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A 60th wedding anniversary is a reason for a cruise

My wife and I were certainly looking forward to our 7 night Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the latest addition to the Princess Fleet – the Royal Princess – which was to depart from Ft Lauderdale on 8th December 2013. Our son and his wife were to join us.

The ship was to visit St Thomas and St Maarten, as well as a stop for a day’s sunbathing at the cruise line’s own island – Princess Cays.

Having thoroughly enjoyed a previous cruise on board the Ruby Princess, we had no reason to doubt, that sailing on the ‘Royal’ after reading the masses of publicity surrounding it because the Duchess of Cambridge had ‘swung the obligatory bottle of champagne’.

So how was it?

Arrival by car at the terminal was straightforward and well organised and we were soon directed to a specific spot to unload our luggage from the boot. Waiting there was a ‘porter’ who put our three suitcases onto a wheeled cage (a ten second operation over a three foot distance).

Astonished when he made it very clear that he expected to be tipped, I told him politely, “no” but his response was to throw his arms in the air and grimace at us. Was it mere coincidence that not one piece of our luggage was delivered to our cabin until 15 minutes before the ship’s departure?

‘Ah, well’, we four mused, ‘that’s life’.

From the quayside, the ship looked enormous, which at over 141,000 tons, it was!

Once through immigration – quite smoothly – actual boarding was straightforward, only somewhat irksome when having to run the ubiquitous gauntlet of photographers.

Our first impression of the ship’s interior was one of awe, especially when we walked through the central atrium with its marble surfaces and glass chandeliers.

Our balcony cabins were side by side on Emerald Deck midships. The cabin itself was very nicely furnished and appointed, if somewhat smaller than the same category on the ‘Ruby’. Heavy and totally noise-proof sliding doors gave access to the balcony and it was then that we experienced our first disappointment. Its small size prevented the lounge chairs from facing the sea, which, after all, is the main reason for paying the extra per person for that feature. Leaving that issue to one side – the rest of the cabin and the bathroom proved to be comfortable and fully functional during the entire seven days.

We had pre-booked (and had received confirmation of) the first (6 p.m.) sitting in one of the two formal dining rooms but were indeed shocked on arriving at the entrance door at 5.55 p.m. to be greeted with the words ‘sorry, but your specific table has been given to another party of four, as we only keep them open for fifteen minutes’.

Naturally I replied by saying that I had a written confirmation that our party would be dining ‘formally’ at 6 p.m. as advertised, so asked how we could be tardy? It was then that we were told that the first formal dining time had been changed to 5.30 p.m. This resulted in us standing around whilst another table was found for us. Not an auspicious start to holiday.

The next night saw us arrive on time only to be shown to yet a different table with different waiters. This was not what we wanted or had booked. Words with the Maitre d, resulted in a promise to reallocate a specific table but in the second of the two formal dining rooms, for the rest of our cruise.

I embarked upon a tour of the entire ship on the morning of the first day at sea, duly armed with cameras, both still and movie. By 11 a.m. everything was in full swing. All outside public areas were fully occupied (with 3600 passengers on board, that was to be expected I suppose). Available deck chairs were at a premium but scores of them were adorned with folded towels and perhaps a book. So much for the ship’s stated policy that such was not allowed. But….for a whopping $50 per person per day (if I recollect?) adults could hire a canopy covered pair of loungers within an area named ‘The Sanctuary’ and enjoy their own small swimming pool and a jacuzzi. I overheard many, many grumbles from passengers unhappy with this policy.

It would not add much to other published reviews, to describe every other public area on the ship – some good – some not so. I will however, in my capacity as a travel writer, relate here and now, what passenger’s remarks were in answer to my surreptitious questions. May I stress that at no time throughout the cruise, did I inform fellow passengers what my second reason for taking the cruise was. I did however explain both of them to a few, senior, ‘Princess’ managers.

In order of numerical descending order:-

  • Why, oh why is there no central staircase. I’m sick of waiting for elevators that are often not working or when the doors do open it is already crammed full?
  • My wife is frightened to use the elevators because they are frequently not working properly and stop midway between decks or when the doors only open a foot wide and prevent guests from exiting or entering.
  • I’ve never seen so many motorised wheelchairs on a ‘Princess’ ship. They’re everywhere – left outside cabins, blocking the narrow passages and when they’re in the elevators, it’s a nightmare. Hope to hell we don’t have an emergency and need to get to the lifeboats in a hurry.
  • There are too many darn passengers (opined one American who had ‘done’ 16 cruises with ‘Princess’). Three thousand six hundred. That’s why the cabins and balconies are smaller – Carnival are taking ‘Princess’ down market and cramming folk in to make more money. And that new ship, the Regal is gonna be the same. This is my last cruise with Princess, that’s fer sure.
  • Hey, man, having dinner at 5.30 in the afternoon is just plain silly – an hour or so following afternoon tea?
  • No way could my wife and I go in the casino. We like a bit of a gamble but to get lung cancer – no way Jose. Why they let folk smoke there, I can’t understand. Wouldn’t be so bad if the whole room was behind closed doors and the smoke sucked outside. Even walking anywhere near it, the stink hits you.
  • The Internet’s a joke. Doesn’t work half the time and they charge you a fortune just to send an e-mail. Dime pinching, if you ask me.
  • Photos? Yeah, just look at ’em, thousands of ’em taking up room which should be a sitting area. This is supposed to be the atrium for entertainment but getting a seat to watch is like a lottery. Yeah, and I hear that at the end of the cruise, all the unsold thousands of pics are shredded and dumped. How stupid is that? At 27 bucks a piece though, I’m not surprised. Have the bosses not heard of constructive marketing and sell ’em off cheap at the end?
  • What do I think of the theatre? Huuugh! Went there first night. Had to go early though to get a decent seat. Then when the show got started more than half of it was with that cruise director guy mouthing off and trying to sell stuff. The actual performers were only on for a few minutes.
  • I’ve been on a lot of Princess cruises but this is the first time that I’ve be very conscious of the heavy selling. Leaflets at your cabin door every evening, lists of things to buy, reminders of art actions and the like. I feel like all I’m here for is for them to get every dollar out of me that they can. What is it you Brits call it…penny pinching?

NOTE. I personally listened and noted these remarks and observed all of the above scenarios as well as watching specialist engineers (brought to the ship) trying to rectify the obvious mechanical or electrical problems with the elevators. This serious situation was obviously a concern to the management, as on more than one occasion, I noted ‘OUT OF ORDER’ notices affixed.

As for the visits to St Thomas and St Maarten, both were interesting enough despite the plethora of tourist shops (mostly gem stores) and the accompanying touts. Both of the island’s tourist areas are concentrated near to the quaysides – as one would expect – and when a trio (or more) of cruise liners dock at the same time, each disgorging over 3000 passengers, the narrow streets become exceedingly crowded – at times they resembled an obstacle course. However, the mood all around was one of enjoyment, especially when rounding a corner and be entertained by steel bands of all ages.

Restaurants, cafes and bars were certainly doing a roaring trade and it was nice to note that the prices charge were reasonable despite the number of captive clientèle.

On a very personal level. My wife and I were treated over and above what was expected. Our 60th wedding anniversary had obviously been noted and on more than one occasion we found a bottle of chilled wine and canapes awaiting us in our cabin.

A word about the servicing of our rooms and the attention given by waiters at dinner. Both gain ten out of ten marks for their impeccable service.

The above then is my review of the happenings on board the Royal Princess last December. I trust that the remarks made by so many passengers are ‘taken to heart’ and acted upon? After all, do the cruise line owners really want to ‘down market’ to the level of another of their brands, ‘Carnival’ as said by one long standing client?

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