Dall & Pat Barley
Age: 58 and younger
Occupation:Financial Systems Manager
Number of Cruises: 10
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Royal Princess
Sailing Date: May 12, 2000
Itinerary: Mediterranean and Aegean
We choose this cruise for the itinerary, knowing full well that it was going to be port intensive, and possibly exhausting. It was both, but one of the most interesting trips we have ever taken! Because of the nature of this cruise I’ll recap the travel arrangements and ports / excursions first, then cover the ship, service, etc.
We purchased our own air because of the open-jaw nature of the flights: inbound to Lisbon, return from Istanbul. We paid about ½ the Princess air price using a consolidator that our T/A found, AND we got our miles! Since the flight from SFO on Lufthansa had a very tight connection in Frankfurt we elected to go in a day early to avoid missing the ship (connecting flight arrived in Lisbon at 3pm, ship departed at 6pm). It turns out this was a good choice: While we had no problems with our connection, there were over 40 travelers who did not receive their luggage until part way through the trip. About half of these situations were caused by tight connections on the day of sailing. We did use the Princess pre-cruise stay package and transfers. We were pleased with the hotel: Le Meridien Park, and the transfers from the airport to the hotel and from the ship to the airport in Istanbul. All went very smoothly!
Day 1 – Departure from SFO
Our Lufthansa flight departed San Francisco International at 4:35pm, connecting in Frankfurt the next day at around 1pm for the flight to Lisbon. We cleared immigration in Frankfurt and didn’t have to do so again in Lisbon. We did NOT have to collect our luggage in Frankfurt and recheck it!
Day 2 – Lisbon – arrival from Frankfurt
While waiting for our luggage at the airport we went to the ATM to obtain some Escudos. This is becoming our standard practice when traveling in Europe. No more ordering foreign currency from our local bank in advance, and paying their fees. ATM’s are almost universally available, and the cost is usually only a $2 foreign ATM fee from our home bank. The Purser’s desk was able to change any left over bills, but not coins, back into dollars, then give us Pesetas, Dracmas’ etc, but at a low rate of exchange. ATM’s give a better rate, when you can use them.
On our arrival in Lisbon a Princess Representative met us outside the baggage area. After a wait of maybe 5 minutes she placed us in a taxi for the trip to our hotel. The trip to the hotel took about 20 minutes. Unfortunately our driver spoke no English, and our Spanish was to rusty to afford any conversation, so we didn’t get any "sightseeing" on the trip into town. Check-in went smoothly, and we were in our room, with our bags, 30 minutes after leaving the airport!
We then went back down to the Princess check in desk on the mezzanine level and confirmed our arrival, cabin number, etc. At that time we were offered several tour opportunities for the following morning prior to boarding the ship. Having heard good things about Sintra we selected that excursion and were pleased with the choice.
After unpacking a minimal amount of clothing for the next day, and pretty much repacking our suitcases, we went out for a meal at the Ritz Café about 1 block down the street. It had been recommended to us in lieu of the Hotel dinning room. We had a good "local" meal, at a reasonable price, including some very good Portuguese wine.
Day 3 – Touring Lisbon / Sintra – Embarkation.
A continental breakfast was included in our hotel stay, but we opted for early room service to help overcome our jet-lag induced fuzzy headed state. We don’t usually use cream in our coffee, but we sure did that morning! By 9am we had our bags outside our door for pickup and transfer to the ship, and then went downstairs to join our excursion. We had a lovely ride through the countryside to the old city of Sintra, then on to Cap de Roca (the western most point on the European continent) and back to Lisbon along the Atlantic coast. We were impressed with the country side in this part of Portugal. They seem to grow just about everything! One big problem is the traffic congestion. I sure wouldn’t want to drive to work in Lisbon! We will go back to Portugal on a land trip some day. On arrival at the port we waited on the bus for about 10 minutes, then proceeded inside the terminal for check-in. Total elapsed time from arrival at the port to being in our cabin: about 30 minutes. Princess does have a very good system for embarkation! Dropped our carryon bags in the cabin (Carib, 231) and headed to the Lido Café for some nourishment – after all, it was going to be another 4 hours to dinner, and we had only had a continental breakfast! Time to get into the spirit of things! Later met our cabin steward, Rogelo (call me Roger). Bags showed up about an hour before sailing!!
At the first dinner we met our water, Virgilio, and asst. Waiter, Anthony. We had selected early seating for the first time because of the hectic excursion schedule we had chosen, and it worked out well. Only one night where we were a bit rushed to get back to the ship and ready for dinner, and we made that just fine. We also found that the Head Waiter at the station next to us, Rosario, had been our Head Waiter on the Regal Princess last Fall, and the Maitre ‘d, Angelo, had been the Maitre ‘d on the Sun Princess in 1997.
Day 4 – At sea – ah, a chance to catch up with our jet lag! Tonight’s attire – Formal for the Captains cocktail party, pictures, etc .
One note: While dressing for dinner I realized that I had forgotten my tux shoes! A quick call to the accommodations department, and a pair of tux shoes materialized in time for us to go to the Captains Cocktail party! Cost: $10 for the cruise! Given the size of my feet I might not take my shoes again! Saves a LOT of room in my suitcase!
Day 5, Mothers Day Sunday – Palma, Mallorca - Dress – First Semi-formal
(of planned 3 semi-formal nights – actually only had two semi-formal nights)
Ships in port: Legend of the Seas, Sea Wind Crown and the U.S.S. Wasp, a helicopter assault ship. Funny story: one of the passengers on our ship became VERY excited when she heard the name of the warship: seems her son is stationed on the ship! Can you imagine HIS surprise when he heard his name on the P.A. system with the announcement: "John Smith, please see the Officer of the Deck – your Mother is at the gangway" On Mothers Day, of course!
We took the tour of Palma including a trip up the mountain to the castle / fort – great views of the harbor and City. This tour usually includes the Cathedral but it was closed because it was Sunday. They substituted the Spanish Village which contains replicas of major Spanish sites. We learned that Father Junipero Serra, the founder of the California Missions, was born in a small town just outside of Palma. Very pretty island – we would go back for a land vacation if Hawaii wasn’t so close!
Day 6 – Barcelona, Spain - Dress casual
Ships in port: Noordam, Sea Wind Crown
We took the Barcelona highlights tour, including a drive down Las Ramblas, up the mountain to the site of the Olympics, and then to La Sergrada Familia. Tour of the cathedral in progress was interesting. I had been there 20 years before and the have made SOME progress. It will be interesting to compare my pictures from 1979 to those I took on this tour.
Day 7 – Monte Carlo / Monaco Dress – Semi-formal
We opted for the excursion to the Medieval Village of Eze, in France. This was a tender port, and with all the construction going on in the port, as well as the set up effort for the following weeks Monaco Grand Prix, the ship was limited to one tender dock, so things went a bit slow. Our tour first headed UP the mountainside, then south down the coast for a bit to give us some great views of the Riviera. We then headed back north, and a bit inland (by this time WELL above the sea!) to the village of Eze. This is a very picturesque, and somewhat touristy, mountain top town. The location was chosen to protect the village from the constant hordes of invaders that plagued the area over the years. WARNING: LOT’S of walking, up hill, stairs, uneven pavement, etc. Well worth the effort, and lot’s of interesting shops. My wife actually found a wall tapestry that she wanted for our home! Prices were VERY reasonable compared to shopping at home as well as the prices we had seen previously in central France. Purchased toys for the Grand Kids, and several items for our son and daughter as well. Again, lots of shops, with good merchandise.
Day 8 – Rome Dress - Casual
Ships in Port (Civitavecchia): Rotterdam VI and Melody
Opted for the Walking Tour of Rome – be forewarned, this excursion takes you across Rome, on foot, from the Trevi Fountain to St. Peter’s, with a lunch stop mid-way. Saw things that we had missed on our previous visit to Rome, but St. Peter’s was VERY crowded – this tour does NOT do the Sistine Chapel nor does it do the Coliseum, Forum, etc..
Day 9 – a Blessed day at Sea to rest our weary legs! Dress – Formal
Day 10 – Olympia, Greece Dress casual
Back to the grind! We took the full tour of the site of the original Olympic Games. Turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip, at least for me! We had considered skipping this excursion and staying on the ship – almost nothing to do in the small port, but sure glad we went on the excursion. The Peloponnesian peninsula is lush, and the site of the games induced goose bumps. We had a very good guide. Did some shopping in the village of Olympia – actually found some pottery we liked and managed to get it home in one piece! They pack VERY well, and give numerous discounts in most stores, i.e.: You are from the ship? 15% off. You pay with cash (travelers checks in this case) another 10% off, etc. Saw similar items in Athens and Santorini, but no better prices.
Day 11 – Athens! Dress - casual
This city has always been on my wife’s list of ‘must sees’, and we will go back. Took the full tour, Acropolis, city tour, Plaka. Not enough time to see it all! I took almost two rolls of film! Shopping in the Plaka was a bit of a disappointment, but we really enjoyed the Acropolis and the Olympic stadium built for the 1896 games. One note: They were preparing for the presentation of the Olympic Torch to the Australian Olympic organizers that night! We had missed the lighting ceremony in Olympia by about 2 days!
Day 12 – Santorini Dress - Casual
Ships in port – Silver Seas Silver Cloud and Ren 5.
Another surprise port! We took the tour of Ancient Akrotiri (sp?) followed by a VERY harrowing bus ride to the top of the mountain! These bus drivers are incredible! This site has been dated to 1600 BC – and appears to have been vacated BEFORE the volcanic eruption that destroyed the island and swamped the surrounding islands and civilizations with a 60 foot tidal wave. I can believe that this area might have once been the home to the legendary Atlantis!
We had lunch at Archipelagos, one of the many restaurants overlooking the caldera. It is actually only a door at the top of the cliff, leading down the stairs to the restaurant. Great food, interesting view, and they DID speak English! We then did some more shopping for jewelry, scarf, t-shirt, etc. We took the tram back down the mountain (we were NOT going to ride the mules down!) then back on the ship about 3pm – we were getting VERY weary! Princess provided two one way coupons for the tram, to ALL passengers. Nice touch I thought.
Day 13 – Kusadasi for Ephesus - Dress – Formal
(last of 3 formal nights); Ships in port: Silver Cloud, Stella Solaris, Radisson Song of Flower and one of the Adventurer ships.
Another of my wife’s Musts! And it is spectacular! How do they find these sites? Took the tour that included the house of the Virgin Mary, Ephesus and the ruins of St. John’s Basilica. The only negative, and there were LOT’S of positives!: tour guide seemed in a bit of a rush to get us back to Kusadasi so we could attend a lecture on Turkish rugs! We skipped this "educational" presentation, did a bit of wandering around and then headed back to the ship for something cold to drink. I did get a bit sunburned.
We were very impressed with the state of the ruins at Ephesus, but left the Virgin Mary’s house a bit skeptical. No documentation to prove the authenticity of this site, but it is an interesting story. The ruins of St. John’s Basilica, on the other hand, were pretty impressive – 1st century AD! And supposedly St. John is buried in the crypt below the remains of the alter. LOTS of history in this area!
Day 14 – Istanbul - Dress - casual
Ships in Port – this is a very large port, and the ships are scattered, so I did not manage to get any names. Given the vast amount of water traffic, including freighters ferries, water taxis, etc, I decided to give up my search and enjoy the scenery from the ship!
After transiting the straights we arrived in Istanbul at 1pm. We took the full tour, including the Blue Mosque and St. Sophia’s, with the final stop being the Grand Bazaar.
My wife actually bargained in the Bazaar, for what I believe is the first time EVER, including several trips to Mexico! Needless to say, I was impressed. We bought a number of small items (bags are getting VERY full by this point!) and returned to the ship around 5pm to prepare for the disembarkation ordeal: Packing, farewell dinner, etc.
Day 15 – Disembarkation
We were up early (3am!) for our 5am departure. Process went VERY smooth – we did not have to find our bags on the pier as they had been sent on to "bonded storage" at the airport the night before. We were off the ship by 5:15am, and after a fairly lengthy bus ride we arrived at the airport just before 6am for our 7:55am departure. OUCH! What a line! Seemed like half the ship was in our line, and the Lufthansa folks didn’t come on duty until 6am. Lufthansa finally had 3 people working the check in process by 6:20 or so, and the line began to move. We were on our way to find a cup of coffee by 7am – no luck! Had to wait for a cup on the plane!
Flight to Munich went fine (another time change!) then a 3 hour layover – not sure if I’ll ever complain about a tight connection again! Finally on our way to SFO – taking the polar route – 10 ½ hours, two movies and two meals later we arrived, did the customs bit and found our ride. Home by 4pm Pacific time. All in all, figured we had been up for almost 24 hours, with almost no sleep on the plane.
Ship – We had heard a lot of very positive comments about the Royal Princess, and I can say that I liked her – the layout was to my liking, and she had a nice sense of size. However, my wife was not overly impressed with the layout of the ship and prefers the layout of the Sun Princess class to the Royal Princess. She also preferred the Regal P. over the Royal.
Cabin – We were aware that the cabin layout was a bit different than other ships on which we have sailed, but we were not prepared for how narrow the cabins are! We did like the size of the bathroom, and the full tub was a major plus to soak our weary bodies after a hard day ashore hiking through ruins! BUT – the drop down bed was VERY uncomfortable (guess who slept on that one!) and the makeup of the room with the beds in a "queen" configuration was very confining. We had decided to leave the beds as singles prior to the cruise, and having seen the impact on the space available in similar cabins that did have the "double" bed we are glad that we made that choice. Another note relative to the cabin: Soundproofing leaves a lot to be desired. We had a substantial amount of late night noise from late seating neighbors coming in around 11pm – not that they were unusually noisy, just the usual getting ready for bed routine – the sound really traveled between cabins, unlike what we experienced on the Sun Princess – On that ship we didn’t even know we had neighbors, and one of them had a really bad cold and cough!
Food - We found the dinning room food to once again be good, in some cases very good. BUT – having sailed eight months earlier on the Regal Princess we found the menu’s to be almost identical! My wife could pick out my menu choices each night! Portions were more than adequate, and more was always available if one so desired. I will admit to having two desserts only once! (how can one pass up either Tiramisu or Bananas Foster?!?) We would not classify the food as gourmet, but it was good – especially the pasta’s! AND, we didn’t have to cook or serve it! Desserts were generally ok, and the Baked Alaska was one of the better one’s that we have had! But a few nights we passed on the dessert. Coffee in the dinning room was always very good.
The variety of the food in the Lido varied from day to day, but it was generally good, and there was always something we liked. Quality was better than average for a buffet style line, and there were always plenty of choices, as well as a mini-salad bar.
We did not eat at the alternatives available, i.e. Pizza or the Lido in the evening. We had expected to do so given some of the lengthy shore excursions we had selected, but we always managed to make it to the dinning room for dinner.
Stateroom Service: Very good, unobtrusive service. Ice in the ice bucket in the refrigerator every morning and evening, turn down service, etc. as expected. Cabin was always neat and clean.
Dinning room Service: Waiter and asst waiter were good, but not outstanding. I think we are seeing a dilution in the talent pool with the expansion of the industry. Our servers were good, just not top notch as we have come to expect. We found the same on the Regal Princess in the Fall of 1999. We also found the "begging" for "excellent ratings", though understated and not repeated more than once, to be a bit obtrusive!
The pasta’s and dessert’s prepared by the Head Waiter were generally excellent, and we did tip him for his efforts. Well, at least I appreciated his pastas! Our waiter decided I must be Italian!
Given the nature of this trip we didn’t make to many shows! And NO late night disco for us (my feet were killing me!). What we did see seemed to be the norm anymore: a comedian a couple of nights – ok, but not great; a juggler another night, again, just ok; production shows with some good dancers, but the headline vocalists were merely ok.
We didn’t participate in the Bingo, or deck games types of activities because we were off the ship so much, but I did actually attend one art auction, and DID buy a small painting that I liked. First time for everything I guess.
We found EVERY excursion to be run very well, with knowledgeable local guides (Princess actually took several guides on board in Olympia, to cover 3 ports, then flew them back to Athens from Santorini!) Prices were a bit steep for some of the excursions, but since we docked a ways away in Rome, Olympia and Ephesus there is a high upfront transportation cost on these excursions. Side note: In Rome one couple almost missed the ship: they had taken the train in from Civitavecchia and their return train was cancelled. They had to hire a taxi (at a cost of over $140!) and still missed the ship, even after the Captain had delayed sailing for almost an hour! They then had to pay a local boat to bring them out to the ship and board via the "rope" ladder. So much for beating the cost of the ship’s excursions!
General Ships Personnel:
We were again impressed with the overall quality of the Princess staff, both dockside, on the excursions, and on board the ship. An example: I mentioned earlier that over 40 passengers (might have been Cabins) did not receive their luggage when we sailed from Lisbon. There had been some airline problems, but it also turned out that at least one of the hotels used by passengers had NOT conveyed their luggage to the ship. This was NOT the Princess pre-stay hotel we used (thankfully!) but another Lisbon hotel.
Princess did everything in their power to get the luggage to ALL passengers! We saw bags delivered on Palma, our first port, and every port thereafter. Some passengers didn’t receive their luggage until we got to Athens, over half way through the cruise. This was NOT Princess’ fault! Everyone we talked to who had this problem had nothing but praise for how Princess handled the situation. They had offered ALL passengers in this situation a $500 ship board credit to be used to purchase essentials in the boutiques, regardless of the reason for the missing bags!
We enjoyed our Princess experience, and will cruise with them again, but we probably will go longer between Princess cruises and try another line for our next cruise for some variety. So many ships out there, so little time!
Dall & Pat Barley