As an experienced world traveler and reader of travel logs, I thought I should sit down and write a review for my most recent adventure, a seven day Princess cruise.
This was my fourth trip (ever) on a cruise ship and my second ride on the Grand Princess in the last twelve months. For those of you that have commented about how the ships are getting bigger and the service poorer, my experience may ring a bell for you.
My wife and I had a rather horrid experience on the ship this trip and rather than attempt to describe it, I am going to insert the letter we are posting to Princess at the bottom of this log.
For the trip in general, I will use the pattern others have used and assign a final grade based on the A to F scale to various categories, and then expand on some details. After traveling in many countries in a variety of accommodation levels, I tend to be critical when it comes to basic and more tolerant of complex situations.
I hope that you find the information and tips I provide to be useful.
Embarkation: B We live in Florida so we simply drove to the cruise terminal in Ft Lauderdale. The main surprise in this was the $12 daily parking charge. We were told $8 by Princess which seemed high for port parking and $12 was asinine. No time to make other arrangements so we parked. No help in the garages and no carts either. For $12 a day, a few push carts would be nice¡
Once in the terminal, the processing was quick, however the longshoremen handling the bags are rather seedy, rude and pressed hard for a tip even though he just dropped the bag (rather forcefully) on a pallet. Glad I did not pack anything fragile in that bag¡
I read the following from another review and second it! ¡°The layout is pretty good, but there are a few dead-end spots to look out for, like near the dining rooms. The mid-ship stairs stop at deck 7, and it was a pain to wait for the elevator to go to up one floor to our cabin on the Emerald deck. The elevators are slow and patience is required for those people who seemed like using an elevator was a new experience.¡± Actually, it seemed to us that many of the lifts were shut off at times as they would be on the same floor as you but refuse to open.
The Room: B- We had Emerald 317 on Deck 8, starboard side and mid-ship. It had a partially obstructed view with a life boat hanging outside but we could see everything clearly.
Our room was small, however storage space was ok. A TV with A/V inputs (great if you take a camcorder, refrigerator, and safe were included. The beds were not very comfortable since they use thin cots as mattresses, and they have minimal support and in our case, the beds had large sinkholes in the middle. After a few days our backs HURT. I asked for and got a back board placed under the mattress which helped, but would a 4¡± mattress really cost them so much in a cabin that goes for $2000 a week.
Cabin steward was good and when we allowed, cleaned the room two or three times a day. These folks can be a little nervous around you. Try to be nice to them as they work very long hours (15 hrs+ a day for little money) and can be fired on a whim by the line. I saw many people (ugly American stereotypes) being very rude and nasty to these people for absolutely no reason. Kids were extremely nasty to them¡ while the parents watched¡ there are times when I feel like pretending I am Canadian on travel because of the way Americans behave¡.
The Food: Overall B- Dining Room: B+ The Dining room food was generally good and the atmosphere nice. Service was usually attentive and friendly but there were frequent photographer interruptions and several high pressure sales efforts by the waiter.
Horizon Court: B-
The buffet area was not really to my liking. The serving area was cramped and the options limited. Half of the tables had the same food 24/7 and it was not great. Get better breakfast at Dennys for $4. Only up side was that after 11pm, it turns into a sit down restaurant with a menu that is ok. .
Fast Food in the Pool Area: C-
There are pizza and burger areas on the pool deck that are rather horrid. Worse than high school caf¨¦ food. They also close this area early in the evening which is bad when you want an alternative to the buffet and it is closed. When it comes to basic food, Carnival was better and that is a really mean thing to say¡
Entertainment: B Strange how this worked out. In June, the Broadway shows were great. Top notch singers and dancers, but the comedians really sucked. Over Christmas, the singers and dancers had changed very much to the worse but the comedians (with one very horrid exception) were great. One was close to getting tossed over the rail by the passengers he stank so badly, but the others were really good. Only complaint is the short show times. Spent more time waiting for the show than enjoying the show¡
I will throw a salute the entertainment staff at this point. They really seem to be a good bunch on the whole if a bit strange to look at as a group. A real collection of strange people, but good at the job and nice to speak with. While I do not have any children, the parents I spoke with seemed very happy with the children entertainment. This is a big plus on Princess as you will find a slightly higher class crowd with almost no visible drunken folks stumbling around and an obvious effort on the part of the staff to control bad behavior. If you just want to get drunk to a band, go to Carnival¡
Nasty staff that would not explain the games even during the day when the place was empty and we went through $20 on the slots without a single hit. Got the feeling from other players that the odds on the machines are not even close to Vegas standards and not worth playing unless you just like to watch the wheels spin¡ Heard a lot of people complain about similar experiences (no the losing) with unpleasant staff in the casino. Also, very poor ventilation to clear the smoke.
Drinks & Booze: B-
We are not drinkers but I will say that $6 for a small glass of white wine is a bit steep for the venue. Paid $22 for open tap on the coke which seemed ok¡ Be careful with this. I saw some bar tabs at the end of the trip that were bigger than the fare.
Pools seem to have a problem staying clean, but I guess that is to be expected with the number of people in them without cleaning up first. Best to swim early before they get bad.
The staff do not enforce the chair hording rules but I just waited for an hour or so in a poor spot and then went and tossed the stuff out of an unused chair in the sun. Several hours later, people showed up and bitched and I told them the deck boys had come through removing things to the back after complaints. This shut them up as the sign is right there saying that chair hording is not allowed.
The photographers are very nice smiling pains in the ass. They seem to feel like they have the right to interrupt you at will and order you around. We tried to bypass some of them only to get pushed and bossed around. I bit one head off and told her that I don¡¯t remember the contract requiring me to pose whenever they feel like it. Had several table interruptions on the trip last June. They just push your food around and do not ask if you want the picture. The Dec trip we stayed out of the main dinning room due to problems outlined in the letter at the end of this log.
Virtual Reality: N/A This is an arcade style game-room with a bunch of video games and motion simulators that you can play, for a price. You need to buy a card for $20 first, and each game may be $1.00 or more. They had an Air Hockey table and a bunch of other games, but no classic games like Pac-Man or Space Invaders. They run ¨o price specials on port days, so that is usually the best time to go.
Internet: N/A Available, but very slow. Took the entire $7.50 / 15 min session to read just three yahoo emails. Tried other sites with similar results. After poking around a bit discovered that the ships offices share the link and get priority on the bandwidth¡ nice¡ Internet cafes are available at most stops for better bandwidth and less money. All in all, still better than the $5/min telephone that never seems to be available.
The Ports: OVERALL B-
Princess Cays: B Nice beach area, go early if you don¡¯t want to waste the day in lines waiting for expensive rentals. Food was nasty and bring bottle water from the ship as the stuff they had in the food area tasted nasty. Better to have a good breakfast on the ship and wait for dinner. If you just want to lay in the sun and don¡¯t care for the water, stay on the ship and be comfortable.
Grand Cayman: A- Probably the best island that the lines visit. Requires a tender to get ashore and that makes stopping there a bit unreliable because of weather. There were 3-5 foot swells the day we landed and the crew really worked to get us tied up and off the tender. Better late in the day when we returned. A small plug for Royal Caribbean Line as they had MUCH nicer tenders that handled the seas better and did not throw you around as much.
An ok port. Getting in and out is a pain because of the shopping plaza you have to go through followed by the row of seedy characters waiting for you. Also be advised that safety is an issue in this port. Don¡¯t just wonder off. Do some homework before the trip and taxi to the places you want to see using the official taxis. Don¡¯t try any other cars¡ The tours in this port were very expensive so do a bit of homework on the net before your cruise and have a map and a list of things to see with you. Will make the trip much nicer.
Jamaica: D- No nice way to say it. Jamaica is a dump. One upon a time it was a paradise but after they went independent, it crashed hard. The locals are mostly out to hassle you and if you are not careful where you go, you may end up without your money and a bump on your head. Seems like the lines are starting to avoid the place more and more. Some day Cuba will open up for Americans and Jamaica and Porto Rica will never see a cruise ship again. Can¡¯t happen too soon for me.
Debarkation: B/A Trip in June had us standing around for an extra hour in the morning while the purser folks hunted down the last few unpaid bar tabs. Really pisses me off that they risked making people late for flights over a couple of bar bills. Goes to show that customer service is not on the top of the list for the purser folks. In Dec we got off quickly as everyone was paid up, however there were other problems with the purser folks that I have in the letter at the bottom. Suffice to say that everyone on that ship outside of management worked hard for us but the hotel management folks only care about getting the money and the passengers are just not that important to them¡ unless there is a bill to collect.
Cruise Insurance: D I know they tell you for cruises to buy insurance¡ I would stay away from the Princess care. It is expensive and while it claims to offer medical, in June they spent an entire day trying to get a simple Band-Aid for my wife when she got a blister on her heal. Ruined one of our port days as she could not wear a shoe without it and they would not let us take one from the shop as we were in port. Can you imagine, an entire day trying to get a 5cent bandage out of the hotel and medical staff. They simply did not give a damn and said wait until evening when the medical staff returns. (closed shops and med facilities in ports)
Buy fare insurance and emergency evac from one of the travel insurance companies and leave the Princess care alone is all I can say. We paid a lot of money for it and could note even get a Band- Aid¡
Overall: B The Grand is a great ship and overall the entertainment was great the dinners top notch. The only real complaint about the operation is the way the management treats the guests and the constant digging for extra dollars. The constant harassment by photographers and the excessively priced tours tended to cheapen the experience as did the food outside the main dinning rooms.
The entertainment staff was top notch on both rides, but the performances were somewhat inconsistent between the trips. Still, all in all a good time. Our June trip was def much better at the $700 per person fare+extras. Dec ran us closer to $2800 for the two of us and we def did not get that kind of value even forgetting the problems we had with the hotel management.
SUMMARY: If you can get a good deal from these folks, it is a nice trip for the family or a couple not looking to swing with a bunch of drunks. Entertainment is good and most of the staff was very attentive. The line management is another story. If you have any problems with the ship or anything else, you are on your own. The management staff seemed very arrogant and disinterested in passengers or ship problems. There seems to be a rather large detachment between them and the other staff including how they treat the passengers and general demeanor.
Letter we posted to the Line on Dec 30. December 30, 2002
Princess Cruise Lines Attn: Customer Relations
Re: The December 22 sailing of the Grand Princess
This letter is a formal complaint regarding the handling of problems that arose during the Dec 22 sailing of the Grand Princess. My wife and I were assigned to cabin E317 for this seven day trip over the Christmas holiday which proved to be one of the worst holidays I can remember. On Christmas day, a drain line broke in the hallway outside of our cabin releasing odors and chemicals that can not be described in this letter. Suffice to say that it was worse than the trash dumpster behind a bar. The resulting flood of waste water had filled the walls and soaked the carpeting to such a degree that it took several days to remove the water and dry the carpets. During this time, extremely strong odors and chemical smells filled the halls and entered the cabins and at no time did we see more than one or two people attempting to correct the problem. At the peek of the effort, there were several sections of walls cut away and equipment left throughout the hall with no workers present for hours at a time. Even the cabin stewards were avoiding our area.
Repeated requests to the hotel staff for assistance were greeted with the highest level of indifference and claims that the problems had been corrected when in fact little had been done. When I asked that a member of the senior staff come to our section and inspect the conditions, I was told that the accommodation manager would come to our cabin and a senior steward was sent in his place. A passenger calls and complains about waste and chemical leakage in a poorly ventilated, confined space and they felt that a cabin steward is the appropriate response? Or perhaps they already new of the problem and did not wish to have to come into that air and speak with us.
When we asked, we were told that other cabins were not available which I find difficult to believe and not until the last day of the cruise was another cabin offered which upon inspection had been vacated by someone that was likely ill before leaving the ship at the last island stop. Not wishing to risk exposure to the unknown, my wife and I remained in our original cabin for the last night. At this point, we had been living in the stench for several days and there was only one day left in the cruise.
Please understand that for several days, in an effort to dry the carpets, the carpets were partially raised and a fan placed on the floor. This only aggravated the situation by pushing the waste into the air for the passengers to breathe. I do not want to think about the waste we where forced to breathe especially in light of all of the recent problems with shipboard illnesses. For several days, my wife and I were so sickened by the smells, we refrained from eating most meals and tried to avoid our cabin. However, we had to sleep and bathe leaving us no choice but to sleep in the stench and risk whatever we might be breathing. On multiple occasions, the purser desk informed us that the carpet was being removed only to find that nobody was even working in the hallway on the problem. We were forced to keep the cabin steward from cleaning the room during those days as he is required to leave the door open while working and that only allowed the fan to blow more contaminated air into the cabin.
To think we paid over $2000 for the privilege of spending our holiday trapped in a broker sewer with a desk staff that was very clearly disinterested. I can only say that we have not intention to cruise with your company again and that none of our acquaintances will have any illusions of how our trip was handled. Upon my return, I spent time reading travel logs written by people like myself on a number of web sites and have come to understand that while the entertainment staff on your ships seems to have a good reputation, your hotel management personnel are frequently the target of some of the worst reviews I have read and often termed as arrogant and only interested in collecting payments with no regard to passenger welfare. This is my second cruise with your line and while noticing this callus attitude on the previous cruise, I did not fully appreciate how little interest they have in the passengers until confronted with it directly on this trip.
After going through this experience, I have little expectation that your company will feel even the smallest regret about this incident as the shipboard management staff obviously did not. I am writing this letter in hopes that someone will prove me wrong. It is currently my intent to post this letter to as many of the travel log sites as possible. In light of current health issues on these cruise ships, I feel the behavior and attitudes of your shipboard staff should be made known to the traveling public.