With a different ship making the Mexican Riviera run, we decided to do it again the first week of February on the Star Princess. We book online about four months ahead, a very quick and painless experience, and get a guaranteed BD stateroom for the 2-1-03 voyage.
Our booking soon showed up on the Princess web site with nothing assigned as for as room number or dining. In mid December, the website showed we had been assigned to stateroom C201.. Although this is far forward, it is an upgrade to a BB stateroom. The site also shows our request for late traditional dining, table for 10 had been honored.
Early January, our documents show up in the mail with the same room and dinning information and we start to locate and prepare anything we will be taking Along with the normal clothes and toiletries, we have come up with a list of gotta haves, come in handys and might needs: digital camera battery charger and extra batteries power strip with three foot cord small and medium "bungee cords" 2-way radios small roll of duct tape all in one "Leatherman" tool first aide kit nylon mesh "dirty clothes" bags, can double as beach bag scented candle canister of "crystal Light" to mask tap water taste sewing kit travel iron small package safety pins waterproof flashlight lint roller small stack of $1 bills for room service tips 2-$20 International calling cards for room steward and waiter of our table laptop computer-now before anyone turns up their nose at this little item, let me tell you what it will do. I can download the digital camera as often as I want. At my leisure, I can edit and modify the photos. Watch one or two DVD movies or play games when there's nothing else going on. I have over 31 hours of music on the hard drive. Or even spend a couple of minutes a day on this little article.
Last year, we walked Puerto Vallarta all day and did excursions in Mazatlan and Cabo. We have planed to do the reverse this time. We found a snorkel/kayak trip to the leeward side of Marietas island on the outer edge of Banderas Bay (where Cousteau filmed his first TV shows). A taxi ride to the Golden Zone for a little shopping and a meal or two featuring the local shrimp. Cabo has five or ten bars we can explore before going to the flea market before heading back to the ship the flea market near the dock.
The week before we are due to leave, I note a strange coincidence. Looking through the TV listings, I find films like Jaws, White Squall, Poseidon Adventure, The Deep, Castaway etc...
Anyway, the first finally arrives and our daughter takes the 41 minutes to drives us down to the cruise center. After surrendering our bags to the porter, we enter the two story building to find organized chaos. No one was there to direct you to what part of the building or which line to go to. We get in one of the lines and are told five minutes later we happened to get into the correct "express" line. This line moves about ten times faster than the "regular" line. We get to the front counter and get our ship cards with the correct room number. It is at this point we find a problem with our table assignment. The spot on the card that shows the table number was blank.
After getting our photos taken for the security department, we finally get on board. At each stairway landing and elevator, there is a Princess employee to direct you or answer any questions. We get to our stateroom, C201, in short order. There are only three things about this stateroom that stand out.
First is storage, on the Sea Princess there were shelves and bins behind closet doors and about 28" of rod space for hanging items. On Star Princess this is reversed. One floor to ceiling closet with 6 shelves that are about 12x12 inches. The rod for hanging items is a full six feet with a shelf just as long above it.
Second, the mystical second electrical outlet. At the end of one wall there is a hair dryer and one electrical outlet. At the end of the other wall is a small cabinet with the refrigerator inside, a "bar" area on top backed by mirrors topped off with a shelf for the TV. Behind the TV there is a second electrical outlet. I must also assume there is a third outlet behind the fridge, but since the cabinet is attached to the walls it could not be used anyway.
Third, we are on the 10th deck, the "profile" of the ship changes at this level. The deck is narrower by about 8 feet than the decks below. To make this transition, all the balconies on the Caribe deck are about 4 feet deeper than the other decks. As a result, the balcony is about half the size of the room itself. I am guessing 28 feet from door to balcony rail.
Our room Steward is from the Philippines and his name is Tony. He is very friendly and is always in an "up"mood. Our only request is for two robes which are delivered in about ten minutes.
We take about an hour to explore the ship getting a feel for the layout. When we enter the card/game room, a man was leaving with about ten decks of brand new playing cards. We say nothing but he volunteers that they play a game that needs a lot of cards. I think it more like lets get some free souvenirs. After getting something to eat we return to the stateroom to wait for the ship to push off. As it happens, we are delayed 40 minutes. We learn later about 130 people are delayed from some flight and the ship waits. After leaving the San Pedro Channel, I think the captain pushed the ship a little to make up for the lost time. The extra speed combined with 5 foot seas made for an interesting few hours. No time to get our sea legs, we were thrown right into it. By the time we go to bed, the ship settles down.
As far as our dinning assignment, we went to the purser's deck and inquired about it. They first said were assigned to PC, when we showed our paper work, they agreed we were to be in the second seating in the Amalfi Dinning room. Going there that first night, we found several hundred people waiting to enter. Most of these people had name tags showing they had something to do with "All Brands On Deck". I knew right away we were in trouble. When we finally reached the door, we were told we needed to go to a different dinning room for the PC assignment. We later learn that several hundred people had been bumped out of the traditional seating to make room for this group. We hadn't tried PC dinning yet, and it would have been our second choice anyway. We then learned that of the three main dinning rooms, only the Amalfi Room has traditional seating.
Over the week, we dined with quite a few delightful people. One who stood out was a lady from the Isle Of Mann. It was as if Mrs. Doubtfire had stepped off the screen. Six children, sixteen grandchildren and three great grand children. In addition, she kept the table laughing the entire meal. But we also had some table mates that we will not miss at all. Several that were plain obnoxious, but with the PC we only have to sit with them once.
What to say about food, if this were a four star restaurant I would be disappointed. If this were a Las Vegas buffet line, I would be very impessed. Since a cruise ship is a cross of the two I expected and got good quality food and excellent service.
As far as entertainment, a glance at the schedule of inroom movie and those shown in the theater are in video stores now or about to be released. Just a note about the "theater", DVD's through a projection system that was out of alinement. We saw "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", EVERYONE on the screen looked fat. In the Atrium there was a piano player and a string trio that played at various times. There were several "production"numbers in the Princess Theater, several "acts" that performed in the Vista Lounge (a juggler named Dan Bennett was outstanding), karoke, quasi game shows, jazz trios, a night time piano player and our chosen favorite "Derringer" a four piece group doing top 40 songs from the 60's to the 80's in the "Explorers's Lounge.
Over the week, we tried almost everything offered on the ship. Some of the more interesting things we found were:
Internet access-the computer itself was very slow plus a slow satellite hook up equals a $4.00 eight line email.
Bingo-we were introduced to the weird verbal chants from the crowd when certain numbers were called; Game caller: "B2, B2, Frank Sinatra's favorite number" Crowd: "Scooby dooby two"
Photography Shop-I was surprised to find photo processing costs the same as at home, no price gouging. Prints from digital media was only 40 cents a photo.
Breakfast Buffet on Lido-Omelettes made to order are there, but they don't let you know they're available. In addition, there made out of sight so other pax are unaware of their existence.
Drink Waiters-These are the people who come up to you every ten minutes, tring to get you to order drinks. When you order anything other than soda and beer, they ask "medium or large?" at no time do they mention small which is the size priced on the menus that litter the ship.
Food Availability-Start with room service that will bring almost anything, including whatever is on that night's dinning room menu. Fresh pizza is available most of the day as well as burgers and fries. As long as you want your burger well done no problem. One older gentlemen wanted a rare burger. Before it could be served, he had to sign off on a form releasing Princess from any adverse reaction he may have. Ice cream bars and sundaes are there for an extra price. Buffet on Lido offers a great varity of food and is open 24 hours a day. It was there I discovered that the ice tea served is from a concentrate and not brewed on the ship. Since the coffee served on Lido is from the same type of dispenser I assume it also is from a liquid concentrate. The Portafino restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch. All three dining rooms are open for diner although only one is traditional seating while the other two are "PC". Tequila's which offers a Southwestern menu for an $8 cover charge and Sabatini's Italian restaurant at a $15 extra charge. The menu at Tequila's did not interest us and the 2 ½ hours required to eat at Sabatini's did not suit us.
Tap Water-Last year we were on the Sea Princess and experienced a nasty after taste from the tap water. On the Star, there was a slight taste to the water, but not unpleasant at all.
Pools and Spas-Three large fresh water pools and nine "Jacuzzi's" around the ship with hot water showers next to the pools. I saw the water purity and chlorine being tested several times during the day by ship's staff.
Daycare-There are three rooms at the rear of the ship that offer child care for different age groups up to 17. I also saw a sign up sheet for after hour baby sitting.
The Snorkel kayak trip was fantastic. In Puerto Vallarta we took a private boat from a dock next to the Star. A one hour ride took us to a small island out in the bay where we swam for 90 minutes in clear water with abundant sea life. We returned to the boat where a well laid out lunch was waiting with an open bar. We then sailed to a secluded beach where we were left to our own devices for another 90 minutes. We were then returned to the dock. What was not planned was the pod of gray whales we happened upon in the trip out to the island. At one point they passed the boat within 70 feet. In addition, dolphins played in the boat's wake during the trip back to the dock.
Our trip to Mazatlan was OK, but the "Golden Zone" should be renamed "Shiny Brass". After seeing our 8Th Official Senior Frogs we went back to the ship. At 5:03PM the boat pulled back from the dock, just as two late comers arrived at the dock. After several minutes of hesitation, they moved the ship back to the dock so that they could jump on. This took about ten minutes and the rails were packed with passengers yelling various hints the entire time.
In Cabo, we found a lot of chain resturants (Hard Rock Cafe, Johnny Rockets, Subway,etc...) mixed with high end stores and flea markets.
Other than saving on sales and other taxes, we saw no savings in shopping at these ports. In fact I ran over to a Sam's Club in Puerto Vallarta and found the same prices as in the Los Angeles area.
Remember my list of gotta haves listed before, well: digital camera...used battery charger and extra batteries...used power strip with three foot cord...not used small and medium "bungee cords"...not used 2-way radios...not used small roll of duct tape...not used all in one "Leatherman" tool...not used first aide kit...not used nylon mesh "dirty clothes" bags, can double as beach bag...used scented candle...used canister of "crystal Light" to mask tap water taste...not used sewing kit...not used travel iron...not used small package safety pins...not used waterproof flashlight...not used lint roller...not used small stack of $1 bills for room service tips...used 2-$20 International calling cards for room steward and waiter of our table laptop computer-now...Because we were bumped from traditional seating, we now have a calling card for which we have no use.
On the last night, we found that most passengers are now using those extra large cases with wheels (us included). As a result the hallways are almost impassable. I think the cruise lines will have to rethink the baggage pick system in the near future as a matter of safety.
On the last day, we strolled the decks waiting for our group to be called. We spent some time watching the longshoreman unloading the luggage. Hopefully, my photos of bag after bag being thrown at least 20 feet to a concrete floor come out. It also explains how our hard sided Samsonite suitcase has two caved in corners.
All in all we had a great time and the seven days went by way to fast.