The third of a trio -- sister ships are Grand Princess and Golden Princess -- Star Princess flat out takes aim at America's mid-market passenger. The ship is big and offers mostly pluses -- and occasional minuses --- of its size with a wide variety of onboard features that appeal to just about anybody. At the same time, it offers passengers a choice of a traditional cruising experience or a contemporary one -- or even a smattering of elements of both.
During its most recent dry-dock -- in late 2008 -- Star Princess received a boatload of new features, including the Piazza, an energetic space offering entertainment, on-site bakery, Internet cafe, and wine and sushi bar; the Sanctuary, an adults-only area that boasts padded lounges, shady and sunny areas; the for-fee Crown Grill, whose menu blends seafood and steakhouse fare (replacing the existing steakhouse on Star Princess); and seven new suites, each with sitting room, walk-in closet and shower/tub combo. Retail therapy got a makeover this time around as well, with a doubled-in-size Essence shop on Deck 7 and Meridian Bay moved to the site of the former Essence shop on Deck 6.
For the most part, the staff on Star Princess handles its passengers well enough, though we found service to be mediocre, fairly consistently, whether it was the dining room or cabin stewards. Be prepared for lines, particularly at embarkation and disembarkation, which were equally horrific in terms of "hurry up and wait" and rude direction. New disembarkation procedures have quickened the process.
Ultimately, though, Star Princess, like its siblings, offers something for virtually every type of cruise traveler -- as long as being part of the masses is no big deal.
Dining is a bright spot on Star Princess in terms of quantity, quality and convenience. It would be impossible to go hungry on this ship. Personal Choice is a big hit; Capri and Portofino, two of the three traditional-styled dining rooms, are open seating, while Amalfi is aimed at those preferring an established dining routine with set times and tablemates.
Beyond those, there are two alternative restaurants. Sabatini's, Princess signature Northern Italian venue, offers a multi-course feast and charges $25 per passenger cover. The restaurant is open for lunch (or brunch, as it's called) on sea days and dinner nightly. Crown Grill is the ship's seafood and steak house; the cover is $20 per person. And the Promenade Lounge offers, for an extra fee, caviar. The Promenade Bar is a popular meeting spot before and after dinner.
Much of the Lido deck is consumed by food options. During the day, the Trident Grill offers up hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries and the like. The slices at the nearby Prego Pizzeria are outstanding. Scoops, which has become a Princess tradition, still dishes up Haagen-Dazs ice cream (for an additional fee). Soft-serve ice cream is complimentary.
The Horizon Court, Star Princess' buffet eatery, has round-the-clock dining and, interestingly, is tucked into its own nook behind attractive garden-style gates. Food stations are short and sweet -- and separated by type -- so lines tend to be minimal. Breakfast offers pretty much the usual, while lunch can be eclectic, with various dishes representing different international cultures. Everything from salads to hot dishes and desserts was plentifully and quickly restocked as necessary. From 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., the Horizon Court transforms itself into a bistro, with menu service. Seating is available inside as well as on the deck.
The International Cafe and Vines are two new dining venues, introduced during the 2008 dry-dock. The International Cafe offers complimentary breakfast pastries, soups, quiche, sandwiches, sweets and salads, as well as coffee drinks for an extra fee. Vines serves up tapas and more than 30 wines, while an inset retail shop carries lovely accessories for the wine buff on your shopping list.
Room service is available 24 hours a day and offers a limited menu of hot and cold sandwiches, along with salads and desserts. At dinnertime you can order off the main dining room menu. Service was consistently prompt and pleasant, and usually correct. Room service breakfast is Continental-style, but suites get access to full breakfasts. An Ultimate Balcony Dinner is available for $100 per couple, and includes a multi-course lobster (or steak) dinner, pre-dinner cocktails and souvenir photo.
Basically, the ship's public rooms are designed around the centrally located three-story Piazza. The filigree-decorated set of panoramic elevators and graceful sitting areas attract crowds, and serves as the ship's key meeting place. The Internet cafe and Library (well stocked with both computer stations and books), Princess Art Gallery, and the Vines Bar and Shop are situated around the Atrium on Deck 5. On Deck 6, you'll find shops and the Passengers Services desk, and on Deck 7, you'll find the Hearts & Minds wedding chapel (which doubles as the site of religious services) and more shops. Enhanced technological capabilities at the Hearts & Minds wedding chapel enables transmission of special ceremonies on the Internet (so folks at home can watch).
The photo shop is located on the Deck 7 Promenade, and the Medical Center on Deck 4. Self-service launderettes are located on passenger decks.
The ship's 1,301 cabins are divided into four categories. All received mini-facelifts during the dry-dock in the way of new gently hued soft goods. Standard inside and outside cabins number 1,096; of these a whopping 711 (or more than 80 percent) have balconies. There are 22 suites with separate sitting areas and sofa beds, 180 mini-suites, two family suites with interconnected doors, and one grand suite. Suites range in size from 595 to 1,314 square feet, mini-suites are 322 square feet, balcony cabins range from 232 - 274 square feet (including balconies), standard outsides are 168 square feet and inside cabins are 160 square feet. All cabins come with color TV offering a variety of channels.
Interestingly, the mini-suites -- which are quite family friendly for four -- have balconies that jut out from the rest of the ship's verandahs. It's a pro and con. The pro is there's no roof, and it's a great place to watch the stars at night. The con? No privacy. You're totally visible to anyone in a balcony above you.
The Grand Suite has three TV's, refrigerator, wet bar and walk-in closet; regular suites feature separate sitting areas, two TV's, refrigerator and wet bar; and family suites are actually two connected standard cabins that sleep eight.
Onboard dress is generally casual. Officially, there are two formal nights on a 10-day or two-week cruise, more on longer itineraries. On these nights, men typically don tuxedos or suits, and women wear cocktail dresses, though passengers not inclined to dress up can head up to the Horizon Court in any attire. Otherwise, the ship's evening dress code is "smart casual." Smart casual can be simply defined as what you'd wear to a nice restaurant or a cocktail party -- slacks and a nice shirt for men, casual dresses or dressy slacks for ladies.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Surprisingly, despite Star Princess' huge passenger capacity, pool areas were so varied and plentiful that none seemed overcrowded (and very few people "reserved" deck chairs). With nine whirlpools sprawled across the top outdoor decks there was usually room for everyone.
There are four pools onboard. Neptune's Reef and Pool is an extravagantly and festively colored area with tile mosaics. Here, you'll find Movies Under the Stars (added during the 2008 refurbishment) -- a 300-square-foot screen that shows movies, concerts, sporting events and other special programming throughout the day and evening. Blankets and free popcorn are available during nighttime screenings.
The two-story Conservatory is equally vibrant, but comes with a retractable crystal dome/roof, which comes in handy in cool or inclement weather. A deck higher is the Oasis Spa and Pool, located at the very back of the ship. It's a very peaceful, uncrowded spot. And The Lotus Spa, the ship's Asian-influenced area for all-things-fitness, has its own pool, this one allowing you to swim-against-the-current, not to mention two whirlpools.
The Asian-influenced Lotus Spa, run by the ubiquitous Steiner, encompasses a gym, workout studio, beauty salon and treatment rooms for the usual (massages, facials) and unusual, such as the wild strawberry back cleanse. Other unique treatments include the tropical floral aromatherapy bath and the Asian Lotus Ritual, a two-hour treatment that includes Reiki, Thai Massage, Hawaiian Lomi Lomi, Chinese Tui and Balinese Massage. One neat feature is the spa's thermal suite, with aromatherapy steam rooms.
The Sanctuary, on the very top deck, was added during the 2008 dry-dock and offers an adults-only retreat. Expect plush-padded lounges, dedicated Serenity stewards, complimentary use of MP3 players loaded with soothing tunes, beverage service and light snacks on request. Fees range from $10 - 20 for half- or all-day passes. Passengers can also book an al fresco massage in a private cabana.
Daily fitness programs are pretty varied; they include conditioning and aerobics workouts as well as trendier classes in areas such as yoga, pulse cycling and kick boxing; the latter involve an extra $10 fee. More specialized services, such as one-on-one conditioning and Pilates are available as well.
Other sporty activities on Star Princess include a jogging track on the top deck, paddle tennis court, virtual golf, shuffleboard, outdoor chess (with huge plastic pieces weighted down by sand), ping pong, and Princess' Links, a nine-hole putting course. A basketball court --- at Deck 17 is popular with kids and adults alike.
Star Princess' expansive Kids Zone program is divided into two groups. Princess Pelicans (ages 3 - 7) and Princess Pirateers (8 - 12) take part in a wide variety of activities, from arts and crafts to Nintendo, to learning-based projects in conjunction with the ship's relationship with the California Science Center. There's also an enclosed area with a mini-basketball setup and a wading pool. Programs typically break up at mealtimes (to promote family togetherness), though there are special food-related functions as well.
Teens have their own program. Off Limits is geared for those ages 13 - 17, and the clubroom has a juice bar, jukebox, teen disco and big-screen TV.
One plus about Princess' kids program is that the activities staff arrange diversions while the ship is in port -- at no charge -- to give parents a chance to engage in the occasional kid-free day off.
Gratuities, which are automatically charged to onboard accounts, are $11.50 per person (including children), per day, for passengers staying in standard accommodations and $12 for passengers staying in mini-suite and suites. A 15 percent gratuity is added to beverage purchases onboard, including wine at dinner. Spa and casino staff members do not share in the gratuity charges -- if you use these services, tips are advised.
Star Princess, because of its kids program and its range of multi-generational activities, attracts a lot of family groups. Passenger ages ranged all over the board. This is not a great ship for solo travelers (because so many fellow passengers arrived in "packs").
The Promenade is the major focal point for entertainment on Star Princess. Styled as a "boulevard," this area houses the three main showrooms -- Princess Theater (forward), the Explorers' Lounge (midship) and the Vista Lounge, as well as the nautically-decorated Wheelhouse Bar. The variety of entertainment options, particularly in the evening, is head-spinning. The big, lavish productions and major variety shows are presented in the Princess Theater. The Vista Lounge does double duty as cinema and live performance venue, hosting a variety of "big-screen movies" throughout the week, as well as comedians and cabaret performers. The Explorers' Lounge, with its dance floor, is home to more energetic themed evenings, such as "70's Night," and traditional dance evenings lead by the various onboard orchestras.
The casino, on Deck 6, is open on sea days and evenings after the ship sails from its port. Table games and state-of-the-art slots attract crowds, and tournaments are scheduled each cruise for slot and blackjack players. Skywalker's Nightclub, sitting high atop the ship, comes alive only late at night; from 10 p.m. onward it's a disco scene.
In general, public rooms on Star Princess emphasize relatively cozy intimacy as if to de-emphasize the ship's massive size. There are lots of nooks and crannies that passengers can tuck into either to meet with new friends, enjoy a good read or linger over a drink. Those appreciating more mellow entertainment can choose from a country western singer (who was awesome) in Tequila's or showtunes and classic numbers in the Promenade Lounge. Street performers appear all day and into the evening in the Piazza; you might find an Argentinean tango group (complete with lessons for the audience), a Ukrainian string group, stilt walkers or jugglers.
Other daytime activities include ScholarShip@Sea educational programs, trivia games, ceramics, dance classes and port lectures.
Shore excursions range from moderately active bus trips with stops to sightsee to more active hiking or kayaking adventures.
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