My husband David and I decided to take each other on a New Year's Eve cruise to celebrate his 41st birthday and to enjoy some warm weather during the Christmas/New Year's vacation. After months of anticipation, the day arrived. At the last minute, we decided to drive from the Bay Area to San Pedro instead of flying due to stormy weather that was coming in. As we turned into the harbor, we were stunned at the immense size of the Star Princes. After David returned from parking the car, we handed our luggage off to a porter and our adventure began.
Since we had all the pre-boarding information completed on line, the process went very smoothly. They waved us through security and onto the ship. We quickly located our cabin (C732, inside) and met our room steward, Jun. Our luggage arrived before we finished exploring the room. Since we were celebrating my husband's birthday, we had pre-ordered a special occasion package, part of which was waiting for us upon our arrival. (Be sure to request robes and a fruit bowl for your cabin.) We even tipped Jun, our cabin steward, right away to assure we would be well taken care of. The cabin was nicer and larger than we expected. Since we booked at a late date for the very popular New Year's cruise, we were not able to get a balcony cabin. The bathroom was small but sharing was not a problem. My husband and I have separate bathrooms in our home, but we were pleasantly surprised that the size, not to mention sharing, was not a problem.
Helpful planning hints
Ladies, if you are interested in spa services, book early when you get on board. When I went to the spa to book my package, I firmly avoided the tour that they were pushing. And even though I knew exactly what services I wanted, I still had to stand in line for 40 minutes to sign up. I was pleasantly surprised that during my spa treatment, they didn't push any other products or services (which was very unlike Steiner, the spa operator), and I really appreciated it. Also, if you want to dine in Sabatini's during your cruise, make the reservations right away.
Personal Choice Dining
One obvious benefit to Personal Choice is meeting new people each night at dinner. We are a married couple, age 40, and the dining staff really tried to match us up with people in our age range. One night they didn't have anyone when we went in for dinner so it was just the two of us. Another night we were the youngest at our table and we still really enjoyed our table mates. We made reservations for dinner each night at 6 p.m. However, since the phone was often busy and I couldn't get through, I found the whole reservation process very stressful. When I was finally able to speak to someone, I couldn't make a reservation more than a day in advance. It was nice having dinner at 6, but it was not easy arranging it. Next time I just hope we get early dining. About 30 percent of the passengers did not dress appropriately for the evening, and it was really noticeable in the dining rooms. Even so, the dining staff did not turn people away who were wearing jeans.
Since it was a New Year's Eve cruise, we expected something very special on that particular evening, and Princess did have a couple of New Year's Eve parties. The main event was a deck party complete with streamers, if you could get your hands on them. Party hats were handed out in the dining rooms earlier that evening. The streamers were suppose to be thrown at midnight, but many people started much earlier. To our disappointment, Princess didn't offer free champagne -- not even a first glass. However, there were plenty of waiters to assist you if you wanted to buy some.
The Star Princess is a wonderful ship. Even with its immense size, the ship is easy to get around. We especially enjoyed the lovely and plentiful artwork in the stairwells. There were so many pieces of art, we were nearly convinced that crew members were moving pieces around and introducing new pieces into stairwells we thought we were familiar with. We really had fun with the art and were still noticing new pieces at the end of the week. The ship was kept very clean. Someone was always wiping the handrails and elevator buttons -- perhaps because of the recent health problems on other ships. Although I had heard comments to the contrary, I did not see any significant signs of wear and tear.
The service was adequate. Only a couple of crew members really outdid themselves. The others seemed to be going through the motions. I even overheard comments between the crewmembers that weren't really professional.
Of the three ports of call, we enjoyed Puerto Vallarta the best and plan to go back. We took a Coastal Drive tour and were able to see some nice sights; it was well worth the money. Afterwards we went exploring on our own. It's a great place to find handmade arts and crafts and to bargain over prices. We ate lunch in town at the Blue Shrimp restaurant, which we had heard about from a couple of different sources. The cruise line also recommends it. It was a great meal and the restaurant owner and employees were wonderful.
David took snorkeling and kayak tours in the other two ports of call (Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas). While the Mazatlan kayaking was fine, the water was so murky that the snorkeling was barely worth the trouble. The Cabo snorkeling tour was by far the better of the two ports.
Activities on board
We really did not see many of the shows. Karaoke gave us a good laugh one night...but only one night. Seeing the same people became too painful to watch. Some of the activities on board seemed more popular than others. I went to a craft class one afternoon where 12 of us made elegant paper boxes out of old menus from one of the ship's dining rooms. We went to just one horse race and that was more than enough for us. There were many other activities. We tried playing golf on the putting green. It was well designed and beautifully executed even to the point of having sound effects. However, the high wind and rocking of the ship drove our scores so high that we decided to seek other amusements.
We had formal afternoon tea once where David was the only man at a table of seven women. He was definitely a hit with the ladies over 65. There are lots of opportunities for photos; take a lot, since you don't have to purchase the ones you hate. The formal nights were a great opportunity to have our portraits taken, especially the Black and White portrait, which was a great opportunity for a different sort of look. We were very pleased with the results. (by the way, it was especially fun looking at other people's photos; we were not the only ones doing this.)
The gift shops were tastefully appointed with lovely items that we had not seen "everywhere else." With one exception, the sales people were generally great. They had daily shopping specials advertised by flyers in your mailbox. There was a bit of controversy about having to pay for ice cream at Scoops. But it's only $4, and considering the amount you get, it is well worth the money. (People can be so cheap and crabby on vacation.) It was a nice treat getting ice cream sundaes and sodas while relaxing at the pool.
Disembarkation went smoothly. We were invited to wait in a lounge that was reserved for Platinum Members of the Captain's Circle. We were guests of another couple and thus we were able to spend our last hour on board in the luxury and service we had become accustomed to (e.g., newspaper, tea, coffee, and pastries). This really was a nice way to wait until you can disembark; most people just hung around waiting in the hallways.
This vacation was wonderful. Not only were we able to relax and unwind, we met some great people. Most importantly, David and I spent quality time together. They don't call it the LOVE BOAT for nothing.