by Phil Reamon
September 11, 2006
After our 12-hour flight from Los Angeles to Copenhagen, the Star Princess gleaming in the afternoon sun was a welcome sight. The transfer crew waiting for us at the airport in Copenhagen, Denmark outdid themselves (living up to the Princess tradition) leading us through customs and immigration quickly. The local authorities did not even check our passports.
Princess had provided our air tickets through London from Los Angeles. As we heard of the long lines going through Heathrow security, we opted to deviate from British airlines to a KLM flight via Amsterdam. We were charged an extra $500. But it was well worth to our peace of mind not to see armed guards that are a fixture in most airports.
Checking in at the ship was brief and our luggage promptly appeared a few minutes after we reached our cabin. A quick shower and a change of clothes provided a pleasant relief after the long airplane ride without the customary toiletries.
Inside, the Star Princess sparkled like a jewel in the sun. They certainly earned the 99 CDC score. The hotel upkeep crew were on duty 24/7 and were always polishing and vacuuming the public areas and their efforts clearly showed. Traces of a devastating fire that raged through the ship last March 2006 are now history
After the mandatory boat drill, we sat down to dinner at one of the "anytime dining" eateries. We were surprised at the beautiful table settings unlike other Princess ships we had sailed on. The cuisine was outstanding and pleasingly presented in heated dishes. The desserts were works of art and a delight to behold.
Three dining rooms called Amalfi (traditional), Capri and Portofino (both anytime dining) that seats at least 500 guests each inferred Italian cuisine but served only a regular menu. Osso bucco a dish always obtainable on other ships like the Diamond and Sapphire Princess was absent from the bill of fare.
Tortilla chips were available exclusively at the Tequila, a reservation only ($15 cover charge per person) steak house. Sabatini's ($20 cover charge per person) tratoria is still keeping up with its reputation for fine Italian foods and great dining. We missed the rural intimacy of the Santa Fe and the dim sum at the Pacific Moon of the Diamond and Sapphire Princess.
We had breakfast, on occasion (open seating) at the Portofino, being the only eating place open in the morning other than the Lido. We had dinner mostly at the Capri. After getting shuttled from table to table every night, later in the cruise we were able to get a fixed spot.
Assistant Maitre d' Rudel (Philippines), senior waiter Sev (Philippines) and assistant waiter Mana (Thailand) provided us with services beyond our expectations. Rudel ordered special dishes for us off the menu. Sev and Mana were very fast and anticipated our every move. Sev has an over 15-year service with Princess. Good men like them are hard to find.
The Horizon Court a buffet style Lido is open 24 hours. Hot and cold dishes are available. There is a constant array of Asian foods like sushi, eggrolls, miso and other hot soups. Various fruit was available except for grapefruit. Desserts did not include jello among the selections.
There is a pizzeria and a hotdog/burger grill that opens from 11AM to 7PM. Hot chocolate, cranberry and other fruit juices become bar items after breakfast, much to the annoyance of passengers.
Our ocean view cabin located amidships proved to be very stable and had a good view of the ocean. It had an aging TV set perched above a small fridge. Viewing was tedious unless one lies down on the bed. We had ample closet space and a shower the size of a telephone booth. Our cabin steward Ramiro (Philippines) kept our room extremely livable.
After settling down we found out that our cabin was directly over the piano in the promenade bar. Music wafted from the bar into our room each evening from nine to 12 PM. A sign at the purser's office said that the ship was full and no more rooms available, so we just had to grin and bear it.
The ship carried at least 2500 passengers and 1100 crewmembers. Most of the travelers were retirees, senior citizens and repeaters. The majority were Americans and Canadians. A few children aboard belonged to the crew. We were quite elated to see several shipmates like Fernando, Arlene, Carol, Art, and David with his wife and daughter. We had met them on previous trips on different cruise lines. We were also very happy to see familiar faces among the hotel staff and ship's crew.
The Baltic cruise had a lot of shore days that attracted most of the travelers. The ship called on Scandinavia, Estonia, Poland and an overnight stay in St. Petersburg, Russia. Persons entering Russia required a visa, except those that purchased tours from the ship. She also stopped at Greenland, Poland and Northern Ireland, that were new countries for us so we eagerly waited to visit these places.
With much luck fair weather followed us through out the 25-day trip. The Greenland natives mentioned that it was unusual to see the sun shining at this time at the year. They happily hung their laundry out to take advantage of the good weather. We could see the wash flapping in the wind as the ship pulled out to sea. The town also declared a holiday for the school children so they can mingle with the tourists visiting the island.
Long lines had formed at the 910 seat Princess theatre. It filled up early. Many guests who came to see a production show were turned away. People often hurried through their dinner to get a seat at the theatre or the movies. Crowds choked the corridors leading to the Vista lounge to see a movie. Groups at the lounge nursing free drinks at a Captain's party were unmindful of the gridlock they were causing outside.
Chaotic scheduling caused most of the activities to overlap. Long queues were a common sight all over the ship. "Anytime dining" required at least an hour wait for those without reservations. Sabatini had a long waiting list.
Employees at the excursion counter were rude and arrogant after selling out most of the tours. They were completely overwhelmed with the demand. Tours were pricey and abbreviated.
The cruise director's staff did a great job offloading passengers on tenders, but lines were lengthy returning to the ship. The crowds were mostly polite and orderly except for a few smokers that evoked arguments as they puffed smoke while waiting in line for tenders.
An Internet café (35c/min, color-printing 50c/page) became a useful link for the outside world. The terminals peaked during sea days. People with five or more Princess cruises get Internet for free as a loyalty perk.
We had purchased a transfer voucher from Princess for use between New York Brooklyn pier and La Guardia airport. The Star Princess disembarked us at past 11 AM although they knew that we had a 1 PM flight to Los Angeles and at least a 40- minute travel time to the airport. The Star Princess released passengers on 5 PM flights much ahead of us.
Due to the lack of porters we had to handle our own luggage. A Princess agent at the pier told us that buses to the airport were due in forty minutes and he suggested that we take a cab in order to make our flight. A kind New York police officer got us a taxi ahead of people waiting in a long line after we explained our plight to him. After a delay with the TSA at the airport, we barely made our flight.
Overall our 25-day trip from the Baltic to New York was a pleasant one because of the weather and calm seas. We missed the fine service we expected from the Star Princess that we encountered on other Princess trips. Princess Cruises might require a small tweak to keep them from becoming just average.