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Old June 5th, 2011, 02:14 PM
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Regarding Norovirus: One suggestion I would/will (comments are apparently solicited by email) give Princess is to implement Norovirus prevention techniques 100% of the time. Whether the virus was previously on board (as the lightening-fast spread of contamination may infer), or brought on board with new passengers, this is a predictable issue for any ship. In my opinion, passengers should NEVER be allowed to handle food-service utensils. Using known anti-noro procedures aboard every-ship, every-time, would be a good business practice; and go a long way towards prevention of illness...and it's certainly little enough to ask of a cruise line like Princess.

Regarding the food: Bountiful buffets, fabulous food, and regal restaurants are reasons some folks choose to go on a cruise. Depending on your point of view and life-style, you may or may not be disappointed with current cruise practices.

Gone from Princess are the midnight buffets with the fabulous decorations and special chef creations. And, sadly, gone is most of the tasty food. This seems to be an industry trend, we have noticed the steady degradation of food-service and food-quality for several years.

Once-upon-a-time, there were "fabulous midnight buffets". These buffets contained ice-sculptures and food-sculptures made from icing, fruits, and such. Passengers were treated to artistic displays of sea-animals and fish, prepared by creative chefs using food and garnish. Passengers were strongly encouraged to come to the buffet to photograph the art, even if they weren't hungry. The food and displays were all edible, and all good. That devolved into plastic sculptures with paste... moulded to look like food. These "food-sculptures" were apparently stored and then dusted-off and reused for each succeeding cruise. I recall one cruise on Royal Caribbean where the fellow in front of me licked the paste-sculpture...yuch!

Princess used to do a "baked Alaska" march in the dining room one night during each cruise. The dining room lights would dim, and the waiters, assistant waiters and maitre d' would proudly parade though the dining room carrying actual flaming baked Alaska deserts. Immediately afterwards, the baked Alaska would be a desert choice. On this May, 2011 Princess cruise to Alaska, the "baked Alaska" carried (in a lack-luster, desultory fashion) by a reduced complement of waiters, etc., was clearly not food. Perched on top was what appeared to be a battery-operated orange light-bulb to simulate flames. Care to partake?

Like caviar? I don't, but my wife does. Don't look for it anymore on Princess. Time was when Princess offered 3 kinds: red, black and golden. And for "free", with every meal. Early on, Princess dining included Maitre d' table-side cooking of pasta, caesar salad, etc. We still talk about the pasta quattro formaggio we enjoyed on an early Princess cruise. It was great! Not available anymore.

It used to be that cruise lines would offer free escorted ship tours of the "working areas", including the bridge and kitchens. No longer on Princess. Pay-to-view only; and since I did not participate, I cannot critique the tour.

There is also an increasing trend to "nickle-and-dime" passengers for many services and food-items that used to be free. The main-theater entertainment is now usually repeated two-nights running, instead of being fresh daily. Small, but distinct differences.

Back in the day, the stateroom steward would see my wife coming down the corridor from a day-ashore shopping. The steward would rush to open the door for her and help with packages. Remember the folded-towel bunnies? Artfully arranged pillows? Don't look for those cute touches any longer.

Don't get me wrong, cruising is still a "good" experience. It allows you to plop your stuff in one place, and have the ship transport you to your chosen destinations. Just be aware that what you experience may not be as "magnificent" (cruise lines like to use that word to describe their product) as it once was. My first Princess cruise to Alaska (this was my 3rd) was far, far different...and need I say, better.

Will I cruise again, sure...but with increasingly reduced expectations. Bon voyage!

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One other thing about the Norovirus. Some folks are just not going to report their sickness. I called on my wife’s behalf. I didn’t mention my symptoms to the doctor, because while present, they were very, very minor. I am not even 100% sure that I actually had noro, perhaps I just had “food poisoning” (but, boy did my wife get it!!). And the doctor was already treating my wife.

Maybe passengers don’t report because they don’t want to be confined to their cabin, or maybe because they don’t want to pay for the doctor. Once you’re sick, there’s not that much they can do for you. And, of course, the folks who got sick after arriving home aren’t likely to report. This situation (becoming sick after returning home) argues that the norovirus (according to the CDC, the incubation period for norovirus-associated gastroenteritis in humans is usually between 24 and 48 hours) was “alive and well” far into the cruise. This means Princess sanitation practices were less than perfect.

At the very least, Princess should re-examine their sanitation procedures...don’t they owe that to their passengers?
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