Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Regal Princess
Sailing Date: December 9th, 2004
Itinerary: Panama Canal
We had a wonderful trip;
and the Panama Canal was as spectacular as advertised! The cruise was very
good overall, with especially high marks for the Cruise Director and her
staff that were very accommodating and really made an effort to get to
know and talk with the passengers throughout the 2 weeks, as did the
lounge staff. We also had an excellent Cabin Steward. The physical ship
was actually very nice – even though it was an older ship it was
maintained well. And we particularly liked that it was a more toned down
(not too “glittery,”) color scheme and décor. The bars and staterooms (we
had a balcony room) were good sized. Our past cruises (3 and 9
respectively) had all been on Holland America. We did not find the food or
the food service staff quite as good as on HAL, but the range of shipboard
activities was much more extensive and varied. Most of the passengers were
“mature” (60’s-80’s) on this cruise (perhaps due to the length and time of
year), but a wide variety of ages of passengers were present. A plus was
that not all the passengers were Americans – there were many passengers
from Canada, England, Europe, and the Orient.
Embarkation in San Diego was excellent – we got on the ship at 11:30 a.m., but did not receive our first bag until 5:30 p.m. (½ hour after departure from the dock), and the last bag until after dinner. Apparently there had been some sort of security issue during the day, as we heard most passengers had to wait for over an hour to get aboard – this might also explain the slow baggage delivery. The late bag arrival was a particular concern as you got out of a cab and turned your bags over to a man with a wheeled bag holder with a Holland America (not Princess) badge. Fortunately, he actually worked for Princess this time.
Disembarkation at Ft. Lauderdale went well and as we had an early flight, we did get off in the third group. However, when the Purser’s Desk had been asked about this days before, they had said that people with Princess travel vouchers got priority and were released first. I did not appreciate being pressured to buy a bus pass when we wanted to just take a taxi. On shore we were pretty much herded to a van with 6 other people, and still had to pay $8 each to get to the airport – which is a 5-minute ride. Oh well, live and learn. The ship crew also needs a crash course in getting people off & on the ship at ports and/or using the tenders – very slow (2½ hours) so people had long unwelcome waits to do both.
Food -- was fair/mediocre with vegetables a particular issue. They were never tasty or even cooked right, and a lot of pre-packaged items were used (i.e. baby carrots). Desserts were okay (pretty, but not sweet). Sometimes ethnic foods were far from expectation, as the cooks really didn’t do them well. The menu in the dining room was also served at the buffet (only one kitchen on the ship), which was okay unless you really wanted something different. There was an alternative “Bistro”, opening at 7 p.m. each evening that was nice, quiet, and featured nice live piano background music, so it was a good alternative to the noisy dining room. Due to lousy wait staff in the dining room, we only ate there four times for dinner. The Burger Bar – burgers were cooked one at a time when ordered – so it was very slow and people were not happy waiting in line. You would think when they saw a dozen people in line they’d put a bunch of food on the grill. Moreover, the cook put everything on the burgers instead of the passengers so it took even more time for preparation & many items were thrown away because they weren’t wanted (i.e. lettuce/tomato). There was a separate Pizzeria, but you could not get a “slice” or take any out of the restaurant – had to order it, wait for it to be cooked, then eat it there. The pizza was okay, but other items were not that good. No coffee was available, and tips were expected for waiters. Buffet – no Caesar salad was available. There was a consistent lack of creamer for coffee and ice, which was irritating. Breakfast food seemed particularly mediocre and there was no made to order omelets.
Staff -- Service staff – not a happy group. While not surly, they didn’t go out of their way to make you feel welcome either or that they would do anything “extra.” Our waiter and assistant waiter often got requests wrong, or hesitated if asked for substitutions in the Palm Court Dining Room. The service was slow, slow, slow. Dinner usually took at least 1½ hours, and because the service was so slow, one felt rushed to eat in order to get out in time for the second seating folks. There were several mix-ups of food at lunches and dinners, and generally poor service. Staff had to be told by passengers what to do and when. The staff (the same folks) was adequate in the Buffet. The wait staff in the Bistro, on the other hand, was excellent, gracious, and welcoming to guests. Cruise staff and cabin stewards were excellent. We really liked that the Cruise Director had an update each morning on the TV about the day’s activities.
Ports of Call – Other than missing Costa Rica due to a passenger medical emergency, the shore excursions that we participated on were okay. I did have a real problem with a carriage ride we took at Cabo San Lucas. As a horse person, I felt very bad when I saw the size of the horse pulling the very large 6-person carriage. This little horse was maybe 14 hands, and too small to pull (uphill) a 6-passenger carriage plus 2 drivers. This was a very heavy carriage – a workhorse (i.e. Percheron or draft) would have been much more appropriate.
Cabin – Balcony level had a very small balcony (only room for two straight chairs and little space in-between). Our room had a good size shower, but no bathtub. The shampoos, lotions, etc. were in tear off top packaging, that then you had to pry open or cut with a scissors to use. The room was nice, with lots of drawer space. It was nice that movies that played in the theater were played on the TV the next day. I particularly enjoyed having some TV to watch from time to time.
Entertainment – there was a great combo (“The Impressions”) that played in the Bengal Lounge. Other musical groups/people were bad to mediocre. There was a particularly annoying twosome (Steed & Steed) that played accompanied by canned music in the Casino. The stage shows were okay, and while there were great costumes and the kids could dance, their singing (when it left Broadway songs) was just adequate. They really need to rethink doing anything “country” as none of them had the voices for it and it was painful to sit through. Moreover, if you want to keep calling the lead singers “stars,” then they should be a lot closer to the real thing than just young and good looking. The comedians were quite good, and a couple of the instrumentalists were also very good and a nice change.
Other – We really like the challenging “Trivia” and other games, and the bridge lessons were excellent and fun. The Internet Café was way tooooo expensive ($.35/min) and not often available when we got too far south. When you could connect, it was so slow you ate up $5-6 just checking a couple emails. We had brought our laptop thinking there might be wireless availability to the rooms – NOT! Dance and computer lessons were also offered, but at fairly high fees. The “Captain’s cocktail parties” were uninspired and generally gruesome, nor could the Captain speak English well enough for long speeches. We did have an adventure one night when we were in gale force winds (and accompanying waves), and tables, bottles, etc. went flying when the ship was hit with a “rogue” wave.
All in all, once we got used to subtle differences between this our first two-week cruise on Princess from our previous one-week stints on HAL, we were pretty happy and reasonably satisfied. We feel there is no question the food was disappointing, and even many Princess alumni agreed their newer ships do a better job. We also think the ships should give away Internet access – as more people conditioned to high-speed access start demanding service aboard, it can’t be overpriced for something so slow one can barely use it. While we hear more and more ships are doing this, we also were not accustomed to the charging of tips straight to the room bill; and we did decide to lower the tips for the wait staff. But for a moderately priced 15-day trip, with a desirable itinerary at a desirable time of year, we came back glad we went.