Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Star Princess
Sailing Date: June 20th, 2007
WEATHER – We had no idea what to expect. I was obsessed with Weather.com for the two weeks prior to our trip – and the forecast was for rain or showers every day. We ended up only having two days of rain – it was beautiful weather – pants or Capri's and a light jacket….I don’t think my husband wore pants at all except to dress for dinner. Our cabin was close to mid-ship which is best for stability, but there was one night when it seemed a bit “rolly” and I was slightly punk, but I take along ginger tablets which are great.
PASSENGER ATMOSPHERE – The make-up was mostly Americans and a large fraction of Australians….but there was an international flavor that was interesting. Both our other cruises were in the Caribbean and we were pleasantly surprised that there was a far less partying atmosphere on this cruise. Seemed to be more sophisticated and low key. Our two kids found an international group of friends to hang with and had a blast trying to communicate in their broken high school French and German….though kids from other countries usually speak English.
EMBARKATION –Smooth and easy. We waited for our noon check-in time, but many people said they checked in earlier.
CABIN – Dolphin deck, interior stateroom. It was our first time in an interior cabin and I missed daylight, but it sort of forced us out of the room into public areas and we met far more people and participated in more activities. For four people (two adults, two teens) we had to stay pretty organized n the stateroom being there is little storage – one full sized closet, a closeted shelving unit and some small drawers. Probably perfect for two. I tried to hang most of our clothes (asked for more hangers which were willingly provided), and shoved the suitcases under the beds. Every time I turned around our attendant had put clean, fresh towels in the room…he was a real gem – helpful, friendly, greeting us by name. Our beds were comfortable, and the blankets soft and plush. What helped out a lot with space – especially getting ready for dinners – was that the two guys would leave the room to sit in the Jacuzzi then shower in the spa bathroom which was far more luxurious than the shower in the stateroom anyway. When they returned, we girls would be ready and would leave them to wait outside the dining room while they dressed.
DINING – We were disappointed to miss the late dining selection when we booked, which we enjoyed on our other cruises, but ended up really happy with anytime dining. The cruise is a busy one and it was a relief not to have to cut anything short in order to make a dinner time. We had to wait a couple of nights – once for about thirty minutes, but learned to avoid the rush (6-8p), or call ahead for a reservation if we were meeting with another family. We were a bit disappointed with the food…not as good as we’d had on the Grand or the Golden…or maybe it’s that Princess has the same food for every ship, every cruise and it was getting a little tired. The service was wonderful. A couple of nights, when we were just too tired to dress for dinner, we opted for the buffet…which is good, solid food. Some of it seemed to be the same things as in the dining room anyway. Desserts at the buffet are usually a disappointment for us. They may look varied, but always seem to taste the same. I wish they’d offer more decaffeinated tea selections besides just mint or chamomile.
We’re always happy with the pizza on the Princess, but there were no hamburgers and onion rings offered at the grill on this cruise which was a letdown.
One night the kids ordered room service which took over an hour for delivery.
Tea time in one of the dining rooms (I think it was the Capri) each afternoon at 3p is something we really enjoyed. One afternoon my daughter and I dragged her 17 year old brother and his friend down to tea and the ended up taking it every day afterward and bringing along all the teens they could muster!
ACTIVITIES – We’re big on ping-pong and there were quite a few tournaments set up by the cruise director (may I say here that my husband is a two time gold medal winner for that cruise!!). It was a blast to play people from many different countries – cheering side by side.
We did have a couple of sea days which were greatly needed after the exciting ports. We resented those sea days while we planned, but deeply appreciated them in the course of the cruise. In fact, the weather on one was warm enough for sunning by the pool.
There were some fun events – a fruit and vegetable carving demonstration, ice carving, martini mixing, putting contest….fun things to watch. There was a galley tour that we were sorry to miss as it was scheduled at a time we couldn’t make.
There are really a lot of possibilities if you keep up with your Princess Patter which is a nightly newsletter letting you know what’s happening each coming day – it’s put into your mailbox each evening.….we aren’t drawn to shows, but had a blast when passenger karaoke was offered in the Explorers lounge many times during the cruise….that’s probably the best entertainment we’ve had in a long time.
On ship boutiques in the Atrium court grow as the cruise progresses. Though I peruse, and sometimes buy, I prefer to get my souvenirs in port….better variety and prices, especially in St. Petersburg.
We didn’t use the spa for services, but the guys showered there most evenings and thought those showers far more elegant then the one in the stateroom.
LAUNDRY – I waited about five days to do any wash and I think 90% of the ships passengers did the same thing. Lines were horrendous and competitive and some floors had broken machines. Coin dispensers were empty, and the line for the purser was loooong…plan ahead. They close at around 10p, so my plan to do laundry late at night didn’t pan out.
PORT’S OF CALL –
Copenhagen – we had two nights (one full day) before the cruise so did a lot of walking around – the crown jewels in Rosenberg Castle were impressive. We skipped Tivoli although all the books call it the number one attraction. We enjoyed walking along the Stroget (shopping district), catching street entertainers, looking at the beautiful Danes, and grabbing ice cream at Nyhavn - a row of bars and restaurants along the historic canal. It’s beautiful at night. We also picked up a couple of ‘rental’ bikes – put 5 kr in the slot which unlocks the bike, then when you’re done lock it back up and your coin is returned.
We also had one night at the tail end of the cruise which we decided to spend in Draggor – a small fishing town about 30 minutes from the city. The guys went golfing and we girls rented bikes, but there was little to do – could’ve been done in an afternoon and another night in the city instead.
Oslo – The city area is a medium distance walk from the port. We caught a ferry across to KonTiki – had all read the book so enjoyed the museum and the film. Skipped the Vasa to catch the ferry back and walk the city a bit. It’s cosmopolitan and cold feeling, but one of our son’s favorites on the cruise. Friends enjoyed the sculpture gardens very much and I wondered if we should have taken the time for that, but there were sculptures by that same artist along the water so we got enough look at his work as our family cares to see.
Gdynia – It seemed most people had scheduled a cruise bus ride/tour to Gdansk and all were disappointed that they’d spent good money on wasted traffic time and not such an interesting destination….you don’t get a very long time in port. We opted to walk a ways in from the dock area and hail a cab which took us the main shopping district in Gdynia. The town still has a leftover Soviet block flavor which was such a change from Copenhagen and Oslo and we were pretty impacted by the difference. We’re of Russian decent, and when we found a darling farmers market on our return walk where we found delicious dill pickles, borscht, galoopsi (cabbage rolls) at a small stand in the marketplace (where we Americans might have a burger stand) it was wonderful food that recalled meals at grandma’s. We were satisfied with staying in Gdynia after talking to so many who went into Gdansk. Most who we spoke to wondered why the ship even stops there and thought it would’ve been better to have more time in Stockholm. I liked the contrast…showing our kids how different life can be under certain political systems and how long it can take to repair such oppression.
Tallin – This day it poured rain and we still had an absolute blast! The old town is an easy walk from the dock. We walked the streets with a torn out section of a Rick Steve’s guide which included a gorgeous Russian Orthodox church, stopped for lunch and also hot chocolate – both times receiving snooty and rude service – but that’s all part of the fun. Climbed to the top of some tower and spit off (a family tradition). Amber EVERYWHERE!!! And juniper trivets, woolens….the best place to shop as far as I was concerned and I’m a big shopper on vacations. Best prices and variety…shop employees were friendly and most spoke English. The town is charming.
St. Petersburg – My in’laws had been many times and recommended a private tour guide named Genaydi which worked out fantastically. For two days, four people, we spent about $300.00 and never had to wait in a line. Went to Church of the Savior of the Spilt Blood, Catherine Palace, Peterhof, the Hermitage, St. Isaac’s, Peter and Paul fortress and spent some time just wandering ourselves (we got visas and my husband speaks Russian). I would highly recommend both palaces. Being we’re not big museum people we all could’ve easily skipped the Hermitage (I know some people would have a fit that we think that…but that’s the honest truth – it really frustrated Genaydi who was filled with knowledge about the art). But Church of the Savior is so gorgeously what we think as being typically onion dome…so picturesque - and is near a super bazaar (across the street) where we got sensational deals on lacquer boxes and other souvenirs. Genaydi also drove us out (at my request) to the Lomonosov (porcelain) Factory store where I made some purchases that you can’t find here in the states nor online. It’s a bit tricky to get in and out of the docking area here. The ship docks in a industrial port a ways out of the city. You catch a cab (it’s a long walk) that takes you to the entry gate where we then met Genaydi who drove us everywhere. The cruise line warns that unless you take an official cruise tour you will need a visa, but it is my understanding that if you are with an official tour guide certified by Russian authorities you do not need one either as long as you stay with that guide. We could’ve probably saved $$ and skipped the visas, but my husband wanted to do some wandering on his own anyway. We had friend who took the “hidden treasures” tour with the cruise and loved.
Helsinki – Our daughter’s favorite…this is a beautiful, warm and design oriented city. She’s big on Danish modern so had a ball looking at all the shops had to offer. We took the city bus in from port– bought round trip tickets which were cheap and then walked up the tree-lined, entertainment strewn street to the farmers market where we found vegetables and food that we’d never seen before. Had lunch then hiked it up to the Orthodox Church, next to the steps of the Senate where we enjoyed ice cream cones and people watched. Across from the Senate steps – to your left as you walk down – there is a corner shop with wonderful locally made arts and crafts….wish I’d had a little more time to spend it there, but the others were getting ready to move on. We chose to then sit at one of the many outdoor cafés, order coffee, tea and cocoa, re-energizing as we enjoyed the warm sun. The guys wanted to head back for a ping-pong tournament, so being that we already had our return bus tickets and felt safe, we girls separated to do our own thing and caught the last bus back to the ship easily.
Stockholm - This cruise is exhausting…so many wonderful port cities – and by the time we got here we were just plum wore out. It was a very short allotted time, so we caught a bus into the main part of the city and walked the narrow, cobblestone streets…viewed the crown jewels which were less impressive to us than those in Copenhagen. Missed the changing of the guard which was really the main thing I wanted to see. It began to totally pour rain, so being weary, we caught the bus back and took naps on the ship. By this time everyone was beginning to wear down and there were many people reading and snoozing at the enclosed pool area. As I said earlier, I wish we’d had more time in this city so that we could’ve ventured further, but we were so tired I’m not sure if that would’ve worked out anyway.
Overall we really like Princess. The service has always been outstanding. After three cruises – all on sister ships – we’re ready to try another line. Our next cruise is just going to be the two of us so we can upgrade a bit, but if we ever take the family again I’m positive we’d sail Princess.