Saturday, May 16, 2009

Star Princess diverted Mexican Riviera Cruise Review

On the perfect vacation
Originally uploaded by siegel_jackie.
I traveled on the Star Princess with my sister. This was my sixth Princess cruise, first time at the Platinum Captain’s Circle level. It was my sister’s 11th Princess cruise. We traveled round-trip out of San Francisco. We chose this trip because our travel agent provided a charter bus ride from Sacramento.

Traffic in the San Francisco embarcadero area was very congested, our bus spending over an hour to go less than one mile. Once at the pier embarkation was very well organized. It didn't take very long to obtain our cruise card and go through security and board the ship.

This was the largest ship I’ve ever been on. One could tell it was designed for maximum passenger capacity and revenue generation. The Promenade deck is much narrower than older ships. There are no deck chairs on the Promenade deck, just a few benches. There is a wine bar and wine accessories shop taking up a big chunk of space on the Plaza level.

The library has been combined with the Internet Café. There are not many books available for so many passengers, nor were there many seats for people to sit in the library and read. There were plenty of Internet terminals, there were usually terminals available whenever I wandered by.

The Explorer’s Lounge, which looked like it might be a nice place to relax, was taken over all day, each sea day for storage, set up and then auction of the hundreds of pieces of framed art. The pictures were set up along every walkway, making the entire area unusable, if not a downright safety hazard.

We decided to splurge for a mini-suite. There was a sufficient amount of storage space. However, I was surprised at how narrow the cabin is. There was not much storage space in the bathroom above the counter. It would have been nice to have a medicine cabinet and some more shelving. The bathtub shower had nice water pressure. The extra shower space the bathtub afforded was very welcome. The extra space for the loveseat and table was heavily used during our sea days for reading and relaxing. On sea days the public areas of the ship were very congested with all available seating taken. Having that extra space in the cabin enabled us to relax during our cruise and not be frustrated by the shortage of public spaces.

We tried out MUTS (Movies Under The Stars) one evening. The crew works very hard to make this venue fun. Pool loungers are covered with special mats and staff hand out blankets and popcorn. It is a very nice concept.

Even with such a large ship and 2,500 passengers, we had no problem tendering. We'd have breakfast in dining room, go back to our cabin to gather our stuff and then head down to pick up tender tickets. Each time there was no waiting so we were told to proceed directly to the tenders. We were ashore in both Santa Barbara and Catalina by 9 a.m.

Some observations and annoyances:

On board the Star Princess we signed up for an internet package. There was an embarkation day special. The $100 package is usually for 250 minutes, but the special was for an additional 30 minutes. After logging off the first time the Internet Usage Summary showed that only 250 minutes were given. We asked the gentleman at the Internet Cafe desk about it and he said it would appear the next day. It didn't. The Passenger Services Desk referred us back to the Internet manager. That day he said that the Platinum credit is only for 250 minutes. We submitted a written comment/complaint to the Passenger Services desk saying that Princess Captain's Circle benefits state that Platinum card holders receive $100 credit for Internet packages, not a specific amount of time. If this is a change of policy it needs to be communicated to all Captain's Circle members. We never heard back about our complaint nor did the extra 30 minutes appear on our balance. We then let the Captain's Circle hostess know about the problem. She said that she would look into it but we never heard anything back from her either.

When will Princess do away with the costumed photography staff? Gangways were held up while people were told to stop to be photographed with a bear or eagle. One night after dinner pirate costumed staff tried to startle diners as they exited the dining room. Not cool.

For the wonderful ice cream that is served in the buffet each afternoon, the servers are not told the flavors, so they would guess. If it is green it must be mint seemed to be the theory, at least that’s the flavor I was told one day. I put chocolate sprinkles on it to make a mint-chip combination. Wrong, it was honeydew melon, which is quite good but doesn’t work well with chocolate sprinkles. This lack of knowledge of the ice cream flavor and telling people their guess could be tragic if someone had allergies and was told the flavor was one thing when it wasn't.

We ate most of our meals in the dining room. Personal choice dining in the Capri dining room on deck 5 was never congested. The food was excellent. The plates are now plain white china, more appropriate for a dining room than the floral design of the past. We asked to be seated at tables for six or less and were always accommodated. We never had to wait to be seated. The dining room has areas a step or two up from the main floor level. I don’t understand why they seat people who obviously have mobility problems (the walkers and wheelchairs should be a clue) in these elevated areas while able-bodied people are seated on the main level. I’ve been harping about this on my final comment/questionnaire for years.

The times I stopped by the gym there were always machines available. The gym has 4 elliptical machines, 12 treadmills, 2 recumbent bicycles and 2 exercycles. There are also Paramount brand weight machines.

The wifi signal is sporadic in the cabins but can be received around the atrium. There are several nice tables and chairs in the piazza with electrical outlets nearby for laptops.

This cruise was one of those affected by the swine flu travel warnings. The second night during dinner the captain announced that all stops in Mexico had been cancelled and that new stops along the California coast were being developed. This was a situation out of Princess' control and he asked that people not take their disappointment out on the crew. There were a number of very obnoxious passengers on board who did just that. I could not understand their beef. The CDC and the WHO advised that unnecessary travel to Mexico be avoided. I think Princess went above and beyond to put together the revised itinerary which included the same number of port stops, and longer port times. The logistics of working out the schedule and permits and whatever is required for a port stop must have had people scrambling and working many hours overtime. Kudos to Princess for taking lemons and making lemonade.

Speaking of lemonade, it is now available in the buffet, but must be requested from the crew. Most of the time it was wonderful but near the end of the cruise it became water with a hint of lemon.

Since no passengers or crew were allowed off during the Passenger Services Act obligatory stop in a foreign port, Ensenada in our case, US citizens did not have to go through immigration at our first stop back in the US in San Pedro/Long Beach. However, no one was let off the ship in San Pedro until all non-US citizens reported to U.S. Immigration officials. Everyone was delayed over an hour because a few people did not show up when they were supposed to and then didn't hear or ignored the PA system announcements. Why U.S. Immigration insisted that these people be processed is beyond me and why everyone was held hostage just didn’t seem right.

I enjoyed our California coastal stops, even though I had been to each port before. The weather was fabulous, the locations we stopped at were thrilled to have us, and they were all very picturesque. Yes, even San Pedro, a working port, is quite interesting and picturesque. Also, since we did not have to travel very far we were cruising at a very leisurely pace. This allowed us to use our balcony, even while at sea and to enjoy MUTS at night.

Overall I found the cruise to be everything I anticipated. I wanted a relaxing vacation and that is what I got, with good food, calm waters, and time to leave the stresses of work behind.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The case of the shrinking cruise ship libraries

Back in 2001 I sailed on the Sea Princess. The ship carries 1950 passengers. The library had many sections of shelving units, filled with current titles. There were so many titles from my "must read" that I found it difficult to choose. I finally settled on The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.

Today I am on the Star Princess. The ship carries 2600 passengers. The library has been merged with the internet cafe. There are only 12 sections of book shelves. If memory serves me correctly, this is half or less than on the Sea. In scanning the shelves before the library opened for the first day of business I found no current titles, nothing from my list, and most disheartening, The Blind Assassin is the only Atwood title. Granted it is a great book, but obviously Princess no longer cares to maintain their library.