Itinerary: New York - Halifax - New York
After receiving an email from Princess offering a 4-day cruise for $169, there was only one logical thing to do: Book it. It’s cheaper than staying home. The offer was for an inside cabin on a round-trip cruise from New York to Halifax, departing October 19, 2003. With taxes and fees, the cost was still only $200.
At sail-away, we talked to an assistant cruise director, who told us every cabin had been filled, though there were a lot of singles so the passenger count was 2400 (capacity is 2600).
Most other couples we talked to paid the same fare we paid, and had similar cabins. Almost all were from the New York area. We don’t normally make a habit of comparing prices on board, but everyone was so excited at the deal they got, it was a common conversation opener. We heard from other people over the week that paid much more for the cruise (as much as $800/person for an outside cabin). Another person won $500 in a lottery, and went to a Travel Agent and said “find me a cruise for $500.” Guess what she paid? $500. The moral of the story: Choose your TA carefully. Some people used an Automobile Affiliation Agency (get my drift?) with an otherwise good reputation and ended up pretty unhappy.
We drove from our home in northwestern New Jersey to New York. It was one hour from leaving home to exiting the Lincoln Tunnel. At about 11:30 AM, we were looking from our car into the bridge of the Golden Princess. It was another hour and a half till we were able to get out of the car. The traffic was a nightmare, even by New York standards. There were 4 cruise ships in port (Golden Princess, QE2, RCCL Serenade, and NCL Dawn). If I ever do this again, I will try something different for land transportation. Those on the cruise came many different ways, but the passengers happiest with their experience took a train from NJ to NYC and then a taxi to within 2 blocks of the pier, then a short walk with luggage in tow.
The personnel in the New York cruise ship terminal were not the nicest people you could imagine. I will try to forget the details. Parking was $24/day. Expensive, yes, but not so expensive as to make me seek alternatives. However, the traffic situation made me swear never to drive and park again.
After parking, embarkation was pretty fast. We were upgraded to an obstructed-view cabin that really had a great view (Cabin E327, category FF). We found the cabin ourselves. I’m not really a cruising old-timer, but I sure do prefer being walked to my cabin. Despite having been on this ship previously, we had to stop a few times to ask for directions.
We went to the Horizon court buffet for lunch. It was very good. I started to forget the hassles of traffic.
We decided to take a short walk to the USS Intrepid museum. As we were getting off the ship, they warned us to be on board by 3:30, while we had thought the deadline was 4:30. This gave us only an hour for the museum, so we decided we’d rather see the museum on the day we returned. The weather was nice so we walked over to the Intrepid anyway. We were reminded how rude the cruise terminal staff were. On our return, they couldn’t understand the concept that we had already been on board. One even lectured us that we’re in a foreign country and have to carry our passports and obey the local rules. He even laughed at his own stupidity when we said we were from New Jersey. I’m still not sure what he was thinking. Perhaps he thought we were crew.
Entertainment: This is the primary reason our next cruise will be on RCCL. Our last 3 cruises in a row have been on Princess. We’ve seen the same mediocre production shows offered on all 3 cruises. The music is pre-recorded, and played way too loud. On the Sun Princess, we actually saw dancers wearing fake microphones to make it look as if they were actually singing. Admittedly, the singers and dancers on this cruise were the best of any we’ve seen on Princess, and I didn’t notice any fake mikes. We skipped the Gaetano magic show, though we did enjoy it the first time. We were happy to see guitarist Duncan Tuck perform again.
Dinner: We chose traditional early dining. Service was acceptable. Our dining companions were pleasant. The menu was similar to previous Princess cruises. Lobster was not offered. Lobster Bisque was really just tomato soup with fish scraps in it. Alaskan king crab legs were offered in abundance but were mediocre. Baked Alaska was offered and was quite good. I was disappointed to see Princess started charging for espresso drinks in the dining room. The regular coffee is not very good anywhere on the ship. Fresh bread has always been excellent on Princess. The assistant waiter was transparent, offering in one breath “I’d like to recommend the berries for dessert and by the way there’s a wine tasting tomorrow; would it be OK if I bring you tickets.” He never recommended anything at any other meal. One table mate was embarrassed because she believed it was a sincere offer, as opposed to a sales pitch. She said she’d like tickets for the wine tasting, not knowing there was a fee. I was happy to see she turned him down when he asked for her cruise card. I don’t like to see this kind of behavior rewarded.
Breakfast: I was disappointed not to find salmon anywhere on the buffet (whereas on past Princess cruises I had it every day). I was disappointed to find the only omelettes offered were those sitting in a warming tray. Even in the dining room for breakfast, there was no offer of made-to-order omelettes. Some passengers tried pleading for made-to-order omelettes with mixed success. This seems to be a strange way to try to save money. How much money could this possibly cost?
Horizon Court buffet: Meals at the buffet were generally quite good. Salads (e.g. hearts of palm, shrimp, or pasta) were creative and very good. They had great guacamole almost always available. They had fresh, ripe cherry tomatoes on the salad bar. Drink service was prompt, and not pushy. Crowds were usually tolerable. Some individual passengers were rude and pushy.
We took a taxi tour to Peggy’s Cove. We split a taxi with another couple, so it was about US $30 per person with tip. The taxi driver was happy to give the city tour for no extra charge. It was much cheaper than a ship’s tour, and probably more enjoyable. Still, I think Peggy’s Cove could be skipped if you’ve ever been to similar areas, such as New England. We saw the Citadel, which also falls into the category of interesting but is not a must-see attraction. I enjoyed walking the city and looking in the shops near the ship (I believe it was called the Pier 21 shops) which sold some interesting items.
Upon leaving Halifax, the captain warned us over the PA that we might be in for a rough ride home. He reported 12-18 foot seas and a lot of wind. The ship heaved and groaned a bit. Some passengers had problems. We were fine except for walking like drunks. We’d experienced much worse movement on the Golden in 2001 in swells following hurricane Michelle.
If you would like to see the Intrepid after a cruise, it’s not as easy as you might think. The now-notorious port personnel told me it’s OK to leave my car in the lot while we go to the museum. OK, so how do I get to the car? “One person stays here with the luggage while the other gets the car.” But I want to take my luggage to the car. “Oh, you can’t do that. Nobody ever does that. How would you do that?” Sigh. That’s what I’m asking. I tried another person. Eventually, I figured out the problem: you need to use an escalator to get to the roof-top parking, and they won’t allow any luggage on the escalator. If you want to take your luggage to the car, you need to find the stairs, which are not well marked. I don’t recommend this, but it worked. The Intrepid museum and Growler sub were very interesting. They also have some moving 9/11 displays and artifacts. Upon our return to the parking lot, most of the terminal was locked up because the Golden had sailed away without any passengers by noon, and we had a hard time getting to our car. The short review of the New York Passenger Services Terminal: Caveat sailor.
Very nice overall. For what we paid, it was an outstanding vacation. I was worried that 4 days would not be enough to relax, but it was. It’s amazing how easy it is to escape crowds on such a big ship. Try Skywalker’s (the top floor disco) during a day at sea for a very peaceful place to watch the world go by. There were about 5 people in the whole lounge, each with their own isolated view of the ocean, and most were curled up quietly with a book. Also, we used the hot tubs near the gym one night with no other people in sight the whole time we were there (45 minutes).
Miscellaneous observations: The Princess staff (mostly) seems to really want to please the passengers. They don’t push drinks, they don’t mind special requests, and they seem interested in the passengers as people. I like the soda card, and the staff doesn’t seem to mind getting soda when they see the card. The drink staff even gets coffee or tea when asked. The ship looks as nice as when it was new. They changed the Desert Rose (Southwestern) restaurant layout to reduce through-traffic. I’ve read that it’s since been converted into the Sterling Steakhouse. They also opened up the internet café to be more visible. I’m not certain, but I think the library and card room area has been reconfigured. One or two internet terminals were added to the library. In the space where they used to offer to take your photo and print it on magazine covers, etc, is now just a photo services lab, and it still seems like completely wasted space. After two cruises on this ship, I never did find the mini-golf (no, I didn’t try very hard). The casino’s 25-cent slots accept dollars but not quarters (verified), and they pay out in tokens (allegedly – payout was not an issue for me). I like having our names posted outside the cabin (ahem, stateroom) door. I don’t like all the junk mail they put in the mail box (“sea-mail”) but it’s easy to ignore, and it’s better than if it were slid under the door. The Princess Patter is too cluttered. The ship’s photographers now use digital cameras.
Next we’re booked on RCCL’s Mariner of the Seas for January, 2004. I’m excited to see a Voyager-class ship, and I’m looking forward to the better and varied entertainment of RCCL. I’m also looking forward to a different menu. I’m not looking forward to the RCCL staff pushing drinks, especially the way they do at sail-away and by the pools (no, I still don’t want a Bahamamama). I will miss the fresh water pools and hot tubs, especially in the evenings when RCCL usually closes theirs.