by Ralph and Jean Walker
September 22, 2006
STAR PRINCESS CRUISE REVIEW
Jean and Ralph Walker (Call Sign - OZCATS)
Itinerary – Baja cabin 316 Deck 11 midships inside cabin22 September 2006 Departure from Copenhagen Denmark
23 September At sea
24 September Dover UK
25 September Falmouth UK
26 September Waterford Rep of Ireland
27 September Greenock Scotland
28 September Belfast Northern Ireland
29 September At sea
30 September Reykjavik Iceland
01 October At sea
02 October Qaqortoq Greenland
03 October At sea
04 October St Johns Newfoundland Canada
05 October At sea
06 October At sea
07 October Arrival New York USA
We are Australian, married, a “Baby boomer” couple still working. Our occupations are Coordinator of Travel courses at a Travel College, and Registered Nurse. This was our eighth cruise in total 7th on P/O Princess. We will talk in this report about the cruising experience and briefly on some of the ports of call. There were only a few Australians on this cruise; most of the passengers were either Americans or Canadians. It was great to talk to a lot of them about their part of the world.
We decided to write this report, as there are very few Trans Atlantic cruise reports particularly when the itineraries include some of the Northern Atlantic ports such as Reykjavik Iceland and Qaqortoq Greenland. On completion of this cruise we undertook a New England 7-day cruise on the same ship. We will not complete a report on this cruise as there have been many excellent previous reports done.
The report is split into 4 sections
1. PRIOR TO CRUISE
If there are also flight delays on the day of departure it can cause passengers not to make the ship departure and maybe miss out on several days of the cruise. If you arrive the day before departure and there are flight delays or your luggage goes astray there usually is time to get it to you before you sail.
Arrival at Copenhagen is a painless experience. You can ofcourse arrange flights, hotels and transfers through Princess Tours but quite often it is cheaper to arrange the hotels and transfers yourself. We suggest getting the train into the city centre. The journey takes about 15 minutes and costs around Danish Krone 27 per person. The station is right at the airport and there are lifts to the station level. The station is a 10-minute walk from the Lido amusement park and there is lots of accommodation around the station. We booked our hotel the Hotel Nebo Istergade 6-8 on the Internet through Hotel Club and found it to be excellent. It is no more than 5 minutes walk from the station. We had a comfortable basic room with an excellent continental breakfast. For approx USD 147.00 for the room per night.
We suggest a visit to the Nyhavn canal area with its picturesque old houses and sailing ships on either side of the canal. This area offers a variety of restaurants, pubs, and cafes and is well worth a look. It is an expensive area as is much of Copenhagen. Go for a walk along the Stroget, which is the main shopping street and one of the longest in Europe. See also the Amalienborg Palace the home of the Royal family and the Christianborg Palace the home of the Danish Parliament.
We dined at Jensen's Bofhouse on Vestergade 11 about a 10-minute walk from the Hotel Nebo. The place was full of Danes, always a good sign and the food was excellent.
The embarkation process was very efficient. The Princess porters took baggage from us as we alighted from the cab and were brought to our cabin later in the afternoon prior to sailing. We strongly recommend that you complete your immigration procedures on line before you depart from home. If you do this every thing is ready for you when you check in at the ship. It saves a lot of time and completing the immigration forms on line is a painless process.
Platinum and elite passengers were boarded first and the rest of us were allocated a group number and boarded in order. It was well organised and we were on the ship very quickly.
I must mention here my only complaint about Princess cruises. For your first cruise you receive a blue security card regardless of your nationality.
If you are American, Canadian or British and on your 2nd cruise you are given a gold card and are able to become a member of the Captain's Circle club. These benefits continue until you have completed your 5th Princess cruise. For your 6th cruise you receive a Platinum card instead of a gold card and are entitled to a free Internet service whilst on your cruise. If you complete 14 Princess cruises you can become an elite member and get all your washing done for free as well.
These benefits are only available if you are American, Canadian or British. Your details are lodged in the Princess database and you receive Captains Circle newsletters etc. If you are Australian or another nationality our details are not captured apparently in the same database so they have no record of how many cruises we have done. On every Princess cruise you do you should go and see the Captains Circle representative who will add a stamp to your cruise passport as proof that you have been on the cruise. As this cruise was our 6th cruise and we were eligible for Platinum membership she arranged that in the computer and next day my cards were changed from gold to silver for Platinum. We also received our invite to the Captains Circle party. We still don't receive a membership number for Captains circle so never get any information on them re future cruises or deals.
This is not fair and I have written to Princess cruises on several occasions about this but they say it is far too difficult a problem for them to fix at this time, however they are working on a solution. I strongly recommend all people in the same situation, as we are to also write to Princess and comment, as this ridiculous policy needs to be changed. I think they should work a little harder on the problem.
Once on board find your cabin and introduce yourself to your steward if he or she is around. Our steward was Supachai and he was from Thailand. He did a super job for the whole cruise nothing was too much trouble so we gave him an extra tip nearing the end of the cruise. Princess cruises adds on a USD 10.00 surcharge per person and this covers tips for all service staff on the ship. You don't have to pay this charge if you feel the service hasn't been too good. If that's the case you need to see the Purser's office prior to the last day when your final bill is made up. We were quite happy to pay the USD 10.00 per person as we thought the service had been very good right throughout the ship. We also wanted to give a little extra to Supachai and several of the bar staff who had looked after us so well during the cruise. All purchases on the ship attract a 15% service charge, which again goes to the crew.
Once you are settled in your cabin you should go up to Horizon Court on level 14 and enjoy the buffet lunch. The selection throughout the cruise seemed to be very good although we did not dine there too often. If you like cokes and sodas I suggest you purchase a soda card from the staff in Horizon court. This card cost us USD 52.50 per person for the whole cruise and allows you unlimited cokes and sodas. We certainly made use of our cards and saved money rather than paying for each individual coke or soda. They stick a red coke symbol on the front of your security card and you only have to flash it to the staff and they will bring you a coke or soda at any time in any of the bars on the ship.
3 THE CRUISE
Tendering was required in Falmouth, Waterford and Qaqortoq. The time from Ship to shore varied between 10 and 20 minutes and all of the tenders were not too rough. Make sure you hang on tightly whilst in the tender boat as occasionally people and objects can be thrown about and damage done. Few cruises are able to get into Qaqortoq Greenland; we were one of the lucky ones.
You will be required to attend the Ship safety drill, which will occur before departure on day one. You will be advised on the safety aspects of the ship and shown how to put on your lifejacket. This is very serious as accidents can happen at sea and all passengers must attend.
Even though the Star Princess was carrying about 2700 passengers and 1400 crew you never felt there was a crowd in any part of the ship. During the day Sky walkers on deck 17 is a great place to do some quiet reading and watch the sea. One of our favourite places.
Always get a receipt for everything purchased on the ship. Make sure that the 15% has been added. Every few days we see the Purser's office and get an account and check it carefully. If you leave it till the end of the cruise it takes a long time to check and sometimes you can actually forget what you have purchased and drunk.
We had an inside cabin on this cruise as we thought the North Atlantic might not be conducive to spending a lot of time on the balcony. I think for us that turned out to be the correct decision as for most of the cruise it was pretty cold but not very rough. We really had only two moderately rough days for the whole cruise which is quite surprising for the North Atlantic. They were between Reykjavik and Qaqortoq and between Qaqortoq and St John's Newfoundland. The rest of the cruise was quite calm. We strongly recommend that you get a cabin in the centre of the ship, away from the stairs and laundry rooms. If you do run into some rough weather there will be less roll in the centre of the ship. Do not get a cabin on a deck directly under the pool decks or Horizon court as passengers who had cabins there complained about all the noise day and night.
Sometimes announcements over the loudspeaker system were a little loud particularly at times in Skywalkers bar at the rear of the ship.
Unless you are a passenger with Elite status you need to pay for your washing at the laundry. Cost is USD 1.00 for a wash load and USD 1.00 for a dryer. Change machines are located in each laundry and there is a washing powder dispenser costing USD 1.00 per serve. Irons are available for free. The laundries are open from 8pm-10pm and they tend to get extremely busy on sea days. Early in the morning or late at night are about the best times. We actually got into the laundry at 6am on several mornings and completed our washing even though it says opening times are 8am. – 10pm. We met some lovely people in the laundry and learnt a lot from them.
We feel a curtain is needed by the entry from the hallway into the bedroom area of the cabin to stop the light from under the door shining through.
The Internet café is extremely busy during the day and you might have to line up. This is particularly so on sea days. Best times again are early in the morning or late at night. The café is open 24 hours a day and is located on Deck 7 midships.
If you are thinking of going on another cruise within the next 4 years see the Future cruise consultant whilst onboard. For most cruises you will pay a reduced deposit and get shipboard discount credits. You don't have to nominate an exact cruise and you can still book with whomever you like. The cruise consultant will have several information sessions giving details about future cruises.
4 SHIP'S RESTAURANTS
We always choose anytime dining as it gives us the choice as to when to dine. We however feel that anytime dining needs to be revisited by Princess management. On this cruise it really wasn't anytime dining because between 6.15pm and 7.45pm in the Portofino and Capri restaurants it was almost impossible to get a table and bookings are not taken between those times. Between 6.15pm and about 7.30pm there were usually long lines of passengers waiting to get into the dining room. I think that the problem was exacerbated somewhat because on this cruise there seemed to be a lot of fixed time Amalphi restaurant diners who for whatever reason didn't turn up and instead chose to dine in either Capri or Portofino restaurants. I think this situation put pressure on Portofino and Capri restaurants and made it more difficult for the Anytime dining concept to work effectively.
We feel that if you nominate for fixed dining you shouldn't change over to Anytime dining during the cruise. Our solution would be to make the whole ship anytime dining and if people have a preference for a certain time and maybe a certain table they book as soon as they get onto the ship. This may solve the problem.
On several nights we were placed on tables of 14 and it was very difficult to get to talk to people at the far end of the table. We suggest that there should be no larger tables of 8 people. One of the other highlights of Anytime dining is the opportunity to meet a lot more people. I do agree that the disadvantages of anytime dining are that you have different waiters and a different table every night but we don't mind that. Fixed seat diners say that they prefer to have the same diners and waiters each night. They say that the waiters get to know exactly what they want and I can understand their point of view.
There is a USD 15.00 per person surcharge for dining in Tequilas. We tried it once and found the steaks and service excellent however we recommend that you get a table away from the stage and the musicians. They were a distraction for people such as us who just wanted to have a quiet meal. One other small point. I don't think they had the full wine list available in this restaurant. We didn't try Sabatinis on this trip but other people on the ship who dined there said it was very good. There is a USD 20.00 per person surcharge if you want to dine there.
We dined mainly in Portofinos restaurant and found for the whole cruise that the food and service was generally excellent. There were some new waiters who had just joined in Copenhagen and on a few occasions the service was a little patchy. They all seemed keen to help and enthusiastic.
There were 3 formal nights on this cruise. For the men formal wear now varies between dinner suits, tuxedos, lounge suits and even sports jackets. In other words whatever you want to wear. Rest of the cruise was casual. Polo shirts fine for lunch but would suggest an open neck shirt and slacks would be best for dinner. The Maine lobsters on the formal nights were excellent. I had three of them on one of the formal nights. If you want to have 2 main courses or a 2nd serve of a main course just ask. If you want to have several desserts again no problem just ask.
You can order meals, sandwiches to be brought to your cabin at any time. The ship's official policy is that any alcohol purchased when in port cannot be consumed and must be stored till the end of the cruise. I think this mainly applies to spirits as we returned with bottles of wine at 3 or 4 ports and had no trouble getting it on board. We consumed the wine in our cabin. We have done the same on all of our cruises in the past.
You must try at least one afternoon tea on the ship. Held between 3.30 and 4.30pm with coffee, tea and cakes or scones. The waiters are in formal attire and it is a real treat.5 BARS
Our favourites were Skywalkers deck 17 at the rear of the ship. Jeff and Ronald were the regular waiters there and looked after us very well. Cocktails varied between USD 4.00 to 6.50 and glasses of wine USD 5.00 TO 7.00 and bottles of beer between USD 3.50 TO 5.00.
Quite a few people were complaining at times during the cruise when groups booked certain areas of Skywalkers for private parties during the day. One particular instance was for a Jewish church service conducted on the port side of Skywalkers as we were departing from Copenhagen. There were lots of people in Skywalkers for the departure and we felt that we were interfering with their service because there was lots of laughter. We feel that a solemn event such as a service should be conducted in the Chapel and Skywalkers kept for the use of people who wanted to have a few drinks with their friends and watch the departure.
At other times some people were asked to move as the chairs they were sitting in were in the area booked for the private party.
A lot of people go up to Skywalkers during the day for some peace and quiet and on quite a few days we had Karaoke singing for about 2 hours. Again maybe this could have been done somewhere else on the ship. Actually many people left the bar and I am sure Jeff and Ronald's bar takings were somewhat reduced during the Karaoke.
It is a real pity that on most Princess ships they don't have a bar/viewing area at the front of the ship. Skywalkers is a great place but you have an obstructed view of the front of the ship. On a lot of other cruise lines they have a bar/viewing area at the front of the ship. Giving an unobstructed view of what lies ahead. Holland America Lines Volendam has a great viewing area at the front of the ship, with comfortable chairs and great drinks. Just a small minus point against Princess.
The Wheelhouse bar on Promenade deck 7 before dinner was always a great place, one of our other favourites. They always had a great band playing super music in the background.6 SHIPS TOURS AND PORTS OF CALL
The ship's tours are still very popular even though they might be more expensive than organising your own tours. In Iceland I think there were about 25 busses taking passengers on the Golden circle trip. We prebooked the Princess tours we wanted to do prior to leaving home as we thought on this cruise the tours might be well patronised. I think some of the tours were fully booked days before we arrived at the appropriate port.
If you have a group of friends travelling with you it is worth considering prebooking a van prior to leaving home, as it will certainly be cheaper. Some people wait till they get to the port and then negotiate with the tour companies there for whatever they want to do. Again they will get it cheaper.
Generally the tours we took were very good. They were well organised left on time and we thought we got what we wanted from the tours. If you take a ship's tour you don't have to worry about the tour arriving late back to the ship. The ship will always wait for a Princess tour.. Be very careful if you take an independent tour that you get back to the ship well before the ship is to depart. The ship will not wait for individual passengers. The disembarkation from the ship to join the coach was also well organised.
The ports of call on this cruise were well chosen and interesting.
Great harbour views from the ship especially views of the ferries coming in to port.
Waterford Southern Ireland
Belfast Northern Ireland
We finished the tour and went for a walk around the city. We met two lovely ladies who told us about the history of Belfast and the problems. Time for shopping and then back to the ship. Belfast is a very interesting city. Allow yourself time for a walk around.
A free transfer was provided to Belfast city to and from the ship.
Because of the large numbers of people on this tour there were not enough washrooms and some of the ladies were complaining. Some of them even used the men's washroom. At some of the places we stopped at the souvenir stores also were overwhelmed to an extent that many people who wanted to buy ran out of time and had to give up the idea of purchasing anything.
The countryside is extremely interesting with lots of thermal activity and well worth a visit. I would like to revisit Iceland in the future and stay longer.
Qaqortoq South West Coast of Greenland
We moored in the port and had to endure a 10-minute tender ride to the wharf in a moderate sea. Remember to hang on tight when you are in the tender. Do not try to be a hero as people have fallen and been severely injured. Hang on tight to you camera and video's as tight as you can. It wasn't that cold by local standards and we though it wasn't too bad but we still recommend that you wear at least 2 thick jumpers, a scarf and a thick coat when you venture ashore.
Once we got to shore the local population were there to greet us. It was great to see all the children and talk to some of the locals. T he locals were saying that it was one of the better days they have had for the whole summer. There are no tours organised although some of the locals were trying to get people to go in cars for a look around. There is an interesting museum here with free admission. We all went to the Church hall to hear the choir singing. This was excellent. We wonder how these people survive the winter. I asked one old chap and he said we basically just ‘hibernate'. Good on them. We went for a walk to the top of the village and had a talk to as many locals as we could. It is always great to speak to the locals. You can learn much about the location. The view from the top of the village looking back over the bay and the Star Princess was amazing.
On the way out of port we saw many small and large icebergs. The white of the icebergs tinged with blue was a great photo opportunity.
St John Newfoundland Canada
We certainly saw the rugged coastal beauty of this part of Newfoundland. Signal hill was where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless message. Very good but rug up well as it is cold and windy at the top of the hill.
I think it would be better to arrive in St John's earlier thus giving people more time to have a look around the town. 11.30am arrival was too late.
7 ENTERTAINMENT ON BOARD
8 DISEMBARKATION AND TRANSIT IN NEW YORK
It is a shame that Princess are now docking at the Brooklyn rather than the Manhattan port terminal. It is much further away from the centre of New York. We were undertaking the New England 7-day cruise on the same ship so were just in New York for the day. It would have cost us approximately USD 50.00 each way for a cab ride into Manhattan so we gave that idea away and decided to stay on the ship. We thought about walking down to the Brooklyn street bridge but it is about a mile away and staff on the ship recommended we not do that as some of the Brooklyn port area is deemed to be not very safe. If we had docked at Manhattan as in the past you could have walked right off the ship and into the West village.
I am surprised that Princess does not offer short sightseeing tours of New York for people such as us or people catching flights later in the day. I asked at the tour desk on the ship and they said nothing was available. I suppose a lot of the people arriving into New York are very familiar with the city and there wouldn't be enough passengers to make it viable to operate a short city tour.
We firstly had to go through immigration and as there were about 10 passengers transitting we were told to wait in the Casino at 7.50am for a staff member to escort us through. The staff member duly arrived about 20 minutes late and took us downstairs off the ship to the Immigration building. We were given vague instructions about how we could get back onto the ship and that was the last we saw of her. So much for the escort down and back onto the ship. Immigration officials were not going to allow us to reboard the ship till 12noon when the new passengers would be arriving. We told them we were transitting and showed them our transit cards but that made no difference. This was a bit of a shambles and it wasn't till several of our group started getting irate that the Princess staff organised our return to the ship. Princess needs to look at how they deal with transit passengers. We went back on board using our new cruise cards but were not able to get our photos taken because the computer would not be activated till around 12pm when the new passengers would be boarding. We were told to come down later and get our photo taken. I forgot all about this and it caused a problem 2 days later when we arrived in Halifax because as we left the ship our cruise card didn't work and we then had to have our photo taken.
The whole process needs to be refined so that other passengers don't have to go through what we did.
Once onboard again we were fine. We had to change cabins from B316 to an outside balcony cabin B514 on the same deck about 20 cabins away. Our new steward let our Transatlantic steward know when the occupiers of B514 had departed and the cabin had been cleaned for us and they all helped to move our belongings to the new cabin. They just took all the coat hangers with clothes on straight down. You don't have to leave your bag outside the cabin if you are transitting. Our two stewards Supachai and Manuel were fantastic at helping us with the cabin change and it was all done in a matter of minutes .The now have an express checkout operating on the ship which means you don't have to leave your bag outside the cabin the night before. If you take advantage of this offer you will be in the first group to leave the ship but you must personally take all your baggage with you as you leave the ship.
Once we had settled into our new cabin we went up to Skywalkers to read and just appreciate the great views of Manhattan and all the boat activity on the East river as well as all the helicopters buzzing around. What a great sight.
About 12.30pm we went up to Skywalkers to have lunch.
9/ POST CRUISE IN NEW YORK AFTER OUR 2ND CRUISE
Once we arrived at Penn station we decided to walk the 5 blocks to our hotel on 31st Street between 5th Ave and Broadway. We stayed at the Herald Square Hotel 19 West 31st Street. This is a budget hotel very well located and quiet. We paid about USD 200.00 per night and received a very good room recently renovated on the first floor. The service and attention to detail at the hotel was excellent and we would thoroughly recommend it and will stay there again on our next visit to New York.
New York is busy and bustling but don't let that bother you. If you stay with the crowds New York is a relatively safe city. There are lots of police stationed in the central area. We purchased 2 metro cards valid for 7 days unlimited travel on the subway and busses. USD 24.00 per card. Wonderful value. We certainly made use of them. After a little while it is easy to work out the subway system. The trains are speedy with lots of express services, which cut the travelling time between various points in the city.
New York is a great walking city but there are times when you need to travel several miles and we found the subway to be excellent. Don't use the trains during the peak rush hour times as you will be crammed in like a sardine. Most other times of the day you will be able to get a seat.
We also purchased a 48-hour Greyline double decker tour pass, which allows you to hop on hop off the busses at designated points around the city. Each bus has a tour guide and all of the commentaries were excellent. We did the Brooklyn, Uptown and downtown loops and on the second day used the bus a little to get around the city. Cost USD 50.00 per person. Very good value.
We did all the usual touristy things in New York. We would really recommend a visit to Ellis Island where the first immigrants to America arrived. A very interesting tour. The ferry takes you to the Statue first and if you want to get off and see the Statue close up you need to prebook that. Security was very tight prior to boarding the ferry and there was a long queue even at 9.30am in the morning.
The New York Metropolitan and the Natural History museum are a must when you visit New York. We could have spent several days in each.
There were several restaurants that we tried that we thought were very good. We mention them here. You will never starve in New York. Most of the restaurants give you very generous portions. I am a big eater and I couldn't get through the main courses.
O'reilley's Irish Hotel in 31st Street one block from the Herald Square Hotel. An excellent meal and a nice pub with good service.
Mr Tang. Mott Street in China town. Very good Chinese food and good service
Nyoyna. Malaysian Restaurant 194 Grand Street between Mulberry and Mott Street in the Italian Quarter. Very good spicy food.
Zum Schneider 107 Avenue C at 7th Street East Village. Really excellent German food. Highly recommend even though it is a little out of the city centre it is only a subway ride and about a 15-minute walk. Still well worth the effort getting there.
Tony's Di Napoli 147 West 43rd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Super place with great food and excellent service. So good we went back there twice. Hugh serves. You only need to order one main course, as this will do two people.
Carnegie Deli 854 7th Avenue at 55th Street is an institution in New York. You must try the Pastrami sandwiches and then finish with a baked New York Cheesecake. Big serves so maybe one serve of each will be enough.
We used Super Shuttle to JFK airport USD 20.00 and about a 30-minute ride.
Our 6 day stay in New York was far too short. We will just have to come back again, maybe next year before or after another cruise.
We hope you have enjoyed our report and if you have any queries you are welcome to get in touch with us at any time.
Cheers and happy cruising.
Ralph and Jean Walker.