This was our first cruise (out of 16) on Princess--out of San Pedro as we live about a half-hour from the pier--in nearby Seal Beach. We chose the Star Princess because I enjoy sailing on a brand new ship and she is one of the latest and biggest afloat. Some observations from a first-time Princess Cruiser:
Unlike RCI and Carnival, Princess ships seem to be designed to convey the image of a small ship. For example, there are three large dining rooms rather than one large one and each is low ceilinged, intimate and not too noisy. Likewise, there are four fairly large swimming pools rather than one or two big ones--a nice touch as you can move about the ship as the mood (or the weather) suits you.
The Star's Atrium is a three deck affair, unlike RCI's and Carnival's which are seven or eight decks high. And although the Star's courtyard is nicely decorated, I kind of miss the grandeur of say, Radiance of the Seas which we sailed on last March. For that matter, all of the Star's interior decor is tastefully understated in marked contrast to say, Carnival's ships which look like Las Vegas run amok. In fact, I'll just say flat out that Carnival's "designer" (to use their terminology)Joe Farcus' tastes are a bit over the top for mere mortals--at least those who live in homes without velvet paintings.
About the Star Princess staff: to a person they were simply great. We encountered no one with an attitude and almost all seemed eager to go that extra mile in providing superb service. At lunch on the rear deck, we ordered a bottle of wine to go with our Horizon Court buffet and the bartender, seeing we were serious wine drinkers, provided us with an ice bucket and real glasses rather than the usual plastic that is used at poolside (actually, we were two decks above the pool).
Food: Uneven is the way I'd describe it. Although certain dishes such as the Santa Fe Railroad-style French Toast were quite tasty, by and large the meals in the Capri (one of two Personal Choice dining rooms)were rather lackluster. Happily, Sabatini's where we had dinner and brunch was great (the reserve wines are a bargain)and so was Tequila's (great margaritas!). And doesn't Lulu the waitress from Mazatlan, Mexico look exactly like Sandra Bullock?
While I'm on the subject, allow me to say that Personal Choice dining worked perfectly for us. We asked for and got a table for two by a window in the Capri dining room, a task made easier because we are early eaters. We also got the only two-person, window table at Sabatini's because we were the first in the door at opening time. It's interesting to note how much stock Princess puts in Personal Choice: two of its three identical "main" dining rooms are P.C.
After RCI, Carnival and even Radisson (the Paul Gaugin)our cabin on Aloha Deck of the Star Princess seemed small. Rather than a couch we had a barrel chair. The deck was small too--barely large enough for two plastic chairs and a table. Although the closet is an open affair, it did swallow all of our clothes (enough for a month-long cruise). And there were 22 wooden hangers, more than in a Ritz Carlton, I'll bet. Small bathroom of course, with a stall shower and cloth curtain.
Wherever we sailed (Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas)the Star attracted huge throngs of admirers. She is a pretty ship, imposing too. And she sails beautifully. In moderate to rough seas on the way south, Star felt steady. On flat seas you felt like you had never left port. Interestingly, Star has two fixed propellers rather than Azipods and I wondered how she would handle our entry into Puerto Vallarta which has a very small docking basin. Apparently, thrusters are all that's needed to maneuver a 951-foot long ship because by the appointed hour we were safely in port. Thrusters also got us turned around and "parked" in Mazatlan where we received a wet welcome from the local fireboat and where we were joined by RCI's 917-foot-long Vision of the Seas.
Embarkation went relatively smoothly. As early arrivals we had a line. But it moved quickly and we were on board by 12:35 following an 11:50 arrival. Debarkation was effortless too. After clearing immigration in the Vista Lounge, we waited only five minutes in the casino before our tag (Red 2)was called. Luggage was found pierside in a large tent where alas, water from an overnight rain soaked two of our bags. Not Princess's fault, but annoying nonetheless.
All in all, Star Princess lived up to what I expected from a new ship. She is impressive. And the Mexican Riviera itinerary is ideal for West Coast cruisers who don't want the aggravation of flying to Miami. One bit of advice: sail in the fall when Southern California weather is warm. The Pacific is darn cold in March, and although it was sunny for the duration of our trip, our sea days on the northern end of our cruise were quite chilly and not much fun out on deck.
Now then, when's the next new ship due?