When Princess Cruises describes their sailings as “a relaxed, rejuvenating retreat at sea”, the image of a young woman wearing a tiara “riding” a large inflatable penis around the crowded Golden Princess Piazza as if it’s a stick horse is not what my mind conjures up.
Perhaps I have a different idea of what “relaxed and rejuvenating” mean when it comes to a vacation with 2,599 other people. Or I expect a certain level of dignity in the main hub of the ship during the crowded evening hours as multigenerational families were posing for formal photos on the steps a few feet away.
Princess did not seem to care.
The young lady (and a dozen others in her multigenerational bachelorette party) posed on the staircase for several portraits as captain prepared to give his toast the cruise director staff prepared for the “Balloon Drop” (an experience where balloons drop on the crowd below which guests then “pop” to see if their balloon contains a prize). Sadly the inflatable did not pop as well. Instead (as I observed and/or heard from other guests’ stories), it went to dinner in the dining room, to a show, and to the nightclub.
I’ve shared thus far my first four parts of this review:
* Part V – Is That YOUR Inflatable Penis?! – how it all went down
As I wrap up, I keep coming back to this scene in the Piazza. And it summarizes my feeling about this particular Princess Cruise….
It was a “fancy” getaway for those with nothing to measure that expectation against. It was not elegant but it tried hard to be.
I expected a cruise line positioned somewhere above the mass market giants and below the luxury lines. And I received that. But I wasn’t wowed.
The three-night itinerary might be to blame. While several I talked to said that the “booze cruise” crowd out of Los Angeles largely sails on Carnival, this season Princess apparently priced their offering low enough to attract some of that crowd – which was a shame for someone like me who came on board expecting a slightly more refined mainstream experience.
Things I loved:
* The Sanctuary – This was my single favorite thing about the ship. Given the option, I would have hidden here for the duration of the cruise. And I will the next time I sail on Princess.
* Vines Wine Bar – A wonderful selection of wines by the glass and a more extensive bottle selection. This was my favorite place to imbibe.
* International Café – Great selection of light bites available 24/7 and the only place I found gluten-free items that were labeled as such.
* Our cabin – It was reasonably sized for a basic room. I was pleasantly surprised.
* Relative lack of ship-generated noise – With the exception of too-loud pool games that we could hear from The Sanctuary on sea day, the cruise director staff were relatively quiet unless you sought them out. That’s what I like.
* Space – Despite being a full ship, Golden Princess only seemed crowded in certain spaces (the pool deck, elevators at peak times) and otherwise was a comfortable space to spend the week in.
* 24/7 Vibe – The ship had activities at any time of the day or night, whether it was dancing at Skywalkers, overnight nibbles in the Piazza, or early morning exercise.
Things I didn’t love:
* The passenger mix – We met a few really delightful Princess regulars. They were fabulous. What was less fabulous were all the large groups who were sailing. They’d take over spaces and make spectacles of themselves. There were several groups on board ranging from bachelorette parties to reunions. At times hallways were blocked or services in a space would come to a standstill while the staff attended to their needs.
* The food – Overall, I was not impressed by the offerings in the included dining options. Many of the descriptions were overwrought with unnecessary sauces (typically a sign that a venue might be masking quality issues or freshness) and themed menus seemed to have odd choices to compliment them. I also found it frustrating that every meal we had seemed to only be geared for mass service so no customization was available (changing the order of dishes to be served, for example, or ordering an item without a specific ingredient (i.e. no croutons on a salad). As a sidebar, I also submitted my food allergy information (wheat) to the ship within the required timeframe before sailing but it was never acknowledged by the staff.
* Boarding in the port stop – We had to wait 15-20 minutes to reboard the ship in Ensenada as they were only letting small groups back on the ship. We did not reboard behind any tour groups so I shudder to think how much longer this might be if one did.
* Elevator issues– Several elevators were out of service during our cruise and the elevators are not programmed to manage passenger loads well. We’d watch from deck 7, for example, as every elevator in a bank climbed all the way to 14 before going all the way down to 5 before starting back up. This appeared to be the case with or without passengers on them.
* Disembarkation – This was a bit of a nightmare. I got assigned to the first walk-off group at 8:00 am because I had a 10:30 am flight to catch at LAX. We got hung up in the dining room (thanks to the staff refusing to serve us breakfast except at a large table we had to wait to fill) and didn’t get downstairs until 8:05 am. At that point, they held us and we were not allowed to leave until 8:20 am when they flooded us out with several other groups. The terminal was backed up and it took another 3o minutes to get out, even with no luggage to collect. (I did make my flight, just in time. My original travel companion had booked a ship transfer for a similarly timed flight – that bus was still sitting outside waiting for all its passengers when we left – their disembarkation cards were for 8:30 am – so they likely didn’t make the curb until well after 9:00 am with all the backups.)
Things that surprised me:
* Boisterous behavior – A large inflatable penis in main areas of the ship (and around families with children) was allowed in main areas of the ship. We saw many Golden Princess staff members snicker or even egg the group on, but no one suggested that maybe they should take their celebration to a less visible area of the ship. This same happy-go-lucky attitude extended to revelers starting a water fight in one of the smaller pool (and paying no mind to the individuals in an adjacent hot tub that they soaked – or one lady’s iPad that got drenched in the process). It included when shouting went on between balconies not only during the day, but late at night. And it extended to difficulties enforcing the smoking policy (not only on balconies but also in outside bar areas).
* The ship ran late – We did not leave the port in San Pedro until late the first evening. Our 4 pm sailaway took place overlooking the industrial docks while the ship stayed in place for several hours of planned maintenance. Others report that this has happened on several recent sailings out of San Pedro so it should be an expectation that this could occur.
At the end of the day, I decided not to put down a “future cruise deposit” (a trick the cruise lines use to get advance deposits in exchange for a discount on a future cruise). This does not mean that I would not try the Golden Princess again. I’m intrigued by their Alaska and Hawaii sailings, a route that not all cruise lines cover. In the right mindset, I might even do another short cruise (with the adjusted expectation that Princess is, in fact, a “party” line on certain routes).
But is Princess right for me? I’m not sure. My cruise line depth now is only three lines. I love luxury line (and Princess sister) Seabourn – their small size lends to personal attention and I love the simplicity of their “all-inclusive” (open bar, no gratuities) pricing. I enjoyed mainstream line Norwegian’s variety of food offerings and the convivial onboard vibe, although I hated the noise level (loud cruise director staff, many children). I’d pick either of those above Princess. In this case, the slipper did not fit – so my search for additional cruise lines I like continues!
You can read the other sections of this report here:
* Part V – Is That YOUR Inflatable Penis?! – how it all went down