A return to Princess and post Covid
Paul Johnson | November 2, 2021 | Princess Cruises | Regal Princess
Our first time cruising since Covid struck so we were a little trepidacious. Also our first time on Princess for many years after being a regular with them so we were interested to see the changes (or not). We do our reviews very honestly, praise when its due and criticism also when its due. Fair and even handed, so please read on for an honest review.
Embarkation: We had prepared the App well at home prior to cruising and were Green lane… so we made our way in the car to the test centre at our alloted time (we were in A for boarding so we arrived at test centre about 20 minutes early… it took a few minutes and then we were on our way to the terminal. We were told to park up, leave window down and key in the car and take our bags across to the terminal. They were whisked away and before we knew it we were at the desk being questioned (the green lane was busy) so we were told to go to the Blue and someone saw to us straight away. All our paperwork was in order and we were told to sit in some chairs until the ship was ready for boarding… 3 minutes later we were asked to board and we entered the vessel at 5 past 12. Smooth as you like, it was a perfect embarkation. Apparently that wasnt the case for many after us who told us they had hours of queuing.
First impressions: The staff were incredibly welcoming, from the covid testers, through the carpark and port staff and onto the ship everyone was full of cheery hellos and hearty good wishes. It was quite touching and i must say that we were cock-a-hoop at the reception we had from all. The ship is very tidy indeed, clean, and well presented just about everywhere. We thought there may be an issue with access to lifts etc, but with only 1700 guests onboard that was never an issue. On our last cruise with Princess we were inundated with staff trying to sell us things.. but this time whilst there were some, it was far less in your face which we prefer. We did though succumb to buying a seat at ‘The Winemakers Table’ for the last night onboard (more of that later).
The Cabin: We were upgraded from an interior to a deluxe balcony a few weeks before the cruise. We were also very very lucky with the weather so that upgrade really came into its own. The cabin was just as you would expect from a Princess ship. Two huge beds pushed together to make an even bigger one. My wife was almost a bus ride away so large was the bed. The room was smaller than some we have had though so I think on this class of ship the deluxe may be worth having. The difference seemed to be enough space for a settee and a coffee table. We never really saw our cabin attendant, I never worked out who it was tbh so never had chance to tip them. We usually tip at start of cruise and at end, but this time we were unable to do so. I think the covid thing means they are only around when we are not. With the Medallion (which is instead of a room card) they can tell where we are so know when the cabin is vacant. The medallion works really well at opening the cabin door, no more fumbling around with hands full it opens before you reach it so just depress the handle and yer in. A good thing.
The APP:… a game of two halves.. great for opening the cabin, great for seeing where your partner is (if you can get it to work on your phone)… but utterly useless as well. We had it all sorted, green lane everything before boarding, seemed easyish.. but onboard the connectivity, well, hit and miss to say the best… i gave up in the end… a few minutes of wifi here and there but it kept jamming up, we couldnt see the menus for the bars so constantly had to ask to see a printed off bit of paper…. we simply couldn’t use it. Once when we did manage to order a drink we discovered that despite us both being on a deal (came with the cruise) the second drink was being charged to our account so we had to cancel it. Apparently we are both supposed to order on our individual phones… that is ridiculous regadless, but we only ever managed to get one phone at anyone time working with the app so it was virtually pointless trying to use it. Its a great idea, and no doubt is the future but they need far more powerful computors and tech to make it work. Imagine if the ship had been full..we would never have made it work at all.
The bars: we tried most of them, a lot were on different levels of the central atrium. They were all nice, our faves being Bellinis and the Wine bar a floor lower. They had some great wines too especially if you were prepared to add a few dollars an go for more expensive ones. You were allowed anything upto $12 then you paid the difference… although when we got our final bill am pretty sure we didnt get charged very often for the extra. Good quality drinks, a little shy on decent beer (for my tastes, at least) but I was happy enough with wine spirits and cocktails of which they did all my faves. Strength wise they could be hit and miss sometimes a Gin and tonic would be a bit watery sometimes it blew yer socks off. But at end of the day you could always get another.
The Restaurants: The Lido we only really used for breakfast, it was as you would expect, this time though you told a staff member what you required and they filled your plate. As a result I think we ate less and this could be the future to lessen waste. Lunch times it was difficult to get away from the grill by the pool. The burgers there were really tasty and with such a short cruise we didnt get chance to sample anywhere else at lunch. In the evenings we tried all the specialities and the Winemakers table and had enough time for the main restaurant one night too. First day we tried Sabbatinis (10 /10) and it was far better than we recall on previous Princess cruises. Gone were the huge number of courses (i think there were 4 this time instead of the near 20(or so it felt last time) and it was a much more managable meal. The service was excellent and so was the food. My partner has a Cheese allergy so they bent over backwards to accomodate her without any loss of quality. Drinks service at the table was also great, our glasses were constantly replenished. It was a very good start. Following night we used the Main restaurant (9/10, but only because Sabatinis was so good by comparison the previous evening) and again the service was superb. So was the food, tbh there was very little fall off from the Sabbatinis .. maybe the pudding wasnt as spectacular.. that said, the puddings were a step up from previous Princess cruises. Princess must have recognised a weakness in thier menu. The portions I would say were a little smaller than before, but i think that is better really. The following day after a long day in Port we had a Pizza from Alfredos (6/10) and they made one for my wife without cheese. It was very nice but we did feel a little rushed there and there wasn’t garlic bread or anything really that can be seen in the video about it.. it was two pizzas one without cheese banged down in front of us. Definately a climb down from our first two nights of dining, in the ambience at least if not actually the pizzas themselves which were quite nice. 4th day we went to the Steakhouse.. a bit mixed this, it was dress to impress night and was as a result packed out. The staff tried hard but were clearly under a lot of pressure. Our steaks arrived under-rendered… we couldnt be bothered sending them back so ate what we could. The side dishes were superb though and so was pudding. The starter was a bit odd, I went for pan seared scallops and roe but it came in bowl full of a rich creamy white sauce.. which sort of destroyed the delicate flavours of the scallops and the fish eggs who were hard to find in the gloopy white soup. so 5 out of 10 for the steakhouse. The last night on board we had bought seats at The Winemakers Table (which seems to have taken over from the Captains table)… it is a area in the main restaurant with 12 places that we shared with other diners who had aslo been lured in to the extra payment.., there was a fixed menu and a wine flight of sorts. The food was excellent and the service was very very attentative. We really enjoyed ourselves. Food wise it was all very nice and apart from that white sauce which again made an unwanted appearance on my languistine we really enjoyed the evening so would score it another 9 out of 10. Overall I would say that Princess food as improved since we last sailed with them. Smaller portions and more enjoyable for it.
Entertainment: Quizzes and quizzes.. lots of them, but we like quizzes so were happy enough even won one at the end and recieved two tote bags, two notepads, two placemats and 3 pens..glory in our triumph. Anyway, the bars around the main area listened to whatever was being played in the atrium, The piano man was top floor (in every sense) and they had more classical music played on the bottom floor.. every bar seemed to listen to whatever was on at the time. Musicianship was excellent but i suspect the range of music wasnt for everyone and there didnt really seem to be much else going down. The Theatre shows were spectacular as you would expect but again aimed at an older market. We only saw the Bravo show tbh, it was a rather eclectic mix of music most worked well but some fell a little short. We really enjoyed the ventriloquist especially the first 2/3rds of his act (it ran out of steam a little in the final third). There were game shows in Princess Live lounge which were ok. Not much else though, they seemed to run constant films and movie concerts on the big screen by the pool from 10am till late at night. Shame really because it would have been nice to listen to some more upbeat live music by the pool…. we were very lucky in October with the weather all 4 days after sailing were cloudless skies apart from an hour or two in the afternoon on first sea day.. and we actually got a tan. Our balcony was a real suntrap and was often almost too hot to sit on In October in North Sea and the Atlantic? true if a little weird.
Ports of call:
Zeebrugge: We booked a ships trip..we rarely do that tbh.. but at one time the only way to get off was to do that so we did and kept it in place after we were allowed to sort ourselves out. It was to Yrpes and Bruges.. it was ok.. tbh it fell short in both destinations… we could have spent all day visiting 1st World War sites and do it properly, we never got to see one of the preserved trenches (it wasnt advertised but after we drove past it I spent an hour wishing we could have seen it)..in the afternoon I thought we were going to have a short guided tour and two hours in Bruges to ourselves.. we ended up with an extremely dull walking tour that lasted forever and 40 minutes to try and buy a few bits and pieces and have some food.. so the trip didnt do justice to the battlefields and didnt serve Bruges any better. Was glad to be back onboard ship tbh. 4 points and a timely reminder why we dont do walking tours, not ever.
Rotterdam: Rotterdam could be anywhere, anywhere at all….. but it isnt, its Rotterdam and what a terrific destination it was… we expected nothing and we got everything. Stunning city scape greeted us on drawing back the curtains…. a view that only improved once we left the ship and looked back at her snuggled beneath towering skyscrapers… we caught the Waterbus for a few euros to travel down to the windmills at Kinderdijk.. in summer it goes directly to the dock near them, but in winter we offloaded nearby and caught a ferry across. It wasnt easy to understand what was going on but we managed and we were so glad we did.. the windmills are stunning and defo the highlight of our cruise shore trip wise at least. After we had a cooffee and a bun we retraced our journey and then walked to the market hall through Rotterdam taking in the sights and sounds of this great city. We had a very enjoyable time. Its big though.. we did 32000 steps.. and my wife ended up with blisters so sensible footwear as I keep saying to her is required haha.. The ship didnt sail till ten at night so there was plenty of time ashore for everyone. There was actual fireworks too, which we missed seeing but heard.. and the sailaway was really something to see with the city all lit up in the dark it was truly spectacular. An unexpected 10 out of 10 for Rotterdam.
Disembarkation: Had breakfast and got off ship, no hassle at all. car was waiting for us a short walk away 2 minutes at most .. was on road within minutes of getting off.
Overall: Did we enjoy the cruise? Yes we did. Would we cruise once more with Princess? Yes we would, it was better than our last experience with them. Were we lucky with the weather? Yes we were, very much so. We may have been a bit bored on board on sea days had the weather been poor, not a lot going on really, not much different music and few talks, all quizzes (at least they were good quizzes with the odd difficult question and not much in way of American biased questions either which is always a downfall on Princess in the past). Am going to give it 4 stars, generally good food, generally good entertainment, generally a fine ship and time was had… the worst thing was our trip to bruges but we should have just walked off and done our own thing.
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