This was our first and last cruise on Princess. The passengers were treated like cattle both in embarking (a 3 hr wait in the Seattle drizzle) and the 7 hour delay in disembarking in Seattle after missing Victoria.
There were so many disgruntled passengers and there was no organization on Princess's part to resolve any of the problems
It has been more than a few years since our last cruise with Princess or P&O and we were looking forward to sailing on a brand new vessel. This was also out first experience with a Grand Class ship, the previous Princess vessel being the Sun-Class Dawn Princess. Living in Southern California, Mexico is what it is. We have traveled extensively throughout the region, so the ship herself was more appealing than the itinerary.
Pier Embarkation - The parking lot reserved for Princess Passengers is actually not at the pier, but nearby next to the Lane Victory. On April 17th, there were no shuttle buses running, so be prepared for a walk to Berth 93. The parking area directly adjacent to the terminal is reserved for Royal Caribbean passengers. Check-in was fast and efficient, with no queue at the Platinum desk. Platinum members also are afforded the added benefit of not having to wait in the security line.
First Impressions - The Diamond Princess is huge and new, but once onboard feels decidedly small, and quite honestly unspectacular. While it was obvious that construction and materials were of high quality, the first impressionsof the public areas are average, as if the ship came out of the same Princess Cruises playbook that built the Dawn Princess. A small atrium area, low ceilings in the dining room and narrow entrances to the Princess theater contributed to the impression. The ship does not have the wow factor one might find on RCI's Voyager class ships, there is no old world elegance of a Holland America Ship. The sophisticated style of Celebrity was missing; even Carnival blasts with over the top in your face Las Vegas glitz. All week long we kept searching for a word or phrase to describe the Diamond Princess, and the best we could come up with was decidedly average.
The Cabin - Overall the mini Suite offers a lot of bang for the buck. The Suite was large and had a good floor plan. The cabin steward did a good job of keeping our room neat and tidy. On the negative side, we found it odd that there are no closet doors, especially in a suite where one might be inclined to have guests. The Veranda is open above with no privacy from prying eyes on decks above, the elements, or the fine spray of the midnight pool deck power wash. Lastly, I have to agree about the poor design of the tub shower. It is difficult to shower if you are over six feet tall.
Food and Beverage - Dining in the Restaurant of you choice every night in itself sounds like a good idea, giving the passenger the freedom to choose where when and with whom they wish do dine should add to the cruise experience. Unfortunately, onboard the Diamond Princess the concept in its current form just doesn't work. The impression is that each venue offers something different. a Chop House or Asian. Italian or Southwestern. In actuality each restaurant is nothing more than an extension of the main dining room with a supplemental menu offering a few unique items. Customers are seated in banks of four to six tables, and one must wait for each table to finish each course before being served the next. The four venues really didn't seem like restaurants in that the guests chatted across tables as is typical for a ships dining room. I really enjoy chatting with other passengers, however if you are trying to sell the concept as being similar to land based resorts, it just doesn't work. One would never chat across three or four tables at your favorite steak house. With the exception of the prime rib from the cart in Sterling's, the specialty dishes ranged from inedible to unremarkable, As a suggestion, stay away from the specialty items, and order from the regular menu. With respect to the upscale, up charged specialty restaurant, Sabatini's, I have but two words - Stay Away! Save your cover charge for the specialty dining rooms on Celebrity, RCI, Holland America. Finally, the casual buffets suffered from the same poor quality. Jelly doughnut filling is not strawberry jam, French fries do not make a good breakfast potato, hot dogs rolled in pastry are not the same as Italian sausage, Squid stir-fry does not make a good taco filling. enough said.
Entertainment - Excellent.
Shore Excursions - The program was well organized, and seemed to offer a wide range of activities to suit all tastes. There seems to be more eco-adventure excursions as at RCI, which seemed to be very popular.
The Lotus Spa - Brought to you by our friends at Steiner, the Lotus Spa was in keeping with offerings on all newer ships. The staff was friendly and accommodating, the treatments were good to excellent and fairly priced. The only drawback was in the details concerning the thermal suite. This area is almost identical to the Persian Gardens on Celebrity's millennium class vessels, but unfortunately it is located directly underneath the basketball court, and where the Persian Garden is softly lit, the thermal suite is very bright. The lap pool on the other hand is a great retreat from the hustle and bustle of the other outdoor pools, was protected from the wind, and was off limits to children.
Disembarkation - Platinum members had use of a private departure lounge while waiting for disembarkations. The morning Los Angeles Times was a welcome surprise. We did find it odd that Suite guests were not disembarked in the first groups as is common with other lines. F.I.S. formalities were painless. Again no shuttle buses to the remote parking area, so be prepared for the walk to your car.
In summary, in my opinion Princess has lost their way. Nothing that we experienced is un-fixable, but there is a desperate need for a complete brand make-over. Princess touts a 165 year history, and markets itself as 'affordable luxury'. In practice, at least on Diamond Princess, mediocrity is the order of the day.
We cruised on the 4/17 Mexican Riviera itinerary on the Diamond Princess. Having cruised on the Inaugural 2 day trip to Ensenada, I had preview to the Diamond Princess.
Embarkation: The embarkation process was smooth. The Platinum Captain's Circle check-in is a great time saver.
Cabins: The cabin (cat. AB) was attractively decorated and good sized for the price. The balcony, while large, offers ZERO privacy if your cabin is on Dolphin deck.a big design flaw in my opinion. Also, be warned if someone is walking through the cabin door behind you, don't let it slam on them, there are now door stays on the cabin doors, just a rubber door stopper that you have to wedge under the door edge and the doors slam quite heavily. Another design flaw is the tub/shower. If you are over 6'3 forget about standing up in the tub/shower. 6'3 or not, the shower is slicker than grease pig **** , has grab handles in weird places and has a fixed shower head, instead of a hose and wand arrangement like Celebrity and RCCI offer. I saw many new slinged arms on the cruise and can'thelp but wonder if they were the result of the slippery shower. Cabin service was efficient and unobtrusive.
Public Areas: The public areas are nice and never feel crowded. The ship doesn't feel 115,000grt, as there isn't one particularly large or grand room where you can take in the size of the ship. Personally, I like the idea of running across my fellow passengers to and from dinner and shows, in the traditional sense of an ocean going voyage. To me the Diamond Princess felt about as grand and special as your local Sheraton.
Dining: I am not sure at what point Princess' food went downhill, but it went there quickly. We chose the Personal Choice dining, a concept that seems to work better with bigger rather than smaller groups. We tried all of the restaurants on board; here is a quick review of each.
1) Santa Fe: If Princess is going to serve TexMex or Latin inspired food while departing from the West coast, they are going to have to do better than serving guacamole (which tasted like it was squeezed out of a frozen bag, El Pollo Loco does it better!!!) and Tostitos for an appetizer. The fajitas were horrible, lukewarm with a few shreds of some sort of greasy cheese on top. The Kalua Rice pudding for dessert is worth mentioning, very good.
2) Vivaldi: Just average, actually can't remember what I ate.
3) Sterling: Your best bet for P.C. dining. The atmosphere is great, looks and feels like traditional carvery. The steaks and prime rib are good, not great. The last night of the cruise the service was horrible, we left before coffee or dessert, as the waiters disappeared for about 20 mins. after clearing our dinner plates.
4) Jade Moon: Another let down. The Sushi appetizer was disgusting, not because I don't like sushi, but because what they were serving could barely pass as sushi. I have seen better sushi in the cold case at the local Ralph's market. The dim sum appetizer steamer had three pieces of soggy dim sum in it; they looked as if they were frozen from Trader Joes and then over cooked. The entrée's as well were passable, at best. Again, if Princess is going to serve the West coast with this ship, the food has to be more appetizing than that of the average college cafeteria.
5) Sabatini's: WHAT A JOKE!!! I had heard the rave reviews of this restaurant from many Princess aficionados, now I wonder what they eat when they are ashore! The atmosphere doesn't feel classic Italian at all; it feels more like the Olive Garden, not an attractive room. The service was not polished, high-end or sophisticated. The antipasti course was presented very strangely, with a waiter breezing by, dropping a few pieces of food on your plate. The cioppino was the weirdest and worst excuse for cioppino I have ever seen, several pieces of seafood with some tomato based sauce dribbled over the top.so much for the rich broth a traditional cioppino offers! For the main course I chose the lobster, frankly aside from being split lengthwise I didn't see any difference between the lobster served in any other dining room. Dessert was unremarkable. Just to make sure I got my $20 worth of Sabatini's; the food awoke me at 2:00am so I could hunch over the toilet!! If you want a truly memorable alternative dining experience on a ship, try the specialty restaurants on Celebrity's Millennium class ships, or Chops Grille or Portofino on Royal Caribbean.
Entertainment: The shows in the Princess Theatre were great, as well as the hypnotist, Alexander. Unfortunately it was his last cruise with Princess.
Overall, I was completely under whelmed with Diamond Princess. The dilution of the Princess brand is evident and unfortunate. I guess it guarantees that it won't overlap with any other brands in the Carnival Corp. portfolio, as Princess is now light years away from HAL in terms of quality and no where near as fun as Carnival. Your money is better spent at Royal Caribbean or Celebrity!
We arrived at the docks at about 1200 only to find out that, due to a delay, the Diamond didn't actually arrive in port at the scheduled time so we would not be boarding her until about 1500. I was able to walk outside and around the building and I got to a place at the dock where I was able to take a few photos. This was great because the side of the ship on the dock side was the Starboard, and I was looking right at the Aft where our cabin was. I have an extremely close shot of Caribe deck, cabin 747 if anyone is interested! Also got a few good shots of the back of the ship where Diamond Princess, Hamilton is printed.
We started boarding at almost exactly 1500 hrs. Because of my parents'Platinum status, we were among the first 100 or so people on board. If you have seen my photos yet, you may have noticed that the pool shots have very few, if any, people around them. As soon as we boarded, I went to the cabin and dropped off all carry-on items,grabbed the camera and a deck plan map, and I went exploring.
I took my hi-liter pen out every evening and planned out the next days' activities. I DO recommend the 2 shows, Curtain Up and Piano Man. The singers and dancers were outstanding! We arrived about 30 minutes early, for the early seatings, and we were able to secure great seats. The first night there is a Welcome Aboard show that we enjoyed too. The CD(cruise director) Billy Hygate introduced some of the assistant cruise directors. I wanted to see who I would be having a lot of contact with in the following week ! This is also where we heard, for the first time, that there were over 700 kids on board!
Later in the week, Friday, there was a backstage tour that I would recommend if you have never been "behind the scenes" of a stage presentation. A lot of work goes into these Broadway-like productions.
Tuesday, late afternoon, we enjoyed the Mexican Folkloric Show. Beautiful costumes and dancing from the different regions of Mexico.
My parents and I participated in the Morning Trivia with Mandy (asst. CD, from Canada) and we also tried our luck at the Multi-Media Trivia Challenge with Suzie and Jen (both are Jr asst. CDs, from Canada) These trivia challenges are not cut-throat competitive, just good fun. We were terrible at the Morning Trivia, but Mandy made it fun with her hilarious comments. Mandy is also the one who "insults" the contestants on the Weakest One (Princess' version of the Weakest Link). I was lucky enough to be 1 of 8 persons selected to participate in the Weakest One, and I won! Everyone who played got the same prize, which I thought was a good idea.
I recommend going to the Port and Shopping talk (ours was on Sunday) because you will get some raffle tickets to drop off at different stores in the ports, with the chance to win jewelry or other items. I won a silver bracelet from Cielito Lindo in Mazatlan, so I can tell you from personal experience it IS possible to win this stuff! You also will get good tips of what to look for and where to find it.
If they have the Celebrity Liars' Club, (monday for us) it is a very funny way to see the other side of the Captain! Our "celebrity panel" was Captain Bernard, CD Billy Hygate, singer Melanie Wood and Comedian Lorenzo Clark. A word is given, then each panelist has to explain what that word means. Only one person is telling the truth. The stories and explanations they come up are so funny, and sometimes were actually true!
Thursday evening, (the 2nd formal night) I stayed awake for the Champagne Waterfall Party (starting at 2330) It was interesting watching the Maitre d'Hotel construct the tower. You can even walk up some steps after it is done and get a photo taken of youself pouring champagne.
Speaking of photos, there are many "photo-ops" on board. 2 formal nights, a black and white casual and a color casual photo night., photos taken as you disembark at Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan (not Cabo, because you are tendered ashore), photos taken at different dining rooms, etc. We bought a few, but I mostly took the photos (or my dad took mine)
I also played a little shuffleboard, went with mom for afternoon tea at the Pacific Moon alternative dining room, walked the promenade deck at sunset and did a lot of walking around taking photos.
I can't comment on the pools, golfing, spa, ceramics, or any other activities not listed above, because I didn't participate in those. The pools looked refreshing and inviting, but my thinking is "I can swim at home". plus there were way too many kids for me.
I am very easy to please, but I still know bad food when I taste it. I am pleased to say that I did not taste anything bad on this trip! We did the alternative dining, eating in all 4 of the dining rooms. At each restaurant they also served whatever was on the traditional menu for the night. You got 2 menus and could mix from both menus if you wished.
*Pacific Moon (Asian theme) - I loved the shrimp scampi and scallops over noodles so much that I had it both times we dined here. I also got the appetizers both times- pot sticker, spring roll and wonton combination. Sushi isn't my thing, but I liked the raw shrimp over rice and the California Rolls.
*Vivaldi (Italian theme) - Mahi Mahi... YUM! Served with garlic mashed red potatos. The 2nd time we ate at Vivaldi I had the Orange Duck.. Again YUM! I decided to try some of the things I may not ever order at home and I was NOT dissapointed. I also recommend the raspberry crème broule!!
*Santa Fe (Southwestern/Mexican) - ok, coming from the southwest myself, I didn't go for something new but instead ordered the Chicken Fajitas, both times we dined there.
Delicious and ALMOST better than my mother-in-laws'! The rice pudding was very good too!
*Sterling (English - Steakhouse?) I am not much of a meat eater, so if anyone else reading this is the same, I would recommend saving the Sterling for the 2nd formal night (Thursday) when they serve the lobster on the traditional dining menu. I had the lobster tail and it was soooo juicy and good! I would also recommend the baked clams appetizer. This was the first night I didn't order desert! (too full!)
*Horizon Court- As some others have said, there is a confused atmosphere when you are going from one area of the buffet to another, but for the most part it was alright. I prefer just going to a section instead of having to stand in a buffet line, going past all the items I don't want just to get to the few that I do. You just have to watch out for the kids. Did I mention there were a lot of kids? The food itself was good. Not 5 star, but edible and always a good variety. My favorite was the fried fish! (I think it was Wednesday?) We ate at the Hamburger Grill 2 lunches (good burgers, chicken breasts and french fries) but we did not sample the pizza.
Staff and Crew:
I mentioned a few of the staff already, but I have to mention Jen again. She is a Junior Assistant Cruise Director. I ran into her a lot, at the trivia games, shuffleboard, Captains' cocktail parties, line dancing, and just around the ship. Every time she had a smile and a "hello!" for us. The other assistant CDs I had the opportunity to meet were Rodney (Australia), Julie (Australia), and Greg (South Africa), in addition to Julie, Jen and Mandy, who I already mentioned.
Our cabin steward, Constantin (Romania) was super! Whatever we needed, all we had to do was let him know and it was waiting in our cabin when we returned to it. The cabin was always cleaned and made up upon our returns and Constantin always had a smile ready.
I also have to mention Dragos and Dragos, (not related and both from Romania.) They were our waiter and assistant waiter the first night we dined at the Pacific Moon. I saw Dragos I again in the Horizon court at lunch (where a lot of the night time waiters double as help in the buffet area) and Dragos II at the Champagne Party. Both recognized me came over to me to say hello. Lisa from South Africa was another assistant waiter from Sterling restaurant who saw my family on more than one occasion in the Horizon and we even got a hug from her on the last morning at breakfast.
We felt so welcomed by all of the staff and crew we interacted with. Every staff or crew member we passed would always say hello, or good morning, or some kind of greeting. I have nothing negative to say about anyone I had contact with.
This was the only part of the cruise I have to complain about.. Because we actually got into port on time, if not a little early! The Platinum status of my parents once again came in handy. We were in the 3rd group to get off the ship and were in our personal car and on the freeway by 0845.
This was my first cruise, so a lot of the things I did and a lot of my observations may be a little different than those of veteren cruisers.
Thanks for reading.
The ship is beautiful but very big. The food selection is good and the quality is pretty good considering the volume that is prepared. We were extremely pleased with the cabin and restaurant staff. The very personal service at Sabatini's was also great. We found the entertainment to be OK (some great - some duds).
Overall, this cruise met our expectations and we had a great time. There were many things that Princess could have done or handled better, however, it would not stop us from cruising Princess again. On the other hand, it did nothing to instill any brand loyalty in us either.
Seattle - We drove to Seattle the night before and found a hotel that would let us leave our car for the week. Woke at 6am and drove down to pier 30 to see the ship. It was enormous. Went back to the hotel, ate breakfast and waited for our ride to the pier.
Embarkation - Arrived at the pier at 10:30am. There was already a line of people who needed to drop off their luggage. However, the receiving door was not open. We noticed that theprevious cruise passengers were still disembarking. Since the ship was in port so early this morning I thought we should be boarding soon. However, more and more passengers kept coming off the ship..and our line got longer and longer. The port crew moved people to compact our serpentine line since the newly arriving passengers were now lining up in the parking lot. The first rumors we heard was that the delay was caused by the ship arriving late. We knew that wasn't correct. Later, we were told that US Immigration delayed the disembarkation. I'm not sure if we really knew why it took so long. Anyway, the baggage door opened around 2pm. We dropped off our luggage and then stood in the ticket line. Got through that line around 2:30pm and then off to the security screening line. Finally got onboard only to stand in the cruise card picture line. Why did we have to stand in four lines? Finally got to our room after 3pm.
The ship - Very big and nicely decorated. Looks just like all the pictures posted on the websites. No big surprises. However, it did take us about a week to remember where everything was located.
Our room - We booked a balcony cabin specifically for Alaska. This was our first balcony and we really enjoyed it, however, we still plan to book inside cabins on some of our future cruises. We left the curtains open and usually woke up before 4am. Spent hours on the balcony watching the inside passage slowly sail by - until shipboard activities started. It was amazing. Our cabin steward was first rate. He always greeted us by name and was always willing to accommodate our needs (which weren't too many). Our cabin was always made up and organized - which was amazing since we were constantly on the go and we were very messy.
Restaurants - We only at in the International, Santa Fe and Horizon Food Court. We chose Traditional dining - first seating. I think we were really lucky that we booked early because the waitlist for our seating ran into the hundreds. The International dining room menu was pretty much the standard Princess menu. (My only other cruise with Princess was 15 years ago and the menu seemed exactly the same - I was hoping for a little change). On four of the non-formal nights we were also given a chance to order from the other anytime dining restaurants. I found the anytime dining restaurants to have very limited menus, thus, I mainly ordered from the International menu. (I felt that I can cook a steak, prime rib or lobster at home - I wanted dishes that took time to make and were inventive). Overall, I thought the menu selection was good and the food quality pretty good for such a large operation. Our waiters were great and the other restaurant staff very pleasant. The Horizon Court was a different affair. We only ate snacks and a few lunches there. Too many pushy people and the staff were not as attentive. The food selection seemed OK but the quality was just OK.
Entertainment - We really enjoyed some of the shows and were bored with others. Pianoman was very good as was one of the comedians. The other comedian and hypnotist were boring or just OK. We thought the main shows on our NCL cruise last year was much more professional. Several of the lounge acts (singers, piano players, etc.) were also very enjoyable along with a few martinis. The games shows (The Weakest One, The Princess Price Is and Princess Idol) were pretty good. However, with all the sightseeing in the early a.m., some of the contest were a little too late for us.
Ports of call - Juneau was just OK. Walked into town and took the $10 shuttle (school) bus to Mendenhall Glacier. Just did the photo trail and caught the bus back to town. Walked through the shops near the docks and then went back to the ship for dinner.
Skagway was enjoyable because we left town during the busy midday rush. Rented a car from AVIS, drove up the White Pass, through British Columbia to Emerald Lake in the Yukon Territory. It was a very scenic drive with snow covered mountains, frozen and melting lakes and very few tourist. We highly recommend this trip.
Ketchikan was a very cute town. Due to the limited time in port, we just walked around the tourist area. Wished we had more time to explore - maybe next time.
Victoria - oops. Our ship was blown into the dockside and was unable to get properly docked. Passengers were not allowed off the ship. We felt really bad for our newly-made friends that had excursions planed. It is such a beautiful city, but since it is only about ten hours from our home we were not bothered by missing this stop.
Debarkation - Wait and more waiting. We went to sleep before we left Victoria so we did not know that our ship would be arriving in Seattle late. Since we drove to Seattle, we were not worried about missing a flight. However, there was a lot of people scrambling to make new arrangements. Left our things in the room and tried to keep entertained during the long, long, long wait. Spent several hours in Skywalkers talking to other passengers. Around 3pm we decided to gather all our things from the room. Noticed that there was a new nameplate under the room number sign. Finally were able to leave the ship and leave the pier around 4pm.
Overall - This cruise met our expectations. We had lots of fun. It was well worth it.
This was our fourth trip to the Mexican Riviera, having cruised there previously on Carnival's Elation, Star Princess and Crystal Harmony. We like this venue because it is convenient (we live about 15 miles from San Pedro) and warm.
From our home to our cabin (B316) took about an hour and change. As poster Gayle said, Princess seems to have the embarkation process down pat, and if you are pre-registered and have cruised with Princess before, you sail through (ha, ha!) pretty quickly.
Because we like to sail on new ships (before passengers have a chance to foul the upholstery) we especiallly enjoyed Diamond Princess. Everything was still new (the carpets kept pilling!) and had that smell that you get from a new car. The decor is very understated (take that Joe Farkus!)and Diamond Princess could easily pass as a Holland America or even Crystal ship. Lots of cherry wood paneling, some great art work including murals with a very Japanese theme (Diamond was built by Mitsubishi in Nagasaki).
Of all the ships we have sailed on, including RCCI's Radiance of the Seas, Diamond Princess is by far the smoothest. There were times when youwould have sworn you were in a hotel on land. There was no discernible vibration and, thanks to the ships enormous stabilizers, little to no roll. Just wonderful!
If you've been on other Princess ships (and there were plenty of Princess frequent cruisers on board), you know that Princess' favors a small ship concept, dividing up the vessel into many small areas. Thus, on Diamond Princess, which is a lot like Star Princess, there is no single, grand dining room with a cascading staircase and muti-tiered seating. On Diamond Princess, the International Dining Room, the only one with traditional, assigned seating, is the largest of the five free dining rooms and spreads from port to starboard, although it has a low ceiling. The other four Free Style dining rooms are half the size of the International with two (Santa Fe and Pacific Moon) on Deck 6 and two (Vivaldi and Sterling Steak House) directly below on Deck 5. All five share the same kitchen.
Because we booked too late to get a table in the International Dining Room, we reasoned that the Italian-themed Vivaldi would be less popular than say, the Sterling Steak House, and reserved a table there each night except one. After the first evening, the Maitre d' took a shine to us and gave us the same four-person table, set for just the two of us, each night. Nestled in a corner next to a bulkhead, it had a large window, just what we asked for.
Unlike other ships we've been on, the dining rooms on Diamond Princess were staffed by many Poles, which was great because I speak the language fluently. Thus, we got great service and shared a lot of inside jokes in our/their native tongue.
Like the previous poster, Gayle, my wife and I agree that the food on Diamond Princess was just average. Despite what seems like, many choices, the menu is really quite limited (if you like the same kind of food) and toward the end of the cruise we found ourselves running out of options. However, we did enjoy the ship's wines, which were reasonably priced.
On the second sea day, we wisely chose to have lunch, rather than dinner at Sabatini's, the pay restaurant ($20 each). Arriving early, we were seated next to a large window that looked out on Promenade Deck, which afforded us a great view of Cabo San Lucas where we made an unscheduled stop to drop off a sick passenger.
Starting with an impressive list of appetizers, the mostly Italian waiters serve you a multi-course meal that ends up with some delicious tiramissu for dessert. Very filling and worth the twenty bucks.
One note about food: since previous poster, Gayle mentioned pizza, I must throw in my two cents worth. We tried it on the first sea day and found it to be the worst we've ever had on any cruise ship. Like cardboard, and flavorless. Interestingly, the best pizza we've had on board any ship was on Carnival's Elation...
Because we're not much for stage shows, our entertainment consisted of dancing--at the Wheelhouse Bar, our favorite. There were two musical groups that alternated sets, and being older, we preferred the one that played standards, versus more "modern" stuff. That said, neither trio was much to write home about and I thought of contacting the ship's musical director to tell him.
We did, however, enjoy the piano/vocal stylings of Chris Hamilton, a Brit who does mostly Cole Porter, Gerschwin, Noel Coward, and the like. A great pianist and a lively showman.
Because it was Spring Break, we had lots of kids on board, and like Gayle said, they did tend to take over some of the swimming pools and Jacuzzis. But on a ship that's almost 950-feet-long, it wasn't a huge problem.
The bottom line: I'd recommend Diamond Princess for anyone who doesn't mind cruising on a big ship (115,875 gross registered tons) run by one of the major lines. In other words, this ain't Crystal. But it's light years better than the competition (Carnival, RCCI and Norwegian). It's also quite affordable, especially if you book off-season and early.
We have always wanted to cruise to Alaska and decided in September 2003 that 2004 was the year to do it! After all, mom's not getting any younger. Then again, neither am I! LOL. One of the things that had always held us back from Alaska was having to go to Canada to start the cruise. The air fare was prohibitive. But, now that the cruise lines are leaving out of Seattle we decided this was the time to do it! I started the ball rolling by contacting my cruise agent pal Fred Lanyard on September 8, 2003. Since we had cruised on Princess (Star Princess) for the LCGC in November of 2002 and had really liked the line, we decided to go with them again. My friend Harriet, who had cruised with us in 1988, asked if she could join us since Alaska has been a dream of hers as well. We said sure and are ready for fun! So, it's mom (88), Harriet (80) and me (57 -- the kid) and I'm sure I'm gonna have trouble with both of them since neither one of 'em behaves!And, now all of a sudden I've become the tour director of this trip -- they claimed there was a vote but I didn't hear about it! IT'S GONNA COST 'EM BIG TIME!
Booking On September 16 we asked Fred to get in contact with Princess to definitely book a cabin and I also contacted United Airlines to book our air. I think we got a pretty good rate at $271.50 rt per person to Seattle. We booked a mini-suite with a balcony on the ship since there are three of us. We requested and were given category AD cabin E712 (Emerald deck 8). This cabin is near the stern and we're hoping we won't get too much motion since Harriet is prone to seasickness. I suggested she stock up on powdered ginger so we'll find out how that works. Let's hope we don't get too much noise either!
I found a hotel on the internet (Sutton Suites) for an incredible price and they will pick you up at the airport (free) and shuttle you to the pier ($25 for up to four people) for the cruise the next day.
Here we go!!
Friday, May 21 -- Seattle Our flight is scheduled to leave Milwaukee at 9:00 am which means we must be at the airport at 7:00 am for the security check-in. UGH!! Here comes Limousine Services to deliver us to the airport (10 minutes early)!
As I said, our flight was originally scheduled to take off at 9 but rescheduled to 9:10 am. At 8:55 they still hadn't started boarding. They started at 9:00 and when the plane was about half full they stopped! Uh Oh! We were in the middle of a thunderstorm and the airport was completely shut down due to lightning and horizontal (yes -- horizontal) rain. Thank goodness we were still in the terminal instead of being stuck on the runway in that stuffy plane! When our plane finally left we experienced some pretty good turbulence and also missed our connection in Denver by 10 minutes. United put us on the next flight (2:10 pm) getting us into Seattle about 4:10. Since our ship was supposed to leave Seattle at 4:00, if we had flown out the same day as the cruise, we would have missed the ship! This is why we ALWAYS leave the day before!
We called the shuttle for the hotel (Sutton Suites and extended Stay Hotel) from the airport and they were there in 10 minutes. The hotel was not the best -- the drapes were badly frayed, the shower didn't work at all and the drain in the sink didn't lift unless we pulled it up with our fingernails. And they were full so we couldn't be moved. Never try washing your hair in a hotel bathroom sink? Not easy!! I complained at the desk when we checked out and they credited the bill a whole $10. Big whoop!! Won't ever stay thre again! The one good thing about the hotel was the Chinese Restaurant (Hong Kong Palace) that was attached. It was by far the best Chinese food we've ever had!
Saturday, May 22 -- Embarkation Day Wake up call at 7:99. The hotel provided a free continental breakfast. It wasn't the best but it was food. We took their shuttle to the pier. One of the other people on the shuttle said he heard on tv that our ship had hit the pier in Victoria BC the night before. When we got to the Diamond Princess, we found out that we weren't gonna be boarding any time soon. They took our luggage and bussed us to the Seattle City Center to be checked in.
On the way to the City Center we were given a tour of Seattle by our bus driver and given a little history of the area. It was very interesting and I discovered that Seattle is VERY hilly! I hadn't known that. We saw the coffee house that they based Café Nervosa in Frasier on.
We were given a numbered card (ours was #8) when we arrived and after check-in we were turned loose in the area and told to be back about 4:30 for further information. There was plenty to do: the Space Needle was there, a museum, a pretty park and a food court. Since it was pretty rainy and foggy we didn't go up in the needle 'cause we figured we wouldn't be able to see anything. By now we were hungry so we hit the food court. In the middle of our meal THE FIRE ALARM WENT OFF!! What next? Sooo, hundreds of people schlepped their trays outside in the drizzle. It was quite funny to see.
At 4:00 when we should have been leaving Seattle we were still at the City Center. I do have to give Princess a lot of credit, though. I thought they did a pretty good job of keeping us informed about the situation. Others didn't seem to think so. About 5:00 they announced that we would finally be taken to the ship according to our check-in numbers. We were on the ship and in our cabin by 6:30. Hooray!
It was a very nice cabin -- roomier than we expected. There were two single beds, a sofa bed, 2 tvs, and a lot of storage. The bathroom had a tub/shower combination with a very friendly shower curtain!
After meeting our stewardess Mariana (she was a gem) we toddled off to the International Dining Room for dinner. We were Personal Choice but this night everyone was in the International. Food was pretty good.
I had Crispy Spring Roll in Honey, Soy, Sesame & Mustard Seed Sauce; Iced Piña Colada Cream Soup Splashed with Rum served in a Piña Colada glass; and Lemon Scented Salmon Filet and a baked potato. Harriet went back to the cabin while mom and I went to the Welcome Aboard Show. Our cruise director was Billy Hygate who we had on the LCGC two years ago. Ventriloquist Dan Horn put on a 15 minute show as a teaser for later in the week. We thought he was hilarious.
When we got back to the cabin about midnight all our luggage had shown up! Hooray! We were asleep by 12:30 and the next day heard that the ship didn't leave Seattle until about 1:04 am. We also found out that we wouldn't be going to Juneau (1st port) or Victoria (last port) because of the delays. Each person was given a $250 credit on their cruise cards. They had said $500 per cabin so we thought we'd be splitting that three ways but we each got $250. That wasn't too bad -- bought me some nice jewelry.
Sunday, May 23 -- At Sea We slept very soundly and were awakened by the announcement of the Safety Drill in 20 minutes. I think they should have given us more warning. Many people went to bed before the Princess Patter was distributed. Boy, did we have to scramble! We saw a couple of people in their pj's and robes. Good reason for not sleepin' nekkid! LOL
I do like the way Princess handles the Safety Drill -- ours was in Club Fusion and we didn't put our life vests on till the end. Never stepped outside.
After a late breakfast we checked out the shops. I bought a gold whale tail pendant and a gorgeous tanzanite pendant and earrings. We just roamed around getting to know the ship and enjoying the beautiful snow capped mountains off in the distance.
We were assigned Personal Choice dining so I made reservations for the Pacific Moon Dining Room (Asian fusion style food). Try the Dim Sum sampler and the 5 Spice Mandarin Duck. Delicious! The Chocolate Hazelnut Souffle with Sabayon for dessert was fantastic.
We all went to see the first production show "Piano Man" featuring the music of Neil Sedaka, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, Liberace and Elton John. It was good but LOUD!
We had to turn our clocks back one hour so we'd be on Alaska time for the next day.
Monday, May 24 -- At Sea (Should have been Juneau) Up for breakfast -- wandered around the ship for a while. We all bought watches at the sale. We saw an interesting talk on the Alaskan wild life with naturalist Michael Modzelewski. He had a great speaking style and we could have listened to him for hours. We bought two of his books which he autographed for us. I'm half through the first one and it's really good.
Bought the first of the cruise photos -- 8 x 6's (stock as well as posed photos) were $7.00 each or 6 for $20 (duh, buy six -- 3 are free!) The boarding and formal photos are $21.95 each. That's a little pricey and I think they'd sell more if they lowered the price.
Bingo -- 2 numbers from winning. Darn!!
Dinner this evening was in the Santa Fe (Southwestern) Dining Room and we ordered from both menus. I had Escargot Bourguignonne, French Onion Soup, Fajitas and Raspberry Creme Brulee (so good).
Entertainment tonight was the full show with ventriloquist Dan Horn. He was really funny!
Tuesday, May 25 -- Skagway When our wake up call came at 6:30 we downed a quick breakfast and then headed out for our White Pass & Yukon Railway shore tour. We boarded our bus for the first leg of the tour. Our driver and guide -- Timbo -- was terrific. He was funny, knowledgeable and just plain nuts. If you're lucky enough to get him, ask him to do his mosquito impersonation.
The scenery was absolutely incredible! I've never imagined anything like this. We saw many glacier fed lakes with VERY cold water -- I know 'cause I fell in with a foot and leg. The ground wasn't very solid and I lost my balance. Luckily, I didn't fall in completely. Thanks Timbo who turned the heat up in the bus and I dried in a couple of hours.
While we were riding around we saw 2 eagles, 2 black bear and someone on the bus said he saw dall sheep on the mountainside.
After a delicious bbq chicken dinner (baked tater, cole slaw, roll and homemade donut) in Carcross (Caribou Crossing) we headed back to catch the White Pass Railway portion of the tour. The scenery was unbelievably beautiful! If you've never taken the White Pass trip -- DO IT! The combined bus/train trip is the most scenic.
After we were dropped off in Skagway we did some shopping before we took the city bus ($1.50 pp) back to the ship.
Since we didn't know what time we'd get back to the ship we hadn't made any dinner reservations, so we ate in the Horizon Court. It was okay. They announced several cases of Norovirus were on board so all the buffet items were served by dining room people. They also had hand cleaners stationed at all the entrances to the buffet area. Some people griped (there's always an idiot) but I would prefer not to get sick and be confined to my cabin.
While we were at dinner the captain announced that since we had made up some of our time we would be going to Victoria. Yay!
As we were getting ready to leave Skagway we experienced a minor problem with one of the engines so departure was delayed about two hours. Oh well. I've got about six lemons ready for that lemonade!!
We didn't do any show tonight since we were beat. We just relaxed in the cabin and watched a little tv. Kinda nice for a change.
Wednesday, May 26 -- Cruising Tracy Arm Well, this cruise is just not going the way it's supposed to! While we were in the beginning of the arm enjoying the scenery, the naturalist came on the loudspeaker and announced that due to excessive ice in the bay we would not be able to go in. Darn! What we did see was absolutely spectacular. We didn't see any major ice but we did see lots of small bergs that really are as blue as they look in the pictures. I think people don't believe the color until they see it in person. Unfortunately it rained most of the time we were there -- sometimes pretty hard. We did see some more eagles.
After we left the "armlet" the weather turned nice, but chilly, when the sun finally decided to shine.
Michael gave a talk on glaciers that was interesting and well attended. I had a chance to talk privately with him for a while and enjoyed it immensely. He said that this was his favorite route and when the ship can enter the arm fully it's incredible.
We hit the shops again and got some really cute beaded tops. After that, I made my annual pilgrimage to the casino to leave my donation. No big wins.
Tonight we ate in the Vivaldi Dining Room but I can't remember what I had.
On the way to see the entertainment we stopped by to listen to Bert Stratton for a while. He's as good as we've heard in previous reviews. The main entertainment was the interactive comedy of Dave Orion (Jerry Seinfeld's opening act). He was totally crazy -- we laughed till we ached.
Thursday, May 27 -- Ketchikan (2nd Formal Night) We arrived in Ketchikan and after breakfast left for our Saxman Village Tour. It was interesting to see the Tlingit (klink-it) native dancing and totem carving. The totems were beautiful. Got a few bucks? You can commission a totem for between $500 and $2500 per foot. Yup, that's per foot!!
After the tour we were dropped back at the ship with only 20 minutes to shop before we had to board. It didn't even pay to try. I'd like to see the Ketchikan stop lengthened by at least 4 hours. We didn't even get to see Creek Street!
Back to the ship for lunch and 12:30 sail away. Actually, we left after 1:00 'cause people were still boarding at 12:30. The line was huge!!
Tonight is the second formal night and it's LOBSTER night! Yay! I had a huge one and it was delicious and done perfectly!
The entertainment tonight was the new production show "Curtain Up." Pretty good show.
Friday, May 28 -- Victoria, B.C. This morning we decided to eat breakfast in the International Dining Room for a change. It was nice to be waited on and I had a delicious omelette.
Michael gave his last talk this morning and then we went back to the cabin to attempt to pack. I know all this stuff fit in the suitcase when we came! Guess we bought too much stuff! We had so much stuff that I had to toss my deodorant, shower gel, shower scrubbie and a few other things 'cause there just wasn't any room in the suitcases or carry-ons. Guess we brought too many clothes with us and bought too much in Alaska. Next time we'll bring less stuff with us!!
As we could see Victoria in the distance while we were eating early dinner the captain announced that the winds were too high and we'd have to try the second port. Half an hour later he announced that we wouldn't be able to go into Victoria because of the winds! Rats! I just have one question -- WHAT WINDS? I heard from a crew member that the ship makes this port only about 40% of the time. Maybe they should find a different "foreign" port.
Saturday, May 29 -- Disembarkation Phooey! Time to leave!
After breakfast we headed to the Crooner's Lounge till we could leave the ship. We left the ship about 11:00 and by the time we picked up our luggage it was close to 12:00. Our flight was scheduled for 2:10 so we were getting a little nervous. Of course, the bus had to drop some very slow moving people off at a hotel before taking us to the airport in slow moving traffic. By the time we got to the airport it was 12:30 and we still hadn't checked in. I went to check in at one of the kiosks and the screen said "See an attendant!" That didn't bode well. The attendant told us we had been moved to an earlier flight at 1:55, to Denver instead of Chicago, so we really had to hustle to the gate. Have you ever tried to hustle with 88 and 80 year olds? Very slow hustle. We made it to the gate just as they started to announce our names. Because of the inconvenience (or something) we were upgraded to Business Class. Very comfy seats and a nice (free) cheese tray snack while the folks in economy had to pay for their meal! The flight was a little rocky but okay. On the Denver to Milwaukee leg there was major turbulence and even the flight attendants had to be seated.
Back in Milwaukee at 10:10 pm, luggage at 10:20; shuttle to the house at 10:40. In the house at 11:10 and bed at 11:30!
The cruise is over till next year (hopefully).
Would we cruise Princess again? You bet! We're talking about going back to Alaska to see what we missed -- only later in the season. Maybe June or July.
Will we travel with Harriet again? NO! She turned out to be a real pain in the button on the cruise. She's in the cabin EVERY night but the first right after dinner. Her excuse? "I want to give you and your mother time together." Excuse me?? WE FREAKING LIVE TOGETHER!!!! She also complained almost non-stop! That's the last trip we'll take with her.
My husband and I experienced our very first cruise April 3-9th. We traveled on the Diamoand Princess with a group of 32 to Mexico for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. I have to admit that we didn't exactly think we would like "cruising". Boy were we wrong! We had an absolute fabulous time! The day we got off the ship to return home we were ready to book another cruise!
The accomodations were great....although the showers were small I was totally pleased with their great water pressure. We didn't have a room with a balcony or window (which I would have liked better) but for the amount of time we spent in our room...it really didn't matter. There were so many things to do aboard ship!
We especially liked the entertainment. There were several great dance productions in the Princess Theatre, funny comedians and a fantastic piano player (Chris Hamilton) from Wales. We enjoyed playing (and winning) many games of "Trivial Pursuit" and "Name That Tune". The prizes for winning were kind of cheap but what the heck...it was fun. I didn't care much for the casino (I'm not a gambler) butmany of our fellow shipmates spent a lot of time there. I didn't hear of too many winners....of course most just "broke even" (ha ha).
Our cruise was during Easter Vacation, so there were a lot of kids on the ship. They were fun to watch and for the most part behaved themselves very well.
The food was very good, but since this was our first cruise, we didn't really have anything to compare it to. Others that sailed with us were a bit dissapointed with it. Hey, I didn't have to plan, shop or cook so it was great to me! And believe me.....you could never complain about being hungry. There was food available pretty much 24 hours a day! I was a little disappointed though that there was a "charge" for the ice cream in the ice cream parlor. Personally, I think it should have been included with the price of the cruise.
I enjoyed our stops at the different ports (Porto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas). However it was a bit disappointing to look out at our first port and see a big WalMart glaring us right in the face!! I didn't travel all that way and expect to see that! We were allowed about ten hours off ship at our first two ports. My favorite stop was in Cabo but the ship only stayed there for a little over five hours. Many of us thought they should have stayed there longer and spent less time at the other two.
If anyone out there reading these reviews is wondering whether or not they should go on a cruise...take my advice....go! It is one of the most relaxing vacations I have ever been on. It is definitely a treat. When I got home it was hard to get used to doing for myself. I was waiting for someone to come up and ask me if I'd like something from the bar. Ah...what a life!!
My husband and I cruised on the March 20 sailing of the Diamond Princess to the Mexican Riviera to celebrate our 15th anniversary. Since I am a college professor, we scheduled it during my spring break. I consulted lots of reviews to figure out what to expect - so now I am writing my own to help those of you who are new to cruising or trying to decide on a ship/line/itinerary. We left our three kids at home with their grandparents, so we were pretty much guaranteed to enjoy the cruise no matter what happened! We only cruised once before, five years ago on Celebrity.
Getting to LA
We live in Grand Rapids, Mich. and decided to fly to Los Angeles the day before departure. I booked this cruise 11 months in advance and we used frequent flyer miles to book our flights on United. Our flight from Grand Rapids to Chicago O'Hare boarded half an hour late, then sat on the runway for another half hour due to congestion in Chicago. Already we knew we had missed our connection to LA. After taking off and flying for half anhour, the pilot announced we were going to return to Grand Rapids because there wasn't a slot for us to land in Chicago and we did not have enough fuel to circle the airport. So, we ended up back where we started. Eventually our plane took off again and we landed at O'Hare three hours later than we should have. Because of spring break, the first O'Hare to LA flight United could give us with confirmed seats was at 10 a.m. the next morning. We were not excited about spending the night in Chicago, especially since we had hotel reservations in LA. We ended up going standby on the last flight to LA that night! We were so relieved to get on that plane!
We arrived in LAX around 11 p.m. We were amazed that our luggage actually made it there ahead of us. We boarded a SuperShuttle van and went directly to our hotel ($33 one way), the Sheraton San Pedro. The Sheraton was very nice – we got upgraded to a suite with a port view (whether it was because I called earlier to request a port-view room or because we checked in so late, I'm not sure). I booked the room for $89 through the Sheraton website. We were too tired to get up early on Saturday to watch the Diamond Princess come in, but did spend a little time walking around the area. We found a little sub shop that served a nice homemade breakfast and purchased a couple of bottles of wine to take on the ship.
We used the hotel's complimentary shuttle service to the pier, arriving at the World Cruise Center at 11:30 a.m. We left our bags with a porter at the curb, then proceeded inside and up the escalator to the check-in desk with no waiting (we used "express" check-in since we had filled out all our information on line, but all passengers use the same desk based on your cabin's deck). We were issued a boarding number - these are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis, so there is some advantage to arriving earlier in the morning if you want to get on the ship sooner. There is a large waiting area with quite a bit of seating, although by the time we arrived most of the seats were full. We found a spot on the floor. Boarding started at 12:15 p.m. for the suite and Captain's Club passengers. Our number was called by 12:45. We waited in a short line for the security check, then walked onto the ship and to our cabin, stopping only for the photographers to take our embarkation picture and the security people to take our picture as we swiped our cruise cards. We were impressed by how smoothly this process went. Our suitcases were delivered to our cabin by 4 p.m.
We had a balcony cabin (Caribe Deck C252) that seemed a reasonable size and was efficiently arranged. The decor was nice -- good color scheme and coordination. I loved the seascape print on the wall across from our bed! Our only complaint was the small size of the shower (as others have commented, the grab bar is in an awkward spot, resulting in banged elbows). There was a small refrigerator, a programmable combination safe, and plenty of storage for a seven-day cruise, especially closet space and number of hangers. The mattress was on the firm side (fortunately just the way I like it). The balconies on this deck are large and half-covered, half-open. We had a dining-type table with three chairs and two lounge-type chairs. These balconies are not really private - the open sections can be overlooked from balconies above (although not from the upper public deck spaces like the balconies on the lowest deck). A couple times our peaceful contemplation on the balcony was disturbed by loud conversations from our neighbors (and once by our neighbors' second-hand smoke), but it wasn't a huge problem.
The Diamond Princess is a beautiful ship inside and out. It was fun to be part of the ship's inaugural season, when everything is brand-spanking new. We did notice that "new ship" smell in our cabin when we first came in, but adjusted to it almost immediately. I really liked the decor of the public spaces - rich and understated, elegant but not garish. Some of my favorite elements were the floor mosaics in the atrium space and other areas, and the stairwell paintings (we made a vow to never use the elevators on our cruise to compensate for all the wonderful food). The ship is also huge! It took us until the third day to explore all the public spaces. Once we got a feel for which things were forward and which were aft, we were able to navigate the ship pretty well.
The pool areas were very nice. Our favorite was the aft area, with terraces overlooking the pool -- it was more relaxing and less populated than the main pool area. (If you don't save lounge chairs early, it is difficult to find a good spot. Since we are not dedicated sun-worshippers or interested in being in the middle of the action, we had no trouble finding a place to sit.) On the cooler days, I liked the green lounge chairs in the conservatory pool area. Also, the nightclub, Skywalkers, was almost deserted during the daytime - a great place to read and relax with a nice view of the ship's wake.
The exercise facilities were impressive. My husband used the treadmills several days during the trip (if you want an early morning time on a day at sea, sign up in advance). Later in the cruise it tended to be less busy. I used the running/walking track on the top deck several different times. If you are a speedy runner, this will feel more like an obstacle course due to the slow walkers. Actually, I enjoyed walking around the promenade on Deck 7 more than on the track - it's nice that it circles the entire ship.
On the whole we were very happy with the food. One reason I chose Princess was for its "Anytime Dining/Personal Choice" option. For maximum relaxation I did not want to have to be anywhere at a set time each night for dinner! For the most part, this worked well for us, although if you want to eat at a popular time and not wait, you should make reservations for dinner every night of the cruise as soon as you board. Our experience worked like this: the first night (Saturday) we showed up at the Asian theme dining room (Pacific Moon) at 6:35 p.m. and were told there were no tables until 7:30. So we went to the atrium and listened to the musicians until we could eat. On the other hand, several groups of passengers were displeased that they could not just walk up and get a table. By the way, each of the four Personal Choice (PC) dining rooms served the regular ship's menu (which changed nightly) as well as menu options that fit the theme of the room (which are the same throughout the cruise).
For the second night I tried to make reservations in the early afternoon and was told the earliest opening for any of the dining rooms was 7:30 p.m. Rather than taking such a late time, we decided just to show up. So that night (Sunday) we went to the Mexican theme dining room (Santa Fe) at about 6:15 p.m. and were seated immediately at a table with another couple. The third night (Monday), we showed up at the Sterling Steak House at 6:20 p.m., were told that the earliest available time was 7:30, so we walked to the Italian dining room (Vivaldi) and got seated immediately at a table for two. The fourth night (Tuesday) we tried the Sterling again at 6:20 p.m. They were again full through 7:30 so we went to the Santa Fe dining room and were immediately seated with a family of four. The fifth night (Wednesday), we tried the Sterling at 7 p.m. They were booked until 8:30, so we went back to the Pacific Moon and were immediately seated at a table for two.
I realized that the Sterling is the most popular eating venue and determined to make reservations for the next night. When I called the next day my options were either 5:30 p.m., or 7:30 or later. We took the 5:30 reservation and enjoyed our dinner there that night (Thursday). In the end I was happy with our dining experiences - it was nice to spend time together but also to eat with others occasionally. There is no penalty for not showing up for reservations (and we could see tables sitting empty because of this), so I'm not sure this is the most efficient way to run the PC dining system, but maybe they will make some improvements once they get a feeling for which venues are most popular. I also understand that traditional dining passengers are free to make reservations in the PC dining rooms, so this may be adding to the congestion.
We ate breakfast and lunch most days in the Lido deck (Horizon Court) buffet along with dinner the last evening (Friday). The variety and quality were not excellent but very good. The layout is a little different than a typical buffet where you walk through one line -- there are different stations with different categories of food. This was very confusing the first day, when everyone was trying to figure it out - people tended to just get in line, not realizing that they could have walked directly to the station serving what they wanted. After the first day, things operated more smoothly. That first day it was also difficult to find an open table once you had your food - this was one of the few times the ship felt crowded to me. I had planned on trying breakfast and/or lunch in the main dining room for a more relaxing experience, but we were never ready to eat during the times it was open. It was nice to be able to cruise the buffet for snacks in the afternoon when we were relaxing by the pool. We also stopped by for ice cream at 3:30 p.m. when it was served for free. The pizza from the grill by the main pool was fresh and tasty. We never did try the hamburgers from the grill but the fries were excellent.
We didn't try the extra fee restaurant, Sabatini's, but we did talk to people who thought it was worth a try for the interesting and unique food and the lengthy multi-course presentation (two hours plus).
We both purchased the Coke stickers for $22.50 each, which allowed us to drink any fountain soda pop for free during the week on the ship. You get an insulated cup with the purchase; at first I thought it wouldn't be very useful, but it was nice to keep getting this refilled and have it with me while lying out at the pool or reading. We only tried a couple "drinks of the day" -- the rum punches at sail-away and strawberry daiquiris later in the cruise. We took advantage of the "bucket-o-beer" special one afternoon: five bottles for the price of four - it worked well to put a couple of them in the refrigerator in our room for the next day. We didn't purchase any wine with dinner. I brought two bottles of champagne and a bottle of white wine on board with us and kept them cold in our refrigerator. Room service did a good job of bringing glasses when we requested them.
In the dining rooms, service was professional and courteous but rather impersonal, since the servers seemed very busy (waiting on too many tables?). It was also quite slow. The first night, we spent almost two hours at dinner. The waiter mixed up our appetizers and soups with another table's - he apologized profusely when he discovered the mistake. This was a contrast to our last cruise experience with traditional fixed seating - the waiters then spent more time chatting with you, and they had efficient service of the different courses down to a science. The choice between traditional and personal choice dining just depends on what kind of vacation experience you prefer. All the bar servers were helpful, whether taking our drink orders or filling up our Coke cups.
Our room steward did a good job picking up after us, although a few things were overlooked on occasion. For example, there were still paper items (and two small boxes of Rice Krispies) left in the desk drawers from the previous passengers when we boarded, and one night he forgot to leave pool towels in our room. We were a bit concerned about getting them before our early excursion the next day, but when we paged him the next morning he brought them right away. Although we had filled out an on-line form at the Princess web site indicating that we wanted robes and fruit in our cabin, we still had to ask for the robes, and they left a card for us to fill out for fruit requests every day. We also indicated that we were celebrating an anniversary within two weeks of the cruise dates, but nothing special occurred (although I was somewhat grateful for this after seeing other anniversary couples serenaded by the waiters in the dining room - not my thing!). I'm not sure there is any point to collecting this info on-line.
We didn't participate in many of the organized daytime activities onboard, although there were plenty listed in the ship newsletter each day. We did do the wine tasting demonstration for $7.50 per person on the first day at sea. We got to sample two red and two white wines along with a dessert wine, which was interesting although I can't say I learned anything new from the commentary.
We went to quite a few of the shows in the evening. On Sunday night we went to the production show "The Piano Man," which I enjoyed (I've always liked Billy Joel and I was in love with Barry Manilow as a teenager). The singers and dancers did a good job - the male vocalists were quite impressive. My husband was rather bored by it, though, but then musical revues are not his thing. On Monday night we saw a comedian, Rick Starr, who was pretty funny. Tuesday night we saw Kenny James, a vocalist who specializes in Motown-type music. He was very good (if you like that type of music). My husband took a little nap during the performance. Immediately afterward we saw comedian/ventriloquist Dan Horn in one of the lounges. His performance was amazing and hilarious (even when he goofed up he was funny). Wednesday night we saw the hypnotist show with Robert Mesmer. He was also funny and what he did with people was amazing (if a little creepy!). Thursday night we saw a comedian/impressionist, Michael Wilson, in the Explorer's Lounge - he was good. Friday night we saw another comedian, Sarge, who was also good.
We didn't go to any of the dancing venues (big band or disco). I was not all that impressed with the pool band - basically two guys with a steel drum and a keyboard who were pretty low-key. I recall on our last cruise a really great band that played everything from reggae to rock-and-roll around the pool and got people moving. We spent maybe an hour total in the casino playing slot machines - we lost so consistently that it wasn't even good entertainment!
The passenger age on average seemed a little higher to us on this cruise than on our last cruise in the Caribbean. But every age was still represented. There were quite a few kids on this cruise, which made sense since it was spring break. They did tend to take over the main pools (especially on cooler days when most of the adults preferred the hot tubs), but overall the kids seemed well-managed. We met several extended families who were cruising together. We overheard a few "party-hearty" spring break types out on our balcony (and there was a group at our wine-tasting session that was a bit out-of-hand). The ship made an extra stop in Cabo San Lucas on the second day to drop off some passengers (rumor had it that they had been drunk and disorderly and got into a fight), so apparently the cruise lines do have limits! Nearly everyone we saw dressed up for the formal nights.
Our first port was Puerto Vallarta. I had booked the "Las Calletas Hideaway" excursion through the cruise line ($79 each). We met our tour group on the pier (we were scheduled to be there at 7:35, but we didn't leave until after 8 a.m. - obviously there isn't a lot of incentive for punctuality). Approximately 100 passengers boarded a boat for the one-hour trip to a small private cove where John Huston (the director of the film "Night of the Iguana") used to have a home. The trip was filled with commentary and dancing by the boat's crew. We spent the morning and early afternoon at the private beach, with beautiful water (water sports like snorkeling and kayaking were available), and paths running up the green hills behind the beach. You could book a massage in an outdoor hut, pet the white-tailed deer, or view a cooking demonstration (but pretty much all I did was relax in a lounge chair on the beach after walking the nature trails).
There were hammocks tucked away in various isolated locations. In hindsight, one of the best features of this excursion was no annoying vendors (more on that later). They served us a wonderful fresh-cooked lunch including seafood paella (yum!). They also had on open bar. I alternated margaritas with fresh lemonade for the duration of the day. I would highly recommend this excursion - it's expensive, but if you want to relax with a limited number of other people in a beautiful spot while enjoying great food and drink, this is the tour for you. The party really picked up on the trip back to the pier, with loud music and entertaining crew members - a really good time!
Our next port was Mazatlan. I had booked a tour independently via the Internet with Randi's Happy Horses (highly recommended by many reviews I read - $45 per person cash only). We met Randi and her assistant at the cruise terminal (you need to take the tram) around 8:30 a.m. Our group of about a dozen people then boarded local taxis (basically a pickup with benches in the truck-bed for you to sit on, all part of the Mexican adventure!) for the five-minute trip to the fishing dock. We then took a water-taxi across the channel to Stone Island and boarded a tractor-driven wagon for the trip to the horse farm. I was a little nervous as a first-time horsewoman, but the horses were happy and gentle, and we really enjoyed our ride through a coconut farm and out on the beach. We then relaxed at Victor's Restaurant, an open thatch-roofed area right on the beach. We enjoyed cold Mexican beers and heavenly fresh-grilled shrimp kebob for lunch for a very reasonable price ($20 total for two of us - cash only). The beach was largely empty and the water was great - cold and refreshing with fun waves. We left (reluctantly) for the ship around 2 p.m. - using all the previously mentioned modes of transportation in reverse. This was a really great excursion (check out mazinfo.com for more info)!
Our final port was Cabo San Lucas. Since this is a tender port, I decided to take a ship-sponsored excursion (this way you get priority for the tenders and are assured of getting back to the ship by the 2 p.m. sail-away time). I chose an ocean kayaking/snorkeling expedition (two to two and a half hours, $39 each). Our tour met in the Wheelhouse Lounge, then boarded a tender. We re-gathered for the water taxi ride to the kayaking beach. We used two-person kayaks (more like canoes, actually) to paddle along the rock formations out to a little beach where you could go snorkeling, which my husband did (although there really isn't much to see - no reefs like in the Caribbean). After our beach break we paddled back to the spot we left. Once again I enjoyed this excursion - the scenery was spectacular and paddling your own kayak across the bay in between the tender boats was an adventure.
After the excursion we took a walk down the beach (Medano Beach, I believe), checking out the big resort hotels. Here it became clear how fortunate we had been on our previous excursions in avoiding vendors. Although they always took no for an answer, someone was always coming by with beaded necklaces, Mexican blankets, temporary tattoos, etc. at least every two minutes. We eventually found a nice little bar fronting the beach and had some margaritas and fish tacos ($20 total) while gazing out at the bay before walking back to catch the water-taxi to the tender pier, and got on a tender around 1 p.m. It is too bad the ship does not stay longer in Cabo - it looked like it would have been nice to walk around the downtown area here.
I'm not much of a shopper, so I can't comment on how the shops rate at the different ports. We just bought a few souvenirs at the stores near the pier in Mazatlan.
I had booked an 11:17 a.m. flight out of LAX at the end of our cruise, and was a little concerned about whether we would make that early flight. As it turned out this was not a problem. I stopped by the purser's desk early in the cruise to request priority disembarkation. The last night our luggage tags were delivered, placing us in group Red 1 (basically the first group off the ship). On our final day we got up at 6 a.m., dressed and packed our remaining items (our main bags had been collected from outside our stateroom the night before), and went up to the buffet for breakfast. We picked up our carry-ons and said good-bye to our cabin at 7:30, going to wait for our color to be called in the Explorer's Lounge.
Promptly at 8:00 they started disembarkation - we were among the first dozen people off the ship. We found our luggage with no problems, and handed it off to a porter who directed us outside to the shared ride shuttle area. I had reserved a shuttle for the trip to LAX - they didn't have me on the list but we still boarded a SuperShuttle van within 10 minutes, arriving at LAX at 9 a.m. There were no lines to check in at the United counter, but we did end up spending almost a half hour in the line at the security checkpoint. Of course with an early flight like this, you are taking a risk - if the ship arrives late, or there is some delay with customs or immigration, you might not make it. We were back in the Grand Rapids airport by 8:30 p.m.
Overall it was a great cruise. We were looking for an opportunity to spend some quality time together, relax in a warm climate, be pampered with fine service and food, see some beautiful scenery, and do some interesting things that we can't do at home with three kids. This cruise achieved all that! I'm going to be spending a lot of time reminiscing over the photos we took! If anyone has any questions, please feel free to email me.
As we get home and reveiw our trip we realize what a special time this was. As with all travel there are a few minuses but they were few if you consider the pro's of the trip. This trip is for people who like being on the move daily. We went out of San Juan and other than 1 day at sea we were in a different port daily. Lots to see and a lots to do being in port so many days. Although there were activities aboard the ship by the time we island hopped and ate and tried to get a little rest by the pool we did not get to do many social activities. Each islsnd had its on flair and since my husband had had surgery this year we took tours by SUV with others and had a very enjoyable trip. We were so tired we opted out one day and just visited the port dock.
Best shopping was St Thomas and ST Marteen. The other islands had shopping but these were our favorite also in the way of sunbatheing on their beaches.
The ship isquite large and you need time to find your way but it doest take too long before you will be a pro. Pools centerd in middle of the ship. One is domed atruim.Quite clean
Now for the down side of the trip. The rooms although have a bit larger bath room. We Stayed in guaranteed room and out of 3 couples we had the best of the rooms. Oceanview.
Long way to buffet for coffee ( The worst I have ever had) the only good thing to say is they had some ! The buffet we ate out several time and found that the food was typical buffet but always plenty of it. The free +style dining was just OK but took way to long for your meal, no wait but one nite (dress up nite ) The only other pay a surcharge dining we did was the steakhouse and the food was WONDERFUL ! Worth every cent we paid.
I would go again and probably wouldn't even mine the same route. This was our 3rd cruise. the first with princess and also the best we have had. Trying a Norwegian cruise in the westwern Caribbean in August Hope it half as good and we will be fine !
(Maybe we will not be charged for the Ice Cream) Yikes ! Still A +
Our ages were 50 years sometimes this helps to know to know what age enjoyed the cruise ! Bon Voyage !