CHEAPLY AND QUICKLY BY TRAIN: This could not be easier, and it costs less than $5 per person (taxis are about $40-50 I believe, but the taxis do take credit cards). On arrival, get some Danish Kroner (in May 2005 about 5.8 DKK to the dollar) at any ATM in the arrival area, and walk to the train ticket window in terminal 3 (just follow the signs – it is well-marked). Ask for tickets to the NORDHAVN (not Noorport) Station. This station is about 6 blocks (an easy 10-15 min walk) from the ship – you can even see the ship from the train platform when you arrive. It is best to take the airport train (which leaves every 15 minutes) a few stations past central Copenhagen station to the Oosterport Station, and then switch platforms to for the local train to Nordhavn Station (which is only one stop farther). There are escalators/elevators in all train stations, so baggage is no problem. Traveling by train from the airport to the ship was so fast and easy that the Princess transfer passengers who were on our flight actually arrived at the ship by Princess bus shortly after us. At the end of the cruise, take the same train connection back to the airport. You can ride from Nordhavn Station to Oosterport Station, buy your ticket there, and switch to the airport train (ticket machines are on the platform at Nordhavn Station, but we preferred dealing with the agent at Oosterport Station). This is very important at the end of your cruise because taxis are inadequate on the dock and the taxi line had hundreds of people when we got off the ship. We sailed right by the taxi line, and went from our cabin to the airport check-in line in just under one hour. EMBARKATION: Once we were at the ship, embarkation went smoothly. We were given numbers based on arrival time, and were allowed to sit and wait until called rather than standing in a long line. It pays to complete all cruise documents in advance, since one qualifies for express check-in that way. This can be done by internet, mail, or fax, and is explained in your cruise documents. We arrived at the airport at 1pm, were in our cabin by 3pm, and then went back into central Copenhagen for a canal cruise and sightseeing before returning to the ship at 7pm. This meant that we missed the boat drill, but the purser allowed us to join the late arrivers’ boat drill the next morning. I would not want to cruise without going through a boat drill on each ship. FELLOW PASSENGERS on this itinerary seemed to be predominantly American (English is the onboard lingua franca, even among the polyglot crew), with a significant minority of UK/Commonwealth and Asian passengers. There were quite a few Chinese passengers, which underlines the new wealth that is to be found there. Entertainment and most other activities are conducted in English, but shore tours are available in a variety of languages. Most passengers seemed to be in their 60’s and 70’s, with some younger and quite a few older. There were about 2 dozen children aboard, all well-behaved and well-cared-for by the onboard youth program. The number of children will probably be greater during summer departures when schools are not in session. SMOKERS can be a problem on European cruises, but were not on this cruise. The dining areas are non-smoking, and portions of the lounges are well-marked as non-smoking areas. DRESS CODE: Passengers are well-dressed in a country club sort of way. Few people wore shorts except to the gym, in part because of the cool weather and in part because shorts are not common in northern European cities. Although there are more suits than tuxedos on formal night, many women wore gowns or elegant dresses (one of our favorite activities on formal nights is to sit near the photo sessions and watch the portraits being taken, then see the results on display the next day.). There are only two formal nights -- eight of the ten evenings are “smart casual” rather than formal. I wore a sport jacket on casual evenings and my wife wore a dressy sweater simply because the dining rooms tended to be cool. Some of the days at sea and in port were quite cold in May, and we were glad to have layers to adjust between overcast skies and sun. We had only one day of heavy rain (and were glad to have Gore-tex jackets and umbrellas), and the remaining days were partly cloudy or sunny. There were no warm days, but this will change for later cruise departures. THE SHIP: Much has been written about the Star Princess and her sister ships the Grand Princess and the Golden Princess, so I will not go into too much detail here. The Star Princess is huge, but almost all activities are on deck 7 (Promenade deck) or are near the atrium on decks 5 and 6, so it is easy to find one’s way around. The buffet and large pools (one indoor, one outdoor) are on deck 14 (there is no deck 13). The Skywalker lounge is on deck 17 aft, and only two elevators (of the four aft) go this high. The ship is tastefully decorated in low-key beige and light blue, without much glitz (except for the casino, which was surprisingly empty most of the time). There is a small but easily enjoyed art collection in the stairwells. THE CABINS are comfortably efficient. Instead of the long narrow format found in many newer ships, these cabins are split into a bath/dressing area and a sitting/sleeping area. This configuration is ideal since one can rise early, bathe, and dress without bothering one’s mate in the sleeping area. In addition, the walk-in closet does not have doors, so there is no interference between bath and closet doors. Shelf space is narrow and enclosed. There is an abundance of closet space with numerous wooden hangers, which thankfully are not the hookless type found on some ships. A small 4-digit programmable room safe provides security for cash and passports. CABIN SELECTION is a personal decision. Some cruisers complain that the balconies are staggered so that each deck can look down into the balconies of the lower decks. Personally, I think this adds sunlight to the balcony space. Some have said that aft balconies offer more privacy and wind protection, but I do not know if this is true. I would avoid the few balconies on deck 8 forward, which are surrounded by the promenade deck upper walkway, giving little privacy. The lower deck balconies are larger than those on the upper decks due to the staggered arrangement. I would avoid cabins directly under the gym and laundromats, because of potential noise. Our cabin was directly under the spa pool. I was worried about possible noise from the pumps, but no noise was detectable. Because there is little to see while Baltic cruising and because the ship docks at industrial ports away from the city centers, this is one cruise where I was happy to save money and choose an inside cabin. The absolute darkness available with inside cabins is great for jet-lag and excursion-fatigue naps during the day. THE PUBLIC AREAS are adequate to handle the large number of passengers. Rarely did we have to skip a show because a theater was full. The main POOLS may not be large enough for a sunny Caribbean cruise, but they were little-used this far north because of the cool weather and perhaps because of the incessant loud muzak that was played around them. The GYM is small but has about a dozen weight-machines, a small free-weight area, ten treadmills, and ten cycles or ski-tracks. Fortunately the aerobics area is walled off so that the usual blast of gut-thumping music is muted during these classes. Unfortunately the gym has three TVs which usually run on three different channels, so bring your earplugs anyway. The LIBRARY has small collection of books but a wonderful honor system – there is no book sign out or threat of fines. The CABARET THEATER AND LOUNGES have loud (but not painfully loud) good music, but few people danced on this cruise, unlike most other cruises with passengers of the “Sinatra” age. The MAIN THEATER has very good sightlines and comfortable seating (it can be chilly, so take a sweater). The SHOPS have a nice selection but seemed quite expensive. They augment the enclosed shops with “sidewalk sales” around the atrium, for those whose are threatened with shopping withdrawal symptoms between ports of call. The INTERNET salon is busy even though it has about 30 terminals (and a few more in the library). This is in part because frequent cruisers (6 or more cruises) on Princess get free internet access. Otherwise, the internet rates are quite high ($.35 per minute on our cruise was advertised as a “special” rate). The internet response times are quick enough, but unfortunately Princess does not allow you to compose your messages off line and then cut and paste your messages quickly on line. There are no receipts for internet use, so track this on your own – you will be surprised by the size of your internet bill at the end of the cruise. The PHOTO GALLERY is near the lounges and dining rooms, so this can be a major bottleneck at dinnertime. The photos are good quality, but quite expensive as on most cruises. People seem to do almost as well with their own digital cameras, and there is a small digital vending machine to burn discs and make prints. The ART auctions are standard for cruises. The art is left visible for browsers through most of the cruise. FAVORITE PLACES ONBOARD: We especially enjoyed the wrap-around promenade deck (decks 7 aft and 8 forward) for walking. The Sky-walker lounge (deck 17 aft) is a great place to enjoy the sailaways in a cozy environment with 360 degree views. The pizza station and omelet station (deck 14 forward) were just around the corner from our cabin. They were little-used because they are distant from the buffet, but we were happy to have them nearby for quick snacks in our cabin. ENTERTAINMENT options are impressively extensive on a ship this size. All of the musicians and most of the performers were very professional and quite enjoyable. A string quartet plays in the atrium in the evening, adding a touch of class to pop classics. I wish Princess would allow their quartet to give a real concert (classical music, onstage, with no microphones) during days at sea. Theater and cabaret performances are often scheduled mid-evening, with some repeat shows later for traditional diners. If you like evening entertainment, I suggest the anytime dining option for maximum flexibility. DINING is a pleasure and exceeded our expectations. We chose traditional dining, late seating (8pm), since we like to know our waiter and discuss menu options with him/her. The presentation may not be as elegant or the service as formal as on some premium cruise lines, but every meal was a pleasure. The waiter also acts as wine steward (there is no sommelier visiting the table). The dining rooms are single story and separated, unlike the multi-story atrium dining rooms on some ships. We found the paneled alcove ambience of our dining room very pleasant. We usually opt for a table for two for intimacy and relaxation at the end of the day, but on this cruise we were placed at a table for eight. Our tablemates were a delight, in part because each couple was from a different country and so there were no incompatibilities due to sports or political allegiances. My respects to the Maitre d’ for such insight in assigning tables. We used the buffet at breakfast but usually skipped lunch and had dinner in the dining room. The buffet’s port and starboard dining areas are large attractive, but the two buffets are in alcoves which seem quite small for the number of passengers onboard. The buffet food itself was always nicely presented and tasty. There are no specialty buffet options like the pasta station, stir-fry station, and specialty salad stations one finds on some ships. We appreciated the fact that the buffet offered food throughout the day, so that when we got back from shore excursions we could have a snack or pastry, which were always delicious. Surprisingly, there is no free ice cream station – this is surcharged at an area near one of the pools. We did not mind, since good ice cream is available everywhere at home. The Italian (Sabatini’s) and steakhouse (Tequila’s) surcharged restaurants never seemed busy when we passed them, but we never ate in them and have no first-hand impressions. One friend said that Sabatini’s offered tastings of so many items on their menu that she was unable to eat anything more by the time the main course arrived. She said the food was very good though. Tequila’s has a Mexican décor and live Mexican music. Perhaps its emptiness reflected the fact that many cruisers associate Mexican fare with comfort food rather than upscale dining. It is probably more popular on Caribbean itineraries. HEALTH issues are taken seriously by Princess. Before boarding one must sign an affidavit attesting that one is free of Norovirus symtoms. Washrooms have handwash reminders and are designed so that one does not have to touch the door handle when exiting. Gel dispensers are available (but not easily seen) near the buffet areas, which is important since many people have handled the serving tongs before you. I always gel my hands after going through the buffet line and before eating. SAFETY is also taken seriously. Passengers are screened each time they return to the ship, and there is a security perimeter around the ship at each dock. Security guards in uniform are discreetly positioned around the ship, which we appreciate since we were previously the victims of theft (my wife’s bag) on a different cruise line. In spite of al the recent press about anti-American feelings in the third world and in Europe, we have never felt unwelcome in any of our extensive travels. The world may have strong opinions about what America has become in recent years, but we as individual Americans are still treated politely and are often greeted warmly. SECTION 3 – SCANDINAVIAN AND BALTIC PORTS OF CALL ON YOUR OWN As I mentioned earlier, Star Princess cruise director John Lawrence deserves a special prize for his excellent port of call lectures, which give detailed information on what you will see if your are on a group shore excursion, and how to see it on your own if you prefer. His talks are reprised nightly on the ship’s TV system and are worth watching. I wish other ships would do the same – most shore information is geared to shoppers, with emphasis on the cruise line’s “approved” stores. It is depressing to think that for some people shopping is the most fulfilling activity after traveling thousands of miles to a foreign country. The Scandinavian Baltic ports each have their own currency, but ATM’s are widely available (ideal for small transactions) and credit cards are widely accepted. Prices can be high, but many of the best sights are free. Some museums may be closed on Mondays (or other days), so your plans may need to adjusted. Again, make certain that you have a good guidebook (Rick Steves or Lonely Planet), and make copies of the appropriate chapters to carry with you on shore. Also, make a copy of the current exchange rates for the various currencies. The Wall Street Journal has this, or you can find this on the internet. It helps to know how many zlotys (or whatever) you want dispensed. We rarely took out more than $20 worth of any currency. Except for Russia, we did not carry our passports ashore (too valuable). We make extra copies of the photo page and carry that instead. The ship’s key card is enough id when going through security. Take along a day-pack with a snack (plus water in Russia, water elsewhere is safe) and a rain jacket or umbrella. Pickpockets can be a problem anywhere (especially in Tallinn and Gdansk), so take only a small amount of cash and keep valuables in a money belt under your clothes. One woman on our cruise lost her wallet while in a church – the pickpocket unzipped and re-zipped her purse without her even noticing. COPENHAGEN: If you arrive a day early you will have adequate time to see the highlights. For orientation I recommend picking up a city map and some Danish Kroner when you arrive at the airport. ATMs are also available in larger train stations and in shopping areas. Begin with a canal tour with Netto Badene company. It is only 30 DKK ($6) and lasts about 90 minutes. You can catch it at Nyhavn, the little mermaid statue, or below the Holmen Bridge, whichever is most convenient. Just look for their docks and signs. They run hourly in the summer till about 5pm. Another company offers a similar tour for 50DKK, with all the same stops and nothing extra for their price. A stroll down Stroget, the pedestrian center of the city, from Tivoli gardens to Nyhavn is a pleasure in good weather. Tivoli itself is over-rated and can be skipped. The Rosenborg Palace is small compared with the palaces you will see in Russia, but the castle and gardens are pleasant and the crown jewels are fun. If you are into revisiting the ‘60’s hippie scene, a walk through Christianstad (on a nearby island, reachable by bus) will take you through a safe and fun marijuana-era time-warp. I honestly have never visited the art museums in Copenhagen, but they are near the center of town and quite accessible. The Glyptotek is the best known of these. Since we had only a few hours between our arrival (3pm) and sail-away (9pm), we simply took the boat tour and Stroget walk, and then did our boat drill the next morning by permission of the purser. STOCKHOLM (FROM NYNSHAMN): Stockholm is a great city but the visit on Star Princess is cut short because it anchors at Nynashamn an hour south of the city (by train or cruise bus) and one must wait for tender passes – which leaves little more than half a day in the city even if one starts out early. Tender passes are nominally available at 0700, and independent travelers are supposed to be able to tender ashore easily between 0700 and 0730 when the tour groups are supposed to leave, but the tender arrangements for independents were disorganized and disappointing. We were ready at 0645 but barely made the 0805 train to Stockholm. Hopefully Princess will do a better job in the future. Once ashore, it is a 15 minute walk to the left (south) to the small Nynashamn train station. Tickets are available for 95 Swedish Krona ($14) at the small kiosk just before the station (which takes credit cards). Tickets for seniors are 45 SK ($8). These tickets are good for the entire day, including all public transport in the city. The train takes an hour each way (it is a suburban commuter line with many stops) and runs every hour (0735, 0805, 0905, etc. northbound; 1250, 1350, 1450 southbound; beware, the latter is the last train which will get you back to the ship in time; verify schedules in case of changes!). The train arrives at Stockholm’s central station, where you can pick up a transport map. Near the station to the northeast is bus #47, which will take you to the famous Vasa ship museum (opens at 1000), the Nordic museum, and Skansen (the open air folk museum). If you have not seen it before, I recommend the Vasa followed by Skansen (good weather) or Nordic museum (bad weather). The same bus #47 will take you back to the city center for a walk through historic Gamla Stan (old town) and a visit to the Royal Palace (the interior does not compare with Russian Palaces, although the armory museum is famous for those inclined). There is a musical/military changing of the palace guard at mid-day, but time is so limited that I would rate this a skip since it can be seen elsewhere. The one other sight of interest is the famous city hall, where the Nobel prizes are awarded. For architecture buffs, the one-hour tour (1000 or 1200) is worthwhile. Although most museums and the city hall charge $10-$15 entrance, the Stockholm card is probably not worth it since you already bought a transport card and shore time is limited. HELSINKI: The Star Princess docks in an industrial area to the southwest of the city center, but public transport is ideal – the bus stop is only 50 meters from the dock. Bus #16 goes along the esplanade to the farmer’s market and harbor, and bus #14B goes north to the national museum and rock church. I recommend the former, since the latter do not open till 1100 and 1000 respectively. Helsinki is on the euro system, which makes purchases easy. An all day bus pass is 5 euro ($6.50) for a single, and 8 euro ($10.40) for a couple or family traveling together. The bus driver does not sell these, but ours took us to the farmers market for free, where we bought a pass at the small ferry terminal (the ferry to Suomelinnen island and all trams and buses are included in the pass) at the east end of the farmers market. Alternately, the tourist information office is in a yellow building just west of the market and opens at 0900. Free toilets are available (ands so is free internet access) in the small museum next door to the tourist information. In Helsinki I would start the day with a walk through the farmers’ market for good photos and souvenirs. Then take a look at the senate square (the large Lutheran church does not open till 0930 and is stark inside), then up to the Russian Orthodox church (opens at 0930) where you can discreetly photograph the icons (no flash). If the weather is fine, consider a walk on Suomelinnen island, the historic fortress for which Helsinki was built. Walking tours are available, but one can do it on one’s own. It is actually two islands joined by a small bridge. The ramparts and views are pleasant, and ferry connections are frequent since commuters live on this island too. Free toilets are near the dock by the archway. A grocery store for picnic provisions is through the archway and up the hill. Back in Helsinki, the underground “rock” church is very interesting, especially acoustically (there will be recorded music and occasionally a morning concert). Within walking distance of the church to the northeast is the national museum, which is also very enjoyable. A no-brainer is to hop-on-hop-off the 3T or 3B tourist trams, which travel in a circle past most of these sights, clockwise or reverse. Personally, I prefer to take regular trams and buses for the few sights not within walking distance. Buses 16 and 14B can take you back to the ship anytime. I would have recommended the Arabia china and crystal factory located near the north end of tram line 6 as a great place to shop at the end of the day, but the prices in dollars have gotten so high since our previous visits that even their outlet is out of our price range now. ST. PETERSBURG: Visiting this great city by cruise ship is a very bittersweet experience. The good news is that one does not need a visa if one is with an approved Russian tour company (booked through the cruise line or booked independently). The bad news is that these tours are very expensive (plan on spending almost $200 per person per day for a comprehensive sightseeing tour whether booked privately for six people or booked through the cruise line for a busload). A Russian visa costs US citizens about $200: $120 basic visa fee, more if expedited; $35 required support letter from a Russian agency, the cruise line will not provide these; $40 or more for a visa processing agency in the US if you do not deal directly with the Russians; $15 or more for fed-ex shipping. In addition, the ship docks at the industrial port (Kanonersky Island) which is isolated halfway between the city center and the summer palace (Peterhof), with a good two mile walk to the port gate and another mile walk to public transport. Special taxis are available from the ship, but these add about $30 each way to the city center. Regular city taxis are not allowed within the port complex, so it may take two taxi rides when returning to the ship independently. In the end, I very, very strongly recommend booking a tour with a private Russian agency. These are much more personal (just a few passengers instead of a busload), they cover more territory in greater depth, they offer special options like lunch with a Russian family, and they cost about the same as the cruise’s busload tours. Princess does offer private vehicles and guides for touring St. Petersburg, but these are charged against the ship account of only one of the passengers and are non-refundable. The private tours charge each passenger a pro-rated fee which is payable near the end of the tour. No deposit is needed to hold the privately booked tours. I recommend using the internet to compare the shore excursion options and prices between the cruise line’s web site and the private agency web sites, then make your reservations accordingly. We booked with DenRus (www.denrus.ru) and were very happy with their service. We did not want to pay the price for a private tour for two people, so we asked DenRus to put us in touch with a small group at a lower price. We joined two other couples, and together had a private driver and private guide in an 8 seat Toyota minivan (with 8 functioning seatbelts, which is important when traveling abroad). Our guide and driver were excellent, and we were able to get off the ship as soon as it cleared (almost an hour after docking) and sight see non-stop from 0730 to 1800. Passengers who took the ship’s tours were disappointed when their waiting lines extended almost the entire length of the ship. There are only 8 Russian officials to stamp the passports of about 2,000 disembarking passengers, so consider an afternoon tour on your first day if you are taking any of the ship’s tours. Our tablemates later told us they waited for two hours to get from the ship to their tour bus that morning! The ship may hold back visa passengers until all tour passengers have cleared, but they cannot legally hold back non-visa Russian tour agency passengers. We simply waited out of the way in the alcove at the bottom of the stairs on deck 4 forward and walked off with the first ship’s tour group. Since the St. Petersburg tours are so expensive and since we have visited St. Petersburg before on land tours, we opted to take a one day tour and spent the second day relaxing onboard the ship. In the end, we saw an amazing amount of the city in one day (Nicholas Church, Catherine Palace, city tour, family lunch, Peter and Paul fortress and church, Hermitage, and a quick Michael Palace visit) and were able to focus on the sights we found most interesting since we had our own guide. Because our group was only 6 people, we were efficient and did not have to wait for shoppers or stragglers. In addition to DenRus, Red October (www.redoctober.spb.ru) has a good reputation. We chose DenRus because they were able to offer us a small group to join, to reduce our costs. If you have a Russian visa but still want a guide, I have heard good things about Peter’s Walks (www.peterswalk.com) which I believe costs about $35 per hour for a private guide. (Peter makes a very good impression on the internet and I hope to use his guide service on a future land tour). TALLINN: Star Princess has only a half day here, but the upper and lower old town can easily be seen in that amount of time, and it is an easy 15 minute walk from the ship (one can see the ship from the old town’s ramparts). On disembarking, simply head west to the port gate, where you will find maps of the old town and even a modern shopping mall for last minute purchases. The way into town is reasonably well-marked – just look for the large round building next to the town’s northern gate (it’s affectionately called “fat Margaret” gate). Alcohol is cheap in Tallinn, so you can get some on your way back to the ship. We like the liquor prices (we used them on previous visits) at the RIMI supermarket, which is two blocks north of the McDonald’s near the eastern gate of the old city. Tallinn has some fine old churches and great panoramic overlooks. There are many nice shops and quaint streets. Sidewalk cafes (even McDonald’s) have great atmosphere. Since there is no public transport, you will not need any local money unless you make purchases, which often can be made with a credit card. There is a good tourist information office two blocks south of the main square. They offer walking tours, but I believe the first tour leaves at 1100, which may not give you enough time to get back to the ship unless you break off early. GDANSK (from GDYNIA): The Star Princess docks at Gdynia, which is a large industrial port. Virtually everyone continues on to Gdansk (Danzig to German speakers) by cruise bus or public train. The dock is about 2 miles from the train station. On disembarking, walk 100 meters to the right to catch one of the many local taxis. A full taxi with four passengers should cost about 16-20 Zlotys (about $5-$6 US should be enough) from the dock to the station. Some taxi drivers will be happy to offer a day tour, but we did not price this. On entering the Gdynia main station (“Glowny”), get some zlotys from the ATM at the far end of the ticket booths. The train to Gdansk costs 4 zlotys (about $1.25) each way (2.80 zlotys per segment if you get off at the seaside resort of Sopot or the famous cathedral at Oliwa). Gdansk train tickets are sold at the small “SKM” booth around the corner from the main ticket booths (the SKM line is small and sells its tickets separately from the major inter-city train lines). There are about 12 stops between Gdynia and Gdansk, and the trip takes almost an hour. Once in Gdansk, take the pedestrian underpass east under the boulevard in front of the station, then walk a few minutes farther east to the St. Catherine’s, St. Bridget’s, and St. Nicholas churches. Of these, the latter is the best preserved but least famous. We were there for mass on Sunday, and it was jammed – the first time a cathedral came alive for us. From there continue east and south to the river, which has a nice walk to Mariaka Street (for cheap amber) and the nearby main street (for the city hall and St. Mary’s cathedral. The city hall has a nice but small museum, and the cathedral has 400 steps to a beautiful view from the top of the tower for 3 zlotys ($1). Gdansk was completely destroyed in WWII, but it has been rebuilt in the old style and is a walker’s paradise, just like Tallinn. Amber jewelry is beautifully set and wonderfully cheap here, and if you did not buy your fill in town, more is available from dockside vendors when you return to the ship (they take zlotys, dollars, and euros – learn your exchange rates and bargain). If you leave Gdansk by the 2pm train, you will get to Oliwa (on your way back to the ship) in time for the famous 3pm organ recital (free-will offering). At the Oliwa station, zig-zag west and north, cross the large boulevard, and keep the Oliwa park fence on your right for about a mile as you walk farther west and north to the cathedral entrance. After the recital you can walk and picnic in the park on your way back to the station. Trains leave about every 15 minutes. The seaside resort of Sopot is another stop on the same train line, but we have never been there. OSLO: Because of the distance from Copenhagen, the star Princes only spends a half day in Olso, but it docks adjacent to the old fortress, within easy walking distance (10 minutes) of the city hall. Since museums do not open till 1000 or 1100, I suggest taking the tram to Frogner Park (the Vigeland sculpture garden) which is free and open 24 hours a day. There is an ATM at the east end of the city hall square (Handlesbank building, up the stairs and then around the corner). Alternately, walk to the west end of the square for another ATM and the tram station which has a vending machine selling transport day passes, which I are 60 Krone ($9.50) each. The tram station nearest the ship at the east end of the square does not have a ticket machine and the tram drivers do not sell day passes – they sell just single ride tickets. Each tram stop has a good transport map in its shelter. Every time I visit Oslo I am moved by the Vigeland sculptures. They seem so much more human than anything by Michelangelo or other famous artists. I could spend a day in the park, but after an hour usually continue two tram stops north to the Majorsteuen metro station (T-bahn) for a ride on the #1 train westbound to the end of the line on a mountain overlooking the city and the fjord. One can take photos from the train platform and return to town by train. I prefer to walk 30-45 minutes downhill on a wide gravel pathway (lighted at night for cross-country skiers) to the Holmenkollen train station, passing a scenic stave church and the bottom of the famous ski jump on the way. Alternately, the Holmenkollen restaurant veranda, a short walk uphill from the Holmenkollen station, has gorgeous views overlooking the city. I suggest then taking the train back to the national theater downtown, for a view back to the palace and a short walk to the national art gallery, which is behind the university plaza. The museum is closed on Monday. It has a very enjoyable (and free) collection of impressionists, and some fantastic paintings by Edvard Munch (including one of the four versions of the famous “Scream” – another was stolen from Oslo’s Munch museum, hence the heavy security at both museums). From the art museum, continue walking east along the main shopping street. The stores, parks, and people are all beautiful here. When it is time to return to the ship, walk back via the old fortress (Askerhus). The view of the ship from the ramparts is great (the ship dwarfs the fortress), and there is a back gate which leads down a short path to the pier at the south end of the fortress. An alternative to the above Oslo options is to take the public ferry or bus from the city hall square to Bygdoy island, which has several museums, including and open-air folk museum, the Kon-tiki museum, the Fram museum, the maritime museum, and a Viking ship museum. Each of these has a separate entrance fee, but each is accessible on the Olso day card, which is expensive and is available at the tourist information office when it opens in the morning. We enjoy these options when we have more time in Oslo. ENDING THE CRUISE: By now you are exhausted and ready to return home. Disembarkation in Copenhagen begins shortly after the ship is cleared (about 0615) and continues till about 1000. Passengers are given color-coded tags for their bags, which are left out in the hall the night before. I do not know how long baggage claim and clearance takes at the dock side since we have never cruised with more than a carry-on. I believe that baggage transfers to the airport are handled by the cruise line if you buy their transfer package. Again, the cruise line suggests not booking any return flights from CPH before 1130. Again, for independent travelers the short walk and then train from the ship to the airport takes about an hour. Taxis are inadequate at dockside -- the lines are very long. With all the other cruisers flying home too, allow another hour for check-in at the airport. FINAL THOUGHTS: Don’t worry, be happy, and have a wonderful time on your cruise!

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Apr 23, 2005

Western Caribbean

We have taken three Princess cruises and this will be our last one. The service on Princess has gone down considerable since it has been bought by Carnival. Last cruise we missed Grand Cayman due to a group getting stuck on a tour, we had to wait in Montego Bay until 1am. It did not seem like Princess really cared about our disapointment. We were also supposed to go to Ochos Rios and ended up in Montego Bay with no prior notification.

Staff is much ruder then in prior years. Getting a refund on Port charges is insulting when you look forward to the port of call

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Apr 23, 2005

Western Caribbean

Magical, elegant, clean. Service was beyond wildest expectations. Smooth as glass, no movement. Ship is majestic. I will never travel again unless it's with Princess and I will never take another type of vacation except a Princess Cruise. Fantastic!

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Apr 23, 2005

Western Caribbean

Great cruise! We booked cabin c-103 (Caribbean deck) and were delighted to find out that our balcony was a good size (10 x 10 I'd say) If you book your Caribbean deck cabins forward C 100 through C104, there are no balconies above you, so these are pretty private and a perfect size. (half covered, half open) The best part of our cruise! My husband and I are fortunate, and never get motion sickness, and yes, the first 2 days the ship

rocked a bit, we did hear other people mention that it was bothering them. We arrived at Port Everglades at 11:20am, there was a line outside (about 100 people), as the doors didn't open till around 11:35. However, we did our pre-booking on line, and were in our cabin by 11:50. The lines moved quickly once the doors opened. I love the way that Princess has made the closet space off to the side of the bathroom. This space allows you to get dressed in a spacious area. I will admit that the shower is the smallest one that I've ever been in....don't drop your soap, or shampoo! Ha! The room size was comfortable with plenty of storage space. Entertainment was terrific. The Broadway show was well done, the comedian very funny, and the singer/trumpet player from down-under, was exceptional. Food: will rate this 1-10 (10 being excellant) Horizon Court: 6 Main Dining rooms: 8 Coffee: 2 (I had read previous reviews about the coffee and brought my own! You can purchase a plastic Melitta coffee filter holder and buy size 2 filters...these fit well in your suitcase, along with your favorite coffee! It only takes a moment to brew your favorite brand, as they have the Hot Water up at the coffee bar!) I still don't understand why Princess hasn't taken these reviews seriously, and make a better coffee! Service: Excellent! Our room steward Hector was a perfect steward! He knew our first names immediately and always had a warm smile with his hello's. Our room was always clean and whatever we asked for was there the next time he came by. The restaurants also had excellent service with a smile. We never had a problem, and had personal choice dining. I'd like to mention that we never waited more than 5 minutes to be seated. 2 times we asked for a table for 2, and were seated within 5 minutes. We ate at both Sterlings and Sabottini's. The service was excellent at both places, but just want to mention that Sabottini's really do a wonderful job serving the many courses. The pools: It's great having the choice of 4 pools. The pool in the forward part of the ship is great because very few people either don't know about it, or just don't like going forward. (maybe it was just the week we were on, but very few people used this one) The aft pool is also nice, allowing adults only. Then there's the covered pool (nicely air conditioned), and next to the Horizon Court. The Itinerary Princess Cays: this is a great stop, beautiful, and relaxing! Montego Bay! Very uncomfortable atmosphere here. I don't know why Princess stops there. We missed Grand Cayman because of an incredible rain storm that washed out roads in Montego Bay, causing 200 Princess cruise people to be stranded for over 8 hours on buses w/no bathrooms! I know Princess can't help the weather and felt very bad for those 200 people! I was disappointed that we were only given a $12. credit towards the missed port! Cozumel: This is a favorite of ours, with great snorkeling and beautiful beaches. Lots of different things to do here too. Disembarkation: SAD, but well organized. We were off the ship by 9:am and have no complaints about this. My favorite part was the deck. I enjoyed every sunrise and sunset that came our way, along with breakfast out there too. This was a great week, with only a few things to complain about. I would return to Princess (we've cruised on Celebrity (the BEST), RCI, and the Grand Princess) Hope this helps someone out there! Happy Cruising!

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Mar 27, 2005

Western Caribbean

First I wanted to thank everyone on the boards for their tips and advice. This is my husband and I's first cruise and will not be our last. We embarked at Ft. Lauderdale on Easter Sunday. This being our first cruise we arrived early, just in case. We were to start boarding at 1, but were on the ship by 12:15. Princess has embarkation down to a science. Very efficient! We found our room Aloha 243. It had a covered balcony, queen bed,

mini fridge and a huge closet and storage area. The bathroom was small, reminded me of camping. Our steward Kupunt was wonderful. He was from Thailand and kept our room spotless. It was cleaned no less than twice a day. We then walked around the ship and took a spa tour. I read some posts about not purchasing the VIP pass for the Sanctuary-- well we did and it was worth every penny. We used the spa 1-2 times per day. The staff did check to make sure you had a pass. We had a late lunch in the Horizon food court and prepared to sail. The food in Horizon court was good. I know some posts didn't think so, but each to his own. We sailed promptly at 5 pm and the fun began. Our first dinner in the Capri dining room was fantastic. Being Easter Sunday, the menu was ham, lamb & prime rib. The desserts on the ship were out-of-this-world! That night the sea was rough. I don't care where you were on the ship-- you feet it. I started taking Bonine 2 days before we sailed & it helped. Once I realized I wasn't going to get sick I was OK. We arrived in Princess Cays the next morning & tendered it. Beautiful island, clear water (was COLD-- and I'm from FL!) and lots of sun! Next was our sea day and 1st formal night we which enjoyed immensely. Our first port was Montego Bay. We were supposed to go to Ocho Rios. No explanation why the change. Montego Bay was awful. Too many scary people with guns & drugs. There was more security to get back to the ship and then we arrived back in U.S. Everyone expressed the disappointment with Montego Bay. We told Princess that we would rather have another sea day than go back to Montego Bay. Next was Grand Cayman. There too we tendered in. I loved Grand Cayman!! The water is awesome, the people are friendly and you felt safe. One tip-- if you are going on a snorkel excursion don't. We cancelled ours and went around and explored on our own. The restaurants and bars have ladders that lead into the water and they allow you to snorkel for free. You are snorkeling in the same area as the excursion & Nautilus boats. Remember-- all beaches in Grand Cayman are public beaches. Our last port was Cozumel. Can you say cheap booze! We are Crown Royal drinkers and bought 3 bottles there for the price of 1 in the US. We docked in Cozumel which was nice. We shopped first, took our loot to the ship and then went to Chankanaab. It was only $12 to get in. We did not book with an excursion company. It was beautiful, the food there was great and the staff was really friendly. Our last sea day the weather was bad, so it was an incentive for us to start packing. We hated to leave. The ship is magnificent, the staff caters to your every wish and even though we sailed full with 1000 spring breakers on board, you never felt crowded. I will credit Princess with keeping the adult areas, adult. The embarkation process was smooth too. If you have to catch a plane, those passengers are let off first. Since we live in West Palm Beach we knew that we had the morning to ourselves. We were off the ship by 9:30 and home by 11. I felt wobbly for a couple of days afterwards, but didn't mind. I reminded me of our trip. We are soooo looking forward to our next Princess cruise. I don't think I could go on another cruise with a different line.

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Mar 13, 2005

Western Caribbean

After I booked this cruise, I came to this site and read a host of negative reviews that made me really apprehensive. So much so, I tried to cancel my cruise, but it was too late. I'm glad it was...we had a wonderful time. Compared to Celebrity, the service was not as good. What this really means is that they don't carry your trays for you in the buffet and your state room is cleaned twice a day instead of three or four. Other than

that, it was pretty much the same. Everyone was nice and accommodating, and you always felt like a cherished guest. The dining room service was excellent, and the food was great. I've never eaten five lobster tails at one time before. We couldn't get fixed seating in the main dining room, but a visit to the maitre'd got us a fixed table in one of their other (mostly identical) dining rooms. We had the same waiter every night and sat next to the same people, just like traditional cruising. The food was delicious and well varied, and the waiters were just dying to dump extra shrimp and lobster tails on our plates. The ship was beautiful, and it never felt crowded. There are at least four pools that I know of, one of which is covered by a glass roof and is air conditioned. Other than being larger and having more pools, the ship was extremely similar to the Celebrity Constellation, which is also an amazing ship. The Star Princess was very stable, even though our mini suite was towards the front of the ship. Speaking of mini suites...people complained that the balcony has no privacy, that the upper decks can see you. While this is true in theory, it is not the case in practice. The reviews here made is seem that the second you step out onto your balcony, a throng of passengers will be standing above you staring at you and throwing cigarettes on your head. This is just not so. We did see other people out on their balconies, and a couple of people on the top deck, but it was not a negative thing. Sure, you probably shouldn't go out on your balcony naked, but other than that, having an open sky above was great, and well worth the partial loss of privacy. The mini suite itself is a very large and functional cabin, with a very well shaped bathtub and a large sitting area with fold out sofa bed. The best part about the Star Princess is their kids program. Our daughter is two and a half, and even though she was two young to leave with the counselors, they welcomed her and allowed her to participate in all the kids activities as long as one of us was there to supervise. This is something Celebrity would not do. This may not sound like much to someone who just wants to dump their kids and go party, for us it was great. Seeing our daughter enjoying herself with other children was one of the highlights of our vacation. We had a great time last year with Celebrity, and now we had a great time with Princess as well. I would cruise either line again in a heartbeat, and would heartily recommend either to a friend. If you've booked a cruise on the Star Princess, relax, you're in for a great time.

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Mar 13, 2005

Western Caribbean

We were very disappointed with our cruise aboard the Star Princess. We booked a mini-suit which was no different in size to the Holland America Balcony cabin on the Osterdam that we sailed last year, the balcony on the Osterdam was twice the size for much less money. Many of the items that are standard on other 5 star ships such as Holland America or Celebrity were missing. For example, even though we personalized on cruise on the

website with special requests, the robes requested were missing. Both Holland Amer. and Celebrity provide free canvas bags to cart your beach stuff, not on Princess. As far as room accommodations, I was happy to leave and sleep in a Holiday Inn when the cruise was over. The pillows were hard and uncomfortable and so were the beds. Especially hard and uncomfortable was the sleep sofa that my daughter had to sleep on. The bed linens and esp. the towels would all benefit from a little "Downy" fabric softener. We always like to order room service in the late afternoon on our cruises. We usually get wine with cheese and crackers. On every other ship you pay for the wine but the cheese and crackers are included at no extra charge. On this ship it was an extra $14.00 for the cheese and crackers. The cheese and crackers were not very tempting anyways! Missing were the finer cheeses such as blue cheese, camembert and goat. The service was good in the main dining rooms and for the staterooms. We had no problems there. But, management seems to be only concerned with the bottom line - money. Providing the minimum expected and reaping as much profit as possible. The drinks were mixed with inferior grades of alcohol. The food was also the cheapest grades. For example in the buffet at breakfast there was a great deal of canned fruit and not very much fresh fruit. Much of what was available I wouldn't serve at home never mind expect to eat on a cruise. Maybe I'm spoiled, but I expect to go on a cruise and be served wonderful cuisine unlike what I would find elsewhere and in the most elegant manner. We have cruised Celebrity a number of times and have always been pleased and happily spoiled! I think what annoyed me most was that another of my children ordered a spa package for my husband's and my birthday which are both in March. She spent quite a bit of money and the cruise line at first had no record of it. Fortunately, our other daughter who was with us knew that we were supposed to receive it. Mid way through the week after much investigation on her part, they gave a credit for what she spent to our account. Of course, the note written by my daughter had who had given the gift was never received by us. There was no apology for the oversight. Actually even though it was on the "personalize your cruise info.", no body acknowledged our birthday occasions until we reached our disembarkacation and an immigration official who looked at our passports wished us both Happy birthday. Needless to say, if the Star Princess had been our first cruise we would not be interested in cruising again. We would even rate Norwegian which we weren't thrilled with as a better cruise value.

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By Jo _CR

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Mar 6, 2005

Western Caribbean

We’ve sailed on 4 different cruise lines and I have to say that Star Princess is my favorite ship. Wow! There was a line when we arrived at 11:30 in the morning at Port Everglades, but the line moved so fast that we didn’t even have a second to put down our carry-ons. We were on board very quickly. We normally book a balcony cabin, but we noticed the availability of a mini-suite which they have on decks 8 and 9. The extra space

was wonderful. We had two televisions, plenty of space and the balcony was larger with four chairs on it. There was a bathtub rather than just a shower stall and there was a refrigerator in the cabin. It was very comfortable, even when my daughter, son-in-law and 3 year-old grandson came in to visit. We would definitely book a mini-suite again. It really wasn’t that much more in price. There were at least 4 pools, the two main pools side by side, but one was an inside pool and it was fresh water and heated and there was two hot tubs right there. We spent a lot of time there….most often, there was plenty of seating available. We were very surprised and ecstatic that the pool remained filled all of the time so if we did not get off the ship at any of the ports, we enjoyed our poolside ventures. The children’s program was remarkable. The staff was wonderful. Our grandson got up every morning and wanted to “go see his friends.” He spent a lot of time there and was very happy. It was a very sizable area with a lot to do. Can’t say enough about how great that program is. I guess not every ship can be absolutely perfect, so the only downside to this ship is the Princess Theatre. It is much smaller than the theatres on other ships. There really is only one level and we could not get into two shows that we wanted to see because we got there 10 minutes before start time. So I would recommend an earlier arrival time there. The magician/comedian was wonderful….and on the last night we enjoyed a comedian that had us rolling in the aisles. He was outstanding. The room steward was wonderful….our rooms were always neat, clean and inviting. Erwin was very attentive. We did not realize it but had been assigned to their preferred seating at dinner. There was a restaurant that catered to the first and second seating like most cruise ships, however, there were two restaurants, one on deck 5 and one on deck 6, midship, that you could go to at any time starting at 5:30 p.m. We were quite concerned it might be long lines to get in. We are early diners, however, and got there at 5:30ish every night and walked right in. They will seat you at different tables, but we asked for table 15 every night and they accommodated us. You can also call in the morning and make a reservation for a certain dining time so you don’t have to wait in lines which tend to be a bit longer later in the evening. The buffet was great….first time I had ever seen sushi available everyday. But my favorite was the guys grilling the hamburgers and hotdogs nearby the outdoor pool. They were great….and the pizza was great, too. I missed my 24-hour, self-serve, soft-serve ice cream machine that you have on Carnival ships. In fact, for ice cream, they had a hagen-daz bar where you could pay for ice cream. You really don’t see much of your cruise director around the ship. They do have a television channel every morning where he chats about what’s happening that particular day. I wouldn’t hesitate to go on this ship again. It was well worth the money. Even the craps table was good to us. There was a good mixture of ages on this cruise….from the very old to the very young. As for ports, we had been to San Juan before as well as St. Thomas, but we did do some shopping there….we also got off in Tortola, but not much to do there. We could not get off on Princess Cays because seas were too rough, but they gave us a credit on our account. All in all, I loved it….and would do it again.

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By Pat _CR

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Mar 6, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

We are just back from a wonderful Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Star Princess. One of our daughters, was married on board the ship, on the first "at Sea" day.. Everything was relaxed and well done, with no angst or pressures. thanks to the good people at Princess and the wedding planners. The only negative we had that day, was that the "wedding cam"

was not up and running, despite the fact that I went to check on it myself, before the wedding took place.. Unfortunately, we had many relatives and friends back home in Canada, that were anxiously awaiting the wedding, which they never got to see. We aren't sure why this happened, and were told that the satellite could have been down, but the Bridge Cam's were working just fine.. If you are planning on getting married on board, and the folks at home want to see it on the Wedding Cam, make sure that you mention it to those in charge, so your people won't be disappointed, as ours were. Other than that, the Star was a big and beautiful ship, very clean and well laid out.. Despite the fact that we were sold out, and were traveling with 2600 passengers, we never felt crowded, even in the buffet lines, as we thought might be the case. On the days at sea, it was understandably, a little more difficult to find seating, especially when some passengers would "save" their chairs all day long, so that others could not use them. On some ships, this is discouraged and after 1/2 hour, the deck attendants remove the towels that are covering the chairs, giving everyone a chance at the sun.. Another point I took note of, was the smoking on board.. Some ships have designated smoking areas, and folks that do smoke must abide by the rules...however on this ship, people seemed to be smoking almost everywhere, except in the dining areas.. We did see people smoking in the halls, the elevator corridors, Atrium etc.. and all over the place outside... For those of us non-smokers, this can be annoying, but Princess did not seem to "police" this policy, at least on this Ship, at this time. Our room stewards were great as usual, and worked very hard to keep us happy, as were our table attendants in the Amalfi dining room.. They were very friendly, efficient, and courteous. One fellow learned our names the first day, and remembered them all, despite the fact that there were 21 of us in our party. The Captain was very nice and he actually officiated at the marriage of my daughter and son-in-law. There were many weddings on board the ship on this particular trip, and the wedding chapel was a lovely and intimate setting for the vows. There were 4 pools, and lots of hot tubs on board the ship.. The covered pool was great in the evening, when the breeze was cooler, and was usually not too populated. We didn't take in any shows this cruise, because we were busy with the family, but in the past they have proven to be good. Princess has the best embarkation/disembarkation practices in our books. Last year we left on a Celebrity from New York to Bermuda, and we stood in line for an hour or so, until we boarded.. but Princess has everything set up, to keep the lines moving and the passengers happily boarding quickly.. The disembarkation was handled with ease as well. The port stops were good.. St. Thomas is always a busy port with lots of shopping and beaches nearby. We didn't see much of Puerto Rico, since we arrived at about 4:30, and by the time we ate and got off the ship, it was around 6PM. We did have a wonderful taxi driver named Hector, who took our large group around old and new San Juan.. He was quite personable and a comedian as well.. He made our brief visit to the Island worth while. We walked around old San Juan following the tour, doing some shopping and had a Pina Colada in the place where they were invented.. mmmm Very good! Tortola is a relatively new stop for cruise ships from what I understand, and since we knew someone living in Virgin Gorda, we hopped on a Ferry and headed there for the day. Virgin Gorda is lovely, with great beaches and interesting rock formations, and I only wish that we had more time to explore the Island, especially the Baths.. There were lots of people there, so my best suggestion would be to go early... and wear some good shoes.. There is some climbing involved, and your feet will get wet, but it is worth the effort.. Give yourselves enough time however, to do justice to the Baths. Unfortunately our last stop on the itinerary, to Princess Cays, was cancelled due to high winds and too much wave action in the marina. They could not safely off-load all 2600 passengers + crew, due to the weather conditions, that were expected to last for most of the day. We were all greatly disappointed that we did not have our BBQ and beach day, but Princess came up with a few alternative solutions. Next time I guess.. Princess Cays is lovely and very relaxing, and provides a lot of fun in the sun! That's about it, and I hope that this has helped others who may be planning either a cruise or a wedding cruise on board the Princess lines.. We were all quite pleased with the results of our ship trip.. I did not mention much about the food as others do, because I am not a fussy eater, and I am the type that would be happy to eat a hot dog everyday, as long as I didn't have to buy it and cook it, and clean up afterwards. Let's face it, the food was great in my books, because it was there, it was good and plentiful, and I didn't have to prepare it! I'm a happy camper and would go back on the Star Princess again. p.s. FYI.. the hot dogs and hamburgers on board the ship were great! P

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Feb 27, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

This is a great ship!! very clean and everything looks new. The only negative thing I can say is the food is just ok. Some meals were outstanding, but most were just avg. or even a little below avg., but you can eat anytime you feel like it and if you don't like one meal just go to the buffet that is open 24hrs. Our room was great and was always

kept clean. We never ran out of towels and they even gave us beach towels to take with us at the ports. The ship is very large with something going on all the time. There are two shows every night and alot of the 14 bars had something going on. We never had to look for something to do. Most of the time we had to miss something because so many things were going on. With so many people on the ship I thought we would spend alot of time standing in lines, but was very suprised that we hardly ever had to wait for anything. Getting off the ship at ports was the only time we waited and that was only 20-30 min. If you like to party be sure to get a bar hopper card your 1st day. If you buy a drink from every bar and get your card stamped you get a free t-shirt. Drinks are not way over priced. $3 for a beer and $4.5 for a mixed drink. Soda is $1.25 They offer a all-you-can-drink deal on soda for $25. We bought into it but never drank enough soda to even reach $25 worth. It is little hard to get a soda at times and is just faster to drink the free tea or coffee. TIPS: Don't pack beach towels...they have them there for you to use Don't buy the $25 soda deal. It is hard to drink enough soda to reach $25. If you do buy it just get one for 2 people. You can just share it. Just get one soda at one bar then go to another bar for the 2nd one. The pool in the very front of the ship had the fewest people most of the time. On formal night if you plan to get pictures taken leave early and try to go to as many photo shoots as you have time for (there was 7 spots on our cruise) that way you have alot of pictures to choose from. The buffet is on the 14 floor and that is were you will eat most of your meals so try to get a room closer to the top so you don't have to climb so many stairs. The elevator is always packed. If you do take the elevator the glass elevator in the middle of the ship seemed to be the easiest to catch. Mark your bags with something bright that will make it stick out. There are a lot of black bags that all look the same when your trying to find them at the end of your cruise.

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Feb 20, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

My husband and I (ages 51 and 53) just returned from the February 20th sailing of the Star Princess. Overall it was a pleasant and relaxing experience. This was our 6th cruise and our 2nd on Princess. We had previously sailed on Grand Princess and loved that ship. We flew from Boston to Fort Lauderdale the day before sailing and stayed at the Holiday

Inn on the beach. I got it for a great price on Priceline. It was clean and quiet but certainly not a very attractive hotel. We arrived at Port Everglades at 11:45 and were in our stateroom by 12:15. We were in a mini-suite on Dolphin Deck, category AA. The balcony is not covered and juts out from the ship but we loved it. We had cocktails on the balcony every evening and coffee every morning. We thoroughly enjoyed our mini suite and would book it again. A little extra room just made the cruise more comfortable. The room did show some wear: frayed drapes and stains on the couch. Our room steward, Ricky, was wonderful. He kept the room immaculate and made sure we had clean pool towels daily. He was attentive but not intrusive. We chose personal choice dining because we had found it perfect for our schedule on the Grand. We did have to wait one evening (first formal night) for 30 minutes. The other evenings we chose to eat late, at 8:30 and never waited. We did eat at large tables and met very nice and interesting people. We also ate some breakfasts and lunches in the dining room. Overall the food in the dining was good. It was not exceptional but on par with land resorts. There was enough variety and I particularly liked the lamb on Island Night….really tasty. I also appreciated the always on the menu items of shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad. I felt the desserts in the dining room however were excellent. I am a true chocoholic and the chocolate desserts I had were great. We ate some breakfasts and lunches and 2 dinners at the Horizon Court. I felt the food here was inconsistent. For example the French toast was good but the pancakes were cold and rubbery. We also had pizza, burgers, and hot dogs at the grills. The pizza was great and my husband loved the burgers. We attended many of the evening shows. We always went to the late performances and never had a problem finding a seat. The comic Sarge was super. We saw him twice and thoroughly enjoyed both routines. We also attended the Broadway Review and the show entitled Da Beat. Both shows were energetic and enjoyable. To get out of the sun we enjoyed the movies shown in the afternoon in the Princess Theatre. Our itinerary was Eastern Caribbean and included San Juan, St. Thomas, and Tortola. The ship was scheduled to dock in San Juan at 3PM. It never docked till 9PM and each person received a $50 shipboard credit for this late docking. The ship’s claim was that rough seas caused the lateness. Many passengers didn’t believe this as Star has been docking late consistently in San Juan for the past month. Our next stop was St. Thomas and we took the ship tour to Megan’s Beach. It was a nice beach but very crowded and the trip was too short. Tortola was our next stop and we took the ship tour to Lambert Beach Resort. This was a full day and included lunch. It was a nice beach and we got to see much of Tortola while riding there. Our tour guide Ray, was great. I would return to this island. Finally we reached Princess Cays. What a great place to relax. We got off the ship early and just relaxed on the beach and ate at the barbecue. We really enjoyed the pool that was all the way aft. This was the adults only area and was always quiet and relaxing. There are lounge chairs here as well as tables and chairs. We often got our lunch and brought it out here to enjoy the fresh air and the view. It was also breathtaking at sunset. Overall we enjoyed this cruise. I would have to say that even though the Star is a sister ship to the Grand, I liked the Grand better. When we sailed on the Grand it was not yet owned by Carnival, and I found the Grand’s atmosphere and climate more pleasant and positive. The crew in all areas seemed happier and more satisfied with their jobs on the Grand. I also feel that the crew members were more attentive on the Grand. One evening on the Star I received the wrong meal and there was no attempt to get me my correct order. At breakfast we often had to find our waiter to get coffee refills and toast. These are just small incidents but they do make a negative impression on passengers. We will sail again on Princess but we will also look into Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. Hopefully Princess will be able to retain its own personality and atmosphere now that it has been acquired by Carnival. Star is a beautiful ship and the Eastern Caribbean is an enjoyable itinerary.

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Feb 20, 2005

Western Caribbean

This was my first cruise and I was traveling with my girlfriend who has been on five cruises with different cruise lines. Prior to the trip I had read as many reviews as I could on the Star Princess and the ports that we would be stopping at. I found the information and suggestions a great help. Some of the more negative reviews had me wondering if we had picked the right cruise line. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale from Seattle on Saturday

the day prior to the cruise and stayed at the Plantation Hampton Inn which I booked on line through hotels.com. We were both very pleased with the hotel and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a place to stay prior to or after your cruise. The hotel provides a free shuttle to/from the airport and also to/from Port Everglades. They also provide a free continental breakfast. On the morning of the big trip we booked a spot on the shuttle at 1 o’clock to avoid the noon rush for check in. The mall and several restaurants are easy walking distance from the hotel and they have a spare room set up to store luggage until you depart. Upon arrival at Port Everglades we were dropped off in front of the Star Princess and immediately had our bags checked in. The entire check in process took about 15-20 minutes from drop off to boarding the ship. We had brought a few bottle of wine and a bottle of rum which were in our checked bags. They will charge a $ 10.00 cork fee should you choose to have your own bottle in the dining room. If you’re going to have the wine in your own room don’t forget a cork screw! Our cabin steward was kind enough to get one for us to use as needed so you will likely survive if you forget yours. We also purchased just one of the all you can drink pop stickers and shared it for the week. Our balcony cabin was on Lido Deck 14. Depending on what your expectations and needs are on a cruise this may or may not be the right deck for you. We are both active people and loved this location. The Neptune’s Reef and pool are on this deck and also Horizon court. Neptune’s is the main pool on the ship and we found out on day one that you’d better get your spot early if you’d like to be near the pool. I would be out by 7:30 a.m. with my coffee, towels and packs to get our spots. This is also the spot that offers burgers and pizza in the afternoon hours. Good Burgers! Horizon court is the 24 hr buffet and having to walk through it to our room each time I did get to know the dessert line very well. A quick trip up the stairs to deck 15 puts you right at the healthclub/spa entrance and we used the club five days (To unload the calories from the late night dessert line!) The room itself looked nearly brand new and the cabin steward did a great job all week long. I loved the balcony and couldn’t imagine going on a cruise without one. We showered several times per day and yes-the shower is small but how much room do you need in the shower anyway? Fresh towels were provided twice per day, extra beach towels were provided, the bed turned down with chocolate on the pillow nightly. I did have flowers delivered to the room and wanted them when we got to the room but they did not arrive until Monday. Make sure you order at least a week ahead if you want them in the room on arrival. I ordered then last minute and wasn’t surprised that I had to wait a day. They were beautiful however when they did arrive and I would do it again for that special romantic touch. Rather than a day by day account I will give my thoughts on each section of the Star and the Ports. The Casino: If you’ve got the time and the extra cash it was a good place to relax and meet a few more people. I like playing the 3 card poker and did manage to take more home than I left so I liked it. A little too much smoke for me to spend much time there but not bad for late night fun. Skywalkers: Wow…could have been so much more fun. It seems like most the people on the cruise are 35 and up but the DJ seemed to want to cater to the 20 year olds. We’d dance a few then have to sit out about five songs. Try it out - dump the DJ. Explorers: We spent time here every night. The band was fair and we enjoyed most of the karaoke. At the end of the week there was a competition with the six best from the week. It was pretty entertaining and moved to the Vista lounge for the final. They also have the marriage game which was a complete crack up (always expect the unexpected) and jeopardy that was just OK. Princess Theatre: Sarge was one of the comedians and he was great. I would pay to see his act again. The other comedian was not very good. They also had a comic/juggler that was good. We did not have the time to see any of the musical/dance acts so I’m not any help there. Food: We had the personal choice dining and I would recommend it unless you like the same wait staff and people to dine with nightly. We ate at the dining room on deck six the first night and deck five the rest. For some reason the there was always a line on six and hardly ever on five. We met some great people and seemed to run into the same people time and time again. We never made it to breakfast in the dining room-opting for room service or the horizon buffet. I’m not the world’s pickiest eater and I would give the food 8 out of 10. I felt there was a pretty good variety each night and did love the desserts (Having 2-3 each night). Tiramisu was my favorite or the week. Our first port was San Juan which we arrived several hours late for. Each of us was given a $50 credit for the late arrival. Since this was an evening stop we had planned nothing other than having a few drinks and seeing some of the town. We did not go to Senior Frogs but heard it was a happening spot that night. We enjoyed some of the smaller open air bars and enjoyed talking with some of the locals. This was my least favorite of our 4 stops and if I cruise the eastern Caribbean again I would avoid it. Our next port was St. Thomas which I loved. After reading reviews we decided not to book a tour and take a cab to Coki beach and avoid the crowds at Megan’s Bay. The cab was $6.00 per person each way. What a beautiful beach it was with the sand and water being just how I pictured it. The snorkeling was awesome here too. Not too crowded in the water and very clear. We had packed some dog biscuits and the fish went crazy for them. When we were ready to leave there are a bunch of cab drivers trying to get you to take their cab. We found it was better to stand by the road and wait for one already moving that had room rather than be hustled to a cab and wait for the driver to round up more passengers. This was my favorite beach on the trip. If I was to make it Tortola again I would take the Ferry to Virgin Gorda. Everyone we knew that made the trip said it was fantastic. We took a cab over to Brewers Bay and had another fun day of snorkeling. The sand was not as nice as St. Thomas but the reef was excellent for fish and sea turtles. If there was any good shopping on the Island we did not find it but really were not looking very hard either. Our last stop was Princess Cays. The beach was very nice and we decided to walk way down the beach to explore a little and get away from most of the people. The BBQ lunch was good and all in all a good relaxing day. Make sure you try out one of the hammocks! There were a few fish to see snorkeling but this is defiantly geared towards the first timers. I would love to visit the Caribbean again and would travel on the Star Princess if I could. My expectations going in where not great because of some of the reviews but I thought the staff was good and most of them went the extra mile to make sure we had a wonderful cruise experience.

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Jan 29, 2005

Eastern Caribbean

Having read some of the reviews posted about this ship we were quite concerned about our first cruise with Princess. We need not have worried. We flew fron Heathrow London with American Airlines, an airline which I hope never to see again, the stewards were rude, irritable and made us feel as if we were spoiling their day, and were dreading Miami Airport as

our last time there was a nightmare. This proved not to be the case this time and we got through relatively quickly. We were transported for an overnight stay to the Intercontinental West hotel, which was adequate although the room was lovely as is usual . Breakfast was fine if pricey and the price of a beer was phenomenal, but this is all standard in our experience. On arriving at the ship we prepared for the usual long queues for embarkation and were very pleasantly surprised to be onboard within less than half an hour. The ship is beautiful, immaculately clean and although we only had an outside cabin, it was a nice size, more than adequate for the time we spent in it, and the shower was brilliant compared to other lines we have been on. Leaving Miami, we explored the ship and everything was wonderful. The lifeboat drill was held in the Princess theatre, a first in our cruise experience, but was very well done. The food on board was excellent, we chose Personal choice dining, and never had to wait more than five minutes for a table even though we were only 2 people and preferred not to share. Service in the Capri dining room was excellent, every night, and the food was out of this world, the waiters were helpful, polite and kind. A big plus compared to some other ships we have been on. On the occasions we had room service, every day, at least once a day, the service was quick, efficient, never any problems and always exactly as we had asked for, whatever we asked for. Breakfast in the Horizon restaurant could be a little chaotic, but that was mainly due to the rudeness of other passengers, rather than a problem with the staff or location. A special word for the beef burgers each afternoon. We are not great eaters of "fast food" at home but really enjoyed these as a treat, and the pizza was delicious too! The shows where fantastically presented, very professional, and the settings were gorgeous, although having said that, Karaoke every night is pushing it a bit, especially as the same people got up each night., but American Karaoke has to be seen to be believed. Also the quizzes left non -Americans such as us completely at sea, shall we say. The first day was spent on Princess Cays, a lovely experience, with sun loungers ready for us, the day was spent sunbathing, drinking ( must not dehydrate!) and eating. The staff were again kind, helpful and very patient, making the day a really relaxing experience. The days at sea could be spent relaxing or joining in fun games, drinking "mocktails" or alcoholic drinks, using the nine hole putting course, tennis court, swimming pools, jogging track, and of course eating! Cozumel was a disappointment, a real tourist village, but fine for photo opportunities, tacky souvenirs and very large very loud shirts! Formal nights were lovely with most people joining in, although I was disappointed to see that people were allowed in to the dining rooms in tee shirts and shorts despite notices saying the contrary. Standards should not be allowed to slip like this. One of the reasons we booked with Princess was because we did not want other diners wearing really casual clothing. If I have taken the time to dress nicely it is surely not beyond other passengers to do the same! Grand Cayman was excellent, although getting in on the tender was an absolute nightmare, it was obvious the work experience boy had been given free reign on our tender and it took 45 minutes and several hairy experiences before we embarked on our booked excursion. Dont bother with exploring this way. There is nothing to see apart from trees blown down by the hurricane, and Hell was a big disappointment, the visit to the Turtle Farm went on too long and it may be better to explore on your own on this particular island. Jamaica was the opposite, tales of aggressive taxi drivers and people being overcharged for very short trips were rife amongst fellow passengers, so this may be better done on a booked excursion, at least you will get what you have paid for. The disembarkation procedure was standard and although it took a long time was no worse than any other time we have disembarked in Miami. We were taken back to the Intercontinental West for a quick lunch and then to the Dolphin Mall for shopping if we wanted. The Mall was okay, and was a nice chance to buy some souvenirs, have a bite of real American food and passed the time before we went to the airport very nicely. A three hour delay at Miami Airport is not a good experience, how can an airport which deals with so many people have so few facilities? It was horrendous! All in all one of our best cruise experiences, mostly due to the staff, crew and Star Princess ship. We will definitely be booking again. The sooner the better!

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Dec 26, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

I only wish I had gone to this website previously and had read other reviews of this cruise. This was our third cruise and they all have been with Princess. Our first cruise was 10yrs. ago, then 5, and just recently (Dec. 26, 2004 thru Jan. 2, 2005.) The first two were wonderful trips; however, this experience was one we do not ever wish to repeat. The

only thing we can figure out is that the sale of this cruise line to Carnival has been the downfall. Absolutely have to agree with previous reviews that the food was quite inferior. Also, it was very frustrating having additional fees added on to so many different things like drinks as well as eating in one of the select restaurants. The staff left a lot to be desired. It was posted that a snorkeling excursion in St. Thomas was full. However, when speaking to other passengers who went on that, we found out only 11 out of the 33 spaces were taken. Apparently, no effort was made from a member of the excursion staff to contact those passengers on the waiting list. Also, when my husband and daughter went on a snorkeling excursion in Nassau, there were approx. 75 people on that boat. This was three times the amount of people on any snorkeling excursion we had ever had. It was an absolute waste of money and time because there were to many people and too much waiting around. Plus food and drink were extra where in the past they had been all part of the excursion fee. Last of all, disembarkation was a nightmare! For starters, we were given the wrong color luggage tags the night before. Fortunately, another member in our party had different color tags and went up to the Pursers office to inquire and brought us the correct tags since we were to be first off the ship. All the passengers were told to be in the atrium for disembarkation at 8:30am. Disembarking did not take place til 9:45am. There was no place to sit down and it was obvious several of the senior citizens were having difficulty. The only announcement during that time was when the staff made announcements for specific people to come to the pursers desk to straighten up their accounts. During that entire time, there was not one announcement made about why the long wait and to explain to the passengers what was going on. When they finally called for certain tags to disembark the ship, it was like a giant mob scene. A fellow passenger had to yell for people to let those passengers thru because everyone was so angry and just wanted off the ship. Where was the staff and why was everyone in one area and all at the same time for disembarkation? We will never travel with this cruise line again. It is so disorganized and so understaffed that there have to be better cruise lines to travel with.

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Dec 26, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

First the good: The boat itself was gorgeous and kept very clean. Lots of fun activities to keep us busy. Wine tasting was fun, dance class was fun, karaoke was fun, the nightclub was fun. Good mixture of age groups on board. The service was quick and servers were very nice, friendly, and helpful. Drinks were not too expensive if you compare them to a big

city. Only $4.25 a martini, we pay like $10 each here in the city. The bad: The food was horrible. The buffet was the worst food I have ever tasted, cold, bland, etc. They even screwed up breakfast, the pancakes were crunchy and stale. How can you screw up breakfast? The regular restaurants like Portofino, etc, were average to below average. Some meals were okay to slightly good, others were bad. We never had a GOOD meal at these either. Food was typically served cold. I would say overall the food was poor quality. Now for the additional cover charge restaurant, Tequilas was very good. I would compare it to an outback restaurant. Steaks were good, but not fantastic. We paid $15 extra per person to eat here a few times just so we could have decent food. Portions everywhere were much smaller then USA style portions, so if you like to eat a lot, make sure you order extra stuff. I am very tiny, size 4, and I ordered an appetizer, salad, soup, main entree, and dessert all for myself because the portions were small everywhere and I like to taste a lot of different things. Other bad things about the cruise is the showers in your room. They are very tiny. I am tiny and I barely fit into them. I cannot imagine how an overweight person would fit into the showers. They really should have made them a little bigger. We sailed pretty rough seas so as I was showering all my shampoo etc kept falling on me. There is nowhere really to put it that it will not fall and roll around at. Overall if it was not for the food I would give this cruise line an A. Adding in the food it pushes it down to a D.

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Dec 19, 2004

Western Caribbean

This was my first cruise ever, and I went with my wife. We went on December 19th, so we experienced Christmas on the ship. I hope this review can help you with planning your cruise. Pre-cruise: We booked our trip with cruise.com. They had the best rate we could find, and we liked the extra things they gave to us while on the ship. For excursions, we

booked all in advance except for the cruise line’s private island. A couple of weeks before leaving, we noticed that our itinerary had changed. It said that instead of going to Princess Cay, the ship was going to Majahaul, Costa Maya. When we called, the cruise line said that a hurricane had destroyed their island, and we were going to go to Costa Maya instead. Embarkation: We arrived at Port Everglades around 10:45. We had to wait in line for 30 minutes, check in, and we were on the boat before 12:00. Our ticket had said to be there after two, but that just takes two and a half hours off of your vacation. The Ship: The ship was absolutely beautiful. Christmas trees and other decorations were everywhere, and sometimes dressed up carolers were singing. The crew was constantly washing windows, repainting things, all behind the scenes. The layout of the ship was fantastic, and I didn’t find one thing wrong with it. One thing that I thought was really cool was the scenic elevator. When on them, some levels had fake port holes with bubbles behind them. That was one of many nice details that you found all over the ship. As far as ship movement, you do feel it. I never got sick, but I’m sure some people did. Stateroom: We had chosen a guaranteed interior room. We did get upgraded to a higher level, but that turned out to be a mistake. We were given L224, which was right outside the pool area. The room itself was fantastic. It’s way bigger than it looks in the pictures, and the bathroom is fine. It’s perfect for two people, but it would probably be crowded for any more. Now to the bad part. At night, we would hear an extremely annoying mechanical sound coming from below us. We called someone up, and a guy came to check it out. He said he would call if he found out what it was, and he never did. The rest of the nights, we were oblivious to the sound, probably because we were so tired. If your spouse snores, I wouldn’t worry about it since everyone sleeps like a rock on cruises. Service: The crew was fantastic. Our room steward was great, and all of our waiters were incredible. Overall, the service had no flaws in it. Public areas: The public areas were fine. All the lounges were nice and comfortable, and the pool had more than enough lounge chairs. Dining rooms and food: There are three dining rooms, and two are for personal choice dining. We had personal choice, which I would recommend. We met so many great people, while in regular dining you meet only one group. Throughout the week, we switched between the Capri and Portofino dining rooms. They were almost identical, and they had the same food. The food was great, it was everything I expected. Some dishes I just didn’t like, so I easily replaced them with a baked potato. There are absolutely no words to describe the desserts. Day 1: Fort Lauderdale We were one of the first people onto the ship. After exploring the ship and calling to brag to family members who were experiencing 3 feet of snow ?, we headed up to our room. Our luggage was already there, and there were some cookies to greet us. After getting settled in, we headed up to the sail away party. The sunset was amazing, and we met some people enjoying the party. Day 2: Day At Sea This was a day of relaxation. We played bingo, attended the art auction, watched ice carvings, and sunbathed. Also, Cuba was visible from the ship. Day 3: Cozumel We had planned to do the Dolphin Swim. After getting off the ship, we had a couple of hours until we met for the taxi ride to Chankanaab National Park. Shopping around was fine, although the street was under construction. That didn’t really bother us. Eventually, we met to go to the dolphin swim. After taking a pretty wild taxi ride, we entered the water to have a fabulous time with our dolphin, Ariel. We got to ride, kiss, and play with her. It was a lot of fun. Afterwards, we went to the beach adjacent to the park and snorkeled. Later we went back to the ship to leave Cozumel. Day 4: Costa Maya We had not booked any excursions for this location. It was a beautiful place, and we decided to sign up for a snorkeling excursion that wasn’t part of Princess. This was a huge mistake. We had to wait in line for an hour to take a bus to the beach, were taken into the ocean in a rackety boat, and were told to follow the guide in the water. There were big waves, and there was absolutely no organization whatsoever. This was a dangerous situation and I could see how someone could get injured easily. So, always book your excursions through the cruise line, even though it may be a little more expensive. Day 5: Grand Cayman This was a wonderful experience. We had signed up for the stingray swim and snorkel, and it was an amazing. After exiting the ship, we took a bus to a dock where we entered a two story boat where we then went to meet the stingrays. Swimming with them was awesome. We got to feed, pet, and hold them. They are 100% nice, and they act like cats, brushing up against you for food. Later, we got back on the excursion boat heading to a coral foundation. There we saw some beautiful fish, and it was very interesting. I would recommend this excursion to anyone, and it was the highlight of our cruise. Day 6: Ocho Rios, Jamaica We had signed up for the Highlights of Jamaica excursion. We started by getting on a nice bus towards Coyoba River Gardens. There we saw amazing plants, and it was absolutely beautiful. Our guide there was very informative and interesting. Later, we left to drive through the rain forest towards Dunn’s River Falls. This was also an amazing experience. We started at a beautiful beach where the falls flow into the ocean. Climbing up was very fun. You have to follow the guide, since you can easily fall anywhere else. If you go with the guide, it is totally safe due to some carved in places to put your feet. This excursion was also another highlight of out trip. Day 7: Day At Sea This was another day of relaxation. We also packed our luggage that night. Day 8: Disembarkation Disembarkation was quite easy. We experienced no problems, and we were off the ship in no time. Driving away from the ship was a quite sad experience since we were leaving pure paradise Recap: Always do excursions through your cruise line, since safety is worth the extra money. The dolphin swim, stingray swim and snorkel, and the highlights of Jamaica excursions are highly recommended Personal choice seating is the best to meet tons of new people The 7 day Western Caribbean on the Star Princess was amazing!

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Dec 12, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

I have been on a few cruises 3 with Princess. The star cruise was the worst one i can remember. the food was below good, it was cold, no variety, the service was fair. I should say all this was the buffet. I can say this was the last Princess cruise i will take. thank you.

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Oct 30, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

My partner, a friend and I were three of a group of 177 men sailing on the Star Princess which departed Fort Lauderdale October 31st, 2004 for the Caribbean. We arrived at the Port at approximately 1 pm to board for our week long cruise. Despite the fact that next door in the convention center was the annual boat show, traffic was not too bad

and Princess’s porters quickly gathered our luggage from our car, we parked and entered the VERY long line for embarkation. Despite the length of the line this process went fairly quickly, after about an hour we were walking the gangplank to board. After checking out our cabin we decided to go to deck 14 where we had been told lunch was being served. Elevators were impossible to get so we walked up from deck 9 to 14 and proceeded back to the Horizon Café. What a disorganized mess this was. First off there were hundreds of people trying to get to the buffet. After waiting in line for what seemed forever we got to the buffet itself to find some of the most un-inviting food I have ever seen. To add to that, about a third of all the pans that were there were empty. I took a few small samples of things that looked slightly familiar, along with two rolls, I asked THREE employees for butter (It never did come) got some iceless ice tea from the drink station, Not only was there no ice but no glasses either, I had to use a coffee cup. At this point from all the confusion one of my friends got separated so my partner and I FINALLY found a seat and tried to eat. What we had taken was honestly some of the worst food I ever got from a buffet. I ate my two butter less rolls drank, the warm Ice Tea and left, more hungry than when I entered. We headed forward and I found the pizza station which had a very long line as well, I waited again, pleasant surprise, the pizza was some of the best I have ever had, I visited this station a lot throughout the cruise. Now able to make it to dinner and reunited with my friends we decided to explore the ship. Forget the elevators, most were out of service, I assume so luggage could be delivered to the rooms. We explored for awhile then headed back to our stateroom to find our luggage had been delivered, its now about 4 pm, so we unpacked. One thing I found real curious…..our room had a refrigerator but nothing in it, I assumed that it would be a mini bar, not. Funny, there is no where on the ship to get anything to put in it. I had filled out a form online where they asked what soda I liked, what water I liked, why bother? Fast forward to dinner…..We headed down to the Portofino dining room where our group of 177 was supposed to be all seated together...NOT….We were close, but scattered around the dining room sitting amongst people that were not part of our group. I ordered the Steak rare, it came well done. Still hungry from my earlier ordeal I ate it anyway. Being Halloween night the ship was alive with energy and people partying. The disco was pumping and a fun night was had by all. Funny thing though and this applied to the rest of the cruise, the only place one did not have to wait long for was bar service, they always had enough staff around to collect your money. End of the night was approaching fast, we decided to go to the Horizon 24 hour buffet for late night breakfast at 3 am…..Don’t plan on this if you’re hungry, they had no hot food at all, just some pastries, cheese and ICE for your ice tea, BUT now the ice tea tap dispensed water….. We retired for the night, ordering room service for the next morning as we did every morning. It always arrived on time, however rarely correct. One morning we got four containers full of butter but nothing to put it on, milk instead of crème for the coffee, two coffee cups instead of the three ordered, sometimes no sugar or equal. The food problem seemed to improve as the cruise progressed, perhaps I became more tolerant. My honest opinion is there are just too many people on board for the staff to handle efficiently. Also, I mentioned earlier the elevators. There are definitely not enough of them for the amount of people on board, there was always a fairly long wait except late at night. Tequila’s Steakhouse…...We did this upgrade restaurant one night, WOW fantastic food, great service. Our waiter Victor was courteous, professional, and knew their product. Highly recommended, ask for Victor. Internet access…..I was initially pleased to hear that they had wireless access onboard, this way I could do my work daily on my laptop and upload it to my server at home. Wrong again. My work uploads daily required about 45 minutes. They sell the wireless access for 35 cents a minute in 30 minute blocks of which I had purchased four. Unfortunately there is NO WAY to link these together, so after being connected 30 minutes it disconnected me. A very awkward interface to enter the 2nd 30 minute block, by the time I got this done too much time elapsed, my upload was trashed. I got in touch with the internet person and he just looked at me like I was an idiot, offered no work around and said it was out of his hands, he could do nothing. Corporate takes care of that.. My work around? I took my laptop off the ship to internet café’s where they gladly let me plug in and do my uploads, all the time I needed and at a reasonable price. Our cabin D-208 was adequate and the attendant attentive. He saw to all our needs and requests and always smiled. No privacy at all on the balcony. I ended up mooning a few people up above us, un-intentionally. As I mentioned earlier I was in a group of 177 people, there were issues that were not handled properly by the ships staff, however since I am not one of the group leaders, I will refrain from further comment. There was a FOD party the first full day of the cruise, I don’t think they quite expected the turnout they had of close to 300 people. They found more bar help real quickly to handle the thirsty cruisers. All in all, not impressed with Princess. I doubt very much if I will ever sail with them again. I have been on five previous cruises, all with Holland America

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Oct 30, 2004

Eastern Caribbean

This cruise was inferior to every other cruise we have ever taken. Even though it is billed as a "five star cruise", the standards were below those of three star cruises we have taken. Consequently we felt that this offered no value for money. Our major complaint was with the quality of the food. It comprised very poor quality, inexpensive cuts

of meat and seafood that tasted like it was about to turn. The overall impression of the generally tasteless and sometimes bad tasting food was that it was not fresh, probably previously frozen and was in limited quantities. On every prior cruise (including those three star cruises) the food has always been exceptional and of a very high standard. The Princess desserts were unimaginative, bland and fairly tasteless and the fruit was second quality under-ripe or bruised. When I indicated at the pursers desk that I was unhappy with the food I was told I could not submit a written complaint, but had to face the Maître d'hôtel myself and tell him, which I was not prepared to do. Alternatively I was advised that I could go to one of the select restaurants (at a cover charge of $20 or £15 per person) if I wanted better food. The select dining is the premium dining so it seems that it is acceptable that the standard service has become the second rate dining. Fine dining is a big part of the cruise experience and without the fine dining the experience is not the same. The service was also very bad, caused I believe partly by a reduction in the passenger/crew ratio since Carnival acquired Princess, and partly by the fact the tips are added automatically to ones account. For myself, my husband and 7 year old, $19.50 was added to our bill each day for dining room gratuities. As we took breakfast and luncheon buffets, at 18% that would equate to per $110 dinner. Firstly we were probably receiving $20 worth of food (if that) and secondly the service was so bad that it deserved substantially less than 18%. There was no incentive for the waiters or busboys to go that extra mile and believe me they didn't. Again, I have never had a cruise where the waiting staff did not make one feel quite special, that was until I took this Princess/Carnival cruise. The other shock was that Princess had introduced charges for so many things such as after dinner cappuccino, craft classes, ice cream, service charge for settling ones account on a non-US credit card and to add insult to injury, the head waiter came around table to table on formal night hawking the Cruise Cookbook!! Tacky to say the least. Our cabin Steward was good although our bathroom had not been cleaned upon our arrival and my child found the last occupants pills in there, which could have resulted in big problems. The evening shows were fairly average, but were repeated during the one-week cruise, so entertainment was limited. Even the films were shown twice. The public rooms were very nice and the only real gem on the cruise was the kids club where the staff/ child ratio was excellent and the programme well thought out. My child couldn't get enough of it. However as the Kids Club was the high light of the cruise, I would never book a Princess Cruise again, even if the prices were reduced to the appropriate level to reflect the third rate food and service.

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Sep 12, 2004

Mediterranean

Our September 13th, 2004 Star Princess Mediterranean Mosaic cruise from Barcelona to Rome was our ninth cruise, and our eighth with Princess/Sitmar. Since the acquisition of Princess by Carnival, the downhill slide of Princess quality has steepened. Dining room and cabin service continues excellent, but food quality has deteriorated sharply. Only cruise newbies

seem interested in the captain's cocktail party, so I suggest it be eliminated and the cost saving used to reinstate "free" ice cream at the upper deck buffet, since "Scoops" is a frustrating disaster. Not only is the purchased ice cream expensive, but the operators know nothing about creating ice cream dishes. The only time I purchased Princess ice cream, I ordered a banana split. The operator filled a deep paper milk shake cup with strawberry ice cream, and then sliced a banana all over the top of the ice cream so that I had to eat pure banana until it was gone and I reached the ice cream. Princess has apparently ignored my written comment, and I've never ordered since. If you insist on cruising Princess, I suggest you not patronize Scoops, but instead order as much ice cream as possible for dining room dessert. While the new larger ships have many amenities, they have grown too large; tours have become cattle drives. European coaches typically fail to provide sufficient knee room, so that long coach trips are punishing. European tours such as the Monaco/Monte Carlo fiasco and Rome's coluseum have turned into time-consuming queues at inadequate European lifts. Gabby tour guides consume the small remaining time with endless inane chatter, leaving little time for shopping. Although our internet usage was "free" (we're platinum members by now), the onboard internet cafe experience was frustrating for it's slowness and frequent errors - the fault is in the network design, not the satellite connection. Pity those who must pay 35 cents per minute for internet access. In fairness, Princess could not control that our Cannes visit took place on Sunday when shops were closed, and our Valetta visit took place on the Tuesday on which Malta celebrated Independence Day, so that shops were closed. We were unable to purchase Malta's famous gold filigree jewelry or Malta handmade lace. We signed up for a post-cruise stay at the Rome Crowne Plaza, thinking it would be a high quality hotel. Instead we found it inferior in most ways to U.S. Marriott Courtyards or Hampton Inns. Also, do not think you will easily walk from the Crowne Plaza to the nearby Vatican; Rome traffic is frightening, and the canyon-like streets are not pedestrian-friendly. Bottom line, early Princess/Sitmar cruises were enjoyable. Recent ones have been disappointing, and we heard many other passengers expressing similar feelings. Princess no longer offers an upscale cruise experience. I don't think I care to cruise again.

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Jul 26, 2004

Mediterranean

REVIEW of 12day Mediterranean Star Princess Cruise BY FLOOFYFISH, Review stealers and shameless private shore excursion self promoters beware! I am watching out for you! P.S. I am an avid promoter of taking Princess shore excursions, so don’t even try! Embarkation Was super efficient. Princess took our bags from the airport and sent them

directly to our rooms; they arrived about 2 hours after we first got on the ship, which we thought was amazing because we are used to our bags coming after dinner. In fact we had express check-in and ended up in our cabin 30min after getting off the transfer from Barcelona airport. There was a huge line-up (about 400 people maybe more) for the people who hadn’t done their forms ahead. I don’t really understand why they wouldn’t fill them out ahead of time rather than stand in a hot sticky line-up with their carry on luggage. That did not look fun, I felt sorry for them. When we got to our cabin our cabin steward Cathy was waiting for us, she was nice, did an ok job, but boo hoo she had a moustache. I had to try really hard not to look at it when I was talking to her which made me feel terrible. My mother was upset that she didn’t vacuum at all the entire 2 weeks. Our Lovely Stateroom Our cabin was the most forward interior cabin on the portside of the Lido deck. This put us right next to the bridge and very very sadly right below the aerobics area of the Lotus Spa. Damn, the mornings and afternoons and evenings that followed could be miserable. I imagine this was the same for all the cabins in our area, both suites and interiors alike. We could clearly hear the words and bass of the music that was playing for the aerobics class and the thumping of elephants doing step class, how fun…..not really. This is especially not true when you are sleeping at 7am trying to recover from 6 straight exhausting days at ports, on your first at sea day. Of course given that I couldn’t sleep in the morning I would try to take naps in the afternoon to be faced with the 5pm class of stomping jiving elephants. Just couldn’t avoid them. We heard noise complaints of a different nature from other people on the Lido deck with us, they were further from the bridge/gym area, but were faced with yet another horror, the elevator/stairs area. Children were stomping and running up and down the stairs in the very early hours of the morning, an unpleasant noise that could even be heard from our area. The gym closes at 10pm so we have no other explanation of where it came from at 3am in the morning. I heard that quite a few people asked to be moved to other rooms, but since the ship was sailing completely full, there was no luck for them. We are normally very patient people and simply take both the good and bad with a smile, although sometimes forced, so we didn’t complain. I doubt it would have done much, given that I’m sure many countless other people have experienced the same thing being in that area of the ship. So my suggestion is, don’t get a cabin on any part of the Lido deck! On an up note, I liked the layout of the cabin much more than Carnival staterooms, much more open I think. The hallways in the cabin areas were also much nicer and brighter. Carnival hallways are grey and dark and remind me of the trenches during WWI. I was disappointed that there were no towel animals; I really look forward to those little touches. Dining Room After getting encouragement from these boards about how easy it was to get a standing reservation for the whole cruise in the Personal Choice Dining rooms(we were 249 on the waiting list for traditional after starting at 340), went to the Capri dining room to speak to the maitre’d, to request our 2 person table for the whole time. Was not impressed by him at all! What a total dingus! Princess is always advertising about personal choice and blah blah blah, so he should be used to doing this with a huge smile by now. First we were ‘screened’ twice by two dining room attendants at the door and then the little hallway just into the dining room before we could even talk to him, and they really tried their best to get rid of us and change our minds on talking to him. Apparently they were doing quite a good job because there was no line-up and he was talking to only one person at the time. However we would not be swayed and later we thanked our lucky stars that we got that reservation. We asked for a 7:30 standing reservation for a table for 2 and he said this wouldn’t be possible because it was too busy for then. Then we asked for 7pm and he grudgingly agreed. It seemed like he didn’t want to do it at all for any time. His whole attitude towards the whole situation was very upsetting, he made us feel so small, like we were asking the hugest favour ever and inconveniencing him a great deal, when I knew that this was something that was done very regularly. This aside, our saving grace from the whole dining room experience was our waiter in Capri Dining Room Florentin from Romania. He was absolutely amazing, very attentive, patient, and honest about what were his favourites and what didn’t taste so good. He is by far the best waiter we have had in our 5 cruises, and probably the highlight of our trip! It is so awful princess works their dining staff down to the bare bone they only have 1 hour off during the day or something like that. I was somewhat disappointed about the food in the dining room and in the horizon court. It was mediocre and at times downright yucky (lobster was really not so fresh and bland). I was so excited to taste the food on Princess and I am pretty much a human garbage can, I eat everything, and especially love seafood, but a lot of the seafood was not so good and tasted ummm unpleasant. The only thing I would give rave reviews for would be the chateaubriand and filet mignon (surf and turf; the shrimps were yummy!). I always thought, having sailed on Carnival the past 4 times, that Princess was much more upscale and classier, so maybe I had my expectations set up too high. Anyway, I ‘m not sure whether it is just a general decline in the quality of cruising, or the carnival vs. princess factor, but the quality of the food was just not up to the standard as was on our previous sailings with Carnival. We used to order a couple appetizers and entrees because there was so much variety and the food tasted so good. However, on this cruise, on many of the nights I found it difficult to choose even one entrée selection or to finish the one we chose, here is where our waiter excelled, with his suggestions of his personal favourites. Another thing was that I found the presentation of the dishes lacking. It just didn’t have that Grande appeal anymore. It didn’t seem like there was a great effort to arrange the food in an aesthetically pleasing manor, which is something that I always find very important. I felt more like I was in a cafeteria than in a dining room of a cruise ship. I must say I do like the china that Princess uses; this is more of what I expected from them. What happened to all the frills???? The different ice sculptures every night in the dining room, the elaborate bread creations, vegetable cut outs etc. I’m thinking this is a general decline of cruising, but there were only 2 ice sculptures on the entire cruise. I even went to the galley tour hoping to get great pics of the critters and elaborate decorations that they usually have. There were only 2 carved watermelons! Kind of sad if you think about it, they are showing the galley and trying to impress you…not very impressive. Patisserie: what is up with this; it’s advertised everywhere, by Travel agents, on the princess website, etc. that there is a patisserie and caviar bar on the ship. It is a big fat lie. It got swallowed up; maybe they were scared of the evil children. Horizon Court Ok I am by no means a coffee connoisseur, so again being the human garbage can, pretty much every kind of coffee, especially of the instant variety is perfectly fine with me; but ew! It was disgusting! So yucky it was sour tasting. During the 2 weeks, I kept craving coffee for some odd reason, because I don’t drink it much, so I kept trying to drink it, but couldn’t get 4 sips down in a row. I can’t imagine how the real hardcore coffee drinkers must have felt, and now I am understanding why I read on this board that some people actually bring their own. I reverted to tea, which was super. They had this weird skim milk which looked like cream and tasted the same……what was going on??? Still don’t know what the stuff was. It probably could have held a pencil up straight, and I don’t think it was curdled. Which brings me to my next topic: the lemons in the drink area. The first day I flipped off the lid to put some in my ice tea and found the nastiest thing I have seen in a while. They were all brown and looked like they were sitting in that white opaque fluid for 5 weeks, and to add to that, there was green mould on a bunch of them! I didn’t even know that lemons could go bad???!! I suppose they must because everything breaks down, but I have never heard of that. It put me off so much that I never even touched another lemon for the next 2 weeks. I found that all the other drink stations were in the same state, the lemons all crawling with little unfriendly animals. I guess no one ever told the horizon court wait staff that lemons could go bad either. Incidentally, I don’t think that the lemon tray was ever changed, it was there for at least the next 3 days I think. Don’t ask why I didn’t say anything. I am generally a person who doesn’t like to inconvenience others, so I didn’t want to bother anyone about it…which I guess sounds kind of foolish but oh well. Breakfast was pretty um disappointing, but then breakfast in the lido restaurant has never been a strongpoint of cruise lines. I really missed the make your own omelette station from carnival. Dining room breakfasts were much better, but with the schedule, it was difficult to get to the dining room when you had to meet so early for shore excursions. The food in general left quite a lot to be desired, a lot of oily and unappealing choices, and again I will remind everyone that I am a human garbage can. P.s. My pet peeve with the horizon court, there are big signs at all the entrances that say no beachwear in the restaurant, but seems none of the kids or their parents took to following this. How skanky. Entertainment I spent a good amount of time in my cabin watching movies on channel 23. I was hiding from the 500 Mexican children(more on this later), and plus the movies were really good. Caught up on a lot that I had wanted to see for a while. My mother said I was wasting the money spent, but the thought of going out to face screaming and running children everywhere terrified me. I’m not really into the las vegas type of show, too glitzy for me and I’ve seen enough from carnival so I didn’t really go to any. My mother did, and left after awhile. I heard the disco was empty and that a lot of people were bored like me. The cruise director was Tim Donovan and apparently his wife is a woman that he met on one of his cruises, which leaves something to the imagination about the intent of the entertainment staff or staff in general. Well at least they got married, that sounds cute, but I wonder how many there were before her?! Maybe this is too harsh, but I always feel like the staff are sizing up potential prospects in cruisers. I’ve been hit on a lot by staff and feel weary about the whole thing in general, but I guess it gets lonely being on a cruise ship for so long. Layout and Décor Again I think I must have been expecting too much. I wanted something classy but not quite as flashy as Carnival. I found the ship to be terribly bland and not very visually appealing. One word: Mehn. There was no promenade boulevard walkway that I so enjoyed on other ships, and the library looked like it had less funding than my public library at home. I just think they could have made everything a little fancier. I didn’t like the atrium; only 3 floors instead of spanning multiple floors. They had this little tiny fountain on the plaza deck that you would have missed if you blinked, and I would have imagined that it would be much nicer to have a huge centrepiece for everyone to admire from the atrium. I understand the concept of having small public spaces on a large ship to convey a more private feel, but I guess it just wasn’t my style. Even the dining rooms were bland, there was no grand entranceway with marble stairs, and it just wasn’t very inviting. I really liked the fact that there were deck chairs on the main promenade deck on Carnival ships, for people who didn’t want sun but just wanted to be outside and relax a little. This is something that I really missed on the Star Princess. I tan really easy, so one day out in the sun is all I need to be really dark so I like to sit outside in fairly shaded areas after, and I didn’t find that there were many options. I liked the deck chairs a lot more though, there were 4 different types I think, much more comfortable as well. You had to bring your beach towel from your cabin, maybe I missed it, but I think that there should be a station where you can get beach towels from the deck, it would be a lot more convenient. Lotus Spa: sadly became the bane of my existence. On top of the fact that it was on top of our cabin, the gym was in very poor condition and quite small. I am a certified personal trainer and my god I must say that this gym is lawsuit waiting to happen. The weight machines were falling apart. It is not a good thing when the rod you put in the plate has broken off. If the rod falls out when you’re lifting the plates you could be seriously injured. Machines are supposed to be checked daily, and it looks like they haven’t been in months and months, maybe even a year! There wasn’t any supervision at all. People were running backwards on the treadmills at great speeds and if there had been even one attendant in the gym, they would have been able to warn those people that they could be seriously injured. Very young children were free to roam around gallivanting in the gym and around equipment. I was absolutely shocked. Again with the young evil Mexican children. They would meander into the gym take their shoes off and turn the treadmill up to the highest possible speed and stomp like crazy, while the whole gym was shaking from their misuse of the equipment. Then they would move on and use the weight machines!!!! Again there was no supervision at all. From where I come it is illegal to operate a gym with no supervision, and having a receptionist down the hallway does not count. I have no idea how no one was hurt, actually on the second last day the ship had to make two emergency stops to drop off a sick person, and a sick child. Who knows what happened to them I didn’t want to be nosy, a lot of people ran to the side of the ship to watch the coast guard come in and get the patients. I know curiosity can get to people, but by god why on earth would you take pictures and film the whole thing….how sadistic!!! I met a lady who was quite shaken when she was in the aerobics area doing sit-ups and a swarm of children arrived to play with the stability balls and free weights. She was lying on the floor and a very small child was struggling with a weight and kept walking over her! She almost dropped in on top of her! Evil Children There were over 500 children on this cruise, which completely blew me away considering I don’t think that a European cruise is the best vacation choice for young children. I would have thought that they would be more suited to a cruise in the Caribbean. I was distraught to hear that there were only 34 children booked on the cruise after ours. I have never met such unruly, out of control, and misbehaved children. They were a threat to both their selves and to everyone around them! A lot of the kids spoke Spanish, at first we thought they were from Barcelona and got a good deal because they didn't have to pay for air, which would explain why there were so many of them, but later found out that they were Mexican. They became notoriously famous throughout the cruise. There were huge groups of Mexican families, I think there was at least one family of 25. The parents would let their kids go on their own and basically the older children were looking after the younger ones, which is not a good scene at all. When they were with their parents, the parents did absolutely nothing to discipline them and didn’t seem to care at all that the people around them were being disturbed. In fact I think they actually told their kids to be rude back. The parents were always pointing at everyone around them and speaking in Spanish. The princess staff took a much laid back attitude like they didn't want to offend anyone, so they did nothing either, and when people complained, they denied there was any problem. A couple cruisers tried to say things, but the children would rudely reply and chastise them. On our trip to Pompeii, we were unfortunately placed with a particularly obnoxious large Mexican family. They sat near us on the bus too and terrorized everyone around them. The small children were looking after the even younger ones and encouraging them to kick the seats in front of them. They were yelling and screaming and no one could hear the tour guide, which seem to bother everyone except their own parents, so one of the people in front of me kindly asked the children to quiet down because they couldn’t hear, to which the child responded: “shhhh I can’t hear”. The trip got even less pleasant when the children would walk by and hiss at us. I’m not kidding. I AM DEAD SERIOUS. They hissed at us and the people who had spoke to them, spittle actually shot out of the young child’s mouth! That family was really special. Pompeii has very uneven ground with large stones and sand that is difficult to walk on by foot. I have no idea how the chariots used to go through, but this family brought strollers! I was waiting for the kids to fly out, I was sure it was going to happen. The children cried and screamed the whole tour. No one could hear anything yet again. Our waiter told us that one of the Mexican kids was throwing plates off the side of the ship one day and finally one of the waiters told him to stop, to which the child replied "NO WAY!" and continued to throw off the stack. Very very surprisingly, the child's family was fined $15,000, which I was amazed to hear. This was the only indication where Princess acknowledged the unruly children during the entire cruise! The pools were constantly cloudy, I can’t even begin to imagine how much urine was in them, gives me the chills thinking about it. Shore Excursions Were the highlight of our trip, the ports of call saved the trip from being just plain ridiculous. I’ve already been to Europe and it was nice to see all the sights again, but definitely difficult to really see the cities for what they are when you’re only there for a number of hours, especially Florence and Rome where the cities are about 2 hours drive away, and it really eats up your stay there. WARNING: every time you get off the ship there a vultures waiting for you; the ships photographers. I know they are just doing their jobs, but they are very very pushy. We said no quite a few times as we were pressed for time but they wouldn’t let us go. With all that drama with the private tour companies that were shamelessly self promoting themselves in disguise as cruise reviewers, I can say I am glad that I took the shore excursions offered by Princess. There is always that worry in the back of your mind that the ship will leave without you when you go ashore, but when you take tours through Princess they will wait for you if you are delayed, which eases the paranoid mind. While I am sure that there are a lot of respectable private tour companies, there is always the risk of getting a shady one. This risk seemed too great for us, which is another reason we went with Princess instead. I think I just felt safer too, being with a large tour group, with the pick pocketing and gypsies you really have to be vigilant and look after yourself. I also get bored a lot from listening to the tour guides and feel much less guilty walking off a bit further when the guides are talking in a site, than if I had my own. I think I would feel really rude to do that with a one on one tour guide. I brought a 1 litre nalgene water bottle. It was my best friend. I filled it with ice and water everyday before we set out. It saved me! Barcelona, Spain We took tour A: Barcelona highlights. It was a half day tour that drove by a lot of sites. The bus stopped in front of the Casa Mila for a short while for people to take pictures. The main stop was the church: la sagrada familia. It was spectacular. Really, really breathtaking. We then went into the little museum under the church where the guide went into far too much detail about the architecture, the people on our tour looked really bored. I think I would much rather read that stuff out of a textbook at home than stand around listening to a tour guide. The time she spent droning on and on could have be better spent visiting other spots. There was a little time to shop in the stalls outside of the church before we got back on the bus and drove around the city more. Before the tour was over, the bus stopped again at this lookout of the city on the mountain. You could see the ship and the church, which from there was tiny. I was laughing because there were ads everywhere for Will Smith’s new movie: I, Robot, but the Spanish translation made it: Yo, Robot, which I thought was ridiculously funny given Will Smith’s expression in the ad. A word of warning, we met a lady who was mugged here. She was walking with her husband and friend during the early evening when it was bright still, a day before the cruise started. A man in a scooter came up between them and separated the three of them, and then another man grabbed her purse. She lost a lot of money and credit cards. She was badly injured and had to go to the hospital, because she tried to hold on to her purse. I think she severed some tendons or something, she had a cast on for the rest of the cruise. The doctors told her not to continue her trip because she would need surgery when she went home and the longer she waited the worse it would get, but she continued anyway after consulting a doctor friend at home. It would be a lot of money to lose. I think it was really amazing that she continued on the trip without letting it upset her. She was really strong and brave. Monte Carlo, Monaco We went on our own. There was a tender service, and no wait. Very well organized. I felt like I was in a Caribbean island at first like St. Thomas. There were multimillion dollar yachts everywhere, tons of them. We walked to the Palace, it was up top a huge hill/mountain. We were exhausted when we got there, and it was so hot out. Was like 12 euros for entrance, kind of pricey for what you saw. We were so tired after seeing the aquarium(which was amazing and you should definitely go see) that we skipped out on going to the casino. The heat really got to us. We went back to the ship right after to the lovely air conditioning, yay! Livorno(Florence), Italy We did tour D: Florence on Your Own. The trips are definitely not worth it because a lot of the places they visit are all in the same area or even piazza(square). Generally, the attractions in Florence are very close together. If you read up on the sites you want to see ahead of time, you will enjoy the city a lot more on your own. It’s not really worth your time to go to see Pisa, it takes up half your day and there is so much to see in Florence that is much more interesting. I know it’s like an Italian landmark, but I think it’s really overrated. I’ve already been here so it was nice to guide my mother around. We went to the Pitti Palace, Duomo, Church of Santa Croce. There wasn’t really time to check out the museums; (I love the Uffizi) as there is a ridiculous line to buy tickets and then to go in after that as well. You can buy tickets online ahead of time, but you still have to wait in the second line, and with so little time in the city, it’s hard to fit in. I bought a Louis Vuitton bag from one of the Nairobi guys for 15euro. He initially wanted to sell it for 45euro. They are quite persistent. Be careful, they have to run if police come so make sure that you make your purchases quickly. They are sneaky too, after we agreed on the 15, I was paying him and he was like: 20 euro. I gave him a really bad look and he backed down. You have to be careful of pickpockets in Florence too. I wanted to see Hannibal before I went, it was based in Florence and you can see a lot of the sights, but I didn’t get the chance. Civitavecchia(Rome), Italy We took tour A, Rome, the eternal city. I really liked it. There is so much to see in Rome, you definitely can’t do this one on your own if you have never been, the city is too large for that. It is impossible to see everything, so you have to choose the sites that really interest you and save the rest for next time. We went into the colosseum which is right next to the roman forum. They have added a partial floor for people to understand how it used to be since I was last here. The structure is really not very attractive as there are many holes in the wall and all the marble is gone because materials(metal was removed from the walls, hence the holes) were used to build palazzos and for the wars after the colosseum was not used anymore. It must have been spectacular in its day. We visited St. Peters Basilica after and you can take flash pictures inside, which is really nice. This is because all the pictures are made of mosaics instead of frescos. It’s amazing. We had lunch next and it was pretty good, you had a huge bottles of red and white wines as well as water(which tasted soooo good, after being scorched outside) pasta, salad, meat entrée and dessert. The restaurant was very well organized and ready for us to come in, the food came out so quickly too. I was very impressed. After lunch we went to the Vatican museum which we were told opened specially for our cruise since they are normally closed on Saturday afternoons??! The gift shops were closed though…boo hoo I wanted to get a poster of the Delphic oracle from the Sistine chapel. The ceilings are amazing in the museum, really really breathtaking. I know I keep gushing. I’m not even religious. You can take pictures, but flash is not allowed. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take any at all in the Sistine chapel because nipon camera has the photographic rights for 25 years since they were the ones that funded the 10 year restoration. I am bad, I took secret pictures. They didn’t turn out so well. I was so shocked when this one guy took a flash picture! He got yelled at, I thought the guard was going to hit him. Apparently every flash picture you take of a fresco is the equivalent of leaving it in under the sun for one full day. We were exhausted and got back to the ship later, thank god we didn’t have to worry about them leaving with us. Naples, Italy Took Tour F: ruins of Pompeii. It was only a half day tour thank god. Just plain Awful. I already wrote about the evil children. It was hot and the sun was scorching, and I was bored the first time I came here and it was in the month of March. So this time it was just tortuous. My mother really wanted to see it though. She doesn’t want to go back either. Hahaha. I think it would have been nicer to see Sorrento and Capri. There are a lot of wild homeless dogs in Pompeii. It is so sad, they have no energy and it’s too hot for them, so they are just slumped in corners. They are friendly, but a lot of people were scared of them. I gave one doggie a muffin. He could barely walk and needed to lean against the wall. We didn’t go into Naples, it is very decrepit and organized crime is a problem, along with scary drivers. We were happy to go back and relax on the ship after 6 straight days of walking and exhaustion, especially since the next day was HOORAY, at sea. Athens, Greece We took tour B: acropolis, plaka, and temple of Poseidon. It was a full day tour and one of my favourites. The Olympics are about to start so the city was bustling getting ready for this week. We first drove to cape sounion where the temple of Poseidon is. It’s about a 1 hour scenic bus drive away. You drive along the coast, it’s beautiful. Ew we passed by a beach, and this large potbellied man had his doodle all hanging out. In fact I think in Barcelona it was the same thing, I am scarred for life. I really like this temple because there aren’t as many people milling around as the acropolis. It is really really beautiful and I’d already been here but convinced my mother to see it with me, she really loved it too. We went to the acropolis next but drove by a lot of sites along the way. Again it was a scorcher. You are not allowed bags into the acropolis, even large purses, so make sure you watch out what you bring. There were all sorts of athletes from different countries walking around, I wish I could have stayed to see the Olympics  I love Athens. Lunch was at a little restaurant near the acropolis, I love Greek food, but it is very oily I must admit. My mother hated it. They gave you a real sampling of all the traditional foods: moussaka, cheese pie, Greek salad( the real kind without the lettuce), spinach pie, beef something(?), Greek pasta, Greek meatballs, orange cake and you could drink as much wine as you wanted. After lunch we had 1 hour to walk around the Plaka. I bought the cutest earrings ever at this fabulous store, and lots of Olympic memorabilia; the mascots: Athena and phevos used to be one ancient Greek statue. Both sides had faces, but one side was a boy and one side was a girl( she had boobs; its funny they are on the mascots as a cross with the circle around it, which I laughed at because there are similar markings on the side of the ship). I really would have liked more time to shop, especially on Ermou, but I guess you can’t always get what you want. We were st eamed though this one family was 30 min late( time which I would have loved to shop around) and the guide waited for them. I guess it’s good for them that they took a Princess shore excursion. Kusadasi, Turkey Dear god, where do I start. This was my least favourite port. In fact I hated it all together. I was absolutely miserable until I set foot back on the ship. We did tour A: ancient Ephesus, st. johns basilica and virgin mary shrine. My mother is religious otherwise we would have just gone to ancient Ephesus. We first went to St. Johns it is a very old church that is in ruins now, before we got off the guide warned us that there would be people trying to sell us ancient coins which are fake. She didn’t however warn us how aggressive they would be. Holy! We weren’t even off the bus and you could hear the badgering begin. Extremely aggressive men and children trying to sell cheap wooden recorders, postcards, the fake coins etc. I thought it was a universal body language that if you walk away from a person you are not interested in what they are doing. Apparently in turkey it means that you are extremely interested in what they want to sell you and that they should especially come after you. They really got into your personal space, right in your face, spitting on you while asking you to buy their goods. They are like vultures and they chase after you. Very disturbing. St. Johns was: MEHN. I was bored. Virgin Mary Shrine was our next stop, it was very crowded and hot and there was a long line up to get in. There is this sacred spring you can get water from and there were huge line-ups for that too. Ephesus was the next stop. It was hot and scorching yet again, with no shade. The Celcius library was beautiful though. Everyone on the trip looked pretty bored and pooped from the heat. We all wanted it to end sooner rather than later. There are photographers(not from the ship) that follow your tour around and then sell the pictures at the, again they are pushy and take pictures of you without asking. There was a little bit of time to shop in the area outside of Ephesus, and this is where it started to get ugly. Extremely aggressive merchants herd you into their stores and start bargaining with you for stuff if you even glance in the direction. I found them very upsetting because they would say things like: hey beautiful girl take off your glasses I w ant to see your beautiful face, and it was really off putting because it was so insincere. I felt dirt hearing the stuff they were saying. It made me sick to my stomach because they were just saying those things to get you to buy stuff from them. We went back to Kusadasi and were informed that there was a carpet demonstration with free snacks. I don’t think anyone went. Those Turkish people are hardcore about their carpets. I think the tour guide said: “we will never be offended if you don’t want to buy, but we will if you don’t show interest in our arts”. Translation: “you’d better get your ass into the carpet room or I will beat you down”. Just kidding. They are all just very supportive of each other I guess because the country is not doing very well economically. Their inflation is outrageous. It costs half a million to go to the washroom. So we were dropped off away from the pier instead of right where they picked you up beside the ship because this is their way of trying to get you to buys things from them. Again the obnoxious merchants. The stores are in rows and rows. Outside of every store there is a huge number of men, it seems like the stores get every member of their extended family to stand outside of their stores and harass you to go into the store. Many of the shoppers did not want to go in, but the shopkeepers were insistent. Then the shoppers would just move on. They really have to rethink this whole method, because it is very off-putting and not conducive to their success in selling things. I think most north American shoppers like to look on their own and if they want something they will buy it. Obnoxious soliciting for things that they are not interested is not going to convince them otherwise. Neither is trying to butter them up and tell them how beautiful they are. My mom got less of the sexual comments, but again I was sick to my stomach from hearing them. If you try to ignore them, they just follow you up the street until you acknowledge them. Everything looked really dirty and old, like the silver jewellery was all tarnished, I think it’s probably a bad indication if the silver tarnishes even before you sell it. My patience finally got the best of me and I split up with my mother and tried to escape back to the ship, but I encountered about 5 more men who followed me up to the gate. Venice, Italy There was a little card on our pillow when we came in from dinner, they automatically charged you $10/person for water shuttle from the pier to St.Marks square. I thought this was kind of stupid, but whatever. We took the half day tour A: gondola ride, murano glass factory, San Giorgio. The water shuttle first dropped us off at a somewhat plain church, San Giorgio, it was across the canal from St. Marks Square. It was boring. I think they all start to look the same, but this one was much less elaborate than the other ones that we had visited. We then had a 30 min gondola ride. It was nice, was smelly at some points but I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the murano glass factory, but wish it had been a weekday so that I could have seen the factory at its busiest. The glass blower made a vase and a horse, it was amazing how quickly he finished them, and I was heartbroken, he did numerous demonstrations and threw them out after!!!! The glass showroom was spectacular, but so expensive!!! I was so upset I took like 50 pictures, and I think it was too hot and my camera errored. Boo hoo. We went back to the ship and had lunch freshened up and trekked back out to St. Marks and Doge’s Palace. There were more Nairobi guys selling Louis Vuitton bags, that were of lesser quality. Most of the shops just sold glass and those hideous masks. Everything was expensive. Disembarkation We had a super early flight at 6:20am which meant we were the first to disembark at 4am. The bus took us to the airport, where our luggage was waiting for us, everything was perfect. Princess must be commended on their embarkation and disembarkation procedures, they really have it down to a science. All in all, it was an ok trip, but I was really happy to get home. I really tried not to let the kinks get to me, but I feel like my patience was really tested. I think this is our last Princess cruise, which is sad because we would love to have our amazing waiter again. At most I may try an Alaska cruise, but it looks like we will be moving on the RCI, HAL, and Celebrity. Thanks to everyone who helped answer so many of my questions before the cruise, it really helped us during our trip.

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Mar 10, 2004

Mediterranean. Cruise

My husband and I just completed our 12 day Mediterranean Cruise cruise on Star Princess and had a wonderful time. 1. Istanbul & Kusadasi (Ephesus) - We used Byzance Limo. The website is http://more.at/Byzance The site lists all of the tours and prices. I found them very courteous, professional, and very quick to respond to my emails. There are many wonderful reviews about this company.

They were first class and the guides were helpful, informative and very flexible. It was something we enjoyed so much (a feast for the eyes, ears and senses). The next day we took a half day tour which should not be missed! The following day we took a Bosphorus cruise tour. Could not have been more pleased from the services. They took us to many spots and treated us like treasured friends. We highly recommend them to everyone (really reasonable). Around $200 for up to 6 people for a full day tour. Istanbul was so interesting! See as much as you can. 2. Naples - We used Marcello Maresca from See Sorrento. Our trip will included a visit to Pompeii, then the drive along the Amalfi coast with a stop at his family's restaurant for lunch. Marcello owns the business and has another driver to assist him when he his personally booked up. His website is www.seesorrento.com  Marcello's email address is marcellomaresca@tin.it  3. Athens - we used Spiros from www.athenstaxi.net  He is very reasonable...around 200 euro for up to 4 people for a full day tour. 4. Villefranche - We are booked through Dream Tours for a tour to Monte Carlo, Monaco, Nice, Eze, and St. Paul de Vence. Alain is the person who handles the reservations. He was VERY helpful and put up with dozens of emails from me. The website is www.dream-tours.com You can email him at infos@dream-tours.com I have also heard that Sylvie De Cristo (sp?) is a wonderful guide here, as well. Our favorite port was Santorini! We took the half day tour and still had time to shop and make it back to the ship for a late lunch. Everyone takes either the gondola or the donkies back down to the tenders! Fun! Make sure to be out on deck when you sail into Malta! Nothing like it! We took a taxi into town and went to St. John's Co-cathedral. An amazing, pleasant surprise and right in the middle of town right above where the ship docks. Still had time to shop a bit and get back to the ship in time for lunch. (This always helps in the finance department!) Mykonos, we didn't take a tour because the ship has a shuttle bus to town. We enjoyed the photo opportunities here as well as shopping for music. We heard some complaints from people who paid for tours here... but then there are always some unhappy campers everywhere! We couldn't find anything to complain about the cruise. The price was right, the accommodations (ship and hotels) were great and the crew were very pleasant. We have no regrets (other than we aren't doing it again this year!!!). If you have any questions do not hesitate to email me mka1881@hotmail.com Oh, I could go on and on! Have a wonderful trip!

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Jan 3, 2004

Australia/New Zealand

Auckland The equivalent of Sydney in Australia or New York in the United States, Auckland is the business capital of New Zealand. Staying at the Mercure Hotel, Auckland gave us picturesque views of Auckland Harbour, at a relatively cheap price, but more importantly the convenience of being able to walk to the dockside! The morning the ship arrived; she

looked stunning as she turned heads once again. After a breaky at a café, we walked up to the ship and saw some passengers checking in their luggage at 10am already! After seeing this, we also decided to do so. Although the public is allowed almost an arms length away from the ship, it is only up to the bow where it says ‘Star Princess’, and thus is limited to such a small section. Since it is one of the longest ships to come to Auckland, I would imagine that for smaller ships, the public wouldn’t even be able to reach the ship at all! I am probably being biased since I come from Sydney where at the Overseas Passenger Terminal; the public has their own observation deck higher than the gangway level, so that the public is able to see much more! Embarkation in Auckland Loading a ship with 2600 passengers (the pursers desk said that we are sailing at full and there are no upgrades available) requires lots of manpower, lots of consideration, and a tonne of patience by both passengers and attendants. The stupid thing is as soon as you enter the terminal building; you are given a departure card, but not told when to give it in. You walk straight up to the line, where there are no tables or pens provided at all, and when you get to the top of the line, you need to hand in these damn cards filled in! Where were the instructions? How are we supposed to fill them in?? It wasn’t as hectic as I thought it was though…just require a lot of patience! Cabin Figuring that we only use the cabin for sleep and that’s pretty much it, we opted for a 4 berth inside cabin on the Dolphin deck. The room was way too small for 2 adults and 2 teenagers! They should have a slightly larger room but without the window premium! It was nicely decorated, and had an adequate closet space for 4…but the amount of space between lavatory door and the closet space can only be described as enough for a dwarf! Whenever you open the door from the toilet, anyone standing in the closet space would either get a wack from the side, or would have to swerve quickly and as a result, run into something else. The in-house safe was a real benefit, though, and we used it throughout the entire cruise. Unfortunately, being an American ship, the electrical power points were only 115 volts. Unaware of this, my father brought a long his 220 volts Australian shaver, and thus sounded like a portable vacuum with about 0.0001% of battery power left. We had to purchase manual shavers at next port of call! Television A great feature, especially for the inside cabin is the bow cam which shows a live picture of the front of the ship. We found it beneficial in that when we woke up, we could tell whether we were moving or not! The next channel is the ship log channel, which tells us exactly where we are in the world via GPS, the air temperature, the location in longitude and latitude, air pressure, wind direction, expected sunrise and sunset (pretty much useless information), and all that other junk. What they should have done is split up the graphic GPS image into a separate channel, so I passengers don’t have to wait 10 minutes to see a 5 second long image of where we are! The television shows were pretty much all American (Friends, the Simpson’s, Everybody Loves Raymond, etc.) and pretty much all American movies (Catch Me If You Can, Chicago, etc.), which is a little biased! To compensate this bias, they put on the South Pacific ABC channel, which 50% of the time was out of service ‘due to our position’ and when it was in range, it was like watching some random images and bits of sound every 3 seconds. They also have a live feed of CNN and CNNfn, which is good, and a news channel that just has news in text. Cabin attendant Although we didn’t see him much, our room attendant, Luis, kept our cabin in an immaculate condition. He would change towels and clear up the room during breakfast as well as after dinner, and made sure that anything that needed replacing was replaced! He kept shoving more and more shampoo and conditioners like it was a natural resource! Although we never used room service, it is available 24-hours everyday, and after passing crew delivering the room service food to their respective cabins, the meals looked very decent indeed! In addition to the normal towels provided for morning and evening showers, they also provide everyone with pool/gym towels to use and are refreshed (if necessary) just as often as the normal towels are, or upon request if the frequency was not enough! Breakfast at Portofino Dining Room and Horizon Court Breakfast was the biggest disappointment of the entire cruise. Not only was the menu pretty much the same everyday, not only was it pretty much the same in the Portofino Sit down Breakfast as in the Horizon Court buffet, but the quality of the food was awful! The hash browns were hard and only tasted of oil, the pancakes were dry and the syrup sort of dissolved into it and it was still dry, the eggs were yuck (all 4 types of it!) and the hash brown looks like something I best not describe! The cereal selection was extremely limited (they believe we all like ONLY oats or something!?!), with no coco-pops, not even corn flakes! The only think I enjoyed was the grapefruit, which still looked like it was cut the day before and had dehydrated on the outside. The orange juice was not chilled, and I think the only decent thing to eat was the cold meat, which isn’t adequate for 14 breakfasts! Lunch at Portofino Dining Room Lunch in the Portofino was quite good (excellent compared to breaky!). There was a wide variety of foods, especially for the mains, where a large portion of salads to prime rib was served. The smaller courses, though, where somewhat limited and some lunches we went straight for the pasta and mains. Since we chose traditional dining for dinner, this type of meal is what I’d expect had I chosen anytime dining for dinner and I’d have to say after having experienced this anytime option, I’m glad to have chosen the fixed dining option! Some of the staff were sooooo slow, some were very lazy, while some were exciting and very helpful. I’d rather had the same good waiter for the entire trip. Dinner in the Amalfi Dining Room Star Princess, like most of the other Princess ships offer both Traditional Dining Choice, and Personal Choice ‘Anytime’ Dining, and Princess Cruises is conveniently the only cruise line to offer both at the same time. The Traditional dining is in the Amalfi Dining room, while the anytime dining option is in the Capri and Portofino Dining rooms. All three dining rooms are supposed to be exactly the same, but I did notice that Portofino and Capri Dining rooms had much more paintwork done to them than the Amalfi. We decided to choose the Traditional fixed seating (for those of you who don’t know, its where you dine every night at a fixed time at a fixed table with the same waiters). Some of you might think this is pretty stupid to choose fixed when there is anytime dining, but we liked it because we were guaranteed a table, guaranteed no waiting for it, and we have the same waiters who got to know us and gave us a better dining experience. Anyway, the dinners onboard the Star Princess in my view was nothing short of spectacular. Even our waiter said that dinner is where everything is meant to be fabulous and perfect. On many occasions from the look on our faces after finishing a course, he offered to bring out another one (since that course was so yuck!). During the 14-night cruise, they served 2 types of caviar, 2 differently cooked lobster, king crab legs, escargot, frog legs, pretty much everything. Appetizers are followed by soup, salad, entrée, then dessert (the entrée is the main course size, I don’t know why they call it entrée!). Service at Amalfi Although the food was great, I’d have to say that the main reason I enjoyed the food was because of our waiter and his assistant, who were our waiters for every dinner throughout the 14 nights. After the first 2 nights, they knew pretty much everything about us in terms of meals. This is why I liked the Traditional fixed seating. When we arrived, 2 Cokes would already be waiting for us. There are no wine glasses (since my parents don’t drink on a cruise), he doesn’t even ask my sister what kind of salad she wants (its always Caesar!), he knows my father, sister and myself like French fries with the entrée, and that my mother doesn’t, and that I am the only one who likes ketchup. It is this personal approach that I could never get at anytime dining (since the waiter will always change!). Also, since all food is payed for, the waiters actually recommend what actually takes good and not just the most expensive thing on the menu! Only available on a cruise ship! Food at Horizon Court Apart from breakfast, the food in the Horizon Court was of a good standard. Lunch was always something to look forward to on days which the ship was at port, and I liked the fact that it is open 24-hours a day. The thing I’d hate the most without a 24-hour buffet is coming back from port at 3pm starving and finding that no food place is open! There was always lots of space to sit (apart from breakfast time), and it is good to be able to take your food anywhere in the ship, including outdoors after, or nearby the Calyso and Neptunes pool areas. There is also a water and ice dispenser (great for filling up water bottles, but be careful…some nozzles are funny and squirt water everywhere as I found out!), coffee, hot water, decaf, and even an ice tea tap. HINT: before taking any meal, if you are unsure of where the toilets are, find them! This ship has oddly placed toilets and when you need to go, it’s a long way to go looking! Service at Horizon Court Apart from the Bartenders, the waitpersons at the Horizon Court are awful! Their face expressions look as though they’re going to fall asleep, they don’t say anything to you, regardless if you say thank you or not, and some just stand there and strole around, almost pretending to work. This is very surprising, considering that I recognised some of them as waiters from the Amalfi Dining Room, and how their attitudes and manners can change so dramatically! Service at Bars The worst crew onboard had to be the bartenders, both male and female. Whichever bar you go to, be it the Calyso bar, the Promenade lounge bar, whatever, they look like their pretending to wipe down the sinks (wiping sinks is not a 24-hour job!), and when they serve you, they just give it to you and walk away. They make you wait for ages, some of them making you wait while they finish their conversation with a fellow bartender, and then frowning at your request. Absolutely unfitting to an otherwise attentive and charming fleet of crew. Toilets Although a little weird, I must comment on the public toilets. The stateroom toilets can be rather small, and especially when both inside cabins and outside window cabins have no fresh air! (to put it as politely as possible). But when people usually think public toilets they think dirty, smelly, non-private area. Not on this ship! Every single toilet open to passengers with the exception of stateroom toilets are at the standard of 5 star hotels! Marble (or what looks like marble) bench tops, bright lights and proper hand wipe dispensers always filled. But the best feature is the fully enclosed cubicle, unlike normal ones where there is still gaps through the lower sides and the ceiling. A great feature! Off Limits Being almost 17 years old, I was rather looking forward to going to the Off Limits area for activities with other new friends, but when I looked at the activity sheet: Scrabble, Matchmaking, Hot tubs, teens dance club, PS2? Do I really pay all that money to play PS2? Does that really interest a teenager!?! One PS@ to share between 35 teenagers? 35 people playing a game of scrabble? A dance party with 35 people!?! I only registered, looked at the space (very small if you ask me!) and pretty much never returned. Not even my sister who is nearly 13 found it amusing. So I decided to go along to an even, the battle of the sexes to try it out. When I got there, there was the attendant playing cards with someone, and one girl watching the TV. Battle of the Sexes?? So I ended up playing Scrabble with my sister before leaving and vowing never to return. Pool Areas There are 4 public pools and one crew pool area opened 24-hours a day onboard Star Princess. Being a teenager, I only had access to 3 since one was an adult’s only pool. They are all of reasonable size, and one of them has a retractable glass roof, making it an indoor/outdoor pool. This itinerary, however, was quite cold and the roof was never ever opened (thank god!). This was the most frequently used pool by most passengers including myself, as it was so damn cold! I did, however use the swim against the lap pool, and I must say that the pressure of the current it produced can make anyone tired! It did, however, get very windy up there and when you get out of the pool… Princess Links This ship features a 9-hole putt-putt course that was rarely used by anyone! Of the 4 times I went there, we were the only ones there! Now try playing putt-putt in the middle of the ocean on a ship and you’ll notice that it is not as easy as it sounds! Most of the time, in fact, people hit too hard and the ball goes flying, not to mention the frustration from the sound of the wind and the air! The ship also features a cyber golf area, where passengers can drive on some of the world’s most well known golf courses, virtually. Paying $US20 for half an hour, you can select a ball and slam it into a screen where it calculated movement and all that stuff and shows you, virtually, where it has landed. A bit expensive for a half hour though! Shopping Since the ship travels internationally, all shops on board are Duty and Tax free (yes, including alcohol and stuff that you smoke!). Everyday, the shops have some kind of sale on, including jewellery, watches, souvenirs, etc. Seeing it as a bargain, we picked up some Seiko watches for over 50% off! But I must ask the question, and I saw it on a previous cruise as well: why on earth do they sell gold and silver by the metre!?! I mean small bracelets and stuff I can understand but in the metre!?! Its not carpet!! And you don’t go on a ship to buy this! It’s quite beyond me. Day-time Entertainment There is an infinite amount of organised activities to do during the day. Some include Trivia Quizzes, Bingo, Horse betting (lots of fun!), pottery making, culinary demos, aqua golf (a cheap version), battle of the sexes, etc. on top of the daily activities such as swimming, gambling, music, relaxing, listening, eating, etc. If you get bored at daytime, there must be something wrong with you! Night-time Entertainment The two main show rooms are the Princess Theatre (the largest room in the ship which seats a considerable amount of people on 2 levels in a pilar less space) and the Vista Showroom (ironically, these 2 spaces are placed on opposite sides of the ship!). The Star Princess Dancers are the main group of entertainment and star in the major production shows such as Dance!, Da Beat, Music and Words, and Give My Regards, and boy do they do a great job! Although it is a little disturbing to see males dance so well as females, the majority of passengers are 60+ and I guess they aren’t so concerned! Furthermore, they also had Australian and international celebrity guests (non of which I had heard of!) who did stand up comedy, impersonations, singing (this one lady…oh my god seeing such an old hag get very energetic!), and played music. All up, entertainment was good and enjoyable, and my sister got so concerned about how the dancers could change so fast! The Vista lounge, however, had some pillars in the room (its odd how a 2 storey bigger space could have no pillars and a single storey smaller space has so many!), which meant getting there early. Might I suggest about half an hour for both Princess Theatre and Vista Showroom, before it starts. In addition to these show, they also had Karaoke just about every night (apparently very entertaining), live band, pianists, very talented string quartets and of course themed disco nights at the Skywalkers Nightclub (that thing suspended 150 feet above the ocean which makes the ship look like a shopping cart). I didn’t go to any of these events as they didn’t interest me (dancing with 60+ year olds to 50’s music!?!), and anyway you have to be over 21 years old (alcohol). Writing Room, Full House, Library These 3 rooms are situated at the bottom of the ships 3 deck high atrium, right next to each other. Since the atrium becomes a focal gathering point sometimes, it’s not a very good location to put rooms that require pretty much silence, especially the writing room; the there is no wall in-between! When the piano player was playing on some evenings, I found it extremely rude that some passengers were pulling chairs out of all 3 rooms and shifting them to the atrium area! People are playing cards here!! We had them first, so go away! Skywalkers nightclub It’s a pity that this room isn’t used as best as it could be. During the daytime, it serves as a lounge area (which most people aren’t aware of). The area is very narrow, and has a décor which doesn’t meet the crowd (a modern, sleek, metro look for 60+ grannies to dance with!?!). The windows were also very dirty, so even the view was distorted by dirty droplets of water! Atrium For those of you who don’t know, an atrium is like a big whole spanning a couple of deck in a ship. Picture an apple and an apple corer. This ships atrium is only 3 deck tall, which is unusual since most ships have them spanning 8 or 9 decks tall. Nevertheless, it was the place to be when the champagne fountain was poured, upon embarkation, where most people took their formal pictures at, and where most of the music was coming from. It is beautifully finished with a gigantic light/chandelier thingo from the roof and a pleasant mosaic on the floor. Shore Excursions I absolutely hate the Shore Excursions the cruise lines offer. They are the biggest rip off I have ever seen. For example, a Wellington sightseeing trip took passengers to Te Papa Museum, the city Cable car and the shopping mall. Surprise, surprise, we walked to the station, caught the bus for $NZ5 each, all of the shore excursion stops were stops on the day hopper bus, the Te Papa Museum was free to enter, the shopping mall was free to enter, and the cable car only cost $NZ5 as well!! For the $US30 fee, I saved a lot and still saw more of Wellington had I chosen the shore excursion! Wellington The capital city of New Zealand, and home to some of the scenes of the Lord of the Rings. All of the New Zealand ports of call are blessed with natural beauty; even right in the middle of the city, and this was no exception. But beware; the only thing I didn’t like was the wind! I experience some of the strongest winds I’ve ever seen while walking back to the ship! Just a short walk from the ship is the Railway station, where you can buy an all day hopper pass for only $NZ5 per adult and $NZ2 per child. What a bargain! You should also go to the cable car ride to the top of the mountain for picturesque views of Wellington (one of the stops or the hopper bus). Christchurch This time we needed to catch a bus to the city centre, and wow Christchurch is a very nice place to go to. It is probably the cheapest of the 3 New Zealand cities, plenty of shops and things to do. If you get the time (we didn’t), visit the Antarctic Centre, as this award winning centre gives you a first hand look at the white continent (apparently so). By the way, we tried to buy some New Zealand crisps in a box here and were told the nearest supermarket was a 20-minute walk…so don’t bother trying to find one! Dunedin The Scottish part of New Zealand, this smaller city is home to the Worlds steepest road. You will need to catch a bus from the ship to the octagon in the city centre, and a good place to visit is the Cadbury factory, whether you are a fan of chocolate or not. There are many shops in the nearby area, and don’t forget to take the 1 hour double-decker bus tour that departs from the tourism centre. Fjordland National Park Star Princess arrived on the wrong day! It was raining and foggy! We couldn’t see anything until about 2pm when it finally cleared! It was supposed to be very beautiful from 8am-about 4pm. Instead all we saw was white and could barely figure out mountain shapes! But when we did enter Milford sound, we were very close to the lush natural beauty, and could see mini waterfalls trickle down the cliff sides almost like liquid paper. What a shame. Apparently it is meant to be some of New Zealand’s most beautiful offerings, and if it’s better than Wellington, damn I missed out on a lot! Hobart After a very rough 2 days at sea, most passengers were happy to just get off the ship!! But as soon as we did, immigration! Imagine trying to do 2600 in 3 hours. It was just like embarkation all over again! Anyway, Hobart was the first port since Wellington where the ship is near town. They still offered a free shuttle bus to the city centre though, and surprise, surprise it was Sunday at 9am, and everyone was closed. So what do 2600 do? I have no idea. We just waited I guess. I did try the best fresh lobster though, for only $NZ26 each! Adelaide A very long train ride into the city, Adelaide was not as exciting as I thought it was. I did see a sign saying ‘Remove Moles or Blackspots from $20’, “Wong Kee Daily Yum Cha’ and a supposed Sky City Casino at the back of a railway station?? They did, however, provide a free city hopper bus service and has good looking public buildings (such as in my opinion the best State parliament house building – have you seen the one in Sydney!?!). Melbourne The second largest city in Australia, the city of Melbourne was a 25 minute tram ride away from the ship, and at $AUD5.80 for an all day tripper pass on any tram, train or bus, transport was a bargain. The city also features a 1938 to 1958 built free city circle tram (as noisy and as old as it is, it is in very good condition for a piece of machinery older than most people on the ship!), which allowed us to travel from Federation Square right round to the Telstra Dome and Queen Victoria Markets. Disembarkation in Sydney As most cruise lines do, Princess Cruises disembarks passengers according to coloured baggage tags and numbers to prevent 2600 people from trying to push though and get off the ship. They don’t, however, tell you the time that your colour disembarks which makes it very difficult to arrange your own transfers! You have no idea if you will disembark at 6am or 10am. You think a relative will wait up to 4 hours in a car!?! But getting through customs and quarantine was relatively painless. Improvements - The Amalfi Dining Room is all the way aft. It’s a pity that there is absolutely no toilets nearby till about 1/3 the way down the Promenade Deck one level up! - The fixed sitting starts at 6pm and 8:15pm, which makes it difficult to stuff 6 courses down in less than 1.5 hours to watch the shows at 8pm and 10pm! - Clean the windows more regularly at the Skywalkers Nightclub! A daytime lounge space with views through dirty is not desirable for even a teenager, let alone a 60+ year old granny with high expectations! - Offer much better activities and bigger spaces at the teens club areas! - Make the Neptune’s Pool indoor/outdoor as well. It was rarely used in Australia/New Zealand. Imagine Alaska! Who Goes? On this cruise, I think it was 75% Americans and 80% over 50 years old. Considering that on a ship with 2600 passengers, there were only 35 teenagers, the demography is obvious. It does have the advantage, however, of more pool space for me, and most people went to sleep at about 10pm, so no Yahooing down the corridors at 3am like on other ships I’ve been on!

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Nov 1, 2003

South Pacific

We sailed from LA - Hawaii - Tahiti which took 13 days. The ship was absolutely beautiful. We were worried about spending 10 days at sea, thinking we would be bored, but we were truly impressed with the cruise staff on this ship. This group of people were the friendliest, keenest, most upbeat of any ship we have been on. We had sooo much fun. They made

our cruise!!! My only complaint about our trip would have to be the "Personal Choice Dining". On longer voyages, most people prefer a traditional seating arrangement and the only traditional dining room is very small. There were over 800 people on the waiting list for 1st seating and 300 for the second seating. We sweet talked our way into the 2nd seating which was at 8:30. Since longer voyages often have an older group of passengers, most of them didn't show up to eat so late, so the dining room was usually only 1/2 full. People were also complaining about long line-ups to get into the Personal Choice Dining Rooms (Capri & Portofino). Other than that, everything about this ship is first rate. We constantly saw cleaning staff wiping down railings and did not hear of even 1 person getting Norwalk on the voyage. Princess is obviously making a great effort to keep people well which we appreciate very much. I highly recommend this ship.

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Oct 3, 2003

Mexican Rivera

Just returned from my first cruise and must say it is something I’m looking forward to doing again! Thanks to reviews, I was very prepared and had one of the best vacations ever! We flew from Las Vegas to LAX and was met promptly by a Princess Rep. to take us to the ship. We had read about the long embarkation lines, and were not disappointed,

however , we felt considering the number of people they were dealing with, they were working very efficiently. Our stateroom was pleasant, and roomy. We had booked an outside balcony and were pleased with the extra room, table & chairs...was a great place for breakfast every morning! Our room steward, Jonathon, was thoughtful, and always available. We had selected personal choice dining and quickly found the Capri Dining room to be our favorite. Almario & Emil were the best! Just the right blend of service. We reserved table 40 every night at 8:00 and were always out in time for the shows we had planned attend. The Entertainment was awesome! Anyone who misses “DANCE” or “DA BEAT”, misses out on some excellent performances! The show room was very comfortable and every seat was a ‘good’ seat. We’ll never forget the comedian “SARGE”! He had us begging for more! Because of Hurricanes NORA & OLAF we had to make a change in our scheduled Ports. We went to Cabo San Lucas first rather than last and were able to spend a few more hours there than is usual. It was great! We went on the Historic Pirate Ship Excursion. The snorkeling wasn’t the greatest but we had a good swim and the crew of pirates were entertaining. Mazatlan was our next port and we had a good day shopping and lunch at a resort. We returned to the ship and were told that the Hurricanes were not going to be a problem so we could travel on to Puerto Vallarta.. This was probably our least favorite port but that’s just a personal observation! Our “at sea“ days were spent sunning, playing in the pools, and using the Spa . Anyone needing a terrific haircut, needs to book an appointment with Hugo! He’s fantastic! We were sad to have it all come to an end. It’s nice to be pampered! Our disembarkation was flawless. We were at LAX to catch our flight home with time to spare. Maybe we’re just easy to please but I didn’t have any complaints. It was the most relaxing vacation I’ve ever been on! We’re already planning our next one!

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Oct 3, 2003

Mexican Riviera

This was our 7th cruise and we had already been on the same itinerary with Carnival and Royal Caribbean in the past. It was also the first time without the kids! Day 1 Arrived at the new Long Beach cruise terminal after a short 15 min delay getting into the drop-off area due to a truck stalled in one of the entrance lanes! Unloaded our

baggage, found a porter and said goodbye to the baggage. We had to stand outside in a long line to check-in and after a short wait the line started moving quicker than expected. It was while in this line that we suddenly realized we had left our garment bag containing all our formal wear at home! A quick phone call to our oldest son with a request to bring the bag was graciously accepted. Just as well we live only 40 minutes away. Immediately after check-in, we went back to the drop-off area to collect our missing bag from our son who was already waiting for us. Gave the bag to a porter and proceeded through the security check once again and this time actually boarded the ship. Despite all this we were on the ship about an hour after arriving at Long Beach – not really too bad. We went to our stateroom and was immediately impressed with the layout and décor. The balcony was perfect. Although it was small, it was more than adequate and was shielded from above. The visible balconies below were 2 and 3 levels down. We could look directly down at them over the rail but they could not see up into our balcony. Met our cabin steward Sumeth who was quite happy to be called “Sammy”. He was very friendly and eager to please. Had lunch in the Horizon buffet. Food was OK and the surroundings very pleasant – didn’t have a crowded feel about it and everything was spotlessly clean which seemed to be the case wherever we went on the ship. Spent a little time exploring the ship – this is going to take some time – the ship is so huge but is segmented into relatively small areas giving a feeling of privacy wherever you went. There doesn’t appear to be any large open deck areas. Even the atrium is only a few decks tall. It doesn’t soar spectacularly to the top of the ship as it does on many other cruise ships. We had opted for traditional dining, second seating and had requested a large table in the hope of meeting a few people. Only one other couple turned up the first night, but we enjoyed their company. The gentleman used to own a travel company and had been on over 28 cruises so we had a great source of information on other cruise ships at our table! After dinner we all went to see the first night show in the Princess Theater. This was a show to introduce the entertainment staff and dancers. The orchestra were very good and the dancers very competent. The second part of the show was a comedian who was extremely funny and had the audience belly-laughing in no time at all. Day 2 Woke next morning to a beautiful day. Had breakfast at the Horizon buffet. Food was just OK but they did have eggs benedict, my wife’s favorite! Some of the meat dishes were somewhat overcooked and dried up. Went to a wine tasting in the afternoon having signed up and paid my $7.50 in the dining room the night before. This was quite interesting with some emphasis on removing some of the snobbery concerning wine and wine tasting. We tasted 2 whites, 2 reds and a dessert wine. All the wines were very good and not too expensive. By ordering a bottle there and then, the price was reduced by $5 so my wine tasting really only cost $2.50. Having the bottle presented at dinner was no problem. Throughout the day there were various announcements from the captain concerning a couple of hurricanes off Puerto Vallarta so a decision was made to stop at Cabo San Lucas in the morning and spend all day there. The scheduled itinerary showed a partial day at Cabo San Lucas on the 5th day. Tonight was the first of 2 formal nights and after dinner we went to see the first main production show in the Princess Theatre. The show was called “Dance!” and after the first scene I thought, “this is going to be another run-of-the-mill show...” then suddenly things changed and the rest of the show turned out to be quite spectacular and nothing like I’ve seen before on a cruise ship. Day 3 Having had breakfast and lunch a couple of times in the Horizon buffet we began to realize that the food in the buffet was not very good at all. Many items tended to be overcooked and there wasn’t much in the way of variety. We finally met up with a Canadian couple we had chatted with on the cruise critic web site and ended up in their room in the afternoon for a couple of glasses of wine. They had a mini-suite that was quite impressive with an extra seating area and a pull-down sofa. We didn’t bother to get off the ship at Cabo San Lucas – we were having too much fun hanging out with newfound friends! As we were about to leave Cabo, the ship having already spun round to make it’s exit from the bay, the captain announced that they were going to wait for another four people who had been missing and then found. The ship spun back round as a tender approached from across the bay. As the tender came along side, everyone on their balconies started booing, whistling and hooting at the tardy passengers much to their extreme embarrassment. It was very funny and it seemed like every passenger who had a balcony was out there jeering! We were still avoiding hurricanes so Mazatlan was the next port of call. After dinner we went to a complete show featuring Saturday night’s comedian. He was very, very funny with completely new material. Tonight was the tropical deck party so we had to go and investigate. It was held on the aft deck that was really a three-tiered deck, the lower deck having a pool that was covered with a temporary stage for the musicians. There was no food and the entertainers really didn’t strike up much enthusiasm among the guests. Compared to other cruise ships, this was pathetic. The ship does have a disadvantage however in that there is no large open deck area to hold a decent outdoor deck party. Day 4 After a late breakfast we decided to get a taxi into Mazatlan. While wandering around the shops at the terminal area we bumped into our neighbors across from our room and decided to share a taxi into the golden zone. We hadn’t arrived long when it started to rain slightly. We decided to retreat to a bar and found a convenient open, but covered bar on a street corner. By this time, the heavens opened amidst thunder and lightning. We just sat at a table, drinking Pacificos and watching the streets rapidly fill with water. The storm didn’t last very long and once it had dissipated enough we headed home in a taxi. After dinner we went to see a show in the Vista Lounge at the back of the ship. We listened to a very funny, subtle comedian. Unfortunately most of his jokes just went over the audience’s heads – they just didn’t seem to get it most of the time. They must have been half asleep or just dopey. There were a lot of elderly seniors on the ship so maybe that had something to do with it. Hurricane Olaf, the only hurricane remaining, had already moved inland and was dissipating rapidly, so the plan was to head for Puerto Vallarta tomorrow. Day 5 It was calm but very humid in Puerto Vallarta (a legacy from the hurricane) so we didn’t go any further than the bar at the dockside flea market. It was cool inside and we had a very refreshing couple of beers with chips and exceptionally spicy home made salsa! We decided to try the afternoon tea on the ship. We met our assistant waiter from our dinner table as we entered the dining room. She is quite pretty and the sweetest girl you have ever met. She’s very efficient at her job and we put in a recommendation for her and hope that she gets promoted on her next contract. Because of her and the good company at our dinner table we decided to stay with the traditional dining. The afternoon tea was very elegant and formal with the waiters wearing white gloves, carefully placing every little item on your plate. We set sail from Puerto Vallarta (no late comers this time) at 6:00 p.m. after some quite tricky maneuvering in the harbor. We tried to book the Steakhouse for dinner (additional $8 per head cover charge) but the earliest we could get was 9:30 p.m. so we gave up on that and went back to our dining room again. Dinner turned out to be excellent – we all had the rack of lamb and I added a second entrée of shrimp. The lamb was superb and the shrimp were also outstanding. Before dinner we went to see the Broadway show “Give my Regards” in the Vista Lounge theatre. The show was fabulous. The soloists and ensemble singing were the best I have ever heard on a cruise ship. If you like Broadway style shows, this is a must see. The stage in this venue is actually quite large and sophisticated with moving sections and elevators, but the seating leaves a lot to be desired. Although the floor slopes up from the stage, it is not quite enough to ensure a clear view of the stage floor over the heads in front of you. There are also 2 or 3 locations with very large pillars in front of the seats. Why they actually put seats there is a mystery! After dinner we went to the Princess Theatre to see another comedian. Again, an excellent and very funny show. The main Princess Theatre is quite large on one level and is one of the best theatres I have been. The seats are all tiered and comfortable and there are no bad seats in the house. Day 6 Had a late breakfast and apart from inviting our neighbors over for cocktails later, we just lounged about most of the day. Spent a very pleasant time with our neighbors on the balcony in the late afternoon. Tonight was the second formal night and was also lobster night in the dining room. I ordered the beef wellington as well as lobster and the beef wellington arrived with a huge lobster tail already shelled and perched on top of the wellington! I had to admit having yet another lobster tail after that. We went to the final production show called “Da Beat”. As usual the dancing and singing were first class. Went back to our balcony again for more drinks with our neighbors. We were getting a bit loud with our laughing and talking so we went inside for a while before we all reluctantly gave up and retired. Day 7 Finally managed to get up early enough to get breakfast in the restaurant. Had the “Lumberjack Breakfast” that consisted of a minute steak topped with 2 fried eggs! It was great! Went to a cooking demonstration by the head chef assisted by the headwaiter. It was really a comedy show and was quite hilarious with such highlights as a flambé with a considerable excess of alcohol resulting in a huge flame. The participants meanwhile were pretending to choke while getting their hair singed! We then proceeded to a tour of the galley – not very exciting- just a lot of stainless steel and a few pots that seemed big enough to cook a person! Just before lunch, we went to a talk and tour backstage in the main theater. Quite fascinating and very sophisticated with it’s computer-controlled lighting, sound and other systems. It was amazing to watch how the stage elevators let props and dancers emerge from beneath and appear on the stage in a few seconds. The communal dressing room was not very big and you could imagine the mayhem that goes on there during a show with all the various quick changes. Disembarkation Getting off the ship was easy and went very smoothly until we got to the immigration line that moved very slowly. I think they are still not fully organized yet in the new Long Beach terminal. Highlights: Having a balcony, excellent service throughout, superior entertainment, spotless ship, gorgeous sunset. Not so good: Disappointing buffet, Vista Lounge seating, ship too compartmentalized, older crowd, ship dead at night.

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Oct 3, 2003

Mexican Riviera

We have always had a great time cruising, and Princess had become our favorite, but we may try Celebrity or Royal Caribbean for our next cruise. Embarkation was a little congested compared to Ft Lauderdale, Miami or San Juan. Disembarkation was very congested and probably what made us not so happy with this particular cruise. Dining

was great, although some soups had very little flavor and desserts are sometimes fluffy with little flavor, very disappointed with the grapefruit preparation in the LIDO buffets ( perhaps they had been prepared the day before) in the skywalker lounge, my guests were told they were out of bananas and that the chocolate banana (drink of the day was not available... great customer service, eh?) comedians were ok, cruise director and staff were great. The audience at some of the shows were old and they sat in the middle and the comedians had a real struggle with the crowd. The champagne fountain show was ridiculous, in fact a real noisy crowded mess. This cruise had just come off of the ALASKA season, so the shops were still showing ALASKA products and it seemed that it was a restocking cruise. We went to the clearance sale that had many high priced junk trinkets that should have been at a 90% off flea market... One cruise line's treasure sure seemed like junk. It also seemed to me that the duty free liquor salespeople were a bit pushy toward the end of the cruise... to the point that I believe that they were on commission when they told me that I had to buy it right then and there. (I believe that you could have purchased it in the shop the next day). My wife felt that the selection of fragrances was poor on the ship. The ports were great, the captain successfully avoided hurricane nora and olaf. Some of our friends who were on Royal Caribbean cruise that left the day after ours went to San Francisco, Catalina and Ensenada, instead of the Mexican Riviera... now that would have been quite the disappointment. We took the PRIME TIME SHUTTLE to and from LAX for about $15.00 per person + tip. We made reservations on line using the ship's 35 cents a minute internet.

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Sep 23, 2003

Coastal - WITH DETAILS OF PRINCESS AT SEA WEDDING

General – This review will not be my standard, detailed, cruise review. This entire cruise was all about getting married on the ship. So, I will briefly describe the cruise and our cabin, but mostly give info to help others with Princess weddings. The Cruise – We cruised on a short coastal repositioning cruise from Vancouver (Canada Place) to Long Beach – 3 nights, two sea days only. No port stops. Pre-Cruise - Flying

into Seattle for any Vancouver embarking cruise is much more cost effective than flying into Vancouver. Therefore, we flew into SeaTac the day before, and stayed the night at the Hilton Seattle Airport & Conference Center. We got this hotel by using Priceline - $49 + tax. Great hotel, only 3 years old or something. 3 stars. Having cruised in and out of Vancouver a few times, I’ve come to learn that the best way to cross over the US/Canada border is on the train (not a plane, bus or car). We boarded the Amtrak Cascades train at 7:45 am and had a leisurely trip up the coast to Vancouver. There was no customs boarding the train, and no stop at the border on the northbound trip. (Taking this same trip southbound, we were boarded by US Customs officers who collected our declarations and checked passports.) We arrived slightly late, but not terribly so, into Vancouver’s central train station where we claimed our bags and headed quickly through Canadian customs. The train takes about 4 hours. Embarkation – Canada Place Upon arrival at Canada Place (I had arranged for a private van to shuttle my party of 8 all together), you get in a line to go through security. After security, you are directed to the check-in for your ship. It looks like a standard Princess check-in, with booths marked with the decks. Each deck had a regular check-in booth, and express check-in. There is also a Platinum check-in booth. After check-in, you go through US Customs before boarding the ship. When we disembarked in Long Beach, all we had to do was turn in declarations forms in case we bought anything onboard, but we didn’t have to show passports or anything. Very cool. Our cabin – The Grand Suite B748 For the wedding, and expecting to entertain our traveling companions, we reserved the Grand Suite for the cruise. There is only one on the whole ship, so its really special. Its about 1,300 square feet, with its own living area, dining area, bedroom with King-sized bed (twins not an option), vanity room, private toilet with sink room, and large bathroom with two sinks, a 9 head shower, and a corner Jacuzzi tub. There is also a walk-in closet, a stocked mini-bar and fridge with sodas and beer, a desk and mirror in the bedroom, 2 TVs ( one in bedroom one in living room) and an internet café station. The TV in the living room has a DVD / CD player and a VHS player you can use. The internet costs the same as if you went to the public internet café. Princess.com is free though! The balcony for the suite is very shallow, and the right side is open to above, the middle / left is covered. There are lots of sitting chairs, and two lounge chairs, but no sitting table out there. The balcony extends for half the ship, and includes the very center of the ship as you can look straight down on the wake from your balcony. They had a complimentary hairdryer, but it was in a drawer rather than being attached to the wall. It worked great, and I have very long, thick hair. The soaps and shampoos were in generous sized plastic bottles, rather than the throw-away paper containers. There was lotion, shampoo, conditioner, & bath gel. No shower cap though! There was also an emery board and plastic packets with q-tips and cotton balls. The suite has the heavier white ribbed cotton towels and robes for your use, as well as free Princess slippers you can take home. And, I STILL didn’t think there was enough electric outlets. There were none in the main bathroom, although there were some near various vanity areas. Not too many considering the size of the place. Some things to keep in mind if you are cruising in the Grand Suite: -The doorbell has a funny, chirping sound. Be sure you listen to it so you know what the heck that noise is if you hear it. -The right hand corner of the balcony gets soaked with the early morning deck washing every day. You might want to move those two chairs in the far right corner in the evening if you don’t want them to get wet. -The shower pan/drain isn’t big enough for you to have all three showers on at the same time. It overflows. If you try all three sides at once, be sure to keep an eye on the water level. Two is fine though! The Wedding “Experience” Pre-Cruise Planning Princess has a two-pronged approach to weddings. First, they use an outside company called the Wedding Experience to handle all the details of planning the weddings. http://www.theweddingexperience.com/ You can have any of three choices, an “AT SEA” wedding (Princess exclusive), an “in port” wedding on embarkation day where you can invite folks to come onto the ship to attend your wedding and then they get off and you sail, or an “in port” wedding at one of your ports of call stops. I chose the “AT SEA” wedding, as that was the whole point as far as I was concerned! We chose the short, 3-night cruise specifically so that family and friends could get away to our wedding time wise and $$-wise much more easily than a 7-day. Princess only has these coastals in the spring and fall. If you decide to do this, I suggest you request Alba to be your designated Wedding Experience coordinator. Alba Carreras, 866-444-8820 US Toll Free, 305-421-1050 Direct Line, 305-421-1267 Fax. I think she is the most experienced and was suggested on the Cruise Critic board when I looked around. You should CALL her to get started, as when you send general requests via email you don’t get responses quickly, and you don’t get Alba. Once she sends you the info, you’ll have her direct email. Once you call, she can email or fax you details for the packages available. There are only at sea, in port embarkation, and in port cruising available. If you want at sea, there is only one package. There are not multiple price points where you can request more or less “bells and whistles”. The At Sea package has: Exclusive Hearts and Minds Chapel Candle lit Ceremony Two Fresh Floral Arrangements (these belong to the chapel, not you) Captain to perform Ceremony Special Vows at Sea (they give you four choices, or you can give custom) Wedding Coordinator Magnificent Live Music from our Pianist (they give you choices for various parts of the ceremony, or you can provide your own sheet music) Rose Bouquet (Including a Dozen Roses) Boutonniere to Compliment the Bouquet Keepsake Wedding Album (A nice white padded thing with an oval on the front cover and 12 insert pages that hold either 8x10 or 5x7 photos) Photographer to Capture the Memories (2) 8x10 Photographs (5) 5x7 Photographs Sculpted Wedding Cake for Two Bottle of Moet and Chandon’s Sparkling Champagne Two Keepsake Champagne Flutes A Wedding Certificate as a Memento of the Occasion Package…………………………………….. $ 1,800.00 Licensing and Fees………………………….$   400.00 ** Compliment your package with any of our Upgrades. *** Package only available on the Coral, Golden, Grand, Island & Star Princess Suzy’s note: Diamond, Sapphire & Caribbean Princesses will also have chapels/weddings once they have been operating a short time. Alba is wonderful, and will help you get everything set up. Don’t believe for a second that you have to give her every guests’ name 30 days out though. You can nail down your wedding details and give her what you have, but you can keep adding family and friends to your cruise up to the day you sail. YOU pass out the cards that get folks into the chapel. The guest list I gave Alba was seemingly not used. They charge more if you have more than 25 guests, so I think that’s the only important point to keep in mind. Alba will enter your information into their contract software as you go, and send you copies for your approval. Be forewarned that you can customize as you want, but their software can’t handle those requests as well as you hope. When Alba sends the details to Princess, they will only see what she types. Part of Alba’s job is to SELL you the “extra touches”. These are, videographer, extra photo packages, flowers beyond what the bride and groom need, cake beyond the two-person bride and groom “included” one, reception, etc. We chose the ULTIMATE photo add-on. This is the biggest one you could get, costing $950. It has ALL photos taken by the photographer on CD, as well as a bunch of 8x10s and 5x7s, and a large canvas print. To me, the wedding cruise was all about the awesome photos, so we wanted this. We passed on the videographer, as they just record from the fixed cameras in the chapel and the price is outrageous. We had a friend videotape it all for us. We also passed on having a “pay for it” reception, although we did buy a wedding cake. Alba insisted that the cake cutting is one of the standard photo shots, so we had that done. We had 13 guests attending, so we wanted something to share with them, even though we will have a big land reception in a couple months. And we bought corsages for our Moms and boutonnieres for the best man and dad. They were pretty pricey, as you can’t exactly choose your florist, but it was livable. Boutonnieres cost $15 (roses or carnations) and corsages $20 (for carnations). You can request other flowers, prices vary. On-Cruise actual wedding experience When we arrived onboard, we had a letter from the onboard coordinator, whose name was Vivianne. We were instructed to meet with her at 3pm. This was a little tough, as we didn’t get onboard until 2:15 and we needed food, but we made it. Vivianne is a Senior Assistant Purser, and a wonderful person. However, although she is the designated wedding coordinator onboard, she is not entirely knowledgeable about weddings. Seems she gets LOTS AND LOTS of two-people only weddings, and didn’t really know what to do with the rest of our party or guests. Alba told us we would have a rehearsal onboard, NOT! We get a brief tour of the chapel, as part of meeting with Vivianne, just so she can show the bride her wedding day “route” and look inside the chapel. She didn’t know what to tell me when I asked what my Dad should do giving me away, or even know what side the Maid of Honor or Best Man should stand on our how that should work! Thank goodness we did! You should get tips on this in advance if you are having any of these things. So, Vivianne basically goes through the computer wedding order with you, word for word. She makes herself notes of all your special requests, so she understands everything. (She did a great job with this by the way… everything we requested was done.) She made plans for us to give her the sheet music we had brought special, my list of what photos we wanted from the photographer, as well as the list of whom gets what flowers that were ordered, etc. If you have such things with you, don’t forget to bring these with you so you don’t have to make a special trip to drop them off to her later. There is no table for a guest book, although you could probably request one and they would add one for you. The bride can pre-arrange though Alba, which is confirmed with Vivianne, any hair or spa treatments the bridal party wants. By requesting them in advance with Alba on your wedding order, you can be sure to have a slot saved for you. I had made a hair appointment this way, but decided at the last minute to get a manicure, and I almost couldn’t get in for the manicure before the wedding. They charge $55 for makeup application, and you have to bring your own!!!, so I passed on that. I had my maid of honor do me up. ;) Your hairdresser will want to discuss your style with you the day before as well, so make plans to stop by the salon to speak with him/her. Bring photos if you want something specific. We planned on getting married at 11am, and we asked Vivianne to make reservations for us at 12:30 in the dining room for lunch. The Star had ONE table that held 16, so for our group of 15 it was SO perfect. We also had dinner there on the first night of the cruise. Vivianne made both reservations for us when we were in the meeting with her. The wedding started on time, but with a little chaos, as can be expected. My Dad and I still wondered what we should do at the end of the aisle, and no one had anything to tell us. So, we winged it. We (bride and groom) also didn’t know which direction to stand when we got up there. (Facing the Captain is the answer.) We had a hard time understanding his heavy accent, so you might keep this in mind when selecting your vows. We purposely chose the “standard” vows, with just a slight modification, so we would have less trouble. Good thing! My husband was still confused at one point. Anyway, first the captain reads a love poem, then he asks you if you are who you say you are and if you want to get married (he has to do this for legality sake). Then you repeat vows, do rings, kiss, and then you sign the log book. You have to designate in advance who your two witnesses will be, and we chose our two mothers so they could participate in the ceremony. After the log signing, you go back to the middle, you are pronounced husband and wife, and you walk out. Then you walk right back in for photos. I will say Alba and Vivianne both told me photos on the bridge were not possible, but I said to please beg and we did get invited by the Captain to go up there immediately following the ceremony. After that, we returned to the chapel and had a few more photos, then went to the atrium and had some portrait shots with a standard background, then some on the stairs, the photo op with the cake cutting that was set up in the Promenade Bar, then outside on the Promenade, by the pool, and finally out to the aft for some “wake” shots. The photo taking took HOURS. Even though we were only supposed to have the photographer for an hour, we had him for much more than that. I think it was after 2pm when we finally joined our group in the dining room for lunch. I felt terrible for making them wait. Keep in mind all the neat places you want photos before making a post-photo reception time. Also, if you have guests, make sure they add something in the Captain’s verbiage that requests the guests please sit after the entry of the bride. Since they only seem to do 2-person weddings with no guests, everyone stood for my entry and was never invited to sit! The entire group stood at their chairs for the ceremony! I felt bad when someone told me this after. All in all, it was a joyous, fabulous, experience. Not to be missed. The fact that we couldn’t understand the Captain made me laugh instead of cry, which I was worried about. We beamed and everyone who attended thought it was just wonderful. Even my Mother-In-Law who was really sad we weren’t having a big church wedding. She loved it. The “bummer things” about the wedding that maybe you can do differently: -If you order a cake, be sure to request it be “alcohol free” of you don’t want a rum-soaked cake. I don’t like alcohol at all, and our cake was soaked in rum like a sponge and very gooey. They might have done this to preserve its moisture. I don’t know how fresh it was, but I hated it. We complained and they baked us a fresh one that we served in the suite the next day. Some of my guests are in AA, and thank goodness other guests warned them before they took a bite! -Check your flower order and how many photo prints you paid for. I had to give the photographer a specific list of photos for all of the # I paid for, so I didn’t miss out on anything. However, be sure to know what you ordered/paid for. The photographer won’t know (I’m guessing as I had to tell him I paid for two albums.) I had ordered a boutonniere for my Dad to wear on the wedding day, and I only noticed later that he didn’t have one on in the photos. Since the bride is not there with everyone in the chapel before the wedding starts, she has to rely on others to be sure all the flowers purchased get delivered and to the right people. In this case, Vivianne let one slip, as my Dad was never offered one after I had paid The Wedding Experience in advance for it. I have requested a refund, so its not a huge loss. It’s a bummer he didn’t have one though. Vivianne had me give her the list, but I would suggest you have a guest be in charge for you. The flowers are delivered to the chapel about 15 minutes before the wedding. Disembarkation in Long Beach – painless. The usual disembarkation colors and numbers, etc. The Long Beach terminal in the old Spruce Goose dome was cool. Very smooth. The security there is like drill sergeants though, wanting to keep you moving, and in the designated areas. There are multiple pick up lanes at curb. One for private cars, one for cabs, and a center island area for shuttle vans. Busses are in their own area, so if you have a transfer, you’d go there. There is a shuttle “coordinator” or something after you disembark, and if you want to ride a SuperShuttle or PrimeTime shuttle, you have to check in with him. The order that folks are transported has everything to do with that clipboard and nothing to do with pre-arranged pick-up times. So, be SURE you find that transportation coordinator and check in as you disembark. He will be past the busses, straight ahead. I had a reservation for a PrimeTime shuttle, but the time I had reserved seemed to make no difference. We just caught them in the order we were on the clipboard. Can’t stress this enough. Post-Cruise - And, as always, I suggest JetBlue out of Long Beach airport for anyone cruising out of either Long Beach or San Pedro. The convenience of the small airport, and the great features and price of JetBlue can’t be beat! The end

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Aug 22, 2003

Alaska Inland Passage

This was our first cruise and my DW and I have prepared for months reading and trying to absorb any and all details about the ship and the trip. Both of us are in our late 50's and were totally excited about this adventure. We went with her two sisters and their husbands both from Cleveland, Ohio, where we originally came form prior to relocating to south central Kentucky in 1982. Start of Planning We started planning the trip

in April and my sister in law was going to make all the arrangements for us through AAA in Cleveland. After hearing the cost at $4800/ couple for a balcony stateroom on the 11th deck for cruise and air I became a little concerned. The AAA agent wanted us to fly to Cleveland for an additional $600 round trip so we could travel with the in-laws or she would not be able to arrange the trip. I basically told my sister in law that I'd make our arrangements and we'd meet them in Seattle a day early so we could site see and not be so tired from the flights. As it turned out the in-laws didn't even fly together and one couple had to go to Newark, NJ, and then to Seattle leaving Cleveland at 6:20 a.m. We picked a flight that left at 9:05 a.m. from Nashville since we have an hour and a half drive to the airport. Went online through Travelocity and booked the balcony stateroom right next to theirs for $3440 for the seven night cruise. Our cabin number was B330. A stateroom with a balcony on the Baja deck. I also checked the box which kept us in mind for upgrades. Secured airfare on Orbitz for both of us via American Airlines for $370 round trip from Nashville to Seattle via Dallas. So our trip at that time was $3,820 vs there's at $4,800. Kept checking every week by logging in at the princess web site and filled out all the immigration paperwork etc there and had us ready for all the particulars. In early May while checking the site I noticed that our cabin had been changed to a larger balcony cabin on the Carbide Deck. I called Princess and explained that we wanted to stay together as a group with the in-laws. The Princess rep advised me to call my TA because another upgrade might be possible. I called and after holding for about 10 minutes she came back and said "I've got good news and more good news!". "I've got you a mini suite on the Dolphin deck". I again explained we wanted to be with the in-laws and she said "the other good news is it's $400 less than the balcony state room and about twice as big ". I said "I'LL TAKE IT!" So we are in a mini suite for $3,040 plus the air at $370 or a new total of $3,410 and now the wait begins. August 23, 2003 We got to the dock at about 11:45 a.m. and the ship was still disembarking passengers with what appeared to be alot of confusion. We had stayed at the Holiday Inn at SeaTac and the cab ride to the dock was $30 with the tip. We took our luggage and gave it to a baggage handler and saw it again in about 3 hours in our mini suite. The check in process went fine with about 20-30 minutes to get through. When we started in line there were only 5 people checking in passengers. but at 12:00 p.m. four more came out and the process went very smoothly. They opened the roll up door and the stampede began. First a picture of the two of us for purchase later and then the wait to go through the next set of doors and through the xray machines. Total time for this process maybe 10-15 minutes max. Walked up the gangway to the ship, slipped our cruise card in the picture making equipment and we were officially on the ship and cruising. Well, maybe not cruising yet, but the journey had begun. Found our room D-620 on deck 9 the Dolphin deck easily, should have been easy I could probably have walked through the ship blind folded I'd seen most every nick and cranny in the thing for the past 4 months while investigating the ship and trip. The room was immaculate even though some other couple had been in it no more than two hours earlier. Our suitcases hadn't arrived yet, but a knock on the door produced our cabin steward named Alvin. I requested a foam egg crate mattress pad that Alvin said would be no problem and he gave us a quick tour of our mini suite. The bed mattress felt fine, but the egg crate made it feel real good. This was a tip we read in a cruise review. We also had our bathrobes waiting that I requested via their web site. Alvin never really appeared in the cabin again although we would see him in the hall and speak several times daily. Alvin kept our cabin immaculate always. August 23, 2003 Lunch in the Horizon Food Court In a word CHAOS. The Horizon has two sides, but only one was opened and several hundred people were trying to get in it at once. The food court needs better supervision or at least traffic control on the first day. However, I told the DW that this was going to happen based on all the reviews I'd read so we were prepared. Food was excellent and service was fine for the first time. Everyone had a major learning curve the first day at the Horizon. No problems at all after that. After Lunch After lunch we toured the ship and watched other passengers get directions from the crew and staff that were basically everywhere to help people find their staterooms. We walked most of the this mammoth ship finally seeing with my own eyes areas I'd only seen via others pictures or in advertisements. In a word the ship is "BEAUTIFUL". It is also as clean as a whistle. During the cruise it was common in almost every area to see a crew member cleaning something and I'm talking about on their hands and knees to make sure the ship was spotless. Our Mini Suite We got back and unpacked all of our luggage and and had plenty of room in the hugh closet and wardrobe that were right by the bathroom. We also had at least 8-10 other drawers in the tables and desk to store items. Our room was never cluttered. Having the couch, chair, and coffee table was really great and worth the extra expense to have a separate room for lounging in. In fact even when the in-laws came in to the room you still didn't feel cramped at all. We brought an extension cord along to plug in the charger for the camera, cell charger, curling iron etc. In reading reviews people had said that only one 110 outlet in the room was available. In the mini suite we had two by the TV's, two more by the desk, and one in the bathroom. Therefore, the extension really wasn't needed. Our in-laws said they had a bottle of champagne on ice courtesy of AAA waiting for them in their room which we later found out was just a hoax. We had (2) bottles of wine and Princess tote bags from Travelocity which were for real. The in-laws weren't real happy campers for what they had spent for there facilities . The Cruise There was only one occasion during the entire journey of over 2,000 nautical miles that we ever felt the ship rocking or rolling and that was as we were going toward Victoria in the inland passage and came upon a point where the Pacific was rolling in as the water in the inland passage was going I guess in an opposite way that gave us some rolling and rocking for about and hour. I believe the captain slowed the ship from 20 knots to 8 knots to avoid any serious discomfort. Weather The weather in all ports of call was absolutely perfect picture post card weather 62-68 degrees, very little wind, and plenty of sunshine. The only rain we experienced was for about two hours on Sunday on at sea day and except for some periods of fog the weather was great. The day we cruised Tracy's Arm to see the glacier it was overcast which according to the naturalist was perfect for viewing the blues of the glacier. He was right. Water temperature was 38 degrees and the outside air temperature was only 45 degrees and we were on our balcony and it was COLD! We put on gloves, hats, and wrapped in a blanket and the scenery was breathtaking. How the captain got that hugh ship in there through all those ice bergs is beyond me, but I'm sure glad he did because it was absolutely awesome. Shore Excursions We took excursions in Juneau and Skagway. In Juneau we went out on a jet boat whale watching. The jet boat held about 40 people and had an open area as well as enclosed area with rest room facilities on board. We found several hump back whales and were even able to watch them feed which was really exciting. We also saw many eagles and sea lions on this excursion. This trip ended with a bus ride to the Mendenhall Glacier which is a beautiful site to see. I took several post card quality Camera shots at this site. We highly recommend this trip which I believe was around $129.00 each. No Bears! In Skagway we boarded another boat and traveled to Haines, Alaska, to a wildlife preserve we had a weenie roast and chili for lunch which was provided prior to getting on flat bottom twin engine boat for our river wildlife quest. We went up and down that river for about 30-45 minutes and the only wildlife we saw were several eagles and a couple of salmon a fisherman had caught. This trip was nice and the scenery from the river was beautiful, but for the price $159 each I wouldn't recommend it. No Bears! Ship Board Activities and Entertainment There were lots of things to do while the ship was sailing between ports from bingo, to an excellent casino, pools, hot tubs, basketball, putt putt, etc. and we did all of them at least once. The entertainment in the evening was good and we especially enjoyed the live broadway type show in the Princess Theater except the audio was entirely to loud. Our in-laws enjoyed the comedians in both theaters especially the juggler who somehow and please don't try this at home sucked (litterally) five ping pong balls into his mouth and juggled them by inhaling and exhaling as he juggled items with his hands on a unicycle. Shipboard activities for each day were very clearly explained in the daily newsletter called the patter. Also the cruise director reiterated activities at the theaters and via the closed circuit TV channels. We enjoyed keeping up with where we were via the room TV and the ships own private TV channel. Dining Rooms We elected to go personal choice dining and although I've never done the 6 or 8 routine I'm sure the flexibility of PC is the only way to go. On Tuesday we were seated at a table waited on by a beautiful little Romanian girl named Georgetta. She was absolutely excellent and I reserved her table every evening there after in the Portofino restaurant for 8 or 8:15 p.m. We never waited more than 2-4 minutes anytime we went for meals at either the Portofino or Capri restaurants whether it be lunch or dinner. For lunch in the Portofino we sat with Horacio who was from Mexico via Samoa. Horacio was a lot of fun and also an excellent waiter. I guess the one thing that really surprised us was that out of 1,100 crew members only 11 were from the U.S. Formal Nights We had two formal nights where the men wore tuxedos or suits and the women wore more formal attire. In my judgment no more than 20% of the men wore tuxedos and we went through most parts of the ship on each night. Did not see anyone dressed in anything other than a suit or tux in the dining rooms. After dinner at the shows at least 70% of the men had changed into more casual attire or at a minimum took off their ties and jackets. In the atrium areas formal attire was more prevalent than in other public areas of the ship. However, that amount of people didn't represent more than 2-5% of the ships population. I wore a dark suit at dinner and changed into smart casual attire for the 10:30 p.m. comedy show in the Princess theater which a lot of the men did. Internet Cafe They need some help here. Went in at least six to eight times and at best 4-5 machines of about 30 were working. Heard alot of disgruntled passengers as they couldn't log in or the machine wasn't even on. The rate was only $.35/min which was fine and the speed was comparable to a standard modem. I got all the information about my business in a sit down each day and the total bill was just over $10.00. The problem was sitting down and getting a machine that worked. The Internet is a way of life with lots of us and even though we are on vacation from our business, it will still be there when we get back and information on current activities is vital. Cell Phone We have a local company here in Kentucky, but clarity was fine in all the ports of call and connecting was just like dialing a long distance number at home. The easiest way to tell if you had cell connection was to watch the TV and see if they had there cable channels. If the ship had the cable channels, chances were pretty good you have cell connection and Internet connection as well. Disembarking The disembarking process was done by color code and ran about 10-15 minutes behind the assigned schedule. I'm sure one of the problems was that the Amsterdam uses the same terminal for customs as Princess and that ship was disembarking at the same time as the Star. We went through customs found our bags in our color coded row and went out side the terminal. Then chaos broke loose again. Outside the terminal were buses for Princess furnished transportation, a cab row, and family members pickup all together. We grabbed a cab that was the sixth one in what was supposed to be a line and our guy headed out of the mess. The pick up and drop off process could be greatly improved with some simple signage and a traffic control. We had no problem, but did get cussed out by some people waiting for a cab that we had no idea what they were waiting for. Our total time to disembark and travel back to the Holiday at Sea Tac was only one hour and another $30 dollar cab ride. Our total cost for lodging and transportation for the two days was $184.00. The in-laws cost was $290.00 and they finally got to their hotel at 1:30 p.m. total time of 2 hours and 30 minutes. Summary In summary, we would rate this experience a four out of five and enjoyed it very much. We definitely recommend that you spend the time prior to the cruise researching everything you can find about your ship, itinerary, port of calls, etc so surprises are kept to a minimum. We even called back home and had our girls at our place of business see us on the ships web cam in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Victoria. Granted we were real small, maybe 2-3 pixels, but that was fun too. But still NO BEARS! Well, I guess we'll just have to come back and find those bears on another cruise to Alaska. J.J.

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Aug 1, 2003

Alaska

The Star Princess is a beautiful ship and even though it is for 2600 passengers, we were never crowded. The only lines we encountered were getting on and off the ship. We had a veranda and it was marvelous for the Alaska scenery. It also made the room seem spacious. This was our first trip with Princess. Good things will be said about this line, but it will only be a review if I tell you about the things that we felt were not up

to par. The beds were very uncomfortable. We complained and they brought us a foam egg crate which told us that others had complained or this product would not have been available. The food was plentiful but quite average in selection and quality. Our dining room service was friendly but not gracious. Orders were confused and service was not always proper. The shows were excellent and Michael Modzelewski, a journalist and environmentalist, gave wonderful lectures and a running commentary of some of the sights as we were seeing them. This cruise attracted many young people and because of the nature of the tours, everyone was quite casually dressed. We took the tours to Mendenhall Glacier and to White Horse Pass. Both were excellent The ship went into Tracy Arms and no other experience could top that for scenery. We enjoyed the trip. If the reason for choosing this ship would be for the ports and the tours I would recommend it. Will we go with Princess again? Probably not for we have had better experiences that fit our needs at our ages.

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Aug 1, 2003

Alaska Inside Passage

I just returned from a cruise on the Star Princess, August 2 to August 9, 2003. Our cruise was diagnosed as being infected with the Norovirus and I am very disappointed in just how Princess staff handled the outbreak. My concerns are as follows: 1. When the reports started happening on Monday AM of the Saturday to Saturday cruise, medical staff was less than responsive to the impending outbreak. I called Medical Services at

6 AM to inform them that my partner had been sick since the prior evening with nausea and diarrhea. By this point he was dehydrating and I was told to call back or come in at 8AM when they opened. That is no way to treat a passenger who calls saying maybe something more may be happening here. 2. When we did go to medical services at 8:30 AM, the office was crowded with passengers and crew. At this point it was clear, to us, what was happening. We left the ship in search of a drug store for over the counter remedies. Another member of our party of 13 was told that she had to report to medical services and was given a shot for nausea. 3. It took almost 36 hours before we started to see anti-bacterial hand washers at the buffet lines, and they were only located at the two of the three entrances to the line. Some times crew members would give you plates and silverware without using the anti-bacterial soaps, some times they would not. Food service was inconsistent at the buffet, some times people were allowed to serve themselves salads, breads, juices, and sometimes not. 4. It took almost 48 hours after I reported the illness to Princess Medical staff for a letter to be issued to the entire ship, saying that Norovirus had been diagnosed and that it was “suggested” that we wash hands frequently and before eating. 5. Housekeeping went from very good to poor after our cabin was confirmed to be a “hazmat” area. A Hazmat team came and cleaned the cabin, our cabin steward was not allowed to service our room for the duration of the cruise. 6. Additional members of our group of thirteen became sick, though to a lesser degree. Those of us impacted less neglected to contact Medical services, because we saw no point in it. In retrospect, that was a poor choice and we will contact Princess and let them know. The food on the cruise was passable at best, rather bland and almost inoffensive at best. The burger stand and the pizza stand were better than most of the food served in the dining rooms. Our waiter was surly, never got our orders correct and was not particularly interested in service. Most of our party felt a sense of “attitude” from him starting at the first meal. Our original cabins steward was nice, very pleasant and helpful. All in all, our experience was colored a very dark color by this experience and we will be interested in seeing what Princess will do, if anything, to appease many dis-satisfied cruisers.

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Jul 11, 2003

Alaska

We sailed on Star Princess out of Seattle July 12, 2003. We are a family of three. It met our expectations the whole way. The ship was beautiful just seemed really big. We had a mini-suite (D603) on the Dolphin Deck (mid-ship). We were quite comfortable in the mini-suite. The shore excursions were terrific; we selected a float plane glacier tour,and the White Pass railroad. The day at Tracy Arms was spectacular. Our balcony was

a very nice feature that day, we spent the morning including having breakfast and enjoying the glacier and the scenery in Tracy Arm. The entertainment we really enjoyed, very excellent (one service stood out beyond other cruises we have been on.) The Personal Choice dining for this itinerary was a nice feature, most of our shore excursions were a full day activity, so we did not have to rush back to get to a set time in the dining room. Alaska is beautiful and I would recommend the way to see it is through an inside passage cruise.

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May 2, 2003

Mexican Riviera

My wife and I just returned from the 7 day Mexican Riviera cruise aboard the Star Princess. I will list the top 10 pros and cons about this trip. Being a seasoned cruiser there were things that impressed and those that really disappointed me. Here is the summary: TOP 10 BEST THINGS ABOUT STAR PRINCESS 1. No Lines 2. Beautiful Ship 3. Excellent Staff 4. Plenty of lounges by pool 5. Some of the best entertainment 6. Best tender

experience ever 7. Cheap and excellent drinks 8. Almost no motion even in rough seas. 9. Excellent TV reception 10. Plenty of activities TOP 10 NOT SO GOOD LIST 1. Only two pool towels per day, per-passenger. Strictly enforced. 2. Signs on things like internet access rate saying "this cruise only .35 cents per minute". Insulting as we all know this is not for one cruise only. 3. Food is horrible...not edible. GROSS!!! 4. The charge for ice cream!!! 5. Personal Choice dining comes with a wait during peak meal times. 6. Alternative restaurants are GROSS and not worth a dime extra 7. Pool area does not have real teak 8. Cabins are worn looking 9. Bathrooms are poor 10. Cabin amenities missing (i.e. shower caps, nice towels etc...)

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Mar 15, 2003

Mexican Riviera

Wow is the word that keeps coming to mind about our cruise. Here I go a complete review. My husband and I took his 70 something parents on this cruise and Dad was in a wheelchair. We left Friday Morning and when we arrived in L.A. it was the middle of rush hour traffic so the hotel was a very welcome sight. We stayed at the Holiday Inn San Pedro 111 S. Gaffey Street San Pedro. Wow what a surprise. For 89.00 ( 101.46 total price)

a night I was just hoping for a clean bedroom. This hotel is Victorian in style and we were given a two room suite with a balcony. The folk's room was a non-smoking room not as big but just as nice. It accommodated the wheelchair no problem. It is not stuffy, but really nice and the personnel were very friendly. An example of this was at the restaurant on the premises. The folks ordered an entree to split. They brought out the salad already split in two bowls, and the dinner split equal on two plates. At breakfast they did the same thing so I think this must be a regular practice. We checked out at 11:30 a.m. and left for the pier. My husband dropped us off at the door, and a porter was right there to help unload luggage. I know they are working for tips but this porter was exceptional and very handy helping with the wheelchair. As it was raining he worked very fast to get Dad and the luggage out of the weather asap. He took care of us while Rick, my husband, parked the car. A very simple process. Lots of room to park your car in a secure area. I had read lots of complaints about check-in, but Princess must have read the reviews too. We were upstairs and checked in, in under 15 minutes. A note to fellow passengers here, take the time to get a passport it really helps expedite the process both going and coming. They passed out numbers to board, but since Dad was in a wheelchair they took us on board first. They started boarding at noon and we were in our room by 12:30 and at the buffet by 12:45. Our luggage was in our room by the time we finished with lunch and had gone back to our room to read the first Princess Patter. The rest of the cruise was just like the first day. Princess cruise line is the best at dealing with wheelchairs. Everyone on staff was helpful and we never felt that we were in the way or putting someone out. They always had someone waiting to help us leave the ship for the shore tours, and just as if they had stood waiting for us were right there to get us back on the ship. The tour operators were just as helpful. Dad has just started using the wheelchair and we were very worried on how he would react. The staff made it very special by treating him in a most respectful manner. After reading some reviews here are my responses to the concerns in other reviews. The food was exceptional and the coffee was very drinkable. We had assigned dining at a table for four. We checked just like our travel agent had suggested, but everything was in place. The entertainment was very high quality. we would highly recommend the ship shows Da Beat, On Broadway, and Dance. Our balcony was one that was half underneath and half in the open. It was great. Shade if it was hot and sun when we wanted. The room was exceptional also. we will always sail in a balcony room from now on. Storage everywhere. My only suggestion is to put the TV down lower, but we may not have watched any except they had CNN on so Rick watched the newscasts. Also one of the movies was My Big Fat Greek Wedding Mom and I watched it twice in the afternoon while we were resting. It gets funnier every time you watch it. The activities are so you can doing something every minute or just sit and relax. We did a little of both. The wait staff and the room stewardess were exceptional. They all went out of their way to make the trip unforgettable. Even the head waiter was very involved with his tables and shared recipes with us that he made at the table side. In the past the head waiter showed up the last night to ask about the food and secure his tip. The shore trips were good. Matzalan was the best. On the down side do not take the shore drive in Cabo. It reminded me of the condo sales tours you get in the states. Only we paided 37.00 dollars per person and it lasted three hours. In the states it would have only been 90 minutes and we would have gotten the tour for free. The only good part of the tour was the 10 minutes at the glass factory. That place is fabulous! If we had it to do over again we would have paid a taxi and just visited there. The ship is elegant but not stuffy. Dad dressed for dinner but just could not stand a tie. No one noticed or cared. The pictures were still just as nice and while there were photos taken, not once was the photographer pushy. Nor was anything else pushed on us. The bar staff was attentive but not in your face to buy. The shopping on ship was limited but more than enough to secure something for everyone. The shops at the pier of each port were great so you really did not have to go in town if your whole idea of the perfect cruise was to shop. Every tour we went on though ended in front of Pacific Diamonds or International Diamonds. Maybe the ship should just offer a tour for those places as that is about all the shopping guide talked about. Then the rest of us could just tour and not shop. I may be weird but I would have liked to have seen more culture and less diamonds. At the end of the cruise you did not get that, 'we are done with you now' feeling. Again the staff was attentive in getting people organized and placed so getting off the ship was not a cattle call. Also, the ship provided free coffee and iced tea all morning. we were in line at customs by 10:30 (having our passports got us in the short line) and on our way out of L.A. by 11:30. Again the porter was wonderful. Rick picked up the car, paid $70.00 (10.00 dollars a day) and off we went. It was the perfect trip. My husband and I will be booking with Princess again. Of the four cruise lines we have traveled Princess is the best.

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Mar 15, 2003

Mexican Riviera

Wow! What a beautiful ship! She was an impressive sight just looking at her from the parking lot. We arrived at San Pedro Harbor from Riverside, Ca. Normally an hour or so drive. But the day we departed it was pouring down rain. Go figure! Curbside service was very efficient and when we got inside it only took about 15-20 minutes start to finish and we were onboard! Too bad it was raining because it would've been alot more fun

as we left port. We had had a Dolphin Deck mini-suite and it was truly wonderful. Decorating was subdued and tasteful. The bathroom was a delight with a full tub with shower and room enough to actually shave your legs in. The closet space was very ample and our bed was comfortable. They had left plenty of extra pillows and blankets too. My husband liked the two TV's and I enjoyed the extra couch and chairs and especially the big balcony. Our cabin steward was friendly and very helpful and he was there within 40 minutes of us getting into our cabin. He offered to get us our robes and some fruit. Nice touch. We explored the ship for about 2 hours and I'll have to admit that prior to the cruise I had studied the lay-out to some extent so I was pretty familiar with where things were. So much so that my husband was duly impressed! They provided a small fold-up card with the locations so it was easy even without having studied so hard! The ship never seemed crowded. The most people I saw at one time was before the Captain's dinner and that was because of all the picture taking. We had Anytime dining and were pleased with not having to wait in any long lines. I think the longest we waited for dinner any night was about 10 minutes max. I would suggest that if you don't like to wait at all, either choose fixed dining or go later in the evening. I think next time we will choose the fixed dining if only because I prefer getting to know my tablemates and having the same waitstaff every night. I only found one time where the service was partially lousy and that was the the last morning we were at sea. The staff had to be prompted to refill our coffee cups several times and seemed more interested in chatting amongst themselves. But that was the only time. We really enjoyed brunch at Sabatini's and am looking forward to seeing the staff there again when we cruise to Alaska next summer. Hi Katarina! Brunch was leisurely and fun. The staff humored us with taking our pictures and posing with us. We also enjoyed the shows. Although not Vegas caliber, it was entertaining and I was not bored. We also went to Karaoke night several times and joined in on Tropical Party night on the aft decks for late night partying on Tuesday night. Wow that was a great time!!!! Love those "Drinks of the Day"! Seriously though, we had a wonderful time and hated to see it end. Our ports of call excursions were fun, especially the 4-wheel drive expedition into the Sierra Madre with Noma our guide! My husband went golfing in Mazatlan and he was not impressed at all. It was way too windy and the greens were super fast. He is a fair golfer with about an 80 average score. Next time he'll leave the golf clubs at home. We also enjoyed the snorkeling in Cabo. I had been told by others who had done this itinerary that Cabo is the only place that you can depend on for great snorkeling. The other ports the water was too rough and murky. It was my first time snorkeling and it was easy and we really enjoyed the sailing part of our excursion too. If anyone wishes to ask any questions, feel free. I'm happy to help! Also, with the tipping being included I felt it was much easier. We did throw in some extra loot for our cabin steward as he really went above and beyond for us (and most times we didn't even ask for things....he knew before we did!). Overall, I'd give it an 8.5 out of 10. Food could've been a bit better, but there was never a crowded feel, and we had a blast. If you're bored I would have to say you must be a boring person! Have a blast and Bon Voyage!

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Feb 22, 2003

Mexican Riviera

Family Members: Tim, Anne, Andrew (age 9), and Joshua (age 9) Larison My family had been to Disney World and on the Disney Cruise before, so in February of 2003 I decided to take them on a different type of vacation. We visited Disneyland for 5 days, followed by a 7 night Mexican Riviera Cruise on Princess. This would be our first Princess cruise, and as a travel agent I wanted to see how their kids programs compared to the excellent

ones Disney has. Also we were excited to try out a new ship on a new cruise line with a new itinerary for us! Rather than give a day by day account of this cruise, I will tell you about the different parts of our cruise in this report: Our Stateroom, Recreation And Activities Onboard, Itinerary and Ports of Call, Cruising With Kids, Dining, Entertainment, and Embarkation/Disembarkation. Our Stateroom ------------- While we would have liked to have a verandah or window stateroom on this cruise, we got an excellent deal on a inside category M stateroom so we decided to give it a try. This is the first time we had taken a cruise with an inside stateroom. Our stateroom was on the Aloha deck - the second highest passenger deck on the ship (deck 12). We loved this location! We were only one deck away from the pools and recreation areas, close to the kids club on deck 15, and midship. The Star Princess had 5 elevators at three different locations (aft, midship, forward). We found we rarely had to wait very long for an elevator when it was necessary to go to the lower decks. Our stateroom was small but functional. We had two single beds below separated by a center dresser. Above each bed was another bed that came down from the wall. Our kids loved sleeping in the upper beds. TIP: The upper beds each had a safety rail to prevent the kids from taking a tumble in the night. For extra security, we asked our cabin steward for extra pillows and we wedged the pillow next to the safety railing for more protection. With this setup we felt secure our kids would not roll out of their beds. While the sleeping area of the stateroom was small, it did have a large clothes closet, a good sized bathroom, a desk, and lots of shelf space. We carried 5 suitcases onboard and we were able to fit everything with room to spare. When we wanted a look outside, we either went up a deck by a nearby staircase, or we changed to the shipboard channel in our stateroom that had a continuous view from the bridge. TIP: When you are on the cruise tell your family and friends back home that they can monitor your sailing through the Princess web site (http://www.princess.com). There is a bridgecam on many of the Princess ships that are updated every 30 seconds, with the photo being displayed live on the internet. My mother enjoyed following our cruise this way. TIP: When you check in to your stateroom you are given a foldup map to the ship that easily fits into a pocket or a purse. We carried this guide around with us all week and found it very helpful to navigate this large ship. Ask your stateroom attendant for additional copies for other members of your family. Also there are maps of the ship with a "you are here" dot at  each elevator. TIP: When getting off the elevator it was sometime hard to remember which side our stateroom was on. The staterooms with an even number had a red carpet in the aisle, the odd numbered side had a blue carpet in the aisle. Using this info we always remembered which side our stateroom was on. Recreation and Activities Onboard --------------------------------- The Star Princess is a new ship (built in 2001, first sailing in early 2002) with many amenities. We particularly liked the large pool area on deck 14 that had a retractable roof. On our first couple of days at sea sailing out of LA it was cool outside. The roof in this pool area was closed and allowed people to swim in relative comfort - safe from the cool temperatures outside. Also in this area was a large ping pong room where we spent a lot of time. Unlike other ships I have been on where the ping pong tables have been located outside on a deck, this covered area allowed us to play ping pong without the wind affecting the game. This area with the retractable roof will come in handy for those taking the Star Princess in the cool temperatures of Alaska this May. In addition to the covered pool, the Star Princess had another large outdoor pool, a smaller lap pool where you could swim against a current, many hot tubs, and two small kids pools outside of the children's area. The minimum depth of the large pools was 5 feet, which made it difficult for our kids to swim there. Other recreational activities onboard included a basketball court, a 9 hole minature golf course, a golf simulator, and a jogging track. You can see pictures of many of these areas if you click on my "pictures" link at the bottom of this report. For the non-sports oriented, there was a large casino onboard. The Casino was open when we were at sea. My wife and I played blackjack here one day at a $3 minimum table - it was nice to have a couple of lower limit tables for the casual gambler. There were plenty of slot machines in the casino, as well as video poker machines and craps tables. Several poker tournaments were held during the cruise as well. Other non-sports activities included a game room, where you could play bridge with other passengers or other games. A well stocked library was onboard where you could check out two or three books for the voyage. The ship even had an art gallery and frequent art auctions on the "at sea" days. The ship had a large internet cafe with over 20 internet terminals. I checked my email a couple of times each day on the cruise and never had a problem finding a terminal. On our cruise the charge for the internet was 35 cents  a minute. There was no plan where you could buy unlimited internet access but I found I spent less on the internet on this cruise than when I bought unlimited internet access for a 7 night cruise on another cruise line. TIP: If you plan on checking your email on the ship, before you leave home set up a yahoo account and forward your email there. I found it quick and easy to check my yahoo email each day on the ship. TIP2: Onboard they give you extra incentives for booking your next Princess Cruise. At each internet terminal you can browse the Princess website free of charge. This helped us in planning and booking our next cruise before we left the ship. Overall I was impressed with the wide variety of activities available on the Star Princess. There was something for everyone. The Itinerary and Ports Of Call ------------------------------- We really liked the Itinerary on this cruise: Saturday: leave LA Sunday: at sea Monday: at sea Tuesday: Puerto Vallarta Wednesday: Mazatlan Thursday: Cabo San Lucas Friday: at sea Saturday: return to LA The three "at sea" days gave us plenty of time to explore the various features of this wonderful ship. We liked having two at sea days to start the cruise so that we had time to relax and learn about the ship. After 2 1/2 days at sea we were ready to visit some ports, and having ports to visit on 3 consecutive days was a nice break. Finally to finish the cruise we liked having one final "at sea" day before returning home. I wish all 7 night cruises were scheduled this way! I will describe our activities at each of the ports below. You can see pictures of each port if you click on my "pictures" link at the bottom of this report. Puerto Vallarta - At this port we did our longest shore excursion - a 7 1/2 hour journey to the Hideway at Las Caletas. This was a wonderful secluded cove that was only accessable by boat. The famous film director, John Huston, once had a home here. We took a 45 minute boat ride from the Star Princess to reach the cove. There were many beach chairs setup on a private beach with a variety of water sports activities. Sitting on the beach chairs and looking out over the ocean was very relaxing. Anne and Josh took the one hour kayak tour. The kayak excursion had a guide and it was good for first time kayakers like Anne and Josh. Anne also enjoyed snorkeling here - she reported the water wasn't as clear as when she had snorkeled in the Caribbean but it was still fun. For lunch we had a wonderful buffet lunch in a covered area overlooking the beach and the ocean. This was an excellent excursion for kids. In addition to the water sports, they also had some special activities for kids like "feed the deer" and "make your own pottery". We really enjoyed our day at the beach here and we would recommend this tour for future cruisers. The most popular excursion at Puerto Vallerta that others on our cruise took was the "Swim With The Dolphins" tour. TIP: The dolphin swim was completely sold out before our cruise, so if you are interested in this activity be sure to book it ahead of time. Mazatlan - At this port we did not see a good shore excursion that our nine year olds would be interested in. They loved the kids programs so much that they had no problem staying in the kids club for a few hours while Anne and I went on the "Mazatlan Highlights and Papantla Flyers" shore excursion. We found this tour to be very interesting. It started with a city tour of old town Mazatlan, including a visit to a beautiful old cathedral in the center of town. Next we saw two cliff divers. Finally we were treated to a Mexican dance exhibition highlighted by the Papantla Flyers. The Papantla Flyers climbed a large pole and descended from the pole upside down as they circled around on a large rope. See my pictures for a photo of this event. We were struck by the poverty in old town Mazatlan. We saw children begging for money on the street and many street vendors hawking their wares to us tourists. This was in stark contrast to the rich country club areas we were driven through outside of town. If we visit Mazatlan in the future we would like to do the Sierra Madre tour that I heard good things about from other people on our cruise. We like our shore tour, but we would rate this port as the third best of the three we visited. This was the only port we encountered aggressive street vendors and beggars. I will always remember the cliff divers we saw - who risked their lives diving for us and then begged us for tips afterwards. Cabo San Lucas - We were at this port the shortest (only 6 hours) which was too bad because it was the most beautiful port we visited. Here we took a whale watching tour with our boys. For the first hour of the tour we saw no whales but we weren't too disappointed - the scenery from the boat was breathtaking. Cabo has many beautiful rock formations. In the last hour of the tour the whales showed up. The kids were thrilled as the whales popped out of the water all around our boat. TIP: The whale watching tour was sold out before our cruise - if you are interested in this excursion be sure to book it ahead of time. TIP2: If you do the whale watching tour book the SECOND one of the day.  We took the early tour and as I said we did not see any whales the first hour. We saw lots of whales at the end of our tour, and reports from passengers who took the second tour said they saw many whales. I think with the later tour more boats are out so there are more reports of where the whales may be located. We would like to return to Cabo someday to stay longer. It is in a beautiful location and from our whale watching boat we could see many nice resorts. Overall we liked the diversity of shore excursions offered on this cruise. The three excursions we took were all very different - a day at the beach a few hours exploring a city and Mexican Culture, and a two hour whale watching excursion. Cruising With Kids ------------------ We had been on the Disney Cruise line with our nine year old twins before, and we weren't sure how they would like a non-Disney cruise. We were pleasantly surprised - our kids absolutely loved the kids club and we couldn't keep them away from it! When we were checking in for the cruise we saw almost all adults in the waiting area. "Aren't there any kids on this cruise?" Andrew asked. Once onboard we did find other kids. In fact there were 27 kids from age 3 to 7 on the cruise, and 47 kids from ages 8 to 12. Compared to a Disney cruise, there are far fewer kids, but on this cruise our boys got to know the other children better. A Disney Cruise is like going to a large elementary school, where there are many fun activities but there is also a large number of other children. This Princess cruise was like attending a small schoolhouse in the country - fewer kids but more friendly. Our boys got to know many of the kids well that they had met in the kids club. When we were on other parts of the ship as a family we would frequently hear "Hi Andrew and Josh!" as one of their friends from the kids club would recognize them. The Princess kids clubs were well organized. Our boys were in the 8 to 12 year old group - the Princess Pirateers. I was impressed with the detailed organization of the club. On the first night of the cruise we got a handout telling of all the kids club activites, scheduled by the minute, for the rest of the cruise. There was a wide range of activities offered - arts and crafts, games, contests, movies, karoke, scavenger hunts, dancing, etc. The counselors had a rule that was impressed on the kids the first night - if there was any activity they did not want to participate in just say so and they could sit it out. The kids club was far more than a couple of adults watching the kids play video games the whole time - it was well thought out with a good variety of events. The kids club was open from 9 to 12 noon, from 2 pm to 5 pm, and from 7 pm to 10 pm on most days. On a couple of nights they took the kids to the buffet for dinner at 6:15 pm - our boys chose eating with their friends on these nights rather than eating with us in the formal dining room. For days at ports the kids club was available during the day if you preregistered by 5 pm the night before. After 10 pm you could pay for group babysitting at the kids clubs for $5 per hour per child (open until 1 am). There is also a separate area for kids ages 3 to 7, and another area for teens. The teen area was particularly impressive with a huge tv screen and a big lounge (bigger than the teen area we had seen on the Disney cruise). A couple of TIPS about the kids clubs: 1. Make sure to register your kids on the first night of the cruise. Even if you aren't sure how much time your kids will stay in the clubs, you must be registered for them to participate. After our kids tried the club on the second day, they were to spend far more time in the clubs than we anticipated before the cruise. 2. Check to see what nights the kids club will take the children to dinner. This will give you a chance to make an "adults only" reservation at one of the speciality restaurants (see "Dining" below) while your children are eating with the other kids. For adults on the cruise who want to avoid kids, there were plenty of areas on the ship where you rarely saw children. The nighttime shows, for example, are geared more toward adults. Kids can attend but we saw very few. Overall we were very impressed with the kids club and we would not hesitate to take our kids on another Princess Cruise. We still love the Disney cruise and I would rate Disney as the top cruise for kids, but the Princess Cruise really surprised us at how well they handled their kids programs. Dining ------ I can describe the dining in one word: Excellent! We had the early "traditional" seating time for dinner (6:15 pm). We liked the traditional seating. Another option on the cruise is "Personal Choice"  seating, where you can eat whenever you want between 5 and 10 pm. With our traditional seating time we had the same waiters every night - we liked that very much. Our waiters were quite friendly (one from South Africa, one from Portugal) and they were great with our kids. We never had a wait with our traditional seating time. With Personal Choice I saw long lines for dinner on one of the formal nights (everyone wanted to eat at the same time) but on other nights Personal Choice seemed to have minimal waits as well. Our "traditional seating" dining room was located on deck 6 - the "Amalfi Dining Room". This was one of three large dining rooms on the ship. The food was wonderful all week - there was a good variety of selections and the quality was very good. The kids menu was limited (hamburger, hot dogs, etc) but that wasn't a problem for our kids - they enjoyed ordering off of the adult menu each night. Another dining option available was the 24 hour Horizon Court buffet. We ate breakfast here a couple of times. The hours were particularly convenient when we had an early shore tour. On our whale watching day we ate breakfast in the buffet at 6 am. TIP: If you have time, breakfast and lunch at the Portifino dining room is almost as good as dinner! The buffet is good for a quick meal, but for a better meal at breakfast or lunch in a sit down restaurant try the Portofino. The Star Princess had two specialty restaurants: Tequilas (a Mexican Restaurant), and Sabatini's (a Italian Restaurant). Tequilas has a $8 cover charge per person which includes a free margarita. We ate at Tequilas one night while our kids were eating with their friends in the kids club - we loved the food and the quieter atmosphere when compared to the main dining room. While we didn't get the opportunity to eat at Sabatini's, we heard good reports about this restaurant as well from other cruisers. TIP: If you want to eat at Sabatini's, it is good to make reservations shortly after you board. This restaurant fills up fast. We were able to get reservations at Tequilas a couple of days into the cruise. Another food option is a wonderful Haagen Daz ice cream parlor next to one of the main pools. The ice cream is an additional charge here ($2.80 for two scoops) but worth it. Also by the pool is an area where you can get pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs at no additional charge. Room service is also available. The Star Princess charged extra for soft drinks at meals, so if you like soft drinks a "soda card" was a good buy on the first night of the cruise. This card gave you unlimited sodas for the week. We choose to skip the soda card and we drank water at most meals. There were two formal nights on this cruise. We had pictures taken on the first formal night (Sunday night). The dress code at Tequilas was not quite  as strict on formal night - we decided to skip the second formal night and ate at Tequilas instead. There was one downside to the excellent food on the Star Princess - I gained more weight on this cruise than I have on any other cruise I have taken in the past. Time to get back to Weight Watchers! Entertainment ------------- The Star Princess had many entertainment options. There were two big shows each night - one in the large Princess Theatre and another in the Vista Lounge. There were 5 different comedians on our cruise (the best one was "Sarge" on the last two nights). Princess has a large cast of dancers who gave different shows during the week. The production show "Dance!" was the best one we saw. In addition to the large shows, there are a few smaller lounges onboard with bands and dancing. A large disco at the top of the ship ("Skywalkers Night Club") featured late night dancing and entertainment. During the day and on some evenings there were first run movies offered in the Vista Lounge and in the Princess Theatre. In addition there was a movie channel on our stateroom tv that featured first run movies. We were so busy with the other entertainment and recreational activities that we never did make it to a movie on this cruise. Kids are allowed at the nighttime shows but they really are more for adults in content. Our kids were happy to spend time in the kids club in the evening. Embarkation/Disembarkation -------------------------- We found getting on and off the ship very easy. When we checked in to the cruise terminal on the first day we were given a number. At boarding time people were called by number to board the ship - no need to wait in line. We were given an assigned time to get off the ship (8:15 am) and flexibility to eat breakfast and return to our stateroom any time before then. The Princess transfers to the airport after the cruise were quick and efficient. Summary ------- We had a great time on our Princess Cruise and we would definitely cruise with Princess again. In the back of my mind before the cruise I thought Mexico might not be as good as some of the Caribbean cruises we had taken in the past - I was pleasantly surprised by the ports we visited and the diverse shore excursions offered. Most important for us is that our kids had a good time on the cruise, too, thanks to a well run kids club with lots of activities. We liked the cruise so much that we have booked another Princess Cruise for February 2004! You have to register your email address but don't worry - you won't get any advertising email. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

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Feb 15, 2003

Mexican Riviera

This was our son’s & my first cruise with Princess, my wife’s second, it had a bit of a rocky start but that was before the ship. Specifically, a shuttle ride to the Sheraton San Pedro from LAX. The Prime Time shuttle driver was not apparently having a good night and after picking up a tipsy client, the driver picked us up and then we added another couple. The shuttle driver apparently had to make two loops around the ring road

at LAX which was a real joy. Then we headed out on the freeway but the driver was having problems with his first passenger and the with the other couple, seemed to be a little confusion as to where the others were going, our hotel was nearby we thought. It was two hours yes TWO of arguing, tight turns, speeding and wearing out brakes. Enough of that and in the defence of Prime Time, the driver who picked us up at the end of the cruise was the complete opposite of his cohort. He seemed as disappointed with the first driver as we were. Sheraton San Pedro has a great location but they need to do some renos in the rooms they are well worn to say the least. The Hotel Shuttle was a real shuttle not the stretch van of the night before. We arrived at the pier near noon and a porter whisked our luggage away. I was a little leery as we’d had bags overnight elsewhere on our ship on our last cruise but he was gone in a flash and gave us directions to boot! Princess is very well organized we were soon in a very reasonable lineup and met with a very nice rep who got us on our way quickly with a boarding number. We were directed to the proper staging area and before we had much time to wait … we were on Star Princess. The boarding staff were great on the dock and on board. They really seemed to care we were there despite just offloading another bunch of us literally hours before. We were in our cabin on Dolphin deck in no time and met our cabin steward “Bong” minutes later. The next time he saw us he was calling us each by name, corny but a nice touch. We went off to check out the Star and returned in little more than an hour to find our luggage (all of it) already in our mini-suite! We tried Personal Choice dining as we like the flexibility after a day doing the tourist thing we’re not always ready to eat on schedule. You do miss having the same waiter and his assistant but the ones we had were all great. You do get to meet a lot of different people or can request a small table if you like. HINT: The two P C dining rooms have the same menu and food but the Portafino was always busier and the Capri always had a shorter or non-existent line up, one of the few downsides to Personal Choice. The itinerary first gives you two days at sea which is a great way to wind down but by the second day we were ready for Mexico and maybe they should consider Cabo San Lucas first so it isn’t rushed at the end there. We ate well and enjoyed the time nevertheless. Should mention we had a mini-suite with a balcony and we made good use of the balcony, don’t have to be a sun-worshipper either. First stop Puerta Vallarta and our only booked shore excursion, snorkeling at Marietas Islands. It was a blast, the crew were funny and genuinely eager to please. The snorkeling was good, the time on the beach was just right and the food on the boat was first rate not five star but excellent just the same. Then on the way back we encountered some whales and they stopped the boat so we could marvel at their whales and we did just that. Our snorkel cruise director even got on the case of some competitors who literally chased the whales away. Bravo ! The next day we watched the sunrise over Mazatlan. The pier is nicely done but the drive across town to the Golden Zone was a little depressing, you don't realize how lucky we all are. Taxi was reasonable, ask how much first it should be under 10.00 to the zone that's with a decent tip. The Golden Zone is lots of souvenirs but you can find some interesting stuff too. They will offer deals, I don’t dicker but wife does. Food is reasonable as is the Corona. Headed to old town after the Golden Zone to the Flea Market … didn’t like what we saw nothing to buy or see..oh.Taxi ! Back to the ship, and get rid of those shopping bags. Third and last was Cabo, our favorite. Tender into the small harbour. Word of warning on Dolphin deck you will hear ungodly sounds at dawn, they are swinging out the ship’s lifeboats for tender duty, they hang just below that deck. Cabo is a little bit old, a little bit new but nice as you can walk everywhere. Made the obligatory stop at Cabo Wabo bar of Sammy Hagar ..a little too early for Sammy I guess. We wanted to explore more but the ship was leaving at 2PM so we didn’t have a lot of time…too bad. Princess maybe that earlier suggestion … Cabo first ?? If this hasn’t put you to sleep by now it was another day and a half at sea and then back to LA. The Scorecard: Shuttle: don’t ask but the second driver did save their reputation. Boarding: Well organized and friendly, lots of people helping. Cabin: Mini suite was a good choice balcony great Even with a chronic bad back no problems (not what I’d read from others) Cabin Steward & Service: Outstanding nominated him for their employee of the month. Thanks Bong ! Dining Room: Not outstanding but good food just the same, personal choice for us is good. 22 yr old son was full good sign! Buffet: Every review slams the buffet but it was always busy, few if any lines, see 22 yr old above. Lots of fresh fruit. Shore Ex: Well organized, crew were fun and know how to make a mean Margarita. Whale watching a BIG bonus. Entertainment: Standard stuff but good just the same. Lounge piano guy was great. Announcements: PA not in the staterooms except lifeboat drill. Thank You Princess Pools & Tubs: Never very busy, lots of deck chairs / loungers. Fitness Area: Good machines a little busy on at sea days. Other Crew: Always a smile and they did let us go first … another sore point with other reviewers. Disembarking: Again well organized ran a little late HINT be sure to ask for earlier time if you have an early flight out of LAX. Porter Service: On and off, well run and they were helpful, what a bonus. Overall: Didn’t want to get off, will go Princess again, glad we have another cruise booked next year already! Princess does the little things better than their parent company. Princess caters to an older crowd, 22 yr old was definitely caught in between the youngsters and the rest of us, but he didn't starve !

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Feb 1, 2003

Mexican Riviera

Background This was the second cruise we had ever taken. Our first cruise was a 10-day Panama Canal cruise on the Sun Princess two years ago which we absolutely loved. We had some reservations about our Mexican Riviera cruise on such a large ship as the Star. The Sun is smaller (1950 passengers) and was only ¾ filled when we sailed so crowds were never a problem on that cruise. Our sailing on the Star was fully booked (2600 passengers)

so really, this would be our first experience on a fully laden, monster ship. Embarkation I think people need to be realistic when you are boarding a vessel the size of the Star Princess – it takes time to process 2600 passengers. To expect to whip in and out of the cruise terminal in 5 minutes is completely unrealistic and if you think you’re going to do that, you’re going to be really disappointed. Having said that, I think Princess could certainly do themselves a big favor and invest some money in SIGNAGE at the cruise terminal. We found on both our cruises that Princess shuffles you into the terminal then assumes you know exactly where to go. In LA, we saw one small sign stating that if you were on Decks x-x then line up on the left, otherwise line up on the right. Nothing else. So naturally we went to the one long, snaking line. We lucked out in that someone asked to see our ticket and said “Oh – you have an ‘E’ on your ticket. You should be in the express line.” So over to the express line and we were done in 10 minutes. We talked to others who had submitted their immigration info in advance as we did who weren’t as lucky and waited an hour in the “regular” line only to be told at the end that they should’ve gone to the express line. One big sign noted this would’ve saved a lot of grief for a lot of people – or even confirmation from Princess that they have received your immigration information and that we qualified for Express Check-in So note to future Princess cruisers reading this: if you have an “E” on the back page of your ticket (where it lists your ship and cruise code), go to the Express Line!! No problems with luggage delivery – we had everything by 4pm. Once again – be realistic and you won’t be disappointed – it takes time for them to load up luggage for 2600 people!! Room We had an outside cabin on Plaza deck. Good sized window giving the room lots of natural light (the main reason we wanted an outside). Decent sized room with lots of closet space – almost double what we had on the Sun Princess. Not much drawer space though. Lots of shelf space in the bathroom which was nice. You needed a shoe horn to squeeze into the shower but I think that’s common on all cruise ships. We were initially concerned about noise as our cabin was directly beneath the casino but no problems there. We couldn’t hear anything. On our last cruise, we had an outside cabin with a veranda (thanks to an upgrade) on the Sun and compared to our outside cabin on the Star I can honestly say that we wouldn’t pay for the veranda. It was a nice novelty but that’s about it – how much time do you really spend in your cabin anyways? And if you’re looking for privacy, you won’t get it on your veranda on the Star – the decks protrude out as you get lower so all the upper decks (including the public areas) look down into your veranda!! No nude sunbathing for you!! Cabin steward service was fine, though for whatever reason our steward kept forgetting to replace our beach towels. And a note to travelers – if you’re in your room and your steward is in the vicinity – DEADBOLT YOUR DOOR or make sure you have your Do Not Disturb sign posted!! Almost all knock and open the door at the same time! Dining Reading the other reviews, I couldn’t help but to notice that Personal Choice Dining was slammed big time. We don’t understand why – we thought it was fantastic. We loved the fact we could eat whenever we wanted, with whomever we wanted without having to miss the “big meal” in the dining room. You show up at one of the two PC dining rooms and they will ask you if you want to sit by yourself or with others. As it turned out, some of the couples we sat with we ended up hanging out with for the rest of the cruise. Service was always great – yes, some waiters were more personable and chatty than others – but the service was always prompt and professional. Some other reviews mention that the service is worse in the Personal Choice dining rooms – I disagree with that. Remember that you are just as likely to end up with a dud waiter in the fixed dining room and unlike PC, you’d be stuck with that dud waiter for the rest of the cruise! As the name implies, Personal Choice dining was very flexible – if you found a table and waiter you liked, you could reserve that table for the rest of your cruise (as we did – ask for Errol table 55!). The food was consistently good – you would never confuse it with that from a top notch 5-star restaurant but it was certainly very tasty and we had no complaints. Breakfast at the Horizon got boring really quick as they served pretty well the same thing every day. Lunch had a different theme everyday and was pretty good. The Horizon Court could get really busy during peak breakfast and lunch times – if you want to avoid the huge line, head Port side. For whatever reason, the Starboard buffet line was always twice as long as the Port side. Amenities and Entertainment Even though you were on a ship of 2600 people, it never felt like it. With 5 pools, at least 12 hot tubs (that’s what I counted!), 12 lounges, this ship disperses people well! We never had any problems finding a lounge chair on deck (yeah – if you want that prime spot by the pool you had to be there early but if you’re not picky…), and never encountered crowds in the pools or hot tubs. The “adults only” lap pool was especially nice. The exercise room was very well equipped – again, you seldom had to wait for equipment to be available. The spa was predictably overpriced but it looked nice if that’s what you are after. We didn’t go to any production shows so we can’t comment on that (the ones we saw on the Sun were pretty well what you would expect on a cruise ship, hence we weren’t too interested in seeing the ones on the Star). Friends of ours said they were pretty entertaining though. In the Vista Lounge, predictably, some shows were better than others but to each their own. We really liked the live bands in all the lounges. They had some excellent bands on our cruise, especially in the Explorer’s Lounge. That’s where we spend most of our nights. Bottom line is there’s something for everyone on this ship. Excursions We did a Princess-booked excursion in every port. We found them to be very well organized and worth the money if you are more comfortable heading to shore with in an organized group. You pay more booking through Princess than if you just call ahead to the tour company running the tour (Example: The Sierra Madre tour in Puerto Vallarta was $85 through Princess but if you had booked directly, you would’ve paid $75), but I guess that extra money pays for the peace of mind knowing that you’ll make it back on board on time (I’m guessing that if a Princess-booked excursion ran late, they would hold the ship for you)!! A Personal Gripe There was one thing about our cruise that annoyed the hell out of us – those #$^!^$ Princess Photographers!!! I don’t remember them being so “in-your-face” on our last cruise as this one. I don’t know if other cruise lines are like this but this was just ridiculous. Throughout this review I’ve mentioned how crowds were never a problem. The one exception was if stupid photographers were holding up the line (whether it’s going on shore, going to dinner). This was the only time we experienced lineups – and you don’t realize the cause of the lineups until you near the front and realize it’s those photographers. And we experienced a case where we didn’t want our picture taken so as one couple stepped up to have their picture taken, we tried to go around. We were physically BLOCKED by the photographer and told to wait. We’re not school kids – if we want our picture taken, we’ll find you! Case in point – Mazatlan. The line started on deck 4, snaked up and down the stairs to deck 5 and beyond. Gee – it doesn’t take a lot of time to swipe your cruise card and leave the ship. The cause of the holdup? The photographer taking pictures of everyone stepping off. Even the crew manning the security checkpoint realized this and told the photographer to stop taking pictures. Once he stopped, gee whiz – the line disappeared in about 5 minutes!! Coincidence? I think not. We know that photos generate income for the ship but when it gets to the point that it irritates passengers… I know we weren’t alone… Disembarkation I am still amazed at how fast they can get everyone off. Very efficient and orderly. Save yourself some time by marking your luggage with something distinctive because boy, that’s a lot of black luggage you’re sorting through!! Summary As with our last cruise, we were very pleased with our experience. We certainly wouldn’t hesitate to sail with Princess again on their Grand/Golden/Star class ships. For first-time cruisers reading this review – be warned! It’s a real let-down when you get home and find the towels you left on the floor before breakfast are still there after breakfast!!

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Nov 30, -0001

Mexican Riviera

My family and I were aboard the Star Princess for the Mexican Riviera cruise on December 14, 2002. We have only cruised once before on the Celebrity Millennium so I will write this review comparing it to the Celebrity cruise. Embarkation was relatively smooth although the line up was long. It is to be expected as everyone was anxious to get aboard. Luggage delivery was excellent. Received our luggage promptly. The ship is very large with

lots of areas to explore. We found the first two days at sea were great as it gave us time to familiarize ourselves with the layout. My 11 year old son knew where he was going within 24 hours! We asked for fixed dining but were put on a wait list. We ended up having personal choice dining for the whole cruise. This method of dining certainly lacks in the service department! We found the Portofino dining room too crowded and very noisy. We never received the same waiter and found the whole dining process rushed. Sort of like conveyor belt style. Meals were brought to you under a plastic cover, like at the hospital. The food was mediocre at the best of times. Often overdone and cool, not hot and fresh. Waiters seemed unhappy and generally bored with their jobs. The Horizon buffet, where we ate breakfast every morning, was okay. The food was again, luke warm and I found the selection of fruit rather boring. On the Celebrity cruise, wonderful fruit and vegetable carvings were artistically placed in front of the buffet and stewards were standing there handing you your plates and cutlery. They even helped my children by carrying their plates for them and seated us at a table! That is service. On the Star, get your own plate and cutlery and find your own seat. The only good thing about the terrible food is that your chances of gaining any major weight are slim! Unless you eat the delicious desserts they had! The cabins were quite spacious. We had two cabins and had the steward open the adjoining balcony door so we could walk between balconies to each room. I have to say that our Room Steward, Ninito, was exceptional. Anything we needed, we received. We paged him, he was there within minutes. The bathroom facilities were okay. Plenty of shelves for your hygiene items. Typically, the shower was small. It is interesting for us ladies when we try to shave our legs in there!! You have to be a contortionist! The beds were terrible. Too soft! I was so surprised as this ship is just one year old, that the beds felt lumpy and old. Very uncomfortable, but you ended up getting used to it. The pictures of the cabins on the Princess website are deceiving for sure. The cabins are not as big as what they seem in the pictures. As we traveled with our children, we looked forward to the Kids Zone program, but were once again disappointed. Celebrity’s kids programs were poor too. My daughter was placed in the 7-9 year old group and my 11 year old son was placed in the 10-12 year old group. That group wasn’t too bad offering karaeoke, kids disco and some sports related activities. But the 7-9 group was, in my opinion, too babyish. T-shirt coloring, drawing, crafts, etc. 9-10 year old girls would have loved to do what the 10-12 year olds were doing. I asked if it would be okay to move my daughter up since she is almost 10 anyway, but strict rules stated there would be no moving up! We could have brought my son down a level to the 7-9 group to keep them together, but weren’t allowed to move my daughter up to the 10-12 group. I was also very surprised that they had planned very little outdoor activities for these kids. 90% of the activities were indoors! The beautiful weather outside would have been missed by these kids and they would have gone home pale-faced not even looking like they had been on vacation! So we ended up having the kids hang with us the whole trip. We took them to the basketball court, played some tennis and played virtual golf. They had more fun with us than they would have in the kids zone. Entertainment on the ship was good. Good comedians, music and the karaeoke was fun. There was a lot of activities going on that you could choose from. There were two formal nights during this week. Formal attire varies tremendously. I got away with a black skirt and white blouse, no pantyhose and sandals for both nights. Some men went in tuxedos and some went in a jacket with no tie. Some women glitzed to the max and like me, some toned it way down. It’s really your choice. I am not one for the glitzy look. Even though there were close to 2800 passengers on this boat, it didn’t feel crowded. The fresh water pools were great. Never over crowded. Celebrity’s pools were salt water and the kids didn’t like that. There were laundry facilities on this ship, unlike Celebrity’s millennium where you were limited to paying for drycleaning services. It is nice to be able to do a load of laundry without breaking the bank. The three ports (Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas) were interesting and worth the visit. However, all ports offered pretty much the same things. Souvenier stuff, tours and the constant annoyance of peddlers! Disembarkation was smooth, although a long process. But what do you expect when you have 2800 passengers to unload and clear customs! So overall, here is my report card for the Star Princess Mexican Riviera cruise… Embarkation………B Cabin………………B+ Sleeping Comfort….C Cabin Steward……..A Room Service………C- Food……………….C- Waiters…………….D Crew (friendliness)...C Kid Zone…………..D Ship Layout……….B Entertainment……..B- Cruise Director……B Nightlife…………...B- Ship Cleanliness…..B+ Disembarkation……B Just to compare…here is my report card for the Celebrity Millenium ship to the Carribbean in January 2002. Embarkation……….A Cabin ……………...B Sleeping Comfort….B+ Cabin Steward……..A+ Room Service………B+ Food………………..A Waiters……………..A+ Crew (friendlinnes)…A Kid Zone……………D Ship Layout…………B Entertainment……….B Cruise Director………B Nightlife……………..B+ Ship Cleanliness…….A Disembarkation……..B So, to summarize, it was nice to experience the Star Princess and the Mexican Riviera. I am glad we went in order to have something to compare. I have decided I like the smaller ships which, in my opinion, offer better service overall. So in the future, having to choose, I will try another cruise line or go with Celebrity for my next cruise. Thanks for reading. S.Kavanagh

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Nov 30, -0001

Mexican Riviera

My wife and I sought the assistance of a AAA travel agent to help us decide what cruise would be the best for us. She gave us several options and we chose the Mexican Riviera with Princess. We were not disappointed. With first timer's angst we drove to LA for our departure. We stayed in the San Pedro Sheraton and were very satisfied with the efficiency of their park and cruise package. One tip, eat at the Green Onion around the corner for

reasonable and very good Mexican food. Embarkation was smooth, we left the hotel at 11am and were shortly at the transit terminal. All ground assistance was courteous and forgiving when I lost my ship card within minutes of the boarding, they arranged for a purser trainee named Francesco from Milan to assist me through the ordeal and he was very good at relieving my feelings of foolishness. Once onboard we bee-lined for the buffet and began our seven days of gluttony. Their were enough choices so that one could eat a lot and still eat without abandoning all nutritional rules. Being that my wife and I are on weight control programs we usually opted for the buffet which allowed us the opportunity to pick and choice our food. Our goal was to gain less than 2 pounds and we did manage that. We did eat at the standard personal choice dining rooms several times and always found good company and excellent service/food. In order to counterbalance our excess calorie intake we utilized the well equipped workout room and the 10 lap to a mile jogging track. We also walked often on the 3 lap to a mile wrap around promenade deck. We burned a lot of calories on the numerous dance floors. However, this was negated by the Alcohol consumption, especially on my part. Drinks were in the four to eight dollar range depending on the size. I found more value in getting the larger sizes. The entertainment choices were varied enough to suit most anyone. They had several audience participation games that were quite humorous. We especially enjoyed watching the karaoke. We opted out of most of the larger shows for the smaller venue entertainment. Those that went to the Princess Theater were all satisfied with the performances. Our Cabin help was a 37 year old from the Philippines name William. He was always courteous and helpful and maintained the room to a high standard. I cannot say enough about the staff they were all service oriented and very friendly. In Mazatlan we booked a Sierra Madre Tour. This took us to the old Mexican towns of Concordia and Copala. Our guide "Eleazar" was very informative and narrated the entire time. This tour was the highlight of the cruise. Viewing Mexico away from the resorts was very rewarding. The towns were very old and still have much of the original buildings including some very old churches. In Cabo we opted for the whale watching tour and seen at least 10 humpbacks. We often relaxed around the pools and never felt crowded. This ship is very well planned. Even though it is very large we never were intimidated as it is strategically compartmentalized. It will be hard for us to book another cruise on anything but Princess.

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Nov 30, -0001

Mexican Riviera

Throughout our cruising adventures, we've never thought we could find a ship that was too big - until now. Star Princess is too big. Massed produced food is well below standard cruise quality. Some staff members are wonderful but we often saw them getting a 'talking to' for spending an extra minute or two being pleasant with us. This is the type of service which is encouraged on other lines. Unfortunately most other staff members are

just generally inconsiderate or uncaring. Many haven't learned the simple courtesy of letting a passenger pass first, instead of cutting in front of us - and this happened constantly. Others seem to get a kick out of ordering passengers around during embarkation, debarkation and preparations for excursions. While waiting for one excursion to depart, we watched a passenger ask a staff member if she would be allowed to take her bag along with her (horseback riding in Cabo). Instead of trying to find out the answer, the staff member just said 'I don't know," and turned her back on the lady. (The answer is 'yes' you can take a bag with you for towel, water, bathing suit, etc. You'll leave the bag at the beginning of the ride, then return to the same location for your swim). When we got up as our Horseback riding excursion was called, we were told with a great deal of emphasis to sit back down, it wasn't our excursion. Luckily we're seasoned travelers and knew that was our tour - so we questioned what they were telling us. It turns out we were correct and the crew had us sitting in the wrong section. No apologies were given for embarassing us in front of 200 other people, but by this point we'd learned not to expect one. Speaking of excursions, few at the excursion desk could actually answer questions (for example: as one was telling us at the desk we'd have no problem with back-to-back excursions on the same day in Puerto Vallarta - another was calling our room to tell us the half-hour between excursions was too tight and we should cancel one). Swimming with the Dolphins was a wonderful experience (Puerto Vallarta), but we have some concerns for their health. The large swim tank was filled with slimy green mold along the sides. It's an experience you shouldn't miss, but you'll want to take a shower as soon as you can afterwards. We wish we could give the Dolphins a shower too. Backtracking a bit, Embarkation is horrible. We had the 'express' boarding or something like that. It took two hours (we've never been on a cruise where it's taken more than 15 minutes - and in fact Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas boarded us in just 5). Baggage delivery was even worse than embarkation. We got one of our six bags almost immediately --- then had a loooong and worrisome wait. Another bag came a couple of hours later... not ours - we had to flag someone down and practically drag them to our room to take it away. Finally, well after sailing and just before our 8:30 dinner, the rest of our bags arrived. If we had the early dinner we'd have had to go in t-shirts and shorts. We met other passengers who also had a long wait for luggage: SUGGESTION, make sure you take a carryon with your first night's clothing. (We'd been 'ordered' - and I do mean ORDERED - to give ALL our bags to the porter - but saw nearly every other passenger take carry on bags on board). The rooms are very nice, but if you have a mini-suite balcony on Dolphin deck, other passengers can stare down at you since their balconies are recessed. Our cabin steward was excellent, and our room always well taken care of. It's not so much that the entertainment was bad, it just wasn't what we expected for such a large ship with a roundtrip to the world's entertainment capital. You would think they could get one headliner each cruise. For example, on Monarch of the Seas a few years back, the Spinners did shows on two different nights. Ok, so they're not a modern headliner, but surely Princess could get a similar entertainer or group. It wasn't a bad cruise, just one that wasn't up to our expectations especially after all the build up of a new ship. We really think a lot of the problems are due to the sheer size of Star Princess. From this cruise we've come to the conclusion that smaller is better. We won't be sailing on a mega ship again. It's not worth being treated like cattle.

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Nov 30, -0001

Mexican Riviera

While on the subject of free choice dining this is the first Princess ship we’ve been on to offer it the Royal, which we were on in Feb., was to small to handle the galley requirements. Diane loved it, she has always thought 6:15 is just to early and late seating was to late. Choice allowed her to stay on our home schedule and eat at 7. Unfortunately all the shows are still tied to the Traditional schedule so that when you finished dinner you

either had to skip dessert or not get a seat for the show in the Princess Theater. For one show we sat on the steps and it was no treat. I have mixed feelings about Personal choice but if we have a choice from now on I bet we take Personal choice. Peace at all cost is my motto. My thoughts about the food. In Feb. on our Amazon trip I lost my appetite and nothing tasted good to me. As some of you may know I eventually got so sick I had to leave the ship in Trinidad and go into the hospital so I felt the food has to be better this time and of course it was. I have always found on Princess ships that not every thing I think I recognize on the menu will taste the way I expect. They go out of their way to use sauces from different parts of Italy and some of them I love and other are a disappointment for me. It’s probably due to my lack of a sophisticated palette but even the steaks are done in a different style and escargot in red wine sauce just doesn’t cut it. We had several reasons for taking this trip. First this is our first chance to sail on a Grand class ship which I have wanted to do for some time and just haven’t either because of a lack of interest in the itinerary they were on. Or the expense of the travel just to repeat ports didn’t seem to justify spending the money. Well here was an inexpensive chance so we took it even though this would be the 5th time into these ports. Also we are putting together a family reunion and have 25 people going on the Elation next May and all but one of our children live on the Pacific coast and all the adult grandchildren live in the west it will hold down the cost of travel. While I would prefer to take RCL the group deal on Carnival is much lower and only one of the kids and his family has cruised before and we know they will all have a great time on the Elation, which we’ve been on twice. After the disaster in Brazil I would have sworn that Diane would be off cruising for a long time. She even told the kids that was IT and the next thing I know one of my daughters and granddaughter brought our great grandson down from Oregon to ride Timothy the train for his third Birthday. The boy is crazy about the cartoon and the train was in Sacramento for some kind of promotion at the rail museum. While they were here another daughter came down from Tahoe and talk led to a reunion and first thing I know were back in the cruise mode, not that I mind. All the talk about the cruise a year off convinced Diane she had been shorted on the last cruise and we should go somewhere but close so Star Princess it was. While in Puerto Valletta we decided to check out the land excursion to Paradise jungle just to see if it was something the kids would like to do. Usually we just hire a cab and go sight seeing and we have been all over town before. The trip consists of a short stop for people to walk up to the Cathedral. We’ve Been there and done that so we went to a nearby glass shop instead and browsed till the bus picked us back up. Then the bus went out past Los Molines beach and went a few miles up dirt rode to the set of the Schwarzenegger movie Predator where we ate at a restraint set up by the river where a small waterfall creates a pool. We did not take hike up the canyon as nether of us has good balance and were a little old for scrambling over boulders. At the price I felt it was a total rip off and would warn the kids not to go. In Mazatlan we took the beach tour to see what you got and saw the same things we’ve seen for but at tent times the price. Again don’t go with the ship get a cab go to the gold cost and eat either at a restaurant or one on the beach and if you want to go to the beach just do it there, the street venders will find you anyway as the beaches are all public and open. Diane chose to not go ashore in Cabo San Lucas and I just went into the flea market on the dock to get a shirt that I had meant to buy on the pier in Mazatlan but they have changed the area to shops and stands that sell souvenirs and my shirt man is gone. No luck in Cabo either. About the entertainment we went to the Princess Theater only three times for the shows they have a state of the art stage with computerized scenery and built in lifts all over the stage. It’s a far cry from the show rooms of 20 years ago and they give an interesting back stage tour that I highly recommend. While on the subject of the theater this one has the best sight lines of any I’ve been in at sea. My one complaint is that there are no handrails for the steep steps that alternate the size of the risers and are very difficult to negotiate in the dark and it’s worse with trifocals according to Diane. The best seats are on the lower floor but if you use personal choice dining there is no chance of getting one. If you come late you must sit high up in the back where you can see fine but the sound is overwhelming close to the speakers. The vista lounge is much more traditional and is quite good as a venue for comedians and the stage telescopes back to expose the dance floor. I only went up to the disco one night to see it at night and it is pretty when lit up but way to loud for me. The young people seem to love it. The famed moving walk way reminds me of Caesar’s in Las Vegas it only goes in. We really liked the ship over all and would take a grand class dip again. Teach

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Nov 30, -0001

Cruise to Nowhere

I have cruised on the Grand Princess before 1 year ago for New Year's Eve; it was nice to know that a big cruise ship will be stationed from San Pedro without having to travel very far by plane. I will not get into much of the prelim. pre-boarding as it was usual and speedy less than 45mins. This ship itself was very much identical in decor and layout plan as the Grand Princess. In fact, I knew where everything was without ever getting lost as if

I have never left the Grand. My expectations were no high as I expected the crew to be sup-bar as this was the "maiden" voyage from the US. To my amazement; staff were very friendly and courteous- helpful to the end and appeared to be very informative. Occasionally, I did see a couple of servers argue in their own language as they appeared to be frustrated. We had a balcony cabin on the Caribe deck C738 - it was great - balcony was huge compared to other decks; plenty of closet space and a safe ( no different than the Grand). The Bed was very UNCOMFORTABLE - it was very springy and you can even feel the split between the two beds (we had the queen configuration)- a BIG disappointment - especially when you consider that this is a brand new ship - we asked our room steward if something can be done to no avail - again obviously not fitting of the Princess Motto - as soon as we boarded, we made a reservation @ Sabatini’s (for $15 a head - its probably the best food you will taste on this ship - 7-8 courses of great food - however, I must say both service and food was better at the Grand- I am assuming this will only get better with time). Personal choice service was great - my wife and I always had a table of our own - food was usually OK - again it was better at the Grand - room service choices and breakfast choices did improve over the last cruise. Workout facilities were outstanding - my wife and I really enjoyed the free weights and the machines which were very well organized and, of course, new. The cruise ship was beautiful as everything smelled new - I am sure this will get worse over time. My experience with this cruise was satisfactory - people are generally friendly; facilities are nice - Bedding and Food quality needs to be improved - lobster and lamb shops were terrible - immersed in dressing that took away the flavor (with the exception of the Pizzas which are fantastic)- I Hope Princess is listening. Will I sail on this ship again - Of course - its the best bargain - the entertainment was good, the comedians were funny; the food I am sure will improve - and heck, its in CA - at my back yard – no FLYING!!!

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Nov 30, -0001

Mexican Riviera

As most know, this ship is HUGE! What impressed us the most was that you never felt "crowded" at any times. They designed the ship and passenger flow very well. I have sailed on Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean, NCL, and Holland America and I was very satisfied with the Princess experience. While each line has their respective strength and weaknesses, I would offer that none of the differences would impact our satisfaction with

our vacation in any way. In short, unless you are a very critical person, I think you'll enjoy Princess very much. One thought, however, was that I noticed the staff throughout were not as "customer oriented" as other lines. Specifically, we would walk down the stateroom hallways and cleaning staff would not move out of the way for us as on other lines, but would expect us to move around them. Lido deck staff were not aggressive in offering drinks, service, etc. This didn't affect our satisfaction, however, it was noticed. I guess in short, I didn't feel the staff was very customer service motivated as I have seen on other lines. I don't know if that is because we are billed our gratuities up front rather than cash envelopes at the end or not. This attitude was not noticed when I sailed on the Grand Princess in 1999. The ship, although new, was spotless. The drinks along with their prices were quite tasty, and the food was well-varied, fresh and was not recycled in any fashion...even the next day on the Lido Deck. They didn't pressure you to buy drinks or shore excursions and the TV programming was good. This is an excellent ship, line, and a good cruise for all ages and family.

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Nov 30, -0001

Mexican Riviera

Pros - Plenty of deck chairs, pools, got to embarkation around 2, only took 15 minutes, disembarkation was a breeze, no waiting. The ship was sold out. You can have your room till 9:30 or so. Cons - The lounges/restaurants are very plain, not fancy and beautifully decorated like Carnival, not a party atmosphere like Carnival, one guy playing guitar by the pool occasionally, Carnival has a 5 piece steel drum band Dining - get in line

when you board the ship if you don't have reserved seating, they will still assign you a time for dinner and your own table, if you don't do this, you will wait in line every night, we were able to bypass the lines. Food was OK, similar to local restaurant. No sodas are included at all, the soda card is $20, however, most servers don;'t ask to see it. In Puerto Vallarta - you can walk to the beach, has parasailing, waverunners etc. Take a cab to town doesn't cost much, I was told it may take 1.5 hours to walk. At 49 years of age, I prefer Carnival for it's lively atmosphere and beautiful decorating, but Princess was very nice also. Overall - a nice ship, I would do it again, but find Carnival really puts an effort into a fun experience.

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Nov 30, -0001

Northern Europe

Wonderful ship and great itinerary. The most educational and tiring cruise I've ever taken. Of course, one takes this cruise to visit these historic cities and this is very tiring but most of all rewarding. Just prepare to be exhausted when you return home. But, oh, the memories will be worth it. St. Petersberg is the most beautiful city in the world I would dare to say. If there is one prettier, I've never heard of or seen it. Go see

for yourself--you'll love this itinerary!

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Nov 30, -0001

Baltic

This is my first ever cruise review. Having just returned home from an awesome Baltic cruise on the Star Princess I am inspired to share my experiences. Since 1996 I have cruised exclusively with Princess. Being an Elite Captain’s Circle Member I enjoy the special perks offered by Princess. In summary the 10 night Baltic cruise is port intensive, but, exhilarating. I was asked if it was worth the long travel, and my reply “indeed

it was”. PRE CRUISE: Princess sends out a Pre-Cruise Packet along with a wonderful Adventures Ashore Book. You can also access your booking on-line via the Cruise Personalizer. I had great difficulty trying to plan my shore excursions. There is simply too much to do and not enough time to do it all. Aside from the expert information shared here on Cruise Reviews I purchased 2 travel books. DK Eyewitness Travel Guide St. Petersburg. This provided excellent pictures and information. It was also small enough to bring along. Frommer’s Scandinavia was lengthier, but, did have some good tips. I must admit I did not do the extensive research others did pre-cruise on our ports of call. No time really. Booking Princess tours for many ports I knew I would be expertly guided. I was also going to the Star to visit good friends who work on board. They would also serve as my guide. My flights were booked via Princess Air. They were not that bad timing wise. I flew KLM out and BA home. The International Luggage Restrictions had me worried pre-cruise. I prepared by downsizing my carry-on and paid close attention to the weight of all of my luggage. Why? I was shocked that noone paid any attention to this at all. I was amazed at the carry-ons people did have – huge carry-ons plus loads of shopping bags, etc. For me, better safe than sorry, but, I worried for nothing. I booked Princess Transfers. Traveling to the ship alone I wanted stress-free transport to and from the ship. MISC: MONEY: I did not exchange any currency prior to my cruise. When I landed in Amsterdam (for the connection to Copenhagen) I used the ATM to get $200 Euro to start. I did use my credit card when making purchases in many ports. I do see that they have charged me a foreign currency exchange – No worries. It was just easier. Many places did accept US dollars. Beware of the exchange rate given. I used my credit card onboard with Princess for express checkout. No problem at all. My statement was accurate. DRESS CODE: Always a topic for discussion. I personally enjoy dressing for dinner on my cruises. I bring a dress for every night. This cruise I purchased 2 new evening gowns for the formal nights. 2 Formal Nights this cruise. Welcome Gala & Champagne Waterfall. I did notice many chose not to dress formally and ate in Horizon Court. I also saw many (both men & women) wearing jeans to dinner. This surprised me when they were allowed in the dining room. WEATHER: We had awesome weather. Lucky. I was surprised with how warm it actually was. Of course I went prepared for cooler temps. Packing to wear layers. Never needed my fleece jacket at all. Be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes. * My umbrella always travels with me (law of umbrellas). Fortunately it never got used. I did bring one bathing suit, and actually did put it on for some Baltic sun. Many were swimming in the pools. THE SHIP: The Star Princess is a Grand Class Ship. 2600 passengers. As large as the Star is you can always find quiet hideaways. Having recently been on the Star & Golden I felt back at home, and easily found my way around the ship. EMBARKATION: Princess does an excellent job with priority embarkation for those eligible. Having your paperwork filled out helps lots. You are also given a health form asking if you have been sick in the past 48 hrs. This has to do with the recent Norwalk Virus outbreaks. I arrived to the ship at 6pm (flight delays). Within minutes I was onboard and in my cabin. Princess also has a welcome crew as you board the ship. There is a crew member posted on every level to assist passengers with finding their cabin, etc. My luggage arrived in record time. I was surprised how quickly it arrived. Perhaps my later arrival?? Most passengers arrived to the ship by 1pm. STATEROOM: I had booked a Guaranteed Cabin, category M, and was upgraded to Category C. Aloha 747 (Deck 12) Outside AFT cabin, with 2 large portholes. I was worried about noise. Only one morning did I hear deck chairs being dragged on our sea day. I found the cabin location very convenient to go to Horizon Court. Closet and drawer space ample. My Elite status stocked the mini-bar, which is quite nice. My bathrobe and slippers were in the cabin waiting for me. I am not certain that attention was paid to my information on the Cruise Personalizer concerning beverages. I requested all diet coke, and had an assorted mix. One call to Room Service fixed that, and soon my diet coke arrived. DINING: This cruise I selected Personal Choice. Visiting friends that work onboard this allowed me flexibility and options. Traditional meal times were 1st Sitting 5:45pm and 2nd Sitting 8pm. There are 3 main dining rooms. Amalfi – traditional dining, fixed seating. Capri & Portofino – personal choice dining. I did have dinner several nights in Portofino. The staff and service excellent. Never any complaints from me on Princess dining. I always receive royal treatment. The 2 Alternative Dining Options are Sabatini (Italian) and Tequilas (Steakhouse). Sabatini cover charge is $20. Be prepared for an Italian Feast with many courses. Be sure to come hungry. Tequilas cover charge is $15. The steaks are mouthwateringly excellent. The rib eye was my favorite. I had 5 meals in Tequilas this cruise. Excellent staff & service. On Deck 14 there are several dining opportunities. Horizon Court is the 24-hour buffet. I prefer the buffet breakfast. Especially this itinerary with the early port calls/tours. There is a Pizzeria and Grill, along with the Ice Cream Bar. There is a charge for the ice cream served at the ice cream bar. ENTERTAINMENT: Be sure to meet and listen to John Lawrence, Cruise Director. His knowledge is willing shared and much appreciated. Overall Princess entertainment offers many alternatives. I am sorry to say that I did not take in many shows this cruise. Too busy catching up with friends. I did attend both wine tasting events, Grapevine and Maitre D Wine Club. I also enjoyed the Culinary Demonstration. Maitre D, Francois Ferat and Executive Chef, Mario Rotti added humor and fun to the show. The finale with the Dining Room Staff was excellent. When they sang Leaving on a Jet Plane I started to cry, of course not wanting to leave. There are two main theatres on the Star. Princess Theatre and Vista Show Lounge. Hot Spots include Grand Casino, Skywalkers and Explorer’s Lounge. The vistas from Skywalkers must be seen. Bars include Promenade (my favorite place for Appletinis), Wheelhouse and Shooters Cigar Bar. SHIPBOARD ACTIVITIES: We did have weather warm enough for sunbathing and swimming. There are 4 pool areas. Terrace Pool- located right outside my cabin Calypso Reef Neptune’s Reef Oasis The Lotus Spa offers a wide array of services. The gym/fitness area is well equipped. There is also basketball, paddle tennis, virtual golf and a jogging track. The Fun Zone/Off Limits were busy as we had many children and teens on board. The Internet Café has at least 20 terminals. The cost is .35/minute. Free for Elite (and Platinum) – another excellent perk. The connections can vary port to port. There is a webcam that you can use along with a printer. Princess ships have a bridge cam that can be accessed via the Princess Website. This way friends & family can follow your cruise. The Photo Gallery is a busy place. They have added a machine where you can make prints or burn a disc on your own. The Boutiques I found limited this cruise due to our port time. They did run several special sales. There are laundry facilities on each deck. Washers, dryers and ironing boards. They do have machines that sell detergent and fabric softener, along with a change machine. As Elite free laundry and dry cleaning is another great perk. Which I used. CREW: Just a brief mention about the crew on board the Star Princess. Commodore Ditel can be very proud of his crew. They are a family. You can tell they enjoy what they do, and embrace the C.R.U.I.S.E attributes. C- courtesy R – respect U – unfailing I – in S – service E – excellence PORTS OF CALL: Traveling alone I did book Princess Tours only. I was not disappointed with my decision. We only had one Sea Day at the start of our cruise. Personally I love Sea Days. This was our first Formal Night, Commodore’s Welcome Gala. NYNASHAMN(STOCKHOLM): I booked the Stockholm Sampler. This tour called on the Vasa Museum. 17th century warship – the oldest fully preserved ship in the world. The tour also provided free time to explore & shop on your own. Sadly, I missed this tour, as I was not feeling well. But, did hear glowing reviews about it. HELSINKI: I booked Helsinki Highlights. We visited Senate Square, Temppeliauleio Rock Church, and Sibelius Monument. We had the opportunity to explore on our own the open market area. ST.PETERSBURG: I booked the Grand Tour. This was 2 full days, and excellent. Our tour guide, Galina, was wonderful. She spoke perfect English. Shared her knowledge along with some jokes. We did not have long waits at all, with the exception of our return to the ship Customs line. Day 1 we visited Peterhof Palace and Grounds, Yusupov Palace, Bronze Horseman and Canal Tour. Day 2 we visited Peter & Paul Fortress, Hermitage, St. Isaac Cathedral, Church of Spilled Blood. St. Petersburg is a photographer’s dream. I took so many pictures it is hard to decide what to highlight here. On our tour lunch was provided each day. It was a full meal that included champagne and vodka (of course). I would have really enjoyed the St. Petersburg nightlife. There was just so much to see and do. A return trip is required. TALLIN: No tour today. This was a short call 7A – 1P. Tallin is very easy to see & do on your own. It has old world charm that invites you in. We took a taxi into town and walked around. We had breakfast at a lovely outdoor café. Once back on board we were busy with Maitre D Wine Club, 2nd Formal Night and Champagne Waterfall. Who would not want to stay up to see the Champagne Waterfall created by Maitre D, Francois Ferat. And of course you have to pour champagne with him as well. GDANSK: This was my birthday (August 20) No tour again. We took a cab into town, heading toward Swietojanska Steet. The major shopping area. Outside the ship vendors were lined up selling amber. I made several purchases there. In talking with others later I wish I had gone to Gdansk and Sopot. Tonight was the Captain’s Circle Cocktail Party. By now the Commodore & I are good friends. After dinner I had a lovely birthday surprise with a special cake, champagne, guitar player & singers. It shall be a birthday I remember fondly. WARNEMUNDE: No tour today. Unlike most I did not go to Berlin. This port was a gem. A cozy seaside resort that was once a fishing village. We did our own walking tour. Along the beach promenade. There was an outdoor concert with Beatles songs being sung. We sat for hours at a lovely outdoor café drinking wine. Had a delicious lunch while watching the hustle & bustle along the waterfront. Home Sweet Home HELSINGOR: We made a brief stop for those on tour. This morning was the Culinary Demonstration and Galley Tour. COPENHAGEN: Arriving late the first day did not allow me any preview of Copenhagen. We spent our last 2 days here. I booked Copenhagen By Land & Sea. We visited Amalienborg Palace, Getion Fountain, Nyhavn. Passing by Tivoli Gardens, Carlsberg Glypotek, Old Stock Exchange and Holmens Church. The Canal Cruise was fabulous. Offering beautiful views from the canal. It ended at the Little Mermaid. Now it is time to pack & prepare for reality. Tipping is all taken care of by Princess. They take $10/day to cover it. If you feel someone has taken extra special care of you, of course you can tip them extra. Princess does like to hear our feedback and suggestions. They distribute a passenger questionnaire to your cabin. There is another form to cover the tours. They do have a “You Made the Difference” program. This is a way to recognize a crew member for taking that extra care. Once you complete the card & hand it to the crew member or to the Purser’s Desk it enters their name into the “Employee of the Month” program. Just a nice way to say thank-you. John, Cruise Director, was taped for television talking about the questionnaires, tipping, and disembarkation procedures. The last night you need to have your checked luggage out prior to 10pm. Only keep with you your carry-on. Remember to keep out any necessary items. Check all drawers, closets and the safe for belongings. DISEMBARKATION: I believe Princess does an excellent job organizing the disembarkation process. Based upon your flight or post cruise plans you are given an approximate time for disembarkation along with color-coded luggage tags. You are also given information & the schedule for disembarkation. According to the schedule 4:30 am was to start this process (Yikes) to be completed by 10am. My time was 7:15am, and they started calling at that time. Since it was so early I never even made it to the Wheelhouse. This is a waiting area for Elite & Platinum Captains Circle Members. You are asked to wait in the comfort of a lounge or out on deck. This way the cabin staff can prepare for turn-around day. I did purchase Princess Transfers. Since my flight was not until 4pm we were taken to the Hospitality Center at the Hilton Hotel (airport property). Our luggage was taken directly to the airport – something different. I liked it this way. At the Hospitality Center they had coffee/tea/water. The Center had staff available to answer questions, etc. Those with later flights were encouraged to take a tour or go downtown. I opted to stay there. Wrote some letters. Groups were escorted to the airport terminal where you identified and claimed your luggage. The check-in lines were not too bad at the airport. One last Copenhagen sunset & I am homeward bound. CONCLUSION: I highly recommend this itinerary. Be prepared to be busy. Be prepared to see exciting ports of call & have an excellent cruise. I am a Princess Cruiser. I have pre-booked my next future cruise on board. I also have a cruise reunion planned for next July on the Grand. I do hope that this review helps those planning or seeking information. Happy Cruising. Cathy Santella

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Nov 30, -0001

10 Night Baltic

My wife and I just returned from our 10 night Baltic Cruise on board the Star Princess. Whilst our memories are fresh we thought it might be useful to write a review before we forget any of the ideas we want to mention. The review is split into 2 parts : the ship itself; and the ports of call. I was celebrating my 40th birthday, and my wife just a couple of years younger. We thought we would be just about the youngest passengers - in

fact that was not the case at all. There were several couples in their twenties and thirties, plus a lot of large family groups, ranging in age from zero right up to grand parents. It was right in the middle of the summer holidays which probably also added to a younger overall age group. All that being said, we felt it was good to have a large range in ages - it meant that activities on and off the ship were targeted at all people, and gave a lively feel to proceedings. As far as nationalities of passengers : at a rough guess I would say approximately 60% were American, 25% European, and a reasonable number of Mexicans. Now onto a review of the ship : Boarding : We boarded extremely quickly. We arrived at the port at 1.30pm, and within 10 minutes were in our cabins. Princess and the Danish authorities deserve praise for the speed of this. It was slick, and very efficient. Likewise, our luggage arrived just minutes after that. Very impressive. As for the timing of other passengers, it was fairly equal through-out the day. Most boarded between the 1.00pm and 4.00pm slot. Cabin : we took a risk and booked an inside cabin. We are glad we saved the money. The cabin was really quite spacious, nicely decorated, and never for a minute did we feel claustrophobic. There was a very large amount of hanging and clothes space. Where the window would have been, there was a large mirror. This was the first time we had ever had an inside cabin, and we would do it again (on this ship). The money saved, approximately US$300 per person went a long way to paying for the shore excursions, drinks on board etc. One important note : on this Baltic Cruise you only have one day at sea. The rest you are on shore. This negated the need for a window or balcony. Trust me you are going to be out all day, and have no time for sitting on verandah’s! Food : this is a touchy subject, as everyone has differing opinions on cuisine. For us, we felt this was the weakest part of the cruise. Yes, you have several dining options, but none of them we felt was really that impressive (as far as taste goes). That’s just our opinion. Don’t expect top quality. We’ve had better on other lines. However, full marks to Princess for its “Personal Choice Dining.” This eliminates fixed seating. You can dine in the main dining rooms at any time you wish. There are pros and cons to this. If you don’t book, you can expect to stand in line for some time. Conclusion : make sure you reserve in the morning for the time slot you want. You are allowed to, and you’ll be glad you did. For those that didn’t you’ll be given a pager, and have to wait in line. There is traditional fixed seating for those that prefer. Early and late sitting. This is in a separate dining room. Same food, just you have to stick to your times. A brief summary of the various food and drink outlets : Horizon Court – this is the buffet restaurant. Open 24 hours, with a wide range of food. Quality – what you would expect from a buffet line. Dinner is definitely better than lunch, which was fairly poor. Breakfast is good. Most people dined there for breakfast. Portofino & Capri – these are the 2 main dining rooms, split onto different floors. There is no staircase linking them, so you have to go to one or the other. These are Personal Choice Dining only – meaning no fixed seating – so you turn up when you want. But remember to book if you don’t want to wait. The vast majority of people ate dinner in these 2 rooms. You are allowed to book a table for just the 2 of you if you want. Likewise for 4. The menu changes nightly, but some items remain each night. For example Steak, Caesar salad, and some other items are available any day. Food quality is ok, but not exceptional. The good : lobster thermidor, beef Wellington. The bad : soups. Either very thick and starchy, or salty. Note - the breakfast here is good. A la carte, and relaxing. If you are not in a hurry to get out at the beginning of the day it provides a very civilized way to start. Amalfi - the fixed seating version of the above. Sabattinis - alternative dining. $20 per head. Italian theme and menu. We would like to say it felt up market in there, but alas it didn’t. Difficult to pinpoint exactly why. The décor is ok, the service is good, the ingredients very good. It just fell short, somehow. They bring you a succession of courses. We lost count how many. Maybe seven or eight. Including various appetizers, soups, canapés, pasta, and your main course. We went there for a break from the main dining rooms. We went once. Tequilas – their 2nd alternative dining. It’s Tex/Mex. $15 per head. The steak here is excellent. The cuts are presented to you in advance. Sizes are large. We had the sirloin. It was possibly one of the best we have ever had. The service also is excellent. Just about every passenger we met, spoke highly of the restaurant. Just 2 downsides - 1/ the portions are huge. We gave up halfway. I suspect most others did too. 2/ Ambiance – the restaurant is almost in an alleyway, midships. You almost feel like you are seating in the main hallway. Shame that, as the food is excellent. The wait staff are Mexican and very personable. Pool Deck – there is a pizza stall, and separate burger stall. Both are popular from lunchtime onwards. Ice cream stand – contentious point this – it’s not free. That seemed to upset a lot of people. Other facilities : Show lounges. The Star Princess has 3 of them. The main theatre and 2 others : the Vista Lounge and Explorer Lounge. Full marks to Princess for this. Most evenings there is a good cross section of entertainment. Bars – the “Wheelhouse” on level 7 is a nice wood paneled club. Alas, no-one seems to go into it. Could be the band. Shame really, as we liked the place. There is a sports bar on level 5. The only place you are allowed to smoke cigars. So people did. If you are a non-smoker, this will put you off. There is a lot of smoke. Again, a shame, as it’s nicely themed. For those who want to party late into the night there is a disco right at the rear of the ship, in a strangely shaped room, perched right out of the back of the ship, over the water. Quite unique. The decks - this part deserves special mention. There is a huge amount of space for lounging, swimming or just lazing about. There is a main outdoor pool, a covered one (which was kept shut for the Baltic cruise as weather is too cold) a smaller outdoor pool at the back, which has terrific views out to sea, another mini pool by the gym, and a variety of Jacuzzis dotted around the place. A huge choice. Whilst on the subject of being outside, don’t forget that half the year this ship cruises the Baltic. Temperatures are quite cool. Mostly in the 16C – 21C, with the occasional hotter day. This means a lot of the outdoor facilities are for the hardy, or those wearing a lot of clothes! Kid’s Club – again this deserves praise. They have extensive facilities for children aged 3 upwards. They split the kid’s into 3 age groups, thereby being able to target activities best suited to them. Kid’s will have an excellent time. Internet – there is a dedicated room with at least 15 terminals. Cost is 35 cents per minute. There are also 2 terminals in the library. Same cost. Princess does offer wi-fi capability for those with a laptopb; in the main atrium, but the range must have been poor, as we saw people huddled in 1 spot, as they couldn’t roam very far at all. Speed of connection in the internet room is slow. Count on it taking 10 – 20 minutes to collect your mail, read it, and reply back. Casino - one of the smallest we have seen. But I think Princess has got it right, as this was possibly the least used room of the entire ship. They have all the tables you would need, so if you do gamble, it’s all there. Health Spa, & Gym. Very extensive, and nicely done. The gym was popular. Massages less so. They are quite pricey. Formal night – you’ll get 2 of these. Most people make an effort, with a lot of the men wearing tuxedos, or smart suits. So that’s the ship. In summary, we like the ship. It’s big, but easy to navigate. If you want classy, then you may be disappointed. It’s pretty much a 3½ star affair. But if you want facilities, it’s impressive. Now onto the ports of call. I shall keep this fairly short, as it’s simple for most people to get the facts on the web. Copenhagen – this is where the cruise starts. It’s a very pretty city. Compact and easy to walk around. Lots of historic stuff, and plenty of canals. Reminded us a little of Amsterdam. The locals are extremely friendly and polite. Easy going, with excellent English. Of all the cities we went to, we probably likes the Danes the most. We flew into Copenhagen 3 days before the cruise. That’s too long. The city is small, and can easily be covered in 1½ days. Big note : it is expensive. As you will find out, this is not the place to do your shopping. It’s the place to look at. Stockholm - you get here on Day 3, (as day 2 is at sea.) It has been mentioned elsewhere by people reviewing the cruise that this will be your most frustrating port of call. Why? Because you are not being dropped off in the heart of the city. You anchor at Nynashamn, which is 1 hour from the city. By the time the ship has dropped anchor, dropped the tenders, ferried you ashore you have already lost 1 hour. You then take a train into Stockholm which takes another hour. By this time it’s 9 o’clock. You have to leave by 2.50pm or you’ll miss the ship. Just over 5 hours in Stockholm is a crime, as it’s one of the highlights of the trip. Beautiful city, so much to see, and so little time. Whilst we were there, HAL Westerdam was in town. And I mean in town. They docked right in the centre, not like us at Nynashamn. Praise to HAL for that. All the above being mentioned, you will really only have time for 2 things in Stockholm – 1/ The Vasa museum - an excellent place that is built around a huge galleon that was hauled up from the ocean bed 2/ A walk round the historic area, called Gamlastan. Very scenic, and gorgeous little boutiques Helsinki - for us, this was a disappointment. Less pretty than Stockholm or Copenhagen. You will struggle to find something to do here. There is a nice harbor front, where you can watch the boats go by. Some of these take you to the outlying islands. We took a boat to the zoo. Nice trip across the harbor. Shame about the zoo. St Petersburg - this is the longest port of call. You get 2 full days. You’ll need it, as St Petersburg is a large city, way too big for you to walk. The attractions are very spread out, and you’ll need transport. Added to which the Russian authorities don’t want you just walking anywhere. The ship offers tours. We elected to get a visa in advance and use a private tour company. For us, this worked out great. For $340 per head, this was just a little bit more than the ship’s tour. However, ours was just the 2 of us, in a Mercedes Benz. No coach loads of people to wait for. With army style precision, we were able to get around, and see the sights for as long or as little as we liked. On day 1 we say all the normal sights in town, and on day 2 we went out to Catherine’s Palace and Peterfhof. The guide spoke great English, and was exceedingly knowledgeable. Tallin – this is a real gem of a place. The Estonian people are exceedingly friendly, and their little city if very pretty. They go out of their way to give you a good time. You only get half a day here, but that’s just about enough, as it’s small and easy to walk around. Don’t bother to get a ship’s tour, as within 10 minutes your in the heart of town, and will want to walk around at your own pace. Gdansk - or Danzig as it’s sometimes called. Again we didn’t take a tour. We used the ship’s shuttle into town, and then walked around at leisure. You’ll find Amber everywhere. Gdansk is probably your best place to do shopping. Prices are noticeably cheaper than elsewhere, for the same thing. Warnemunde - this port offers a real dilemma. Princess uses it as a launch pad to take you to Berlin. Problem is, that’s 3 hours away, and costs approx $300 per head for the various tours. So 3 hours in each direction, adds up to 6 hours, in 1 day, and a lot of money gone. Everyone will have their own opinion on whether it’s worth it. As for us, it came at the end of the cruise, and we opted not to go to Berlin. The result : a boring day in Warnemunde, which whilst vaguely nice, doesn’t warrant a whole day there. And here’s the rub : you stay at this port the longest. From 7.00 am to 10.00pm. (Could have really used that time in Stockholm.) The verdict on all of this: either you sit in transport for 6 hours and spend $300 per head, or stay locally and get bored! So that’s the cruise. We enjoyed it. We don’t like spending endless days at sea, so this itinerary is perfect for us. Almost every day is a new port. However, just realize that you’ll get on average 5 hours in each city. Special mention to the Cruise Director, John Lawrence. His shore notes are superb. Very detailed, and factual. He’s not a good comedian though! So you’ll have to put up with his aging gags. It’s worth it, because his port knowledge is excellent. As you can see we took almost none of the ships arranged tours. This decision was made as most of the cities are very walkable. If you are able-bodied I would definitely advise it. Those who chose the tours saw the same things as us, but were stuck in buses, and attached to very large groups. No time for shopping, or dashing off to see something you want to see. The weather was mostly ok, and typical of the Baltic, for that time of year. Take layers of clothing with you, and an umbrella. Would I recommend this cruise : yes. But please Princess, sort out Stockholm. It’s a crime to allow passengers so little time.

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By PWC _CR

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Nov 30, -0001

7 Days Western Caribbean

Overall we had a great vacation. We were thrilled with the size of the room, especially compared to the two previous cruises we took. The price for this cruise was dirt cheap! The main things people want to know about: The food: Good, but not as good as the last princess cruise we took. Nothing had enough salt or spice in it. It was rather bland. Perhaps trying to please those who aren't into exotic flavors??? The service: It was

very good, but not quite like the first cruise. Perhaps the first time was just more exciting. I have nothing and no one to complain about. However, we didn't meet that many talkative staff like on other cruises. The ship's decor: Very beautiful, elegant, and not overdone. The pools: AMAZING! This is the first time I have gotten into a pool on any cruise, because there were so many pool to choose from, you always had room and privacy. The pool in the back of the ship and the pool by the spa were almost always empty. I loved that! Same for the jaccuzis. And they are freshwater pools too. Immaculately clean, as was the entire ship. The entertainment: Quite good. Then again, I have found the entertainment on most ships to be really good. The best part was "Princess Idol" which we were fortunate enough to have many talented singers and musicians on board with us. The crowd was very enthusiastic which made it better too. The karaoke/talent shows would last for hours every night. It became so popular that you had to get there 1/2-1 hr early to get a seat to see your fellow passengers perform!!! The nightclub: It was nice to see alot of young people (our age group and younger) on this ship. The other cruises we've been on weren't as jumping as this cruise. The nightclubs were usually empty at night. Not on this cruise. The people were partying until sun rise! It was great! The nightclub is on the top deck, away from everything so there was no noise issues. Overall it was a great vacation. We didn't mind that our port was changed from Ocho Rios to Montego Bay (we were notified in advance). I would go on princess again and can't wait to take another cruise in the future. I'm so confident in Princess that I have even convinced some of my friends and co-workers to give them a shot. They're all making their plans with Princess too.

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Nov 30, -0001

Cruise to Nowhere

The Star Princess is the largest cruise ship to ever visit the Los Angeles harbor. The Star Princess is the sister ship to the Grand Princess and the Golden Princess. One enters the ship on the Plaza Deck; this is the heart of the ship with a three-story atrium, glass and marble staircases, glass elevators, and a reception desk. There is a lobby bar where one could get a drink, sit in comfortable chairs in the foyer area and people

watch, as this area is a hub of activity. Around the foyer you will find the ship Library, stocked with all new books, CD listening chairs, Card Room stocked with every board game you can imagine, Writing Room, a cozy place to write "wish you were here" letters, as well as the Princess Fine Arts Gallery. I found the ship to have a very open feeling, there were many nooks and crannies to hide away but mostly an open floor plan on the public decks with views in all direction to the blue sea, which will be a wonderful, plus in Alaska. The ship is set up for Personal Dinning, eat anywhere at any time program. There are three dinning rooms, each seating about 450. The idea is for a more intimate dining experience moving away from the multi tiered extravaganza dinning rooms which tended to be beautiful to look at but noisy and not conducive to pleasurable dinning. These three dinning rooms on different levels of the ship are like entering a neighborhood upscale restaurant. There are two alternative restaurants, Sabatini’s Trattoria that is a small intimate Italian bistro and Tequila's, a southwestern restaurant with a feel of Santa Fe. There is the Horizon Court, which is the buffet that one can get lost in. With so many choices you have to walk the buffet before you start your journey with plate in hand. Scoops, for ice cream, Prego for pizza, Trident grill for lunch at the pool. The show rooms and lounges were each spectacular, beautiful décor and not a bad seat in the house. Many bars scattered over many levels of the ship. The standout with the men in the crowd being Shooters, a sports bar that broadcasts various sporting events with a collection of sports memorabilia all over the walls. While the men are whooping it up in there the woman can visit all the ship onboard. Large variety, even a ship called Essence, specializing in fragrances. The trademark of the Princess Grand Class ships is Skywalkers Deco. You take the elevator, (or stairs to walk off that nights desserts) to the Sports Deck, and then take an escalator to the Disco. This place swings at night, and during the day provides expansive views. This is the place to be on Glacier Day in Alaska. The kids and teen areas are spectacular. The teen room called Off Limits, has it's own disco, bar where they serve cocktails, computers and many plush comfortable chairs for the top teen attraction "hanging out". The kid's areas are divided by age and are decorated in bright cheery colors and have so many options. Computer rooms, ping pong basketball, pool, Lego tables, bikes, scooters, little amphitheatre and just about anything one could think of to provide fun for kids of all ages. The Lotus Spa areas are gorgeous, aerobic rooms, gym with a large number of treadmills facing the windows, huge amount of exercise equipment, many individual treatment rooms with an Asian flair, swim against he current pool, whirlpools, sauna, and a spacious salon area. Think balconies, so popular and this ship has its fair share. From the Grand Suite to the balcony staterooms, the décor is very pleasing in color and design. Ample storage and hanging space in each cabin. I paid special attention to the family rooms which can sleep eight, great option which most ship do not have. Inside cabins are very attractive in their color schemes, with ample closet space. All cabins have refrigerators, which I find a big plus on a cruise. Overall the Star Princess is a lovely, large and vibrant ship. A big addition to the cruise opportunities on the West Coast. She has already proved to be a big seller for the Mexico and summer Alaska sailings. Linda Androlia

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Nov 30, -0001

Los Angels to Ensenada and back

First Impression: Wow this is a big beautiful new ship! Embarkation: Not Great. The ship is new, the staff is still figuring out how to move things along, and Los Angeles Harbor’s facilities and parking are not very modern or efficient. We passed by a Princess staffer at curbside who looked at our luggage, and said our things didn’t need to be checked with a porter because they looked small enough. I was skeptical, and

would have gladly off-loaded two of them. We stood in line for the usual eternity, then when we got up to the x-ray machine the guy told us one bag would have to be checked. Back to curbside of course, then back to x-ray. The guy put little dots on our papers for express check-in, because we had filled out things and mailed them in prior to the cruise (btw, I tried filling them out online and the Princess web site was not working properly). We were then directed into a long snaking line of people, again. When we arrived at the counter where you’re given your room key-cards, the lady staffer said, “oh, you have express check-in, you could have avoided this line”. This ship, and this port, need to get their act together on embarkation better. On the plus side, there were Mariachis performing, which lent some festivity obviously designed to lull you into forgetting your aching feet. Food: I thought the food overall was very good. I’ve had better, but only slightly, and you have to marvel that a ship this large can mass produce this good quality of food for every meal. We used Personal Choice dining. We ate at both main restaurants and the Horizon buffet. This was a short 3 day cruise, and we did not have time to experience either of the extra-cost dinning options. We did hear from those who went to them, that they enjoyed them. The wait staff was overall good to very good. Personal Choice dining has it’s good and bad. The good is that you will be able to eat whenever you feel hungry, and you may dine at nearly any restaurant that is open. The bad is that you will never have that personal touch that a very skilled wait staff can impart to your table. Your waiters will never know your name, or your preferences, and you will never come to know them as friends, either. If you’ve ever enjoyed a wonderful, friendly experience with your table’s waiters, you’ll know why I feel this is a loss. If you prefer not knowing or interacting much with the ships staff, Personal Choice dining is perfect. This ship has options for eating 24 hours a day, so you certainly won’t go hungry. The food was very good at the buffet, also. I was not fond of the warm orange juice in the plastic cups at breakfast, however. Is chilled orange juice that hard to do? There is limited seating near the buffet. If you wish to eat during a crowded time, you may have to wander considerably to find a place to sit down. If you get back up to get anything you’ve forgotten, your plate will likely disappear if you do not have a table companion to watch it for you. The coffee tea and water dispensers are located near the entrance. The staff will gladly get your bar drinks, but you’re on your own if you want the free beverages. On other cruises, I’ve had waiters come to the table with coffee and juice refills during breakfast. I missed that service, on this ship. Entertainment: This ship has some of the best main shows the industry has to offer. The two main shows are top notch, the talent is great, and the Princess Theatre (forward) is very nice. Seating is comfortable, but because the rows are difficult to navigate when the theatre is full, you probably won’t be served any bar drinks. If you want to have a drink during the show, bring them in with you. Sight lines are good and clear in this room, with the small exception of some safety railings on the balconies. The Vista Theatre in the aft, is set up more for drinking during a show, and is built like a show lounge, but it does not host the main acts. Also, as in with the Star’s sister ships, this theatre has poor sight lines due to massive columns in the room. That’s a shame, because the room filled to capacity every time I was there, and probably 20% of the people had poor views. If it is important to you to have good seats, go early on this ship. I suggest at least 20 min early. Saving seats is frowned upon, as it fairly should be. Tours: This was such a short cruise with only one port, that we only went on one. We went on a wine tour. They had us meet in the Princess Theatre before going outside. There was considerable walking and quite a few stairs on this tour. The tour itself was good, priced fairly, and enjoyable. The buses were the best Ensenada had to offer; adequate, but not new or plush. Princess printed a tour description that told us of a widely known winery that we would be visiting. It turned out that we went the other direction, to two other wineries. We were informed that the winery printed in the tour description would have been too far. The ones we went to were fine by me, but I wonder if anyone on the tour choose it because they wanted to go to that particular winery? If so, they were surely disappointed. Cabins: As I have come to expect from Princess, our cabin was neat and tastefully decorated. The cabin steward did his job very well. There were good movies on the TV, some news, and some info about the ship. The map displayed on the TV was wrong. The map showed us leaving Ensenada, and sailing south to a small Mexican island, then home to Los Angeles. We actually went directly from Ensenada back North, to the waters near LA, where we cruised in circles all day off Catalina Island. I guess bad info bugs the computer nerd in me. On previous Princess Cruises, the terry robe was in the room for us to use. On this cruise, it was available only if you asked for it. Decks and Pools: Beautiful pools abound on this ship, more so than any other I’ve been on. The tile work, art, and architecture, are stunning! The deck seemed to have enough chairs to accommodate everyone, although you might not get exactly the spot you had hoped for. There is even a lap pool, where you swim against the current. You’ll need your goggles to help you stay centered in the current. I saw the deck crew taking samples of the water quality on this ship, which is reassuring, and something I’ve seen far less of on other ships. The deck staff took good care of getting bar drinks and clearing tables. Princess Links: is a golf putting course that is free to use. That was fun, although I think it might been built better. The slope of the course forces your ball against the brick borders far too often. (yeah yeah, I know that wouldn’t happen if I putted the dang thing into the hole, lol). Bars and Lounges: This ship has a place for almost any mood. You can find disco, ballroom, piano, blues, jazz, country... just wander around and enjoy, you’re sure to find something to your liking. This is one area, where a big ship really shines. Casino: They seemed friendly and efficient at helping you part with your money. If you enjoy playing, this ship has a large, well staffed, operation. Disembarking: This went much better than embarkation. We were delayed, but that was due to U.S. Customs, not Princess. We were asked to wait in the lobbies, so the cabins could be cleaned for the next people, of course. I would suggest doing as we did: go find a comfy place on a deck away from the gangway. If you try to be near the exit, you’ll probably end up standing, being in the way, etc. They called us off, by colored luggage tags which they issued by decks, the day before. The process went well, once Customs allowed us to begin. Do not aggravate yourself by scheduling a flight time that you could miss by some delay of a couple of hours. These delays are very common, I’ve found. Summary: I had a very nice time aboard the Star Princess. I would recommend it. There were some rough edges on my cruise, but I attribute many of them to the ship being very new, and the staff still getting used to their jobs. Things should improve. Los Angeles Harbor needs updating, Carnival understands this, and is building a new facility in Long Beach. I would caution anyone with walking impairment that this ship is extremely long, and much foot work is necessary to get around on it. The ship seems reasonably wheelchair friendly if you have a strong pusher. The age mix onboard was good. Everyone from kids to seniors, were aboard. If you love the idea of a huge floating party city, with lots of things to do, lots of choices to make, then this is a wonderful ship! Would I cruise this ship again? Yes, if I got a good deal on her. Personally, I had a slightly better time on the Sun Princess a couple years ago, so I might favor that class of ship, instead. However, I’m very happy I had the opportunity to enjoy the Star Princess, and I think you may find her enjoyable too.

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Nov 30, -0001

Mexican Riviera

Our first Princess cruise and my expectations were high! Embarkation was terrible! Long lines and basically totally disorganized. I have to say the worst of all other cruises I have been on I didn't let that cloud my judgment, we received our bags very promptly they definitely get an A in baggage delivery. We did utilize the beverage packages that were offered thru room service one soda package and one wine package. It was nice to be

able to go back to your cabin in the afternoon and enjoy a drink. The first 2 days were at sea so we did a lot of exploring around the ship. The Star Princess is a very pretty ship we did take the ship tour that was offered and got a lot of background information on the ship. We had to take "personal choice' dining which I do not care for at all!! You never know which table you will be sitting or which waiters you will get so the service is not as good as I have had on previous cruises. I must say that this was the major disappointment of the cruise. We did locate a table with decent wait staff after about 2 days and requested that table for the remainder of out trip. The entertainment was great! They had a lot of "Vegas style" shows as well as comedians who were all excellent. Our first port was Puerto Vallarta and it was extremely hot and humid! We did not take any of the excursions since we have been there before. Just be prepared to be bothered by the locals for cabs tours etc. If you don't want to be bothered just say no and keep walking. We did some shopping downtown and returned to the ship early since it was so hot. The next port was Matzatlan and again no excursions booked we prefer to go on our own. It was also hot and humid there. Went to town I wasn't very impressed at all its fairly small not much to do there. The last port was Cabo San Lucas it was much nicer there not so humid and a nice breeze blowing and you could walk to town from the pier (once you tendered from the ship) It was a small fishing village at one time. Unfortunately we had a short time at this port we left a 2:00 so it doesn't give you much time for anything. You could see the sea lions out on the rocks on the way in to the pier they were quite vocal. Then we were back at sea again. We did go to the art auctions where you could get some nice deals on known artists work no pressure to bid if you weren't interested. They also have a nice casino neither my husband or I won any money. The days heading back to Los Angeles flew by we enjoyed sitting by the pool relaxing or walking around on deck. We did see whales and dolphins that was a real treat. When we arrived to LA everyone has to go thru customs inspection before anyone is allowed of the ship! Apparently this is a new policy. Needless to say we did not get off the ship at our assigned time more than an hour late! Thank god we did make our flight but I know it had to be close connections for a lot of the other passengers. Here's how I would grade this cruise. Embarkation-F Baggage delivery-A+ Room Service-A Personal Choice Dining-C Cabin Steward-A Entertainment-B+ Ports of Call-B Casino-A I'm only rating the facilities which we used. They had a nice gym & Spa which we did not use. As well as offering movies on several afternoons and evenings. All in all I think Princess does cater to an older crowd. Not much "partying" on this cruise! So if you like a more lively cruise this one is definitely not for you.

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Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

Beautiful ship! All new since the fire in March. We were concerned that there might be a smell of smoke in the room (our room had been one of the those which had been burned) but there was no hint that there was ever any damage on board.  There were great ports of interest but the highlight of this cruise was the comedian Billy Vader, whom we had seen before on Princess, he is by far the funniest man we have ever seen, he is hilarious

and keeps the audience in stitches.  We would have liked to have seen more of Billy performing, but we saw him all over the ship conversing with all the passengers, he really loves what he is doing! Way to go Billy, we hope to see him again in the future.  The service and food was outstanding as usual but one very hectic cruise, everyday in another port was a bit too much, but we did get to see many beautiful countries.  

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Nov 30, -0001

Western Caribbean

We are a sub group of 8 passengers within the bigger party of about 50 Singaporeans who flew about 6000 miles from Singapore to Copenhagen to join the Star Princess in her 10 day cruise to Scandinavia, Russia and Berlin from July 14th to July 26th 2006. Not all the Singaporeans in the group knew each other or were  traveling as a conducted tour although we registered through the same Singapore travel agency. Nevertheless, “Great minds

think and act alike” and so many of us chose this itinerary because we wanted to experience the tourist sites and different cultures of the Scandinavian countries and Russia, although a few of the seasoned travelers among us had visited some of these countries by land before. Some of us chose the Princess cruise to try a different cruise line as many in the group had sailed on the Celebrity Millennium to the Mediterranean the previous year. The Star Princess, launched 4 years ago, is among the newer ships in the Princess fleet, and is the third of a tri, its sister ships being Grand Princess and Golden Princess . It’s a big ship with a passenger capacity of 2600 but surprisingly, in spite of the number, there were enough facilities in the public places and dining rooms to cater to the passengers most of the time.  For example, we were able to get seats in the Princess Theatre or Vista Lounge for the evening entertainment. . Although there was a fire on board the ship in March 2006, there was nothing to show for the damage suffered, the restoration and repair works having been done to perfection and conformed to greater safety standards. So I believe our cruise which was the second or third cruise after Star Princess’ return to cruising, could not have been safer. Embarkation and Disembarkation: Credit must be given to the Princess staff for the systematic and efficient handling of luggages during embarkation and disembarkation in Copenhagen. On the whole, the land staff at the port was helpful and efficient. Our small group of 8 was particularly impressed with one staff member, Linda, a cheerful and warm lady who offered us some useful tips on what to do with our time in Copenhagen as we had arrived too early for embarkation, we appreciated the provision of light refreshments and the clean toilets at the reception. We were happy that our luggage was safely delivered outside our staterooms when we boarded the ship later in the afternoon. However, a few of us were chased off by the cold and curt attitude of a service staff who handled the registration regarding our credit card details. This contrasted with the friendly Linda we had met earlier. The disembarkation procedure on the last day was also efficiently handled as all of our luggage was placed neatly in the tent when we disembarked from the ship. However, we were rather surprised that there was no public call at the stipulated time for disembarkation for the Gold 4 group that morning – although the majority of us took the initiative to disembark on our own without waiting for the PA announcement. We also had no complaints regarding disembarkation and re-embarkation for all the shore excursions, even for St Petersburg, which, before the cruise, we had heard horror stories of having to wait for long hours and having to bear with long queues. Worse still, we were even told that those who did not book Princess tours for St Petersburg were “threatened” that they would not be allowed to disembark early or could disembark only after the passengers who took Princess organized tours had done so. For the benefit of future cruise passengers, I would like to categorically emphasize that we did not experience such threats or discrimination for the St Petersburg shore excursion. We did book our tour with DenRus a private tour agency that we had found on the Internet. In fact the disembarkation at St Petersburg was swift and smooth, and the directional signs for the Russian Immigration booths were clearly stated. There were three queues for the Princess tours and one for independent or privately arranged tours. We must also give credit to the Russian immigration officers who did not spend too much time checking our passports or finding trouble with our travel documents. This is in line with international moves to encourage tourism among all countries, whether it is by sea, air or land. My one cent’s worth of advice to Whom It May Concern – Please make it simple and easy at immigration check points for bona fide travelers with proper travel documents and more people will want to visit your country! Moreover, tourism money is good money! I must give this feedback to the Princess management regarding their shore excursion tour guides. Once when were on our own walkabout in Talinn (Estonia), we approached a person carrying a Princess tour placard for directions back to the ship. And we were rather disappointed that he refused to help us although it was very obvious that we were passengers from the Star Princess. One of my group members also overheard a similar incident when a passenger who had joined a private tour in another port (Berlin?) had strayed and lost her group. It seemed that this lady also frantically approached a Princess tour leader who refused to help. Hey what is this? Aren’t we supposed to help one another in times of need as part of the Princess cruise group, if not as part of the greater human race? It is little acts of service and kindness during such desperate situations that will make or break our cruise experience, either in the ship or on shore, a pleasant and memorable one. I hope the Princess management will take note of this feedback and act on it. Staterooms: We occupied the Inside Stateroom and were happy with it, as this 10 day itinerary to Scandinavia and Russia had 3 days at sea and at least 6 shore excursions to take,this did not leave us with much time to spend in our cabin. Moreover, when we visited one of the staterooms with a balcony, the area of the two staterooms was the same, except for the balcony. We had wanted to book a stateroom with an ocean view but those that were available to us at the time when we were booking, were those with obstructed views. I think that there should be more staterooms with ocean views without obstruction, this to cater to people like me who want an ocean view but who don't want to spend too much money. The staterooms were hygienically and well maintained by the room stewards who worked unobtrusively when we were not in our cabins. At least twice a day, the towels were changed and wastepaper bins in our cabins emptied. However, we found the bathrooms too small compared to those in the Celebrity Millennium (which we had cruised in the Mediterranean a year earlier). The walk in wardrobe outside the bathroom was spacious and conveniently located. Dining: Like most cruises, food was plentiful and generous. There are at least 10 dining rooms with different atmospheres ranging from upscale such as Sabatini, a Sterling Steakhouse to smart and casual for traditional dining like Amalfi. And of course, the most popular is the Horizon Court which is casual and open 24 hours a day. There is always something to eat, day or night. Our group of 8 opted for the traditional dining routine at Amalfi. We were pleased with the warm, attentive and friendly service of our head waiter, Evgeni and the assistant waiter, Ovidiu. We were also appreciative that the head waiter, Antonio was visible and came to say hello to us on several occasions. We were rather disappointed that we did not get to meet or see the Captain even on the formal evenings, unlike our previous cruise to Alaska on the Dawn Princess when we got to meet the Captain in person. I believe that it is the small but significant gestures such as when the Captain of a ship makes the effort to meet the majority of his passengers, instead of just members of the Captain’s Circle that makes a cruise more memorable for the passengers. There was variety in the menu which changed every day except for certain favorite items such as the salads and american cheese cake. The food on the whole was good, sometimes a bit too salty for the health conscious ones in our group. The desserts were tempting and sinful but we got around by sharing so that we got to taste a little of each dessert. We enjoyed the Bomb Alaska on the last evening before disembarkation, in particular the fanfare and parade by the waiters each carrying a Bomb Alaska on a tray at shoulder level before serving. There were at least two nights featuring a special theme, the Italian night and American night when the dining staff was dressed in costumes and colors to fit the chosen country theme, there was a special menu to match the theme.  I thought the theme chosen could be more related to the countries visited in this cruise, for example, there could be a Danish, Swedish or Russian theme instead. Of the two alternative restaurants that we patronized, we enjoyed the Sabatini’s Italian multi-course feast and did not mind the US $20 cover charge. The food was really unique, varied and substantial. The service, especially of waitress Ana Maria, was equally commendable. All these together with the many attractive paintings on the walls made it a truly memorable dining experience at Sabatini and I would strongly recommend it to other passengers. We could not say the same of the food or service at Sterling Steakhouse. Another dining room we enjoyed going to was Portofino where the breakfast and high tea were good. Most of us enjoyed the freshly baked bread and buns as well as the scones and finger sandwiches which were served in generous portions. And the service at Portofino was also attentive and efficient. We had most of our breakfasts at the Horizon Court where the food stations had good spreads of hot, cold, savory and sweet items which were quickly replenished each time the food was running low. In particular the pastry and fruits were always plentiful. The muffins were one of the best I have tasted. However, it would be a bonus if ice cream could be made available, free of charge during some of the meals in this 24 hour eatery, like in our previous cruise. Public areas: Although the ship had more than 2000 passengers, on the whole the public rooms were not overly congested or overflowing with people except for the formal evenings when the Grand Plaza atrium was crowded with formally attired gentlemen and beautifully dressed ladies, many waiting in line to take their formal portraits or pictures. At other times, the three retail shops and the corridor outside were also crowded with passengers eagerly browsing or selecting bargain items. In spite of our pre-cruise resolution not to be tempted by goods on sale in the shops (including those on shore), we could not resist some of the offers such as Russian dolls, jewelry including amber, specially designed Princess T-shirts and bags. Anyway, the consolation is that resolutions are made to be broken. We frequented the Princess Theater and the Vista Lounge for many evening entertainment as well as for talks on Shore excursions and to play Bingo. The seats in these showrooms were in attractive colors and very comfortable. Our nightly haunt was also the Atlantis Casino where collectively we (the three sisters) contributed at least three hundred dollars on the jackpot machines. While we are unable to comment on the other casino games, we feel that some of the jackpot machines were rather outdated and could be replaced with the newer models, especially those with the bonus spin feature. Another favorite room of ours was the Card room where there were adequate tables stocked with many card and board games. There were no mahjong sets which we would like to strongly recommend in view of the increasing number of passengers of Chinese descent who have taken to cruising and who love a game of mahjong once in a while at sea. There were many other public places in the ship that we passed through but did not really make use of the facilities such as the Library, the Princess Fine Arts Gallery, the unique wedding chapel, and several lounges. Given time we would love to just sit and relax in many of the cozy corners found along the corridors of the ship. At least one person in our group did make use of the Internet Café, although sparingly as the cost for surfing and sending emails can be exorbitant. Entertainment: Entertainment on board the Star Princess was varied, often grand and lavish and enjoyable. Most of the evening performances were taken by Princess’ own cast of 22 entertainers plus 25 musicians under its versatile and talented Cruise Director, John Lawrence. Their most entertaining productions were “Words and Music” and “Destination Anywhere”. Two very impressive guest performers during this cruise were Mac Frampton who is very versatile and talented on the piano, along with Philippa Healey, in addition to being just as good on the piano, Philippa also has a powerful and beautiful voice. There were many other great musicians and show biz personalities (like a comedian and illusionist) on board performing in the other lounges and show rooms but we just did not have the time to watch or listen to them. For example, many big screen movies were screened and in the Explorers’ Lounge with its dance floor, many of the energetic and young at heart were dancing away. There was the Skywalkers’s Nightclub at the top of the ship which came alive around 10 pm, we never set foot in this one as we are not the young disco type. We would like to highly commend Cruise Director John Lawrence for his many informative and expert talks on the shore excursions, especially for his insights into the history and culture of St Petersburg. Actually some of the facts are boring but John Lawrence was able to deliver in such an interesting and passionate way that the facts and stories came alive and thus kept many of us awake, much as we would love to doze off after a full meal or a late night. He is indeed a man of many talents. Recreation and Fitness facilities: My husband, with his passion for exercise and running, made full use of the gym and exercise facilities for his morning exercise routine which was not disrupted although he was on vacation. I visited the gym only twice and found the gym adequately equipped and with enough treadmills to go around, even with one or two machines, out of order. I observed that there were daily programs such as conditioning and aerobics workouts as well as yoga and other specialized services, some of which came with a small additional charge. There is also a small jogging track on the top deck but this track is rather short and interrupted so much so that it's not good for running on. Other sporty activities which we saw but did not make use of or join in included paddle tennis court, virtual golf , shuffleboard, ping pong and a nine-hole putting course. In terms of water-based facilities, the pool areas included 9 whirlpools, two main but small pools and the Oasis Spa and Pool located at the back of the ship. My sister and I made use of the whirlpool only once and thereafter lay on the deck chairs, which were plentiful and rather underutilized. On that occasion, the wind was very strong and so we rested and relaxed for only a short while. Another facility which we were aware of but did not make use of was the Spa with its own gym, workout studio, beauty salon and treatment rooms. One reason why we did not avail ourselves to the service was the time factor while the other reason was cost. The spa treatments did not come cheap even with the special offers towards the end of the cruise. .. Tips and Service Princess recommends a $10 per passenger per day flat service fee that goes to cabin stewards and wait staff. The amount is deducted on a daily basis from the passenger’s account. In a way, this is a convenient practice as it standardizes and simplifies the process of deciding the amount of tips to give. However, I must comment that on the whole the service on Star Princess was only mediocre, with the exception of the few waiters whom I have commended earlier in this review. When we traveled on the Dawn Princess to Alaska in 2000, we were very impressed with the high standard of service from the cabin stewards and wait staff. Wherever we went -along corridors, in the dining rooms and public areas- we were greeted with cheerful and sincere “Good morning/ afternoon/ evening sir / m’am,” or a simple “Hello” or smile even from the staff who was not serving us directly. We felt so welcomed and important. However, it looks like quality service, courtesy and manners of this standard are things of the past and not to be expected. How sad! Shore Excursions The cruise itinerary was interesting and varied. We experienced the diverse cultures, history and geography of seven different countries in this 10 day itinerary. Our group took the following shore excursions: 1. Royal Stockholm – NY1- B (7 hours) We enjoyed Stockholm where we had the good fortune to be led by Dr Fischer, who is a pastor, very knowledgeable about the inside out of Royal Stockholm. We visited the Gamla Stan – historic Old Town, Royal Palace, Coronation Church, City Hall (Stadshuset) with its famous blue room where the annual banquet honouring the Nobel laureates is held. A nice lunch at the Hilton Hotel was included in this tour which we enjoyed. 2. Helsinki City Highlights – HEL-D (3 hours) We were not so fortunate in Helsinki where our tour guide was rather indifferent in attitude and spoke in a dull monotonous voice. Nevertheless we covered the Senate Square, Temppeliaukio Rock Church (which was a disappointment after what we had heard about it), the Market Square and the Grand Central Church. Thank goodness it was a half day tour; otherwise we would have to suffer the monotonous and uninteresting voice of this guide. Tour guides can either make or spoil a tour for its guests. 3. 2 Day St Petersburg Tour – by DenRus Travel and Tour company The highlight of this cruise was, of course, St Petersburg with its fascinating and impressive historical palaces and museums. We thoroughly enjoyed the visit which was organized for us by DenRus, a private and independent travel and tour company specializing in St Petersburg tours. Our customized, comprehensive two day program was expertly and competently conducted by Oksana, an English speaking guide. Our itinerary covered the following: Day 1 • a Metro ride to see a very beautiful train station with huge crystal columns and chandeliers (can you imagine the grandeur and luxury?); • Peterhof and a guided tour of the Grand Palace (Russian Versailles) • Lunch at Tchaikovsky restaurant • Shopping for amber and jewelry in one of the shops • Inside visit to the famous Spilled Blood Cathedral • Peter-and-Paul Fortress and Cathedral • Boat trip on the Neva and Canals • Inside visit to St Isaac’s Cathedral – tombs of all the Russian Tsars • Evening program- Folklore show at Nicholas Palace – traditional dances and music performed by various Russian schools of arts. Ambience of the venue including the hall and seating was rather disappointing Day 2 • Guided tour of the Catherine Palace of Pushkin • Shopping for scarves, amber etc • Lunch at another Russian restaurant, Demidov • Inside visit and guided tour of the best collections at the Hermitage Museum Although our visit to the Hermitage was rather rushed and short because of the time factor, (we had to be back in the ship by 5.30 pm before it set sail for the next port) we were shown some of the more significant rooms and displays. In fact, one can spend years browsing and examining the Hermitage treasures. On the whole our group of 21 was happy with the St Petersburg excursions organized by DenRus. We would like to reassure future tourists from Singapore (and elsewhere) that there is no need to apply for individual Russian visas as DenRus is a government recognized tour agency which is authorized to conduct visa-free tours for cruise passengers, as long as their stay does not exceed 72 hours. Based on our experience and dealings with DenRus, which we found trustworthy, reliable and responsible, we will certainly recommend DenRus to other cruise passengers visiting St Petersburg who prefer to be in smaller groups with their own personalized itineraries. 4. Tallinn, Estonia – free and easy Our group decided to explore Tallinn on our own. So we disembarked from the ship at 8am and walked towards the Town Hall Square through the Stout Margaret Tower along cobbled streets and narrow sloping alleys. It was not too difficult to find some of the landmarks in Tallinn such as the mansions and guildhalls along Pikk Street, Toompea Castle (seat of parliament), the Dome Church, Swedish church and museums. However there was one landmark that a few of us in our group missed due to the time factor – Dunkri – the Cat’s well. We feel that the time in Tallinn which is such a unique and pretty town with plenty of market stalls and shops to browse in was too short. The ship was only anchored in Tallinn from 8am to 1pm. 5. Gdansk and Sopot (Poland) QYD-J (6.5hrs) We opted for this excursion which took us to Gdansk for a walking tour of the historic Main Town where we also visited St Mary’s Church. The Main Town was an interesting place which boasts of an array of buildings and monuments. There were many shops selling amber as well as other souvenirs and many cafe's and eaterie's. Please be warned that there are pickpockets and I nearly fell victim to a young gypsy-looking lady who covered one hand with a brown knitted scarf under which her fingers groped for the opening of my satchel which was hung across the front of my body. This happened when I was buying ice cream and she came next to me to carry out her business. When I felt the pressure of her hands on my bag, I turned and looked at her and uttered “This lady is a pick pocket!” She muttered in a foreign language, most probably to deny and then walked away. While the Main Town is worth visiting, the visit to the so-called resort of Sopot, the “summer capital of Poland” was not worth the effort. There was nothing unique to see except the walk along the long wharf and the beach. 6. Berlin of the 20th century –ZWD-A (12.5 hrs) We boarded a chartered train for the 3 hour train ride to Berlin. In the non-air conditioned cabins many of us were perspiring in the summer heat. There was nothing scenic nor spectacular to see during the drive through the countryside. However, the narrated city drive in Berlin and some of the historical sites of the 20th century including Checkpoint Charlie (a border crossing), Brandenburg Gate, previously a symbol of division between East (Communist) and West Germany, Reichstag which was the House of Parliament from the German Empire, World War II Memorial with the sculpture by Katha Kallwitz of a mother and her dying son, and the Allied Museum, devoted to the allied preservation in Berlin, were of historical interest to the more academically inclined among us. After the serious part, we were taken to the famed Kurfurstendamm for some shopping. At the risk of being “shot down” by the shopaholics, I feel that there was nothing special to shop so this part of the itinerary could have been omitted and more time given for us to explore some of the historical sites such as Bebelplatz Square and Reichstag. The return train journey back to the ship was more tolerable as it was cooler in the evening. Overall Comments On the whole the facilities and logistics of Star Princess were up to expectations. It is a big ship with all the amenities and luxuries to pamper the cruise passengers. Food was plentiful and generous. The bakers in the dining department did a marvelous job of producing yummy, mouth watering pastry, buns, scones and muffins which we thoroughly enjoyed throughout the cruise. If not for the other tempting foods available, many in our group would have lived on the bread and buns alone. However, service from the crew (including the Captain) on the whole could have been better, friendlier and warmer. For the crew, the start of any cruise could just be another job to service a new horde of passengers but for many of us, it is natural that we would be looking forward to a hassle free and enjoyable vacation of our life time, as most of us have saved and scrounged to make the trip possible. So some pampering and quality service would be welcomed and this would make a difference between an ordinary cruise and a quality Princess-standard cruise. The cruise itinerary to the various countries was commendable although there could be more time for Tallinn. Some of the itineraries of the shore excursions for example, for Gdansk and Berlin could be improved upon. Would I recommend this cruise to others? Yes I will, as cruising is fun especially with the right company, right ship and right itinerary. There is always something for us to do on board the ship. Author’s note I compiled and wrote this account as a personal record and to share my cruise experience with my family, relatives and friends. The views and comments are therefore entirely my own. I apologize for any errors or conflicting views, if any. 5 August 2006  

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Nov 30, -0001

Alaska Cruisetour

We were on tour 8 which began in Fairbanks and included the Midnight Express Railroad to Anchorage. Upon arrival in Fairbanks, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the Princess crew actually claims our luggage for us. They piled all luggage in one section and we just had to make sure that all pieces were accounted for. The luggage was then delivered to the hotel (Bear Lodge). This would have been really wonderful if the luggage

had been delivered to the room in a more timely manner. It took several hours and was after midnight by the time we got our luggage. Since our luggage was being picked up at 6 a.m., we weren’t too happy at that point. Another good thing – we had the option to send luggage directly to the ship rather than travel throughout the tour with everything. We knew this in advance and so had packed accordingly. The train was great and we were pleased to see that Princess’ cars were definitely the best and most modern of all the other cruise lines’ cars. Upon arrival at each stop, we were given a packet containing the keys to our hotel room for that night and any other information we needed regarding land tours and transfers for the next day. The Princess staff was very organized and helpful. The Princess Denali Lodge was very nice and the tour of Denali quite good. We had booked the dinner theatre, Music of Denali. It was not exactly what we had expected – the food was very poor and the show was cute but long. The Mt. McKinley Lodge was also nice. I was a bit upset with the Princess guides who told us that Talkeetna was not worth seeing. We decided to spend an hour there and found that we could easily have spent 3 or 4 hours, exploring the stores, having lunch and even exploring a small museum they have. Also, because of the weather, we were not able to see Mt. McKinley at all, which was a big disappointment. The ship – we chose the Star because of it’s size and the fact that it is brand new. The ship is beautiful. We had a balcony stateroom on the Baja deck. From our balcony we could look down into the balconies of the 2 decks below us, limiting their privacy. The cabin steward was very accommodating. We requested bathrobes on the first day which came in handy for the entire cruise. Birthday or anniversary balloons were put up outside the cabin doors on the day a celebration was requested. We used Personal Choice dining and were very pleased with it. We were a group of 9 and only had to wait for a table once – for 15 minutes. All other days we were seated immediately. We had several celebrations while on the ship and the waiters in the Capri dining room were truly fantastic. They serenaded us with 6 or 7 singing waiters and one even had a guitar! The food was good, but not fantastic. Our vegetarian was happy with the vegie choices and the rest of us always found something good to eat on the menu. They did have a few items which were available on a daily basis (steak, salmon, shrimp cocktail) and I would have liked to see them add something more for kids’ tastes like chicken nuggets or hamburgers. We bought soda cards ($20 for unlimited soda for the week). The nice thing about Princess is that they don’t limit the cards to kids and will even give you 2 or 3 sodas with one card. My complaint regarding drinks on board was that they sold hot chocolate for $2. I felt that, especially in Alaska, this should have been in the same category as coffee and tea, available all the time for free. Our kids don’t drink coffee or tea and for those times on deck, wishing for a hot drink, I resented the $2 for the hot chocolate. We didn’t participate much in the evening activities. The 2 shows we saw were nice – I’ve seen better but the comedian, Sarge, was terrific. During the day activities were conducted nicely and the announcements were handled well. There was also a naturalist on board who gave a commentary which could be heard over the loudspeakers and on the internal TV, so that we knew where we were, what we were seeing, and she also gave a “heads up” when there was wildlife to be spotted. All in all, our entire group was thrilled with the Star Princess and would go back again anytime!

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Nov 30, -0001

Alaska Inside Passage

The personal choice seating was wonderful as was the option to eat in the Horizon Buffet. The food was good. You may have heard it was confusing but once you know the layout and that there is no line it worked fine. We enjoyed the dining rooms and found the food especially the desserts to be excellent. The entertainment was o.k. We loved Sarge the comedian on board and saw a movie but the cruise show was only o.k. We were pretty tired

from the excursions so walking around on the ship after dinner was fine. It is light in Alaska until 9 or 11 the closer we got to Seward. We did our own exploring in Ketchikan. It is small and manageable and has some nice stores. We did go to the totem museum and salmon hatchery. It was interesting. In Juneau we went up the Mt. Robers tram and hiked a few miles. Lots of picturesque places and a good workout. We also did the Whale watching trip which was also beautiful and worth it. In Skagway we did the Whitepass Railroad. It rained and we did not think this was worth the money. You can barely take pictures and had to fight for a space in the small outside area and the train was moving most of the trip. You see the same stuff on the way down. Others liked it and others recommended renting a car and going on your own. We then did the Chilkoot hike and Float. It rained really hard and the hike was much steeper that we thought it would be. It is a temperate rain forest and there are few pictures to take and few chances the hiking up and down is so hard and dangerous for novices like us. If you go bring your own rain gear and wear good hiking shoes. They give you the rain gear for the float but that was too late. The float was hard to enjoy in the downpour too. Princess could not control the weather but they should have described the hike in more detail. The days at Glacier Bay and the College Fjords were gorgeous. It is a great way to go. Three busy days and a few days enjoying scenery on the ship especially this one. Packing...do not over pack. We are not formal at all so on formal nights we went to the Horizon buffet where there is not dress code. We did wash because of getting so wet. Bring detergent it is cheaper and the machines were good. It actually was easy. Our room was right across the hall so... Otherwise you do have to wear layers so packing is tricky. We did not wear all of our nice clothes. More and more especially in Alaska people are less formal. Bring an alarm clock. The ship wake up call system got overloading and they did not call us one morning so we had to reschedule excursions and change our days plans. We got chocolate covered strawberries as an apology. Oh yeah room service was great!! Request your bathrobes day one. They came in handy. The gym was small but the machines were new and good. We went twice. The spa was nice as were all of the pools. There is one that is mostly closed but gets breezy from doors opening and closing. Lots of hot tubs. The Trident grill and pizza place by one of the pools was really good for lunch. They have burgers, hot dogs, garden burgers, etc.... Get a soda card if you drink it is worth the money. Pre-tipping was fine too. The staff and crew were very accommodating. You can reserve tables for two with personal choice dining. We called the hotline and did it ahead for all nights. There is probably so much I missed. Alaska is wonderful. Cold at times and rainy but worth every minute we spent there. Learning about wild life and the culture there is very interesting. I Highly recommend this cruise and ship!!!!!

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Nov 30, -0001

Mexican Riviera

Star Princess 3/17/2002 Mexican Riviera Having been on many cruises throughout the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, we decided we would finally take on the ‘Mexican Riviera’. Having been invited on a three day travel agent cruise aboard Princess’ newest ship, the ‘Star Princess’, we decided to forego this event and would take our children on their ‘Spring Break’ the next week to truly get the feel of the ship and her staff.

The itinerary included the first two days at sea, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas and one more sea day back to her new home port of Los Angeles. We had pre-arranged the ‘Fly-and-Sail’ package through the Sheraton San Pedro hotel, which is 5 minutes from the pier. The package included pick-up from LAX via Towncar to the hotel, the shuttle from hotel to pier, finally hotel to LAX. The package was easy to arrange and well worth the $189.00, which would have been at least the cost of a cab to and from LAX and the room itself. Considering they pick you up curbside at LAX and have someone waiting on you, this seemed to be best way to ‘fly and sail’. True to their ‘brochure’, they were waiting, and in fact, the gentleman was inside the airport with a sign to pick us up complete with luggage dolly to help us out. Pleased to say the least, we soon found (again) that a piece of luggage did not show (it seems it is always the ladies luggage) and this slowed us down considerably. We quickly filed a claim and were off to the hotel. The hotel was approximately 30 minutes from the airport and with good traffic seemed no problem. By the way, a warning to those cutting it close, the other side of the freeway had halted from an accident that left it at a standstill so plan accordingly. Barring an accident, you will have no problem. If we were trying to make it to or from the pier that day on a late flight we might have been extremely unhappy. After arriving at the hotel, we tipped the driver and off we went for check-in with no problems. Upon arrival, we were asked how we arrived and we told the nice young man behind the counter via the ‘Fly-and-Sail’ service’. He handed us our keys and we went to rest in our room. More on the ‘Fly and Sail’ program later in the review. The hotel was nice and clean, and the free breakfast buffet includes a great selection of the breakfast items including eggs benedict, one of our favorites to find on a buffet. Overall, we would stay at the Sheraton again, as it was a nice clean inexpensive hotel for this area and a bargain with the ‘Sail’ program. The shuttle run begins at 11:00p.m. to the pier and we grabbed one around noon after talking to the concierge and being assured that the lines are not very bad around this time. We would now recommend that you wait, it was around 60 degrees and windy and the line was already very long outside and we stood inline for about 45 minutes waiting to go through security inside the pier building. Once inside the only negative comments concern the lack of knowledge of the staff as to where the ‘express’ embarkation line was. No staff knew, however, there was a shorter roped off line but it was being serviced by any and all representatives there, and was no quicker than the line we were in. Perhaps, this being the first full sailing they simply have not worked out all the details yet. Once aboard we promptly went about to make reservations for a manicure and reservations at Sabatini’s brunch for all sea days possible and for dinner. Making reservations at Sabatini’s was a breeze, met by the Maitre-de Marco with virtually no line. Our reservations completed we proceeded to the salon for the manicure reservation. The line was approximately 20-30 people deep and moving very slowly, with this we decided to abandon the idea and check back later for an opening. Within an hour, we did check and there were no openings for the rest of the week. We had never experienced this before on her sister ships, the ‘Golden’ or ‘Grand’ and truly was a disappointment. We learned later that only one nail technician was onboard. Ladies, prepare in advance! Hopefully this will be remedied in the near future. Of course, the next stop was food for the children via the Lido deck. Traveling with our children we enjoyed many meals there as they served the best pizza afloat, bratwurst, burgers, and the usual assortment of grilled goodies on most ships today. The lines were never very long here and the service was prompt and courteous. The children’s area on the first day is closed, although staff is on hand to help you sign-up and view the ‘Fun-Zone’, broken into two large sections. They split ages two through five in one room and six and seven-year-olds in another. The eight to twelve-year-olds are next door in a separate area nearby. The ‘Off Limits’ teen center across the hall serves the thirteen to seventeen crowd and all of these areas have been massively redesigned versus her sister ships. The redesign eliminates the video arcade on the ‘Golden’ and ‘Grand’ and the children’s area was moved from forward to the aft part of the ship and is massive! A new addition to this ship is learning-based projects in conjunction with the California Science Center and the National Wildlife Federation. These ‘projects’ will only be onboard during peak sailing periods, i.e. spring break, holiday sailings, etc. On this trip, Ashley dissected a dog-shark and a squid! Very educational indeed! The children have two separate mini-basketball and table tennis areas on both the port and starboard sides that overlook the aft terrace pool. Overall, it is a good move to bolster the family bookings. The revenue from the huge video arcade should not be missed compared to the families booking triples and quad occupancy cabins. We must admit we missed having a go at the simulated rides in the arcade and so did our children Spencer and Ashley, ages six and eight respectively. All the areas are loaded with the latest game equipment and more computers than are necessary, however the ‘Off Limits’ area is the largest, and most impressive of the Princess ships, complete with a huge wall of televisions and disco complete with a DJ. By far the best we have seen for teenagers aboard a Princess ship! A few more notes concerning the children’s program; the program for under twelve ends at 10:00 p.m. though the older teens have activities until 1:00 a.m. From 10:00 p.m. -1:00 a.m. there is a ‘babysitting’ charge of $4.00 per hour/per child (ages 2-12) and you are strongly recommended to pre-register the night before to make certain they have adequate supervision. We found that all they did was turn on the television and let them watch movies for the evening. Although most of the smaller children did not mind this, the older (including our Ashley) did not like this at all. Other cruise lines have activities or allow them to play computer games during this time, or opt out of the movies in some way. Toward the middle of the cruise Ashley really did not was not to go and sit with “a bunch of babies” and watch television. That was a disappointment though she did go and would simply go to sleep after awhile. They do provide sleeping bags and pillows in a very nice environment. An important note for anyone traveling with children! On one of the last days, we noted they are experimenting with changing the children’s age groups and are likely to kill the two-year-old program totally. We tried to get firm information but they refused and would only say they are definitely changing things around as far as what age groups are together onboard. Check with Princess before you plan if this is of concern. The first two days are sea days, which are most welcome aboard this beautiful ship. The artwork is very subdued and almost formal in appearance. There are no visually shocking, exotic artworks that we could find. Most of the ship is so similar to her sister ships, that you would note little difference and indeed it fells like the ‘Golden’ or ‘Grand’, even down to the atrium elevator décor which is exactly like the ‘Golden Princess’. The main differences are in the kid’s area and the ‘Skywalker Nightclub’ hanging 150 feet above the water on the aft of the ship. The disco has no more stairs and multiple levels; it is one large long place to party! Moreover, party they did to the wee hours of the morning (reportedly). As for dining, we chose ‘Personal Choice’ dining as usual and hoped for the best staff we could find. We asked the Maitre-de for a table for two and were immediately seated with no problem. The first sea night was ‘smart-casual’ dress night and most dressed accordingly with few jackets scattered about here and there. Our luck was with us as we were seated with a waiter who we recognized as being on the ‘Grand Princess’. We had become well aquatinted with his brother Nicholas who served us in ‘Desert Rose’ many times onboard the ‘Grand‘ and after visiting with Diego awhile it was like having good friends serve us almost every evening (his brother’s photo is on our website from our ‘Grand Princess’ review!). Diego and his assistant waiter Gasper took very good care of us each night we dined and seemed to do so for all others in his area. We typically eat around 8:00 p.m. and there was always plenty of room in the Capri dining room. As we have previously stated in other reviews the “Personal Choice’ dining seems to be best for them and for most people sailing. We always ask others onboard and we never had a negative remark. Asking the staff is almost ridiculous these days, for instance in our case they received tips for our two children for a week (whom never dined with us-they prefer the kids dining options) as well as our cabin steward. There are no ‘kiddie rates’ for tipping so they find this very easy, efficient, as well as profitable. Formal nights onboard there were approximately 50% tuxedos, 20% dark suits, 20% jacket (no tie) and a scattering of very casual dressers’ (no jacket). Typical of the Caribbean sailings on the ‘Grand Class’ ships. The food was even par with other Princess mega-ships, and in fact they surprised us with what we thought was a fabulous pastry chef (and boy are we picky). The Beef Wellington, king crab-legs, Filet Mignon, all perfectly prepared in our opinion. Certainly, there is better, however we enjoyed almost everything during this sailing. Only a handful of soups, appetizers, etc. did not make the cut by being bland or simply not to our liking. Dining in the ‘Tequilas’ Mexican restaurant had it’s charm, no reservations were necessary for lunch and we always got in with a smile and personal attention to our picky habits of having the perfect margarita. The salsa and guacamole are much better on the ‘Grand’ and that kept us out of ‘marguaritaville’ for most of the week. However, we enjoyed our lunches greatly each time we dined. Great service and food all around make this a very enjoyable place to hang out. One sea day they held line-dancing lessons here after hours and that was a complete success! In the evening, they also provide entertainment by country vocalist Barry Compton on guitar from 7:45 to 8:45 then from 9:15 to ‘late’. ‘Sabatini’s’ Italian restaurant is always a treat for brunch on sea days, if you have never read about it or been there it is the best bargain on any ship. A mere $12.00 and you receive all the complimentary ‘morning’ drinks (screwdrivers, bloody’s, mimosa’s, etc.) along with as many as five courses ranging from a buffet of sushi, shrimp and crablegs to ordering egg sardou, omelet or other egg creations. Then onto braised veal or perhaps glazed ham or…well, you get the idea. Oh yes, dessert! Words of advice…do not try to eat all the courses! In the ‘Wheel House’ Lounge there was always good entertainment and dancing. In the early evening the ensemble would play relaxing music from 5:30 to 9:00 then the Perry Phillips Trio would take over until late with stylish jazz that was excellent each evening. On an interesting note, one evening we arrived for dinner at Sabatini’s and were told our table was not ready yet. We typically would have a few pre-dinner cocktails in the ‘Wheel House’ bar and we would frequently have cocktails and conversation with the Head Purser, Martin XXXXXX (whose nametag reads ‘Customer Relations Manager’) and the Cruise Director, (Paul O’ Loughlin) who were there nightly before dinner. Upon hearing of our wait for a table, Martin apologized and called the Maitre-de and asked to immediately “take care of us.” Within a minute or two Marco arrived and told us he had a table, though small and as he put it “cramped.” Martin would have none of that, and told Marco to find another table immediately. He then bought our drinks at the bar and when Marco returned (rather quickly); and was told to put our wine or drinks on his tab for the evening! He had no idea we would write about the ship, and we do not believe he knew we were travel agents. He simply was doing the right thing and enjoyed doing it. This was typical of the care that continually occurred onboard the ship. Other choices to have pre and post dinner cocktails included ‘Shooter’s Sports Bar’, ‘Tequila’s’, ‘Promenade Lounge’ and the ‘Explorer’s Lounge’ to name a few of the favorites. Though not big on the shows typically we heard the show ‘Dance’ and ‘Da Beat’ were exceptionally good and that the comedian Jim McDonald was also very entertaining. On Sea day number two they hosted a St. Patrick’s day party in the ‘Skywalker Nightclub’ and decorated throughout the main areas of the ship. The buffet breakfast onboard this ship was one of the best we have seen for a ship this size. A very extensive selection from fruits, eggs benedict and assorted other goodies should satisfy to fussiest eater. The only item lacking, which we love, is the omelet station. Perhaps serving over 2800 it is simply not feasible. Before writing about the ports of call, we would like to point out a few interesting observations that everybody is a-buzz about these days. Namely, drinks...cocktails, you know...’sneaking’ booze onboard! This topic creeps up on every chat room and bulletin board on the Internet. First, we must say we saw two cruisers in line to embark carrying a case of liquor (yes, in a liquor box) as well as another with a case of beer that had no trouble whatsoever getting onboard. There was an intriguing new addition to the room service menu. Princess is now selling liquor and setups in your cabin via room service. How much you ask? Is it $20 to $30 for a bottle of your choice plus mixers? No way Jose’ (apologies to Jose’). We are talking a pint of your favorite vodka, scotch, and rum served with three cans of mixers or (6) beers for $15.00 and tip. Allow us to save you the math. A pint of liquor contains 470ml. Small (airline) bottles of liquor are 50ml. That is over nine drinks for $15.00 or $1.66 a drink (plus tip), so let us say a little over $2.00 bucks a pop. On the same in-cabin menu a bottle (flight size) served to your room with a mixer is $3.50 plus tip. We bought a bottle of rum that is supposed to come with three Cokes. Instead, they brought us six Cokes with the order which of course is another $4.50 ($1.50 per can). We ordered it twice to see if it was a mistake and they delivered the same thing. Of course, we cannot promise this forever but whatever the case that brings the total value down to roughly $1.16 a drink. In cabin consumption only of course! As far as the ports of call, we enjoyed Puerto Vallarta’s Mismaloya beach where “The Night of the Iguana” was filmed. They have practically made it into a shrine. A $15.00 dollar taxi ride and we were there. The best part are the low prices for good food and drink and the rocky shoreline that one can follow along a trail and see all sorts of interesting wildlife above and below the water. Not good snorkeling here that days…reportedly there are other times of decent visibility. Mazatlan was an interesting city to visit. We opted out of a tour, asked a cab driver where to go for ‘la playa’ and took a cab to a water taxi, which transported us to a beach with no name for some ‘local flavor’. The beach was long, there were many small establishments for food, and Cervesa’s were available everywhere. We did not have a problem eating or drinking and everybody used bagged ice for the drinks. This particular morning we arrived around 10:00 a.m. and it was virtually deserted having only locals relaxing by the beach. By noon, many people arrived and the beach changed considerably with a nice mix of tourists from nearby resorts. The only trouble here was the street vendors hawking their wares. We must have seen one hundred of them. However, if you simply told them no thank you they would scurry off and another would appear in a moment. Be prepared! It is considered very impolite to ignore them and this will simply make them keep asking repeatedly. One interesting note, (all prices for the four of us) the cab ride from the ship was $10.00 to the water taxi, which was $2.00 and the taxi ride to the beach was then $2.00. To top it off, on the way back to the ship, we hailed a cab (there are plenty everywhere) and were charged $5.00! It does appear if your getting off the ship, they know they have you, however if you are not they know this is too much to charge and you pay accordingly. Our advice? Pick up your cab somewhere other than at the ‘pier’. Simply walk around the wall of shops and you will find many cabs to take you anywhere you wish. Next, we arrived in Cabo San Lucas and what a difference a day makes. Time allowed only 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (last tender), so this was a short stop but well worth the visit. Be forewarned, the line for the last tender starts forming around 12:00 p.m. and gets worse from there. So truly, you have until around noon to get back to the pier and stand in line. Take a hat! It is possible to get more sun in line than on the beach. The water taxi’s will run you to the arches and show you sea lions and other wildlife for around $20-30 dollars round trip (that was for four). Our taxi took us on a brief tour then ran us to ‘Honeymoon Beach’ and came back at our appointed time to pick us up. Convenient, on time and very nice. We did not ask for the tour, he volunteered at no charge (and well he should for that kind of Guacamole). However, that was typical pricing this day for what we wanted to do. A note of caution, this is not something one can do if you have trouble getting in and out of a small boat. Though they do take good care of you while you are getting in and out of the boat, at the beach you literally jump out on your own. There are locals on the beach that help you get back in the boat but it is a bit trepadatious. The locals are also on hand for a cold brew. At first one fellow asked two for $5.00, when I scoffed he came back and sold me 2 for $3.00. A must see on the island is the Pacific side for the rock formations and surf. Truly, a great place to get away for a romantic moment. A note on the shore excursions offered. Some of the best trips are not available via the Princess website, but are only offered on a first-come-first-serve basis once onboard. There were many excursions that were listed in your ‘Princess Patter’ that simply were as they say, “unpublished”. This is one trip where the early bird gets the worm and if you want the dolphin trip or whale watching then rely on good old hustle to get it done. Of course the cruise ship is truly state-of-the-art. We found the sailing so smooth down to Mexico that it was virtually imperceptible. The most movement was between ports of call, docking and maneuvering about. Overall we would say if you have not tried it and you are an avid cruiser it is a must see. That said, we still prefer the white sands of the Caribbean versus this itinerary. Perhaps in Alaska we will be able to enjoy her again, and her staff of excellence.

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Nov 30, -0001

Voyage of the Glaciers - Southbound

I will give a review of our total vacation, which was 11 nights. We did three nights pre-cruise on our own and one night post-cruise. I traveled with my boyfriend, Charles - just so you know who the "we" is. :) Hopefully, you will glean many helpful tips from this review. As I start, you can expect this to be long, so be prepared! I will break it down into sections so you can skip what you wish. The Alaska Cruise Companion

Before our plane ever took off from our home airport in Oakland, CA, I had already read the Princess-commissioned book "The Alaska Cruise Companion - Southbound edition" by Joe Upton. Rather than waiting to buy and read it on the ship, you might want to do as I did and look for a used copy. It read like a book and was very informative about Alaskan history, culture, personal stories of Mr. Upton (AK resident) and tales of events that had happened in the past. You probably won't have time to read it on the cruise, as you will be busy looking at the scenery. Reading the book really excited me about specific things to see along the cruise journey. I bought mine at half.com. The book comes in a Southbound and Northbound edition that will take you along your journey in order, so get the one that matches your specific cruise. Also, it has a map that coordinates with it. You can get a new map for free by asking for an Alaska Planning Kit from princess.com. Its best to have both together. (Princess sells them as a set onboard for $25.) PRE-CRUISE KENAI PENINSULA Homer We planned our three-day pre-cruise with my Mom, who lives in Homer, AK. Although the main reason for us going there was to see her, I would suggest our itinerary to anyone looking to set their own pre or post cruise itinerary. We got to see quite a bit of the Kenai Peninsula, which is a beautiful spectacle all by itself. We flew from our home directly to Homer, AK, which is the town at the far tip of the Kenai Peninsula away from Anchorage. There is a regular small airline (Era Aviation) that does the short hop from Anchorage airport to Homer's.. this wasn't a charter. Era is affiliated with Alaska Airlines and you can buy your ticket to Homer from Alaska Airlines all in one call if you wish. (If you have a map of AK, it might be helpful to look at it to get your bearings here to see where Homer is.) Homer has MANY activities that one could partake in.. many fishing charters, sea kayaking, flightseeing.. and the list goes on. Homer is most noted for its land "spit" than juts out from the tip of the Peninsula, which has a small boat harbor, a fishing hole, a nice restaurant or two, and lots of gift shops and places to charter adventures in the summer. To find out more, visit http://homeralaska.org/about.htm. Homer to Seward After a day visiting Homer and taking it the spectacular views of the bay and the white-capped mountains across the water we piled into our car and headed along THE highway (there is only one) to transverse the Kenai Peninsula. The scenery was spectacular along the entire way, including the Kenai river, beautiful forests and mountains and LOTS of wildlife. There are many places to stop and enjoy the view along the way, so you can set your own pace. Somewhere about halfway to Seward we passed by the Princess Kenai Lodge, which I have heard good things about also. Seward It took us about four hours of very slow (our choice) traveling to reach Exit Glacier Road just north of Seward. We turned here as it was the way to our lodging for the evening and our planned afternoon activity. We checked into our lodging which was the wonderful Seward Windsong Lodge (http://www.sewardwindsong.com/). It was very rustic-looking but amenity filled, complete with a nice restaurant. The views in the area were wonderful, as there were many separate buildings that held 10 rooms or so each scattered around a large area that was the lodge. An extra perk of the lodge was that lots of cruisers stay here and the lodge took our luggage from us upon checkout and transferred it to the ship for us - a great perk! After we checked in and threw all of our luggage into our rooms, we piled into the car again and headed just a couple miles further down the road to see Exit Glacier. Exit Glacier is part of Kenai Fjords National Park, and has one of the only land-accessible glaciers. For only a $5 per car fee, we could park there and enjoy a small building with some educational exhibits and choose our hike of choice to the Glacier. Charles and I chose the very short walk up to the base of the glacier (.5 mi. total) and got a real kick out of seeing the chucks of floating ice in the small river flowing out from the bottom of the glacier. My Mom and Stepdad took the slightly more strenuous loop trail (about a mile walk with some steep parts) and got close to the glacier from the side of it. There is also the super-hiker trail that will take you all the way up to the Harding Icefield that Exit Glacier is flowing out of, that is 3.5 mi. one-way - just FYI. It was great to walk right of to an glacier before getting on the cruise ship and seeing them from a distance the rest of the trip. After having dinner and breakfast at the restaurant at the Windsong Lodge, we checked out in the morning and headed into the town of Seward for the first time. Seeing the Star Princess towering there was an awesome sight, but we had one more activity planned before embarking on the cruise portion of our vacation. We spent the morning at the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward. It was a very nice facility. We enjoyed a half hour presentation about whales and thoroughly enjoyed all of the Sealife exhibits there - the water birds, and the puffins in particular, stole the show. http://alaskasealife.org/ The town of Seward is not convenient to the cruise ship dock. If you need to get back and forth to the ship, try finding out how to get on the Shuttle that goes back and forth to the ship for only $2. (See page 82 of the Adventures Ashore book.. this is meant for disembarking passengers, but you can probably use it from town to the ship to embark as well!) STAR PRINCESS CRUISE Embarkation We said goodbye to Mom and breezed onto the ship about 11:45am. There was no line, as most folks arrive for this cruise via Princess bus transfers later in the day. Specifically, you have just a booth to get your cruise card, and then the x-ray machine to put your stuff through and then your are onboard. No customs! No lines! Wonderful! (I highly recommend the southbound rather than the northbound cruise for this reason by the way.) The Star Since Charles and I were on so early, we spent the afternoon exploring the ship. She is quite beautiful, and BIG. I don't think people with cabins amidships can quite grasp the hugeness of her like those of us who have cabins on the end. We had a cabin second from the front on the Baja deck and we spent a lot of time walking. I rather enjoyed the exercise, but we had amusement park tired feet at the end of every day! The atrium is beautiful, and the two dining rooms used by Personal Choice dining right off the atrium are very nicely appointed. We spent a lot of time up in the Skywalker’s Nightclub above the aft of the ship because the views were spectacular. Do yourself a favor and figure out how to get there early in the cruise. Another place that is fun, but not often visited we found, was the front portion of the Promenade. I call this part of the ship "the smile" as that is what it looks like when you see a photo of the front of one of the Grand-class ships. You can promenade the whole circumference of the ship, and this would be the extreme forward part of that circular walk. It is actually on the front of the Emerald deck, but you get there by going up a couple steps leading from the Promenade deck. Great views from there - and not as windy and cold as being up top of the bridge on the front of the ship. The pool areas are absolutely beautiful, and although we didn't swim, we did try one of the Jacuzzis. Very nice. Don't forget to ask your cabin Steward for a free Princess robe to use while you are onboard! We did not try some of the unique features of the Star, even though we did gawk at them on our tour. We didn't try the tiny 9-hole mini-golf, the pay-for swinging electronic driving range, or the swim-against-the-current pool. We intended to, but never got around to it. Dining We enjoyed the food and food service on the Star. We had a few breakfasts, a few lunches and one dinner in the 24-hour Horizon Court buffet. We enjoyed them all, and liked the quickness of it as opposed to the longer dining room lunches and dinners. We tried the room service breakfasts the first few days and then gave up on it. This is my second Princess cruise with PC Dining, and my experience this time on the room service was not as good as last time. Since there is no in-room coffee makers, the only way to get coffee in your room is to order the breakfast in. We noted that they always deliver earlier than the time you specify, which can be irritating if you are not yet ready to open the door. Also, we found that on this cruise, they pounded on the door until you opened it… and called you on the phone if you wanted them to leave it outside because you weren't quite awake or dressed! A good tip for you though… if you want fresh-squeezed OJ, specify that on your order and you will get it. If not, you will get OJ from concentrate. We suggest buying a "soda card" for one member of your party if that person drinks a lot of soda. Tea, Iced Tea, Coffee and water are always free in the dining room and the buffet, but sodas you always pay for. The soda card costs the same for kids and adults - $17.50 for the week. We bought Charles one on the first day from a waitress in the Horizon Court buffet. With the soda card, you can get unlimited amounts of six soda choices - Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Diet Sprite, Ginger Ale & Club Soda I think were the choices. Its not good for ANYTHING else. Formal dining in the PC Dining rooms was nice. We made good use of a tip I had from a prior cruiser.. there are two dining rooms blocked off for PC Diners, and one for Traditional dining. The two off the atrium are for PC Diners.. and most folks head for the one on the 6th floor, as it’s the first one they come to after they leave their room. The lines can get longer there than if you just continue down to the dining room on the 5th floor. Same food, less folks at once. We had lunch one day at the trident grill off the pool area. We thought the burger and fries there were quite good and would recommend it. We didn't try the pizza. After my experience on the Sun Princess last month, I made reservations 3 nights when I knew exactly when I wanted to eat and at which table. (We found a particularly good waiter, so we reserved a table in his area after that.) We walked up the other three nights with no wait at all, but all evenings we actually ate pretty early - around 6pm - so we never encountered crowds. The food was great! And I love eating whenever I want with PC Dining! We did not partake in the two "alternate" restaurants where you had to pay a fee.. we saw no point in that! We also did not try "Scoops" the ice cream you have to pay for. For more tips on PC Dining, you might want to read my review of the Sun Princess where I devoted quite a section to the whole PC Dining experience. The Cabin On this cruise we had Baja B205, a cabin with a balcony. We loved our cabin and we think Alaska is THE place to have a cabin with a balcony if wildlife viewing is your thing. After spending hours on deck looking for whales as we exited Glacier Bay, we went back to our cabin cold and tired… and finally saw one. Charles saw a full breech by a humpback that made his day (I saw only the splash and the whale's back afterwards). Comparing the balconies on different decks, we really loved being on Baja. The balcony or the Aloha deck was directly above us, giving us privacy from above. Supposedly the decks below ours on the Caribe and Dolphin had larger balconies, but they jut out wedding cake style and are not private from above. When we stood on our balcony they felt we were looking right at them and moved inside often. (We were watching for whales, not people, but they were uncomfortable.) Our cabin was very spacious and comfortable and nicely decorated. We did not feel at all cramped, except in the shower. I thought the layout of the Sun Princess' bathrooms to be much better, but I will get into the comparison later. Our cabin steward was ok, but not great.. but as crews change from cruise to cruise, there really is no point in discussing it. Everyone is going to have a different experience. Our cabin was on the Starboard side (right). There is much debate about which side is better, and I think it’s a tossup. We were actually on this cruise with my Dad and Stepmom, who had a Port side balcony on the Baja deck. Their travel agent insisted they have Port side as they say it’s the land side and not the ocean side. Give me a break! We travel in the ocean across the Gulf of Alaska ONE day out of seven. The rest of the cruise is in the inside passage where there is land on both sides! One perk they had, was on Glacier Bay day the ship parked Port side to glacier so they could watch the calving from their balcony. One perk we had was that later in the cruise we could see the moon and moonlight reflecting across the water quite beautifully as we cruised along at night. Regarding some folks question about being fore / aft / or amidships in cabin choice, we loved our extreme fore location. The cruise was very smooth the whole way and it was very quiet in the front. We were also close to some places we liked to visit often, which were the Princess Theater, the Lotus Spa, and the stairs leading up to the high viewing decks at the front of the ship. My Dad had a cabin close to the aft on the Baja deck and they could constantly feel the vibration of the engines. This bothered Charles a lot on our first cruise, so we were happy to be far from that. (My Dad said he didn't mind it… so its really just a personal preference.) Another thing to say about cabins.. is don't worry about it too much. They are all good really. My Dad paid nearly twice as much for his Port side balcony that he HAD to have than we did getting upgraded into ours. They were the exact same size, etc. In our case, flexibility paid! Wildlife If you expect to see whales leaping out of the water in clear view near the ship all the time you are dreaming. If you want to see lots and up close, book a whale watching tour. My Dad and Stepmom took the Princess excursion one out of Juneau and really enjoyed it. They got to see Humpbacks up close. Charles and I visited Vancouver last year and did Orca whale-watching there so we skipped that excursion on this trip. There were a few brief sightings of humpbacks during the northern part of our journey, but I didn't see them. I was never in the right place at the right time. Once down in the inside passage, I think between Juneau and Ketchikan, we took a walk on the Promenade after dinner with our binoculars ready and kept an eye out to the water for fins. Once sighting some, we looked through our binoculars and did see some killer whales in the distance. We saw two pods, including some babies not too far off the ship. They are really hard to spot in the choppy water… they are not jumping, making big curves with their backs or anything that would really catch your eye so you really need to be watching for them. I saw one more then next day from our balcony with the binoculars.. again looking hard for those fins. Entertainment Lest you think we completely skipped the entertainment on the ship, we did eventually catch some shows. We really loved DANCE! and Give My Regards was also good, two Vegas-style shows on the Star. The singers and dancers were top-notch and very enjoyable. We skipped "Da Beat", as we didn't want to see the same entertainers three nights in a row. Maverick the magician was excellent and the comedian Jim McDonald was great too. The only entertainment that was bad at any time was the passengers attempting Karaoke, which was not fault of Princess! Be sure to arrive early for shows… most let you sit a half hour before showtime, and some even earlier. We were turned away from the Princess Theater when attempting to see DANCE! on the second night, arriving 15 minutes prior to showtime we were told it was already full. The two showrooms are very impressive. The Princess Theatre is situated like a normal theatre with rows and rows of seats. Its big and impressive, the stage moves and drops as impressively as any big production stage you would see elsewhere. It is at the extreme fore of the ship. The Vista Showlounge is at the aft and is designed like a Las Vegas showlounge with rows of little tables for two with chairs next to them. Behind each set of chairs and tables is a custioned bench seat with more small drink tables. Both venues work well. The Lotus Spa I had two treatments in the spa while on the Star. I was very pleased with the standard facial. Upon embarking there was a coupon for $15 off any hour long spa treatment on an in-port day found in my shore excursion ticket envelope. The facial was very relaxing and the lady was very nice. The other treatment was a head and shoulder massage called Frangipangi Conditioning and Scalp Ritual, found in the Salon brochure. What I found weird about this, is that on the Star they didn't do it exactly as advertised in the brochure. One of the best parts of this ritual is getting your head wrapped in a steaming towel, which they didn't plan to do. Also, rather than just applying massage oil to my scalp to massage it, the lady slopped oil all through my very long hair, which I could NOT get out on my own. She did say I could come back and get it shampood out if I wanted later… which I did end up doing a couple days later. Her explanation as to why the ritual was different on the Star than what I had experienced on another Princess ship is that they do it a little different on every ship. I think that’s a lousy policy if they use the same advertising brochure / explanation on all of the ships! I guess I just suggest you ask ahead, because I LOVED this treatment on my last Princess cruise.. its only $26! Laundromat On the Star the self-service laundry is not free. You can buy individually boxed soap in a dispenser for $1 each, or a liquid one-dose in the gift shop for a few cents over a dollar. The washers cost $1 a load and the dryers are $.50 a load.. both high capacity. And just FYI.. Princess casino .25 tokens work the same as quarters in the washer and dryer (a great way to get rid of any you find in your pocket at the end of the cruise). We found the laundry facilities busy all the time and had a hard time getting in. I was quite bummed after hearing that they were lightly used by many frequent cruisers. I ended up doing laundry late at night on the first formal night and during the prime dinner hour a few nights later, as I couldn't get in there during the day. The laundry rooms are different sizes on different decks. We were on Baja, which had the laundry room at the aft (a far hike for us) and with only two washers and dryers on each hallway. The laundry rooms were bigger on the Caribe deck below us, and they were closer to amidships there. There are free ironing boards and irons in the laundry facilities, but they are also very busy.. especially on the formal nights. Try to plan ahead and go at an off hour if you want to use these too. Done with the generalities of Star… on to the specific sights and ports!….. College Fjord If you are reading this review, you must be a plan-ahead type like me, which is good. Many folks on this cruise didn't seem to realize that the event of the day was going to happen early in the morning on our first day. We went to bed very early on the first night so we could be up on deck ready to enjoy the sights of College Fjord from 6:30-9:30am. The Fjord is beautiful, with abundant wildlife and many beautiful frozen solid glaciers. It’s a great place to learn about tidewater glaciers and see them coming down from their high mountain peaks. However, don't expect to see calving here.. think of peace and beauty, not heavy action. The ship stops and does a slow turnaround well before the end of the fjord where Harvard glacier is. Its definitely worth getting out of bed for! Keep your eyes and binoculars pointed onto the floating bergy bits, there are lots of wildlife sitting on them that are hard to see with the naked eye. Glacier Bay Glacier Bay is a full day of cruising down a long fjord with beauty and greenery on both sides. You might catch some whales in view right as we enter it, so be ready for that in the morning around 9:30 or 10am, and then sit back and relax your morning away. The heavy action here is in the afternoon. Around 1pm we begin getting close to the glaciers at the end of the fjord and if your cabin is on the Port side, get comfortable on your balcony there. If you are on the Starboard or inside stake yourself out a spot on the port side railing and hold onto it for dear life. The Star headed straight down the Tarr Inlet at the end of the bay and stopped parked in front of the Marjorie glacier for what seemed like hours. Marjorie is the one you see in ALL the postcards and videos of calving glaciers. She is very pretty white and blue. The calving off of Marjorie was very impressive in the mid-afternoon sun. She dropped some small and big chunks, one after another and it was a tremendous sight (and sound!). As we departed, our naturalist onboard said it was one of the most active days she had ever seen off of Marjorie and we were quite lucky. I hope you get the same show from her! Skagway port of call Charles and I didn't plan any hugely expensive shore excursions, or too many of them, as we knew we would need a little breather from all the action. My Dad and Stepmom planned full days though, so I will comment on theirs too. In Skagway my Dad and Stepmom enjoyed Princess' Excursion "A" in the morning - Historical Skagway & Days of '98. They said it was really fun. In the afternoon the four of us rode the White Pass & Yukon Railway "G". The views were spectacular, even though it’s the same route down as back. The bad thing about it is on one way you are going to get the better view, so if you want that on the way up, sit on the left side of the train. There was a good narrator on the train, plus snacks, sodas and a restroom on each train car. I love trains so I really enjoyed it! Juneau port of call In Juneau my Dad and Stepmom went on the Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest "N", which I mentioned earlier. They had great things to say, and I believe sighting a whale is guaranteed on the tour, so that’s a great thing! My Mom, who you know now lives in Homer, used to live in Juneau, so we did the things she suggested. We rode the Mt. Roberts Tramway "H" to the top of the mountain. Supposedly you can get great views of Juneau from there, but the clouds were coming and going so we didn't get any really great views. The good thing about the Mt. Roberts Tramway is it’s an unlimited day pass, so you can go up and down as many times as you like. While at the top we enjoyed a short movie about the Tlingit native culture "Seeing Daylight". It was very good. http://www.goldbelttours.com/travel/day_trips/juneau/tram.html Our second activity was on our own, we visited the Alaska State Museum which was across town, but walking distance for the really able. The museum has many sections talking about the various stages in Alaska history. Of course, there are large sections about the native Tlingit culture, then the Russian period, details about the sale to the US, the Gold Rush era, and current times. There is also a very nice section about the wildlife in the Tongass National Forest. There is a photo of the natural history section on page 27 of the Adventures Ashore book, as that is one of the stops in the larger tour "I". After touring the museum we were very tired of walking, so we rode the city bus back to the cruise ship terminal. For only $1.25 you can ride the bus to almost any of the sights in the Juneau area from the cruise ships. We found out about it from calling Glacier Gardens, an activity we thought about doing but ended up not. The bus runs in loops, stopping at every stop in town every half hour. To find out more visit: http://www.juneau.org/pubworks/captrans/. There was a stop very convenient to the museum, and cheaper than getting a cab. Ketchikan port of call If you plan to shop, this is the place for it. There is shopping everywhere, and coupon books at both the Vancouver and Seward embarkation ports. (Grab the book that says Alaska with a cute sea otter on the front wrapped in plastic.) We picked up our obligatory Alaska souvenirs here… mostly T-shirts. Our tour of the day for all four of us was the Saxman Native Villiage & Ketchikan City Tour "B". We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and seeing the natives dance for us. There is also a video to watch and an explanation about carving totem poles. If you want to pay some big bucks (up to $2500 a foot, youza!), you can commission a personally carved pole yourself! Some folks were upset that we didn't see any actual carving in the carving shed, so don't expect that. They told us the chips fly while carving is going on and its not safe for them to carve in front of a large group wearing no safety goggles. This is the end of our ports. I strongly suggest that if you are going to do any Princess excursions to book them early online. You can log into Princess.com in the "cruise personalizer" section about 60 days prior to your cruise to book them. The best tours go early, so this is highly recommended. If you change your mind, you can tell the tour desk you want to cancel them up to 10am the day prior to that port. We did this with no problem. When you order in advance, all of your tickets are waiting for you in your cabin when you embark. Docking vs. Tendering - general in-port comment One thing that has to be mentioned when you are cruising in Alaska... there are MANY ships in each port each day. When you are on the Star you are in the biggest, newest and prettiest ship of them all. People on other ships gawk at your ship. Princess has paid for prime parking spots for Star in all three ports, so you don't have to tender. Watching the ships maneuver around each other is very impressive also. RCL seemed to have some prime parking also, but not all of the HAL ships did. Also, few folks know that if you are in port with another P&O Princess product, you can visit that ship with just your cruise card. I learned this online before leaving and tried it out in Skagway - the only day we were in port with another Princess ship. I took my family on a tour of the Sea Princess, to show them the difference between the Grand and Sun classes. Cruising the Inside Passage / Casino day It was nice to have that at sea day leading up to disembarkation in Vancouver… we slept late and spent parts of the day packing and looking at the scenery. During this day there was a slot tournament and a blackjack tournament in the casino. We had a fun time participating in the blackjack tournament, and my Dad came in third so that was great. The casino on Star is very nice and pretty big, so if you are looking to try your luck it’s a fun place. There was Bingo on multiple days of the cruise, and the biggest day was on this last day. If Bingo is your thing, you won't be disappointed. It was quite fun.. we tried it one day and didn't win. However, my stepmom did win on the last day, which was neat as she loves Bingo (they play frequently at home). Champagne Waterfall / photos Princess makes a big deal about the Champagne Waterfall which is done close to the end of the cruise. The Maitre d'Hotel sets up a pyramid of champagne glasses in the middle of the atrium and puts a little bubbly in all of them to keep them from tipping over, and then Princess lets passengers get on a stepstool and pour a drop into the top one. It was my understanding that once the photo ops were over, they actually make a waterfall out of it by pouring liquid into the top and letting it cascade down. NOT! Once everyone is done having their photo taken they disassemble it. Mainly its just another photo op for Princess. The fun part of this whole evening I now know is that when the guy finishes making the pyramid everyone throws confetti streamers from all of the high railings around the atrium. (Get there early if you want a spot along the rail to participate!) They pass out free champagne during this party, and they play loud music which gives the passengers a chance to dance with each other or the crew in the bottom level of the atrium. That part is quite fun. Princess charges $21+ for all 8x10 sized photos (all of the formal night photos and the champagne waterfall photos are printed this size). They charge $10 for 5x7 sized photos, which are the embarking, disembarking, dinner table and on deck photo opportunities. There are lots of backgrounds to choose from, so we sat for many photos any ended up getting one 8x10 from each of the two formal nights. You can also buy "stock" photos and an album in the photo area, which we did. Of course, they have the best shots of the Star in various positions and great glacier shots in their stock photos.. so we got that one night they were having a sale… 15 photos plus the album for $30. Disembarkation Star docks on Canada Place, which on every day is a busy place. Three ships docked there the day we were coming in, which made for thousands of folks at once. This is my second experience disembarking here, and I had a much better experience this time. Believe it or not, it was better as far as the baggage and customs go to get off late. My Dad and Stepmom had purchased a Princess Post-Cruise 3-day, 2-night package to enjoy Vancouver and Victoria, so they were in the last color to disembark. In order to stay together, we had our color switched to be with theirs. Since we got off so late, most of the baggage was gone and it was easy to find our stuff and the customs line was short. I advise you to grab one of those free luggage carts as you are getting off the ship because they are easier to roll than your rolling bags and you can heap all of your stuff together easily. We didn't disembark until 10am or so, and we passed the time easily in the card room playing games until our color was called. Most folks don't think of this and sit around staring at one another.. we had a great time while others were stressed! If you need to catch a cab after you disembark expect a really long and nasty line once you get past customs. If you get a package to an off-site hotel for the night, the busses are way at the end of the cruise terminal.. just keep walking. And if you want the best of all worlds… do what we did! POST-CRUISE IN VANCOUVER Pan-Pacific Hotel If you decide to stay in Vancouver one night pre or post cruise, choose the Pan Pacific Hotel if you can. Its not cheap, 5-star, but its worth its weight in gold I think. The Pan Pacific is on top of the front of the Canada Place cruise ship terminal! It was SO nice not to have to take any ground transportation in Vancouver after disembarkation. We just walked straight forward past all of the taxi and bus lines and crowds and turned in our luggage to the bellhop on the cruise ship level. We then proceeded upstairs to inquire about our rooms, but checkout is not until noon and check-in is not officially until 3pm, so we knew chances were slim our room would be ready. (They weren't, but we were happy to come back later to complete our check-in.) Maybe just our luck, but both my Dad and I got upgraded to superior harbor view rooms, even though they weren't quite ready. I think its best to inquire early rather than at peak check-in of 3pm. The way we were upgraded, I'm guessing they book all 500+ of their rooms, regardless of the price, and the first to arrive get upgraded. The service in the hotel was exceptional. I had made my reservation online myself last October, and my Dad was on that Princess package as I had mentioned earlier, and we were both treated equally well. Princess had not specified that my Dad wanted a smoking room and the lady at reception worked exceptionally hard to find him a smoking room. The food in the hotel is very expensive.. we suggest you walk down to the convention level near the street and take the underground walkway into a downtown food court to eat. There is quite a variety there. We had both dinner and breakfast there at very reasonable prices. Hertz car rental I had made a reservation online at hertz.com to pick up a car at Canada Place and drop it the following day at the airport. Confusingly though, the Hertz area of Canada Place is a mystery to most. They don't have a booth with the other car rental companies as the cars are there by reservation only. There is a small desk towards the back of Parking level P2, which is only open until about 11am. We had to inquire extensively to find it, but now that we know where it is… no problem. We were upgraded to a Ford Explorer which was great for the four of us. Vancouver afternoon Charles and I had visited Vancouver last year and done a lot of the standard Vancouver things.. like Stanley Park, the Harbor Dinner Cruise, Whale Watching, etc. http://www.vancouverwhalewatch.com/index.htm The one neat-looking thing we didn't have time for then was going up Grouse Mountain to see the city view from across the inlet. http://www.grousemtn.com/. You really need a rental car and lots of time to enjoy it, so that was our activity for the afternoon. We enjoyed driving across the Lions Gate Bridge to North Vancouver and then all of the activities at Grouse Mountain. The skyride up to the lodge was fantastic. It was another wonderful day in Vancouver. We saw big and beautiful chainsaw carvings, a lumberjack show, the bear cub habitat, an eagle's eye view video presentation (all aerial shots… neat), and we rode the ski lift to the summit and back. The views were SO wonderful!!! We were exhausted when it was over, and got back to the hotel and checked into our rooms just in time to sit and watch Star Princess back out of her spot and proceed out under Lions Gate to begin her next week's cruise. A very perfect ending to a wonderful cruising week! MONEY SAVING OPPORTUNITY If you are comfortable booking your own transportation and excursions, I suggest you look into the coupon book called The Great Alaskan TourSaver. http://www.toursaver.com/ My Mom had one, and she saved a lot just while she was with us. There are lots of 2 for 1 excursions, hotels, car rentals, transfers, you name it. My Mom used the 2 for 1 Alaska Sealife Center and 2 nights for 1 at that wonderful Windsong lodge in Seward. There are also coupons for the Alaskan Railroad, which is a great way to get from Anchorage to Seward if you like trains. Using one of the coupons on an expensive flightseeing tour or fishing trip will pay for the coupon book all at once. Also, I booked my hotels and some other things in Vancouver by using links from the Vancouver tourism site. http://www.tourism-vancouver.org/docs/visit/index.html . Hotel rooms are hard to come by in cruising season (May thru September) unless you book way in advance. The cruise lines block huge chunks of the available rooms so if you don't want to pay them for your room, you have to plan way ahead. I booked my Pan Pacific room for this June last October, just FYI. Vancouver airport The airport is not near downtown Vancouver, so give yourself time to get there. I suggest renting a car and driving yourself to avoid the bus transfer lines. There are many lines to get on a plane in Vancouver, so for your sake I hope you don't have to do the airport lines after the disembarkation lines! One tip I can give you, is that after you pass through US Customs outgoing from Vancouver, and you have dropped your checked baggage on the conveyor belt look for an ATM-like machine to pay your Vancouver Airport Improvement Fee. (Everyone has to pay it to leave the airport… $10CAN) It will save you some in-line time, as most folks have to get in line to pay that at the booth and don't pay attention to the machine. Once you pay at the machine, you will need to get assistance from airport personnel to pop you into the security line at the proper place. If you don't see anyone, just get in the big line and wait until you are assisted by airport personnel. Sun Princess vs. Star Princess Through a strange quirk in my schedule, I cruised on Princess in back-to-back months. I did a short 3-day repositioning cruise in May on the Sun and this long-planned Alaskan adventure in June. In many ways, my experience on the two were distinctly different and I enjoyed the Sun better. I will point some of them out here, just in case you aren't yet booked on Star and are trying to decide which one is for you. I also suggest you read my Sun Princess review as I went more in detail about my PC Dining experiences. Sun-class = Sun, Sea, Dawn, Ocean; Grand-class = Grand, Golden, Star Service… the service in general was better on the Sun, but that is crew-specific so I can't really say much about that. The room service and the room steward on the Sun were not intrusive as they were for us on the Star. Atrium… I wholeheartedly agree that the atrium area of the Sun class ships is bigger and more beautiful than on the Grand class. Strange but true! Spa… On the Sun there was discounted spa treatments on all in-port days. There was a big list of them, in a whole separate brochure. When I inquired about this in the Star they looked at me like I was nuts. On the Sun, they also seemed to follow that the brochure actually said, which was good! Laundromat… You still had to buy the soap, but using the washers and dryers was free on the Sun, not so on the Star. Pools… The Star wins hands-down here as the design is much more beautiful and there are more of them on the Star. Layout… Both were similar in total layout, with the Star just being bigger with a longer walk from one end to the other. If walking is an issue for you, you will probably enjoy the Sun-class just as much or more than a Grand-class. Unique to the Star… Sports bar and Skywalkers Lounge. On the Sun you can find no public TV to watch a big sporting event, which bugged me on Sun because I wanted to see the hockey playoffs. They were over by the time we cruised on the Star, so I never hung out there. Go figure! The view from Skywalkers is just wonderful and unique to Grand-class ships.

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Nov 30, -0001

Mexican Riviera

First let me say that we have cruised several other lines, so I feel like this is a fair comparison. We arrived around 12:00 to check in and were aboard ship before 1:00.It was smooth and very professional. We went straight to our rooms and we quite surprised to see how much room there was! We had a standard outside room, and there was sooo much storage space! Next we went to see the Matre'd to change from Personal Choice to assigned

seating. We have found that with Personal Choice dining that the service is terrible! The 1st and 2nd seating was already full, however they assigned us a permanent table for 6 at 6:30 in the Portifino dining room. Our waiter Andre was exceptional! He showed us so much TLC we felt like the rich and famous. He catered to our every need, always making a fuss over us. The only real problem was that the food is mediocre at best. A real disappointment on such a nice ship, with a 5 star rating. We felt the food was the only real drawback of the cruise. I have read on a few reviews that the service wasn't up to par on the Star, and I must strongly disagree. After being on Carnival, Celebrity, NCL, and RCCL, I feel that the service on this ship is so superb!!! Every single person working on this ship is top trained and ALWAYS ready to help with anything they can. The cruise director is fantastic, the dance instructor, Sly, is wonderful, Katherine the arts director is sooo sweet...and so on and so on. We felt like we were treated so graciously. And there was almost never anything being sold in a pushy, ugly way. Pictures were only taken getting on and off the ship, and on formal nights when you asked for them to be taken. We really loved all the pampering and personal attention this HUGE ship is able to offer. The spa and Gym area alone make you feel like you are in a resort spa retreat. We will be sailing Princess again soon, only hoping that they improve the food some. The good news is none of us gained any weight this time, so maybe food shouldn't be the main reason to go anyways! Happy cruising, Lisa

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