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Neil Hunter

Age: 55

Occupation:Information Technology Director

Number of Cruises: 7

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Star Princess

Sailing Date: October 4th, 2003

Itinerary: Mexican Riviera

This was our 7th cruise and we had already been on the same itinerary with Carnival and Royal Caribbean in the past. It was also the first time without the kids!

Day 1
Arrived at the new Long Beach cruise terminal after a short 15 min delay getting into the drop-off area due to a truck stalled in one of the entrance lanes! Unloaded our baggage, found a porter and said goodbye to the baggage. We had to stand outside in a long line to check-in and after a short wait the line started moving quicker than expected. It was while in this line that we suddenly realized we had left our garment bag containing all our formal wear at home! A quick phone call to our oldest son with a request to bring the bag was graciously accepted. Just as well we live only 40 minutes away. Immediately after check-in, we went back to the drop-off area to collect our missing bag from our son who was already waiting for us. Gave the bag to a porter and proceeded through the security check once again and this time actually boarded the ship. Despite all this we were on the ship about an hour after arriving at Long Beach – not really too bad.

We went to our stateroom and was immediately impressed with the layout and décor. The balcony was perfect. Although it was small, it was more than adequate and was shielded from above. The visible balconies below were 2 and 3 levels down. We could look directly down at them over the rail but they could not see up into our balcony. Met our cabin steward Sumeth who was quite happy to be called “Sammy”. He was very friendly and eager to please.

Had lunch in the Horizon buffet. Food was OK and the surroundings very pleasant – didn’t have a crowded feel about it and everything was spotlessly clean which seemed to be the case wherever we went on the ship. Spent a little time exploring the ship – this is going to take some time – the ship is so huge but is segmented into relatively small areas giving a feeling of privacy wherever you went. There doesn’t appear to be any large open deck areas. Even the atrium is only a few decks tall. It doesn’t soar spectacularly to the top of the ship as it does on many other cruise ships.

We had opted for traditional dining, second seating and had requested a large table in the hope of meeting a few people. Only one other couple turned up the first night, but we enjoyed their company. The gentleman used to own a travel company and had been on over 28 cruises so we had a great source of information on other cruise ships at our table!

After dinner we all went to see the first night show in the Princess Theater. This was a show to introduce the entertainment staff and dancers. The orchestra were very good and the dancers very competent. The second part of the show was a comedian who was extremely funny and had the audience belly-laughing in no time at all.

Day 2
Woke next morning to a beautiful day. Had breakfast at the Horizon buffet. Food was just OK but they did have eggs benedict, my wife’s favorite! Some of the meat dishes were somewhat overcooked and dried up. Went to a wine tasting in the afternoon having signed up and paid my $7.50 in the dining room the night before. This was quite interesting with some emphasis on removing some of the snobbery concerning wine and wine tasting. We tasted 2 whites, 2 reds and a dessert wine. All the wines were very good and not too expensive. By ordering a bottle there and then, the price was reduced by $5 so my wine tasting really only cost $2.50. Having the bottle presented at dinner was no problem. Throughout the day there were various announcements from the captain concerning a couple of hurricanes off Puerto Vallarta so a decision was made to stop at Cabo San Lucas in the morning and spend all day there. The scheduled itinerary showed a partial day at Cabo San Lucas on the 5th day. Tonight was the first of 2 formal nights and after dinner we went to see the first main production show in the Princess Theatre. The show was called “Dance!” and after the first scene I thought, “this is going to be another run-of-the-mill show...” then suddenly things changed and the rest of the show turned out to be quite spectacular and nothing like I’ve seen before on a cruise ship.

Day 3
Having had breakfast and lunch a couple of times in the Horizon buffet we began to realize that the food in the buffet was not very good at all. Many items tended to be overcooked and there wasn’t much in the way of variety. We finally met up with a Canadian couple we had chatted with on the cruise critic web site and ended up in their room in the afternoon for a couple of glasses of wine. They had a mini-suite that was quite impressive with an extra seating area and a pull-down sofa. We didn’t bother to get off the ship at Cabo San Lucas – we were having too much fun hanging out with newfound friends! As we were about to leave Cabo, the ship having already spun round to make it’s exit from the bay, the captain announced that they were going to wait for another four people who had been missing and then found. The ship spun back round as a tender approached from across the bay. As the tender came along side, everyone on their balconies started booing, whistling and hooting at the tardy passengers much to their extreme embarrassment. It was very funny and it seemed like every passenger who had a balcony was out there jeering! We were still avoiding hurricanes so Mazatlan was the next port of call. After dinner we went to a complete show featuring Saturday night’s comedian. He was very, very funny with completely new material. Tonight was the tropical deck party so we had to go and investigate. It was held on the aft deck that was really a three-tiered deck, the lower deck having a pool that was covered with a temporary stage for the musicians. There was no food and the entertainers really didn’t strike up much enthusiasm among the guests. Compared to other cruise ships, this was pathetic. The ship does have a disadvantage however in that there is no large open deck area to hold a decent outdoor deck party.

Day 4

After a late breakfast we decided to get a taxi into Mazatlan. While wandering around the shops at the terminal area we bumped into our neighbors across from our room and decided to share a taxi into the golden zone. We hadn’t arrived long when it started to rain slightly. We decided to retreat to a bar and found a convenient open, but covered bar on a street corner. By this time, the heavens opened amidst thunder and lightning. We just sat at a table, drinking Pacificos and watching the streets rapidly fill with water. The storm didn’t last very long and once it had dissipated enough we headed home in a taxi.

After dinner we went to see a show in the Vista Lounge at the back of the ship. We listened to a very funny, subtle comedian. Unfortunately most of his jokes just went over the audience’s heads – they just didn’t seem to get it most of the time. They must have been half asleep or just dopey. There were a lot of elderly seniors on the ship so maybe that had something to do with it. Hurricane Olaf, the only hurricane remaining, had already moved inland and was dissipating rapidly, so the plan was to head for Puerto Vallarta tomorrow.

Day 5
It was calm but very humid in Puerto Vallarta (a legacy from the hurricane) so we didn’t go any further than the bar at the dockside flea market. It was cool inside and we had a very refreshing couple of beers with chips and exceptionally spicy home made salsa! We decided to try the afternoon tea on the ship. We met our assistant waiter from our dinner table as we entered the dining room. She is quite pretty and the sweetest girl you have ever met. She’s very efficient at her job and we put in a recommendation for her and hope that she gets promoted on her next contract. Because of her and the good company at our dinner table we decided to stay with the traditional dining. The afternoon tea was very elegant and formal with the waiters wearing white gloves, carefully placing every little item on your plate. We set sail from Puerto Vallarta (no late comers this time) at 6:00 p.m. after some quite tricky maneuvering in the harbor. We tried to book the Steakhouse for dinner (additional $8 per head cover charge) but the earliest we could get was 9:30 p.m. so we gave up on that and went back to our dining room again. Dinner turned out to be excellent – we all had the rack of lamb and I added a second entrée of shrimp. The lamb was superb and the shrimp were also outstanding. Before dinner we went to see the Broadway show “Give my Regards” in the Vista Lounge theatre. The show was fabulous. The soloists and ensemble singing were the best I have ever heard on a cruise ship. If you like Broadway style shows, this is a must see. The stage in this venue is actually quite large and sophisticated with moving sections and elevators, but the seating leaves a lot to be desired. Although the floor slopes up from the stage, it is not quite enough to ensure a clear view of the stage floor over the heads in front of you. There are also 2 or 3 locations with very large pillars in front of the seats. Why they actually put seats there is a mystery! After dinner we went to the Princess Theatre to see another comedian. Again, an excellent and very funny show. The main Princess Theatre is quite large on one level and is one of the best theatres I have been. The seats are all tiered and comfortable and there are no bad seats in the house.

Day 6
Had a late breakfast and apart from inviting our neighbors over for cocktails later, we just lounged about most of the day. Spent a very pleasant time with our neighbors on the balcony in the late afternoon. Tonight was the second formal night and was also lobster night in the dining room. I ordered the beef wellington as well as lobster and the beef wellington arrived with a huge lobster tail already shelled and perched on top of the wellington! I had to admit having yet another lobster tail after that. We went to the final production show called “Da Beat”. As usual the dancing and singing were first class. Went back to our balcony again for more drinks with our neighbors. We were getting a bit loud with our laughing and talking so we went inside for a while before we all reluctantly gave up and retired.

Day 7
Finally managed to get up early enough to get breakfast in the restaurant. Had the “Lumberjack Breakfast” that consisted of a minute steak topped with 2 fried eggs! It was great! Went to a cooking demonstration by the head chef assisted by the headwaiter. It was really a comedy show and was quite hilarious with such highlights as a flambé with a considerable excess of alcohol resulting in a huge flame. The participants meanwhile were pretending to choke while getting their hair singed! We then proceeded to a tour of the galley – not very exciting- just a lot of stainless steel and a few pots that seemed big enough to cook a person! Just before lunch, we went to a talk and tour backstage in the main theater. Quite fascinating and very sophisticated with it’s computer-controlled lighting, sound and other systems. It was amazing to watch how the stage elevators let props and dancers emerge from beneath and appear on the stage in a few seconds. The communal dressing room was not very big and you could imagine the mayhem that goes on there during a show with all the various quick changes.

Getting off the ship was easy and went very smoothly until we got to the immigration line that moved very slowly. I think they are still not fully organized yet in the new Long Beach terminal.

Highlights: Having a balcony, excellent service throughout, superior entertainment, spotless ship, gorgeous sunset.

Not so good: Disappointing buffet, Vista Lounge seating, ship too compartmentalized, older crowd, ship dead at night.

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