Star Princess Reviews

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67 User Reviews of Star Princess Cruise Ship

Baltic Sea
Publication Date: September 11, 2006

After our 12-hour flight from Los Angeles to Copenhagen, the Star Princess gleaming in the afternoon sun was a welcome sight. The transfer crew waiting for us at the airport in Copenhagen, Denmark outdid themselves (living up to the Princess tradition) leading us through customs and immigration quickly. The local authorities did not even check our passports.

Princess had provided our air tickets through London from Los Angeles. As we heard of the long lines going through Heathrow security, we opted to deviate from British airlines to a KLM flight via Amsterdam. We were charged an extra $500. But it was well worth to our peace of mind not to see armed guards that are a fixture in most airports.

Checking in at the ship was brief and our luggage promptly appeared a few minutes after we reached our cabin. A quick shower and a change of clothes provided a pleasant relief after the long airplane ride without the customary toiletries.

Inside, the Star Princess sparkled like a jewel in the sun. They certainly earned the 99 CDC score. The hotel upkeep crew were on duty 24/7 and were always polishing and vacuuming

the public areas and their efforts clearly showed. Traces of a devastating fire that raged through the ship last March 2006 are now history

After the mandatory boat drill, we sat down to dinner at one of the "anytime dining" eateries. We were surprised at the beautiful table settings unlike other Princess ships we had sailed on. The cuisine was outstanding and pleasingly presented in heated dishes. The desserts were works of art and a delight to behold.

Three dining rooms called Amalfi (traditional), Capri and Portofino (both anytime dining) that seats at least 500 guests each inferred Italian cuisine but served only a regular menu. Osso bucco a dish always obtainable on other ships like the Diamond and Sapphire Princess was absent from the bill of fare.

Tortilla chips were available exclusively at the Tequila, a reservation only ($15 cover charge per person) steak house. Sabatini's ($20 cover charge per person) tratoria is still keeping up with its reputation for fine Italian foods and great dining. We missed the rural intimacy of the Santa Fe and the dim sum at the Pacific Moon of the Diamond and Sapphire Princess.

We had breakfast, on occasion (open seating) at the Portofino, being the only eating place open in the morning other than the Lido. We had dinner mostly at the Capri. After getting shuttled from table to table every night, later in the cruise we were able to get a fixed spot.

Assistant Maitre d' Rudel (Philippines), senior waiter Sev (Philippines) and assistant waiter Mana (Thailand) provided us with services beyond our expectations. Rudel ordered special dishes for us off the menu. Sev and Mana were very fast and anticipated our every move. Sev has an over 15-year service with Princess. Good men like them are hard to find.

The Horizon Court a buffet style Lido is open 24 hours. Hot and cold dishes are available. There is a constant array of Asian foods like sushi, eggrolls, miso and other hot soups. Various fruit was available except for grapefruit. Desserts did not include jello among the selections.

There is a pizzeria and a hotdog/burger grill that opens from 11AM to 7PM. Hot chocolate, cranberry and other fruit juices become bar items after breakfast, much to the annoyance of passengers.

Our ocean view cabin located amidships proved to be very stable and had a good view of the ocean. It had an aging TV set perched above a small fridge. Viewing was tedious unless one lies down on the bed. We had ample closet space and a shower the size of a telephone booth. Our cabin steward Ramiro (Philippines) kept our room extremely livable.

After settling down we found out that our cabin was directly over the piano in the promenade bar. Music wafted from the bar into our room each evening from nine to 12 PM. A sign at the purser's office said that the ship was full and no more rooms available, so we just had to grin and bear it.

The ship carried at least 2500 passengers and 1100 crewmembers. Most of the travelers were retirees, senior citizens and repeaters. The majority were Americans and Canadians. A few children aboard belonged to the crew. We were quite elated to see several shipmates like Fernando, Arlene, Carol, Art, and David with his wife and daughter. We had met them on previous trips on different cruise lines. We were also very happy to see familiar faces among the hotel staff and ship's crew.

The Baltic cruise had a lot of shore days that attracted most of the travelers. The ship called on Scandinavia, Estonia, Poland and an overnight stay in St. Petersburg, Russia. Persons entering Russia required a visa, except those that purchased tours from the ship. She also stopped at Greenland, Poland and Northern Ireland, that were new countries for us so we eagerly waited to visit these places.

With much luck fair weather followed us through out the 25-day trip. The Greenland natives mentioned that it was unusual to see the sun shining at this time at the year. They happily hung their laundry out to take advantage of the good weather. We could see the wash flapping in the wind as the ship pulled out to sea. The town also declared a holiday for the school children so they can mingle with the tourists visiting the island.

Long lines had formed at the 910 seat Princess theatre. It filled up early. Many guests who came to see a production show were turned away. People often hurried through their dinner to get a seat at the theatre or the movies. Crowds choked the corridors leading to the Vista lounge to see a movie. Groups at the lounge nursing free drinks at a Captain's party were unmindful of the gridlock they were causing outside.

Chaotic scheduling caused most of the activities to overlap. Long queues were a common sight all over the ship. "Anytime dining" required at least an hour wait for those without reservations. Sabatini had a long waiting list.

Employees at the excursion counter were rude and arrogant after selling out most of the tours. They were completely overwhelmed with the demand. Tours were pricey and abbreviated.

The cruise director's staff did a great job offloading passengers on tenders, but lines were lengthy returning to the ship. The crowds were mostly polite and orderly except for a few smokers that evoked arguments as they puffed smoke while waiting in line for tenders.

An Internet café (35c/min, color-printing 50c/page) became a useful link for the outside world. The terminals peaked during sea days. People with five or more Princess cruises get Internet for free as a loyalty perk.

We had purchased a transfer voucher from Princess for use between New York Brooklyn pier and La Guardia airport. The Star Princess disembarked us at past 11 AM although they knew that we had a 1 PM flight to Los Angeles and at least a 40- minute travel time to the airport. The Star Princess released passengers on 5 PM flights much ahead of us.

Due to the lack of porters we had to handle our own luggage. A Princess agent at the pier told us that buses to the airport were due in forty minutes and he suggested that we take a cab in order to make our flight. A kind New York police officer got us a taxi ahead of people waiting in a long line after we explained our plight to him. After a delay with the TSA at the airport, we barely made our flight.

Overall our 25-day trip from the Baltic to New York was a pleasant one because of the weather and calm seas. We missed the fine service we expected from the Star Princess that we encountered on other Princess trips. Princess Cruises might require a small tweak to keep them from becoming just average.

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Western Caribbean
Publication Date: January 29, 2006

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 them.

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 â?oMOTIONâ?. 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 WITH PRINCESS.COM OR CALL 800 PRINCESS, You're nobody to Princess. Next time I'll go with RCCL until Carnival acquires them.

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Western Caribbean
Publication Date: January 15, 2006

Having cruised before on a different cruise line, I was a bit skeptical on how Princess and the Star Princess would measure up.

Well, it did. There were so many things to do, from movies to snorkeling classes to computer classes, to ceramics and so on! We had a hard time deciding what do to, there were so many things to choose from.

Our balcony room was fabulous. There was nothing like waking up with the sun, picking up the phone to order coffee and have it arrive less than 5 minutes later, giving you the opportunity to enjoy your coffee on your private balcony.

The food was good and plentiful and outstanding. The only low light was Tequila's - a cover charge restaurant. The service was not good. Princess cruises prides itself on anytime dining, where you can choose several restaurants to eat from and you are not stuck at one table the whole week. That is the route we went and it was wonderful! We only had to wait in line a couple of times and the food in the other restaurants was the same menu as the traditional dining room.

The only low point was the coffee in the food court - very bitter. Service in the restaurants was also spectacular. We never wanted for anything and were always well taken care of.

The ports of call were another story. Cozumel was ok. Their port was damaged during Hurricane Wilma and we had to be tendered in on Cozumel's tenders. That was not a pleasant experience. The shore excursion we went on was a dune buggy ride, which was a lot of fun, but it was too windy at the beach. I did hear others speak of their trips to the Mayan ruins and they seemed to enjoy it. Of course, the whole idea was to buy, buy, buy.

We never made it to Grand Cayman. A storm was blowing in and the closed the port for two days, so we sailed on to Jamaica. Originally we were supposed to go to Ocho Rios, but the hurricane changed our trip to Montego Bay. That was a trip that I wish I had stayed on the ship. We went out on the Coral See, a half submarine, supposedly to see the coral reefs. The water was way too choppy and it was hard to see anything. It was a waste of money. The cruise line will suggest that you go to the City center to shop for jewelry and watches. Unless you wished to be constantly hassled by vendors, I suggest that you limit your shopping to the Terminal itself, which was not half as stressful. Inside the terminal is a little tropical bar area. Have a meat pie - they were delicious! All in all, I would not want to go back to Jamaica.

Our last stop was at Princess Cays, their own private island in the Bahamas, and that was the highlight of our trip. The whitest sands, the bluest seas, lots of of fun activities and cabanas if you just want to laze in the sun. Tropical music and a feeling of joy. My husband could have stayed there for a week! The only complaint about it was that we didn't get to stay long enough. At 3pm, we were back on board and sailing for Port Everglades.

Disembarkation was easy. It was smooth and well run and it took us no time to get off the ship. Transfers to the airport were also very smooth.

The ship was large - 2600 passengers, but it was beautiful. Three different pool areas, including one for adults only, which I liked. The staff was wonderful. Many people have mentioned that since Princess now automatically adds gratuities to your bill, that the service would not be as good. I disagree - we had the best staff.

All in all, we can't wait to go again. We'll definitely do it again!!

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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: October 23, 2005
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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Baltic Sea
Publication Date: July 24, 2005

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.

Any questions, contact me at tropical.co@gmail.com

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Baltic Sea
Publication Date: June 4, 2005

My wife and I were on the June 4, 2005 Baltic cruise on the Star Princess. Ed Schlenk has done an excellent job in his review of the same cruise that he took on Mar 15, 2005. I will not attempt to match his 15 page review, but will just add a few bits of information that might be helpful to anyone taking this same cruise.

We spent three days in Copenhagen before the cruise. Because it took us about 30 hours to get there, we were exhausted. We used the three days to regain our strength before the cruise. Had we not done this, the first few days of the cruise may have been very tiring. As I walked down the hall from our cabin, I noticed several cabins had the "do not disturb" signs on the doors for the first two or three days. I believe some of those people never left their cabins during that time.

If you need help in Copenhagen, just approach someone on the street and ask your question in English. Don't bother to ask whether they speak English. We only met one person in

that city that did not. The same is true in all the Scandinavian countries.

EMBARKATION: Embarkation was the best we have experienced. We left our hotel about 11 AM and took a taxi to the ship. We expected to be waiting until after noon, but were told to go directly into the processing room. We are Platinum members so we went to that line, but none of the booths were busy. We were done in less than 10 minutes and on board a few minutes later.

The ship was very nice, the food was very good, and the service in the dining room was always excellent. Our room steward did an excellent job. Our only food complaint was about a dinner we had at Sabatini's Trattoria. My wife ordered shrimp and they were burned on the bottom. It appeared they had been left in the pan too long. Up until then all the various courses were very good and well prepared.

The entertainment in the small show room was not up to par. We prefer the one man acts in the small theatre to the large production shows in the big theatre. The juggler was excellent, but the comedian and magician both looked like they should have retired a few years ago. I believe the comedian even cut his act short because he just was not getting any reaction from the audience.

PORTS: We often will do our own thing in the ports and usually walk into town if it is a reasonable distance. If the cruise line has arranged for shuttle buses, we will take advantage of this service. I called Princess before we left and asked whether they were going to have shuttles available in any of the ports. I was told that none of the ports would offer this service. In fact, Tallinn and Helsinki did offer the service and it was mentioned on the front page of the Princess Patter. Both locations charged $8.00 round trip. The buses ran back and forth all day.

Stockholm was nice, but it is a shame that the ship is unable to dock in the city. On a previous cruise, we had a captain that lived in Stockholm and he told us how beautiful the approach to the city was with several thousand islands along the way. We saw none of this, because the Star anchors offshore 25 miles south of Stockholm. We purchased the Stockholm on Your Own tour that dropped us off in the older part of the city. It was a very enjoyable day, but I am not sure the bus ride was worth $62.00 per person; especially since the bus had no air conditioning.

At Helsinki, we took the shuttle into town and followed one of Rick Steves' walking tours around the downtown area. We were able to see everything that the bus tours would have included. It is quite pretty and easy to get to everything on foot.

St. Petersburg was spectacular. The palaces of Catherine and Peterhof are beyond description. They should not be missed. Both are included on a full day tour. The lunch that day was also excellent. The first day we took a half-day tour of the Hermitage and a couple of small palaces in St. Petersburg. Both tours had EXCELLENT guides. They were probably the best guides we have had on any tour taken on our 20+ cruises. Most of them were school or university teachers. They all spoke fluent English with slight accents.

Tallinn was one of the best stops on the cruise. As you approach the city, you have a picture perfect view of the old section from the ship. We had a great guide who took us through this part of the city and did a wonderful job explaining everything. She was probably not over 23 years old and spoke four languages. He English was perfect and she went out of her way to make sure everyone enjoyed the tour. She was also very pleasing to look at.

Poland was disappointing. Our bus driver was from another city and did not know his way around Gdansk. The guide tried to describe the sights for us and tell him where to go at the same time. It did not work. The city was covered in graffiti, even the houses in the better neighborhoods. Once we got into the old section of the city, the tour became more enjoyable.

We planned to walk an area in Olso that we had not seen before, but the rain was very heavy when we left the ship. About 50 feet away, several men were selling bus tours and we decided to take one. They were $18.00 pp and we had an excellent guide. She pointed out the highlights of Olso as we drove through the downtown area. We then went to Frogner park where she gave us a very informative tour of the Vigeland sculptures. Next was the Bygdoy area where people were dropped off at various museums. From here you could either go back to the ship by bus or stay longer at the museums and take the ferry back to the center of town. We chose to see the Kon-Tiki Museum where they have both the Kon-Tiki and the Ra II. We then took the ferry back to town ($.4.00 American one way) and walked back to the ship. There are shops just a short stroll from the ship and we spent some time there before returning to the ship for lunch.

Before leaving home and while on the ship we kept checking the Internet to see what the weather was going to be like in the different ports. Many other passengers had done the same thing. Rain was predicted for every port, but on arrival we had warm and sunny days in every port except Oslo. I hope you are as fortunate as we were. Pleasant weather really adds to the enjoyment when on the land tours.

Notices were included in the Princess Patter saying that taxis would be "extremely limited" in Copenhagen and they suggested that people going to the airport should purchase bus transfers for $40.00 per person. We were staying one more day in Copenhagen, so we only needed to get to our hotel. We left the ship about 8 AM and walked directly to a waiting taxi. There were quite a few behind him. I don't know whether people leaving the ship at a later time would have any trouble finding a taxi or not. We were at our hotel about 15 minutes after leaving the ship.

Ken T.

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Baltic Sea
Publication Date: May 15, 2005

CRUISE REVEW 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! Ed Schlenk (efschlenk at hotmail dot com)

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Transatlantic Crossing
Publication Date: May 1, 2005

This was our 16th Princess Cruise, our 4th Transatlantic Cruise, one previous with Princess and I have 6 cruises with HAL and 10 cruises with Celebrity. I have elite status with Princess and booked a BE guarantee last December with an upgrade to BA. Right after I paid my money they were selling mini suites for hundreds less than I paid. I wrote Princess on this and they upped my onboard credit by $50. Cabins were selling for $699 at 30 days out. This is just a caution to those who might book this cruise early. I booked my air through Princess and flew on the day of the cruise with one two hour stop in Atlanta to change planes. Picked up bags in Fort Lauderdale, found a Princess representative and I was on a hot bus to the dock within an hour after arrival.

Embarkation: I showed them my Platinum embark, was at the desk in 15 minutes and on the ship in another 10 minutes. The Platinum Captain's Circle check-in does save time.

Cabins: The cabin C610 (cat. BA) was attractively decorated and good sized for the price. The

balcony, while large, offers little privacy if your cabin is on Caribe deck. The shower is smaller than Celebrity and you get a bath/shower on HAL in this category. It also has a fixed shower head, instead of a hose and wand arrangement like Celebrity offers. Cabin service was efficient and unobtrusive. I got a free mini bar set up and opted for 12 Miller lights as I figure I might as well get what I drink. Took advantage for the free laundry and dry cleaning for elite members on several occasions. I also enjoyed the better bath robes and canapés on several times. The 10% boutique was also used more than once. Public Areas: The public areas are nice and never feel crowded. The ship doesn't feel 109,000 grt. Enjoyed the small intimate bars. Met numerous passenger that I had talked with previously on the internet. They had good shows on board and the comedians were great. The bars had a buy 5, pay for four Becks light special on the Lido bars. I got this all cruise long and put them in the cabin fridge. Got a bottle opener from the room steward. I missed some shows that were at 9 PM only due to being in second seating Traditional. There was plenty of activities to keep you busy all day including lectures and classes of all kinds. I went to the free wine tasting for elite members and enjoyed the library on board. You will not be bored on a Princess ship.

Dining: I requested 2nd seating traditional dining when I booked and I got some of the best tablemates I ever had and a good waiter too. We ate all our meals here except when we got back late from Amsterdam when we ate in the Capri. We went to open seating for breakfast and lunch in the Portofino Dining room every day when not on tour. The attendance in the main dining rooms was far less that capacity due to number eating in Lido. Avoid large tables as we had service problems at lunch on them for two straight days, I complained and they put us at a table for two with a good waiter and the service problems ended. The breakfast menu in the Portofino is limited with one kind of pancakes and a two inch diameter item they call a hash brown. They had better potato's and French toast daily in the Lido so I complained as to why I could not get them in the Portofino. I had to write the hotel manager before they brought me potato's like they had upstairs and French toast. They claim Princess does the menu's so I will take that up with them in a letter. We had pizza, hot dogs and burgers several times for a snack. The afternoon tea in Portofino dining room had good tea, good company and scones. All the restaurants were nicely decorated and the food in all the Dining rooms was generally good, but not up to Celebrity standards. The food in the Lido was also good.

Tours: We did tours in all the ports. In Southampton we considered the London tour but it was too long on the bus. It got back at 9:30 PM. We did the Cofu castle, but it was meant for the physically fit and my wife could not do it. In Paris we did the Seane River cruise and had a good lunch while Paris passed by and we finished two bottles of wine. This tour is recommended. We did Amsterdam in a nutshell and it also was a good tour with a good lunch, but drinks were Dutch and expensive so we stayed with water. In Oslo we did the easy Oslo and enjoyed it also. All the Princess tours were first class. Getting your sticker to go on tour in the Princess theater on the other hand was chaos.

Disembarkation: This was smooth. They had the Wheel house bars set up for suite, platinum and elite members and it was great. They had coffee, good juice and pastries and comfortable seats. They put me on a line bus quickly and I got to the airport faster going than coming. Copenhagen airport was large and no one told you where to go, I found the ticket counter just ahead of the crowd. Washington Dulles was even worst. We had two hours between flights and had to run to catch our flight home with 10 minutes to spare. The ordeal wore my wife out.

Overall, I was satisfied. I put a $200 deposit down on a future cruise. Most of the problems centered around the breakfast menu and Princess will get a complaint letter on this, but I will sail them again. They do have the most balcony's, give good value for the money most of the time for the money most of the time and their people are friendly.

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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: February 20, 2005

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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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: December 12, 2004

Just arrived back from a one week cruise on the Star Princess. I wish I could say something good about the cruise but I can't. I have traveled the world and had many great trips. This was not one of them. Everything was average to poor. Bad service, food was cold and fair quality, long lines for dining and shows, poor attitude of crew, and a staff that only cared about making money on extras.

Perhaps this is a consequence of being owned by Carnival. Try another cruise line.

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