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Star Princess Hawaiian Islands Adventure

 

 

My wife and I have recently returned from our first experience with Princess cruises: a 15 night round trip Los Angeles  to Hawaii on board Star Princess…

As part of a package our itinerary  included a three night stop-over in Las Vegas, at the Luxor Hotel, and a one night stay on board the Queen Mary at Long Beach, California before joining the ship.

 

This was our first occasion of cruising with Princess Cruises (though we had spent a night on board Royal Princess in Southampton as part of her Christening week celebrations), and there was an element of excitement, expectation and anticipation.

It is also worth pointing out at this juncture that, due to our previous sailing history with P&O Cruises,  our loyalty status was transferable and we were instantly recognised at  the Princess Elite level…

Embarkation was remarkably swift and from the time of our arrival –  11.15 at Los Angeles’ San Pedro Cruise Terminal – we were onboard and in our stateroom within 30 minutes.

We had booked a Mini Suite on Deck 9,  D211…

…on the Starboard side…

*****

…which offered spacious accommodation…

*****

an ensuite bathroom…

and a nice balcony…

On our initial walkabout we soon realised that Star Princess is very similar in design to Azura, a P&O ship we have cruised on a number of times.

We found more than ample deck space…

…even when occupied…

…and there were a number of other areas well worth discovering…

*****

*****

…and for those willing to pay a small daily supplement there was The Sanctuary…

 

…offering a haven of peace with additional pamper features…

 

There are numerous pools around the ship, including The Neptune Pool…

 

The Calypso Pool…

…at the stern, the Terrace Pool…

…and  adjacent to the Sanctuary, the well appointed ‘adult only’ Spa Pool…

 

There was also, aft on the Sports Deck, the smaller Splash Pool…

While on the subject of decks, Star Princess boasts a fully wrap around Promenade Deck…

 

…and two features that appealed to me considerably, two forward observation decks, one  atop the bridge…

…and a raised extension  to the Promenade Deck giving a forward covered viewing area …

Entertainment Venues

Next on our ‘discovery’ tour we looked at the entertainment venues. First up of course was the largest of the venues, the Princess Theatre…

..a really good theatre with  steep terracing and fold away drinks tables.

Next up was the centrally positioned Explorers Lounge…

…a sizeable ‘show lounge’ again with good stepped levels…

On the same deck but further aft is another show lounge, the Vista Lounge…

 

There were a number of smaller entertainment venues, each with their own bar facility. Among these were The Wheelhouse Bar…

…which basically took on the air of a pub…

 

…with a small dance floor and an attractive interior decor…

The always popular Crooners Bar...

*****

…and around the lower deck of the Atrium, The Piazza…

…with its Vines Bar…

*****

…and Lobby Bar…

There was one bar where smoking was allowed, a kind of sporty pub venue named Shooters…

And finally Skywalkers

…the elevated stern bar…

…which doubled as the late night spot and disco bar…

There were, of course, other bars that serviced the various swimming pools, namely the Calypso Bar…

*****

The Tradewinds Bar…

The Mermaid’s Tail Bar…

…and at the stern Terrace Pool, the Outrigger Bar…

The Outrigger was divided into two sections, the port side being acceptable to smoke…

Dining Venues.

There was no shortage of dining venues. Three large restaurants offered considerable flexibility. Traditional dining (seating at 5.30 pm and 7.45 pm) was available in the Amalfi Restaurant…

…while the Portofino Restaurant…

offered an early fixed seating at 5.15 pm followed by ‘open seating’ (Anytime Dinner) between 7.00 and 9.00 pm.

 

The third large restaurant, The Capri…

…was fully ‘Anytime’ dining from 5.00 pm to 9.00 pm.

There were two ‘Speciality’ restaurants where reservations were required and diners charged an additional fee. The Crown Grill…

…an intimate dining experience in a classically elegant setting with an open kitchen where chefs prepare and cook to order the best cuts of beef, chops and seafood.

The second ‘Speciality’ restaurant is Sabatini’s…

Strictly Italian…

…it reflects a classic Italian Trattoria at sea:  embracing tradition with a modern culinary twist in contemporary surroundings.

There actually was one further ‘speciality’ dining option but it only opened on two evenings of this 15 night cruise. On those two evenings an area of the Horizon Grill Buffet was sectioned off, tables re-decorated, and the Crab Shack opened…

Here seafood lovers could enjoy  a bistro option, with Bayou-style boiled crawfish and spicy sausage, popcorn shrimp, steaming clam chowder and a tantalizing mixed steamer pot filled with snow crab, jumbo shrimp, clams and mussels. A cover charge of $29.00 applied and here is the full menu…

Unfortunately the two dates when the Crab Shack was open clashed with other events we had planned or booked, so we didn’t get to sample this particular gastronomic venue.

Star Princess’s buffet restaurant, situated on the stern end of Deck 14, is known as the Horizon Court…

It has multiple entry serveries…

with sections covering different dishes, hot and cold selections…

…and a sandwich bar…

 

On the Piazza, at the Atrium’s ground level,  could be found a delightful food outlet, the International Cafe…

…open 24 hours and serving fresh rolls, sandwiches and salads…

…it was, along with the adjacent New Grounds Crafted Coffee outlet, constantly busy.

Two further food outlets are available on the open deck around the Neptune Pool on Deck 14. The Prego Pizzeria…

…which served a selection of Pizzas between the hours of 11.00 am and 11.00 pm…

…and the Trident Grill…

…which served a selection of burgers…

…hot dogs and chicken dishes between 11.00 am and 11.00 pm daily plus, between 6.00 pm and 11.00 am a selection of ‘smokehouse BBQ dishes.

Life Onboard

There were a total of 9 sea days on this particular cruise, four on the outward leg to the Hawaiian islands and five on the return. As this was our first sailing with Princess we were eager to see how these sea days would pan out.

Our first morning became pretty occupied with the first of two lectures given in the Princess Theatre. Indeed, over the next four days there was a series given by the same two lecturers both preparing us and concentrating on our Hawaiian destination.

The geographical and naturalist aspects were all covered by quite an amazing speaker, Mark Harris…

whose lectures covered subjects as far ranging as Volcanoes, Whales, Flora and Fauna and other creatures of the oceans. Mark is obviously a most knowledgeable Naturalist and his lectures were both captivating and addictive.

His enthusiasm and delivery style, superbly supported by amazing photographic  and video material, ensured the theatre was packed on all occasions he spoke.

The second lecturer proved to be the master of multi tasking and it was difficult to place him in one single category. Loosely termed ‘Our Hawaiian Ambassador‘, ‘Tiki’ Dave…

…was  the destination lecturer, entertainer extraordinaire both in daytime and evening, ukulele teacher and general all round ‘bon oeuf’…

Dave’s wife, Leialoha, gave classes in Hawaiian crafting and Hula dancing, and joined Dave making Hawaiian music too.

Both my wife and I started Dave’s Ukulele classes but soon realised a musical career at our time of life wasn’t to be. The classes were however very popular and we enjoyed the show, at the end of the cruise, where those that had stuck with it demonstrated their new found skill…

Dave’s port talks were excellent. He was, of course, most knowledgeable on all the destinations: after all, he actually lived there when not sailing Princess between Los Angeles and Hawaii. Another joy of his talks was the fact he never pushed any ship’s excursions.

As with most cruise lines there always appeared plenty of activities on the daily programme , Princess Patter…

*****

 

…the majority of which centred on sales, fringe spa services demonstrations, and other minor pursuits. There certainly was a plethora of minor game shows(?), art events and trivia quizzes – the majority of which appeared to be to an American cultural taste. That of course is quite acceptable as out of the 2,567 passengers over 2000 were American and only 278 were Brits.

Our third evening onboard saw us attending the Captain’s Welcome Party. The dress code for the evening was ‘Formal’ though one would hardly have noticed, so small was the number who made the effort. Princess Cruises appear to have a ritual on these occasions where a pyramid of champagne glasses is built on the Atrium floor…

…and passengers are invited to add bubbly to the fountain…

All good fun (spot the formal baseball cap on the first balcony level?)

We had opted for ‘Anytime Dining’ and tended most evenings to use the Capri Restaurant. I would say, at this juncture, that we found the food everywhere to be very good. A typical Dinner menu from the Capri Restaurant…

*****

…and some dishes we experienced –  Ahi Poke Sushi Style Hawaiin Tuna starter…

Tom Kah Gai Thai Chicken Soup…

A main course of Seared Diver Caught Scallops Orzotto...

…and a dessert of Chocolate Mousse on Brownie…

 

For the outward journey we had made a reservation in the Crown Grill which was a very memorable meal.

 

A starter of Black Tiger Prawn & Papaya Salpicon…

A Shrimp and Pancetta Bisque…

 

New Zealand Double Lamb Chop…

 

A 22 oz Porterhouse Bone in Steak…

…and for dessert, the house speciality, the Crown Dependence Dessert Selection…

All this talk of food and not a mention of drink. A quick change of tack is called for.

On many sea evenings we liked the facility open to Elite members between 5.00 and 7.00 pm whereby there were reduced price cocktails and complimentary canapés available in the Skywalkers Bar…

…while enjoying the sunset views along the ship…

Prior to joining I had read that Princess Cruises offered a Wine Package and  I had considerable difficulty discovering what this entailed during the course of our first day onboard. It transpired that there were two packages and they could only be purchased in your chosen restaurant. So at our first dinner I made my choice, The Gold Wine package…

This proved an excellent deal giving a maximum saving of  $19.55 a bottle. What’s more, I further discovered that additional savings could be made when using the allowance to purchase bottles of a higher value than $45.00.

 

Before moving away from food and beverage it’s worth mentioning two other dining experiences. While heading back to Los Angeles there was a special Sea day Brunch‘ in the Amalfi Restaurant between 10.00 am and 1.00 pm…

*****

*****

And it wasn’t just the food…

…there was some entertainment in the form of the crew taking on the role of wandering minstrels, and a  really pleasant relaxed time it was too.

Our dining experience in the second of the specialty restaurants, Sabiatini’s, equalled that of our time in the Crown Grill…

*****

Beautiful breads…

Antipasti Frittino di Paranza…

The really excellent Soup,  Grana Padano Fondue…

The  Buckwheat Pappardelle pasta course…

…and our respective main courses, Iseo Style Lake Trout Roll…

…and Veal Wallet with Artichoke…

Frankly the appearance of the Veal wallet didn’t do it justice. Cut into it and it was a most delightful dish. And finally the dessert, which following the mountainous previous courses, we opted to share, Sabatini’s Dessert taster selection…

…and of course our wine package help pay for the more than appropriate bottle of Chianti Ruffino Reserva…

Dining in Sabatinis attracts a $25.00 per person cover charge: no big deal and well worth it for the occasion.

Entertainment.

Neither my wife nor I were over enamoured with the entertainment programme though we do accept that it was geared, in the main, to the majority of Americans who populate the ship. The production company were new onboard and it showed, while the majority of guest entertainer appearances were generally just ‘run of the mill’. The orchestra however were top notch and quality musicians all round. The one visiting entertainer that really did it for us was a Liverpool singing lass by the name of Alison Ward who fortunately was scheduled to give two shows in the Princess Theatre…

…while of the resident musicians the stand out ones for us were the classy  Moonlight Duo…

…and the resident Crooners Bar cult favourite, David Moore…

…whom we still never managed to actually get a seat to listen to.

Miscellany

Just a little miscellany to round off the review before I briefly cover the itinerary.

It was good to see that Star Princess had self-service laundrette facilities on all accommodation decks…

…and while as ‘Elite’ members we did have complimentary laundry I personally found the ironing facilities very useful.

Hand washing facilities at the Horizon Court Buffet were well positioned…

…and a facility whereby passengers could get an auto print-out of their onboard accounts, adjacent to the Reception area,…

…was also  very useful.

Princess Cruises has a very useful Internet and wifi organisation…

…making it easy to connect with the internet. The wifi signal wasgood all around the ship and particularly good in our stateroom.

And finally two members of staff that really stood out for us with their smiles and friendly service. Firstly Lisa in the Ice Cream Bar…

and secondly Racquel in the Restaurants…

Mabuhey ladies and thank you

 

 

Itinerary

The package we booked included pre-cruise stays at Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

In Las vegas we had a three night stay in The Luxor Hotel…

…where we made the most of our days…

…and nights, particularly in our favourite Duelling Piano Bar at Harrah’s Hotel…

 

…while in Los Angeles we stayed onboard the Queen Mary at Longbeach…

*****

…and treated ourselves to dinner on board that evening, dressed appropriately of course…

 

 

We joined Star princess at the Los Angeles San Pedro Cruise Terminal on Sunday 4 March sailing that evening.

There followed 4 full sea days before we reached our first Hawaiian island, known as The Big Island, Hawaii and docking in the port of Hilo.

Famous for its volcanoes we opted for a pre booked 6½ hour excursion to the Hawaii Volcano National Park with…

http://www.ainatours.com/hilo-shore-excursions-cruise-ship-tours.htm

…which included visits to a number of volcanoes…

Some active…

…with the chance to walk through a Lava Tube…

…and straddle a fissure…

This tour also included a visit to…

*****

…and a chance to get up close with the green turtles…

 

The following day, Saturday 10 March,  we arrived at Honolulu on the island of Oahu for a full day visit. Our early arrival gave us a colourful glimpse of one of Honolulu’s landmarks which we planned to visit later in the day, the Aloha Tower…

The Aloha Tower is within walking distance of the cruise terminal…

…and is open from 09.00 am when visitors can take the lift to the observation platform for some great views…

 

We have visited Honolulu on several occasions, both on a cruise ships and  a shoreside holiday and had previously visited places such as Pearl harbour, Waikiki  and Hanama Bay.

On this occasion we decided on the challenge of trekking around and into  Diamond Head Crater…

…seen here just after we alighted a local bus at  Waikiki Beach…

That’s it, over there, and we were going to climb it…

We followed the beach and then the road, passing Diamond Head Lighthouse on the way…

and eventually entering the old volcano shell through a tunnel…

…and viewing our next challenge, the lookout at the top. On our way up we stopped at another lookout for a photo shoot…

…before continuing to the top…

 

…for that view over Waikiki…

….and with a little zoom, a sighting of our ship…

We  were both pleased with our achievement. To give some idea of our day’s activities here is a screenshot of my wife’s Fitbit record…

Having bid farewell to Honolulu late the previous evening, Sunday 11 March saw us arrive at our third Hawaiian destination, the island of Kauai…

There was no doubt whatsoever what is the most popular attraction on this island, yep, Waimea Canyon…

*****

Referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’ it is a must see and we had pre-booked an excursion with Roberts Hawaii tours…

Roughly a 7 hour tour it was good value for money and took us to many other sites including Hanapepe Valley Lookout…

(local mythology has it that the caves in the valley walls were the burial sites of old Hawaiian Kings)

…and Poipu ‘Spouting Horn’ Blow Hole…

which unfortunately didn’t want to fully play at the time of our stop.

Monday 12 March and we were calling at our final Hawaiian island, Maui where we anchored off and tendered into the town of Lahaina…

Lahaina is home to the giant Banyan Tree…

…and it’s whale watching excursions…

We had, however, signed up for a slightly different aquatic adventure, a trip on the Atlantis Submarine…

 

*****

..altogether a great experience, passing the wreck of the Carthaginian…

…and even spotting a white tipped Reef Shark…

There is a funny little anecdote to our trip on the Atlantis Submarine. We had booked online for a midday trip and while walking around Lahaina strolled into their shop to make ourselves known. The receptionist asked would we prefer to have an earlier slot as she had two spare places. We agreed and when we embarked on the transfer boat we noticed that all other passengers were wearing stickers from our ship. We  thought no more about it and settled into the front seats on the submarine.

Some days later while passing through the photographic section where TV screens were showing excerpts from the cruise video,  guess which couple prominently featured on the submarine sequences?!

Our departure from Maui wasn’t before we too had spotted whale activity from our balcony…

*****

…and there followed 5 sea days before our early morning arrival at the final port of call, the Mexican port of Ensenada…

Locally referred to as La Cenicienta del Pacífico, “The Cinderella of the Pacific,” this was an entirely new port for us and we had a number of places in mind to visit. Thanks again to Mark Harris for an excellent briefing of the port, we headed along the promenade….

 

…to take a look at the Local Fish Market…

 

…stocked with an amazing variety of fish, some quite unusual like the Abalone…

…and a local clam speciality, the Almeja Chiluda...

The Pacific geoduck, scientific name Panopea generosa, is a species of very large, edible saltwater clam in the family Hiatellidae.

 

Before leaving home we had watched one of Rick Stein’s programmes that followed his travels along the Pacific Highway. On that journey Rick  visited Ensenada and of course the fish market. He also visited what is a kind of an institution in Ensenada, Hussong’s…

 

Established in 1892, Hussong’s Cantina is the oldest and best known cantina in Baja California, Mexico and is reputedly the place where the Margarita was created in October 1941 by bartender Don Carlos Orozco.

Quiet when we arrived it soon livened up and after a few margaritas…

with a musical interlude…

…which I guess initiated the pattern for the rest of the visit. In turn we visited many more cantinas including El Corralito…

*****

…and Bullo’s Place…

 

*****

Ensenada turned out to be a fun visit, though it wasn’t quite over. On our return to the ship we encountered many sealions…

*****

…and my good lady had a little fun in the Promenade’s water feature…

The following day we returned to Los Angeles, berthing once more at the San Pedro Cruise Terminal…

We had an evening flight home from Los Angeles so opted for a leisurely disembarkation and hired a day room at the LAX Travelodge…

*****

Summary

My wife and I agree that our first foray into cruising with Princess Cruises was very good despite some aspects not living up to expectations.

Pre cruise administration was excellent as was the embarkation organisation. Both the quality and variety of food and the waiting staff all exceeded expectations  and we enjoyed inter acting with many of the waiting and housekeeping crew. What didn’t meet expectations was the standard of entertainment and, to a minor extent, the standards of dress.

The reliance on ‘low budget’ game shows, trivia quizzes and some pretty naff competitions/games (Bean Bag Toss & Dicey Wooden Horse racing) came as a surprise while the production company, albeit newly onboard, fell short of what we have previously experienced on this size of ship and only managed three shows of little over 30 minutes in 15 Nights.

We fully acknowledge that the vast majority of passengers were a different nationality (mostly Americans) with a somewhat different cruising  ethos and therefore we accept that the ship should generally be geared to that particular style. However, what was surprising was not just the failure to enforce dress standards (and not just on formal nights) but the actual standard and quality of dress that was on display: some of which would have been equally appropriate in a Salvation Army Homeless Hostel.

Equally irritating was the constant stream, for upwards of 30 minutes,  of late arrivals for the lectures.

Nevertheless, the cruise proved good value for money and took us to places we would have otherwise not visited.

And finally, to end on a positive note, we once again thoroughly enjoyed the Veterans Get-Together which is an American feature we support…

 (Many thanks to Emmanuel McCrae for this photograph)

We booked this cruise package having spotted an advertisement by ‘Forever Cruises’ aka ‘Lee’s Travel’ in the national press. Caveat Emptor. While the overall price was very good, the after sales service can only be described as atrocious and there is no way I could recommend this travel agency to anyone.

Indeed, my research also revealed this to back up my assertion of their poor service…

https://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/forums/travel-services/5981-meet-and-greet-transfers

Blimey sorry Solent-Richard_1, we had no issues with the cruise we booked with them so hopefully you’ll have no issues. The transfers were almost double the price of the local taxi we took. It was the attitude of the customer service manager I took particular issue with.”

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Disclosure to potential conflict of interest:

It is common throughout the travel industry for travel journalists and many cruise bloggers to be provided with complimentary cruises for the purpose of their reviews.

Solent Richard has no ‘conflict of interest’ as he is not an accredited journalist, he pays for his cruises, and is happy to confirm that all his reviews are his own given without fear or favour.

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