Overview – This was our ninth cruise with Princess in eight years, and our second Pacific Coastal Cruise, as we did a northern bound coastal cruise in 2002. I hate to have to say this, but we have found the over-all quality decreasing over the last five years, and we keep on booking our next cruise with Princess, in hopes that maybe the cruise we just were on was an anomaly, but in reality, the over-all quality has decreased, and it is unlikely that we will book with Princess for our next cruise, and will look at other cruise lines. I would like to note that the Senior and Executive Staff on board ship are extremely nice and professional, and the passengers were friendly and help make the cruise enjoyable. We met a young couple from Alberta, and it was nice to see familiar faces when out on excursions and to have other people to talk to.
Embarkation – Princess used to have "Priority Embarkation" services for Platinum Card Holders, but along with other "Premiums" for Platinum Card Holders that they have eliminated, this too appears to have been eliminated. The Embarkation was about as smooth as your typical Airport Check In Process, with a lack of agents to assist you and the ones that were there, appeared to have little or no previous experience. Luckily, the lines were not extremely long, and after lugging our baggage (No Handlers Available) we made it through check in and onto the ship. Note: Princess used to send you a Blue Plastic Envelope with a Cruise Coupon Book, along with all your paperwork that took the guess work out of getting checked in. Now they have opted for "E Tickets" and the Internet for form processing which made the overall process confusing.
State Room – We had a Balcony on the Aloha Deck (Deck 12) as we always opt for a Balcony or Mini-Suite. The room was dirty and we spent the first few hours using the towels to wipe everything down, as it was obvious that it was not cleaned prior to our boarding. Getting a good Steward will make or break your experience aboard a cruise ship, and unfortunately, we got the absolute worst steward we have ever had. My Wife has a bad back due to a recent Auto Accident, and we had requested three months in advance, via Fax, E-Mail, Postal Mail and The Internet the need to have the Egg Crate Mattress Pad on our bed, along with extra "Down" Pillows and Robes in our State Room. Although all of this was clearly identified in our Pre-Cruise Check List Summary, the Steward and his Manager were oblivious to these requests, and promptly told us they had none available and there was nothing they were going to do to rectify the situation or honor our requests. In addition to our check in issues, our Steward failed daily to fill our Ice Bucket, failed to leave fresh towels, and failed to leave the cards used to request breakfast or fruit. So, we were constantly calling room service for these items which should have been provided as part of the daily service. Additionally, we had two days where the Steward just failed to clean our room at all; even though we used the Service Card when-ever we left our room. We never did receive towels for the pool, which should have been in our room from day one.
Cruise Staff – I have to say the Medical Staff were the best we have ever had. The Doctor was very friendly and professional, and even had a sense of humor. The rest of the Medical Staff were courteous and prompt, along with the Senior Staff that we encountered in the Boutiques and Shops, and at The Customer Service Desk (Purser Desk). The Staff in the restaurants and bars were a different story, and the quality of the talent that Princess hires now has declined dramatically from the first four or five cruises that we had sailed with them. Quite a few now do not even speak English, which made it a challenge to try to have a conversation with them, if you elect to try to do more than order something off of a menu.
The Food –
Dinner – After Eight years of cruising with Princess, they still have the same Menu, and have not changed anything with the exception of reducing down to one small lobster tail from the previous two they used to have, on the night they do server lobster. The Prime Rib was tough and dry, the King Crab was an oxymoron as the pieces were extremely small and you ended up with a plate full of knuckles and only one or two small legs and no claws.
The Horizon Court Buffet – The quality here has gone down quite a bit as well, and what is served here is the leftovers from the previous night, and the overall taste and texture are bland, tough and over-cooked. Breakfast was about the only thing edible, but seating was always a challenge as the place is always packed with no available tables.
Note: Princess only serves Coffee, Milk, Orange Juice, Iced Tea or Tap Water with their meals, as any Soda Fountain Product or other Juices come with a premium price. We had to pay $1.75 for a glass of Grapefruit Juice, and $3.00 for a bottle of water.
Entertainment – On board day time activities are extremely limited, and include such activities as Bingo, Shuffleboard, Afternoon Tea, Ceramics, and a daily movie. Princess really needs to work on getting better activities arranged, especially for the days spent at Sea, as there are just really no activities to keep close to three thousand people entertained. The Nightly activities include a Comedian, the Princess Stage shows presented by the Princess Dancers, and of course, Lounge Bands at the various bars on board ship. The quality of the Stage Shows was poor, as the cast are very amateurish, and the singers were better on earlier cruises that we have been on.
The Cruise Itself – The "First Stop" was changed from it's original destination to a small town on Victoria Island called, Nanaimo. We opted to not do a Cruise Tour here, and ended up staying on ship due to wet weather, and the need to Tender ashore. The "Second Stop" was to be at Victoria, and this was one of the reasons why we booked this cruise, so we could see Butchart Gardens. Unfortunately, although two other ships were docking at Victoria, our Captain opted to not dock there, due to potential bad weather that was to move in by that afternoon. Instead, we stayed anchored in the harbor for the morning and then departed "slowly" to our next destination of San Francisco. On our previous Coastal Cruise in 2002, we were unable to stop at Monterey due to choppy seas, so the Captain continued on and got us to San Francisco a day early in order for us to have two days there. On this cruise, this was not the case, and we just cruised slower to arrive in San Francisco on schedule.
After two days at sea, our "Third Stop" was in San Francisco, and what should have been one of the longest port days, was actually the day that we had to leave the earliest, as we had to set sail at four. There is just so much to do here that it did not do the city justice to have everyone back on board by three-thirty in the afternoon. The "Fourth Stop" was at Catalina Island, and here, the ship did not depart until Seven, which is just way too much time to spend on this Island, as it is limited to trinket shops and bars. The "Fifth Stop" was in San Diego, and luckily, we did have a full day here, as we did not set sail until six in the evening. Unfortunately, as this was also the last day before we had to disembark the following morning, the evening was spent packing and getting ready for the next morning.
Disembarking – We had a flight at 9:45 so we opted to carry our own luggage off and had a Gangway Pass that allowed us to leave the ship as soon as it docked at Los Angeles at 07:30. Unfortunately, although we were in line at 07:00, we stood in line until they finally allowed passengers off at 08:00. By this time, it was complete chaos and with no staff to help keep people in line, it was a mad exodus for the gangway as soon as they lifted the gate, with people who had been hanging out in the various lounges and bars streaming past the people who had been waiting patiently in line for the past hour.
Final Notes – Princess automatically adds on to your bill, $10.50 a day per person Gratuity Fee, that is in addition to an 18% gratuity that is already added on to any drinks or services that are purchased. This I feel should be something that is totally optional, and on their earlier cruises, they gave you envelopes to tip your Steward and / or your Waiter and Staff. Princess used to award repeat cruisers with a Status of Gold, Platinum and Elite, which gave you additional benefits, which included, Priority Embarkation, a Dedicated Lounge for Disembarkation with Breakfast, and Free Internet Service. These services appear to no longer exist, although they do offset your Internet Usage for the first $75, which helps, but due to slow internet service, it is really very easy to burn through $75 of Internet Service.
Photos – Princess prints every single photo taken, and throws away thousands of prints per sailing. Would it not make more sense to lower their price from $25 for an 8x10 to something more reasonable, and not print off all pictures?