Addendum: March 24, 2015: This is the fourth edit this post has undergone. In this iteration I intend to clarify a few things, and provide a new layout for my thoughts & opinions.
First and foremost, when I posted this on CruiseCritic, under the title “Regal Princess – And then I nearly Died”, my post was met with the following replies:
- One thank you – which I appreciate!
- Numerous posts describing how this blog post was full of nothing but negative comments.
- Numerous posts accusing me of utilizing reductio ad absurdum, hyperbole, exaggeration, or simply lying. If you are a CruiseCritic member who found this post and remember my original post – you may have noticed it disappeared. This was at my request to the Moderators.
- Second, the story told in this post is in no way exaggerated or hyperbole. It may be worded in a way which reads as over-dramatized. Often that’s the way I write. If you don’t like it, click here to return to sanity.
My opinion is my opinion. It is formulated based on my experiences with particular situations. If I seem biased at some parts, it may be because I am. It’s human to allow an experience to influence your opinion of something. I’m not a professional journalist, I have no creed which states I must offer unbiased opinions/statements in my writings. After all, this is my blog.
Originally most of the below text was written while in my stateroom, Lido 103 on the Regal Princess sailing March 15 to 22, 2015. As I have edited it several times, that is no longer true.
Because there are people who aren’t able to dedicate the time or effort needed to read the original post in it’s entirety, I have summarized the thoughts into sections.
- Food was better in buffet than dining room, in my opinion.
- Mattress was decent, but too firm for my liking. Just a little more cushion would have made it nice.
- Bed linens and pillows were great!
- Front facing balcony was usable, even while the ship was in motion. Your mileage may vary, as usability could change based on wind and other factors.
- Except for my run in with a shore excursions manager, the customer service and crew are exceptionally courteous and helpful.
- Crown Grill is amazing! Dine there as often as possible.
- Casino is a tad small, but then again, I’m used to the ones in Vegas. 🙂
- The Spa and Enclave areas are gorgeous, worth the cost of the Enclave pass.
- Sanctuary isn’t for me…. probably a cost vs. need thing… I can see how some would like it.
- Retreat pool is very cold. Unsure about the other pools. Hot tubs seem kind of shallow for as large as they appear….
- Medical services, while staffed by nice people, is very expensive. Try not to injure yourself.
- Didn’t try Sabatini’s.
- Gelato was hit/miss… wasn’t like Italian gelato, more like a cross between sorbet and ice cream – in my opinion.
- Waiting outside for embarkation is a huge inconvenience, the fumes, oh the fumes.
- Disembarkation was a cinch, told to meet at 10:25 in Casino (Aqua Class 4), was already off the boat and waiting to go thru customs at that time. Kudos to them for that.
Arrival to Port Everglades + Embarkation
Living in Jacksonville, we don’t have many cruise ships leaving our port. I assume this is due to the distance of Jacksonville vs. the rest of the Caribbean. To embark on this expedition, we flew from Jacksonville to Fort Lauderdale and had private car service take us from the airport to Port Everglades. Cruise embarkation with Princess at Port Everglades is a disaster. I can’t speak for the other terminals, but Terminal 2 is designed in the poorest of manner. As you queue for entry into the building, you are forced to stand under a covered walkway adjacent to the bus waiting area. While you wait, you breathe in the smoke and fumes of exhaust; after a few minutes I had a headache and was very thirsty. As parched as we were, we knew not of the true chaos which laid ahead.
Entering the building, you go through security. I am unsure if this is Customs & Border Protection (herein, CBP) or Princess’ own security, however, it was, surprisingly easier to traverse than airport security. I fear this may be a weak link in the security of the United States cruise port system, as I do not believe the security x-rays or screenings are as thorough as they are from TSA. After clearing security, you are directed to check-in where they provide you with your cruise card. For those who’ve never cruised before, the cruise card is your on-board credit card, identification, and room key. Princess doesn’t put your picture on them, or at least, the Regal ship’s procedure doesn’t include the placement of one’s photo upon the card. After receiving the cruise card and completing check-in, you are corralled into an area resembling an airport, with long rows of chairs, each being numbered. From here we waited about an hour until the ship began boarding one row at a time.
As mentioned before, we’ve never sailed Princes before and selected her newest ship, Regal Princess, for this expedition. We chose Princess due to my previous experience with Carnival. Carnival ships have a reputation for being party boats, full of drunk people, an experience I didn’t wish to endure once more. Research into Princess cruises led me to a happy medium between average passenger age, decent to good food reviews, and a new ship.
After waiting in the terminal for some time to board, we had an idea of what she looked like on the outside, and now longed to experience the splendor within.
On Board Experiences
One of the benefits to Princess is your cabins are (generally) ready when you board. Our cabins were not ready until 2 p.m. Our booking was a guarantee DZ category (I believe) state room, and we enabled the META-only upgrade option. A guarantee booking is when you allow Princess/the computer to decide where to place you. You’ll always get the category you pay for, but you may get auto-upgraded from category to category (DZ to BZ, for example) or room type to room type (Balcony to Mini-Suite, for example). We chanced it and were upgraded to a forward facing deluxe balcony stateroom, L103 (Lido, deck 16). This is the highest “residential floor” on the ship. The cabin itself is a little larger than your average balcony stateroom and as a forward facing cabin has the added bonus of facing the very front of the ship, offering excellent views. As with any cruise ship, staterooms are limited in storage space and the two of us often felt squeezed together.
Staterooms are a bit like real estate – location, location, location. Being on deck 16, it is only a few minute walk to the Horizon Court and Bistro, Princesses buffet. Also the retreat pool and Sanctuary (adults only areas) are one deck above (literally above our cabin), no waiting on an elevator as you can take the stairs. Additionally, being forward, the spa, passenger services, international café, and shore excursions are easily reached on deck 5 without having to cross the beam of the ship.
While there are many elevators, they are slow and small. Keypads for indicating on which deck you would like to get off are only on one side of the elevators, which I found quite peculiar. On the subject of peculiarities, there are few signs throughout the ship indicating which direction you are facing – forward or aft, or which side you are on – port or starboard. It is quite easy to turn oneself around and have to walk back. Even after several days on the cruise, I still found it easy to get turned around.
If you’re going on a cruise under the guise there is little to no waiting for things like dining, do not delude yourself. We selected anytime dining thinking it would be easy to walk into a restaurant, much like we do at home, be seated and enjoy a meal. For us, it was not so. While others have different experiences, this was ours. On the occasions we dined in the Symphony dining room, we waited an hour on average for a table. Anytime dining is great, in theory, but so was the atomic bomb. Like many restaurants, dining room staff offer you a pager while you wait.
There’s a dress code in the main dining rooms as well as the premium restaurants (Sabatini’s and Crown Grill), and while we abided by it, if we cruise again, I won’t. There were many individuals inside the main dining room wearing shorts, flip flops, and t-shirts. If Princess set the rules, passengers simply break them, so why bother dressing up at all?
Food & Beverages
Food is perhaps the most subjective topic anyone can discuss, and while I consider myself a foodie, I am not a professional food blogger or reviewer. I know good food when I smell/taste it, and that’s all.
It would be logical to assume one’s dining experience on the first night would set the tone for the cruise, and for me, it did. Twice we dined in the main dining room, and twice it was a massive disappointment. On the first night, while they offered several choices, I selected the Kingclip fish and Crawfish mac & cheese. If I had to attach an emotion to these dishes, they would be sad to be served like this. Dessert, however, was a bit better with flourless chocolate cake and a chocolate soufflé.
For those unfamiliar to cruising, many amenities are included in your cruise fare. For example, food (in both buffet and main dining areas), iced tea, water, housekeeping, among others. Things you usually have to pay for are soda products, satellite internet/phone service (even if you are using your own cellular phone), premium dining restaurants, alcohol, and premium beverages such as cappuccinos and lattes. Almost all cruise lines offer drink packages for soda and alcohol, which range in price. On our cruise, the soda and more package (which offered unlimited ‘virgin’ drinks, called ‘mocktails’) did not include bottled water, something I found odd.
While our cruise included iced tea in the cruise fare, obtaining a larger glass was impossible. The drink ware on this sailing was so small, after ice was inserted into the cup, only a few sips of any beverage were available. Halfway through the cruise I was able to obtain a pitcher from our room steward and fill it with tea. Big kudos to our room steward, he was everywhere and super helpful!
We dined at Alfredo’s, the “complementary” pizza restaurant only once. It was decent. I won’t give it super high marks, as it’s just fancy pizza.
We did the Fondue, and I found it to be “meh”. I believe it is over priced at $20.00/person. If it were $15.00/person, it would be worth it. They offer 2-3 types of cheese fondue, and instead of serving you raw meats which you cook in hot oil, they provide you with cooked food – chicken, sausage, and bread. For desert you can choose from 1-2 desert oriented fondues, we had the chocolate syrup one, which comes with marshmallows, pineapple, apples, strawberries, cream puff pastries, and a few others. As per other restaurants and dining experiences on board, you can ask for unlimited refills on these items.
Lotus Spa, Enclave, and The Retreat/Sanctuary
The Lotus Spa aboard Regal Princess features The Enclave, a large relaxation area featuring a whirlpool tub, capable of holding at least 25-30 people, though it was never so busy. Surrounding the tub are heated stone beds and water beds, as well as a traditional Hammam, Laconium, and Caldarium. The Hammam was my favorite, though, for a brief time I was suctioned to the large stone table inside due to the curve in my back. Additionally, there are four showers in The Enclave, each with a different temperature and scent. I found the tropical and Siberian to be my favorites. The Enclave is, unfortunately, unisex. A measure I believe Princess should consider rectifying in future ship builds. Surely space can some from somewhere.
Above deck is another interesting area, The Retreat, an adults only area with the coldest pool in which I have ever swam in, two hot tubs, a bar, and cabanas you can rent for the day or half day. Adjacent to The Retreat is The Sanctuary, another adults only area. The Sanctuary is an odd area, in my opinion, I don’t see the need for it. It features only chairs and cabanas for rent, no pool, no amenities. However, we did have a cabana massage at the Sanctuary, which was quite nice. As it is on Deck 17, The Retreat offers excellent views of the ocean, but is not worth the cost in my opinion.
One kudo to Princess is their staff. At least here on the Regal, they are incredibly hospitable. Anyone who reads my blog knows I’m a stickler for service and courteous staff. Service members consistently greet you & ask how you are doing. I only encountered a few staff who were rude or had a bad attitude. This evening I dropped off the “Recognize a crew member” cards, about 13 of them. From Spa, Passenger Services, Dining, and Medical, there were several who made my trip a little better, even after the accident.
Lots of people ask about on board services, such as internet access and cellular connectivity. Princess does have the ability to place calls both over the in-room phone and your cell phone, provided it supports the system. Essentially your mobile phone will roam on the ship’s cellular network, connected to which is the satphone. You’ll be able to make/receive calls like you would at home, except there is 3-5 second delay due to the satellite nature, and added cost. AT&T charges something like $2.65/minute to use the service, even with an international package attached to the account.
Text messages are $.50 cents to send/receive, and of course, data is obscenely priced. Internet access is available, at $.79/cents per minute, or you can purchase packaged deals. Our sailing also offered an unlimited plan for $249.00, I thought it priced far too high. The internet isn’t fast like at home; it’s satellite, so streaming YouTube or using things like a VPN and Remote Desktop can be very slow and even unreliable. Unless you bought a plan with a lot of time AND have a lot of time to wait, I wouldn’t recommend using the internet to upload photos to Facebook, Flickr, or other services, until you have access to WiFi..
Princess has placed a lot of emphasis in the TV system on-board Regal, with free on-demand movies. For example, on Movies Under the Stars one night, they showed Interstellar. The next day, it was available to watch in the stateroom. The media there is also free of charge, not Pay Per View. Occasionally I would pause a movie to use the toilet and come back to a “media playback error”, but after returning to the main menu, it allowed me to resume the show/movie where I left off. No interactive TV system is perfect. Channel selection isn’t the best with only sports and news channels actually being live. It would be nice to have something like DirecTV or DishNetwork on-board, I believe one of the Royal Caribbean ships has this.
The Regal features the newly enlarged Piazza are, Decks 5, 6, and 7, 3 stories of bars, a restaurant (Alfredo’s), and lots of seating area. In the middle of the Piazza there is often live music and dancing! It’s quite the scene!
Princess Live is perhaps one of the more unique parts of the Regal. They film numerous game shows and “morning news” segments with a live audience, then make the shows available later on your stateroom TV.
Princess Theater is quite nice, though quite tight in seating. As a larger person, arm rests with space are appreciated. Unfortunately, the ones in the Princess Theater do not offer this.
Ports & “The Accident”
Our cruise was due to stop in two ports, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands and Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten.
St. Thomas is where the cruise went wrong for me. We booked excursions for the “Great House Tour”, which takes you on an open air bus, into the mountains, to explore the “Great House”, a home formerly owned by the Dutch Royal family, who owned the island before the USA purchased it. On the way, we stopped mid-way up the mountain at a photo point. If you search Google Images for “St Thomas bay”, the image you’ll likely see is from this vantage point.
Upon exiting the vehicle, I stepped down on the tiny steps of this bus and slipped on the second step. Falling into the ground, I rolled down two small land terraces, and stopped 12-18 inches short of the cliff’s edge. If I had fallen over, I would have died. In the process of falling, survival instinct kicked in and I put my arm over my head to prevent a head injury. This left me with an injured shoulder and lower forearm which required medical attention. Additionally, my camera went off the cliff, along with every photo I had. Upon asking the tour guide to instruct me how to phone emergency services or a taxi so I may return to the ship, as it is equipped with a medical center, he told me “No. You must get back on the tour”. I protested, and he offered me two small packets of antibiotic cream, which had expired in 2011, rendering them ineffective. Further protesting and delay of the tour prompted the tour guide to find a truck carrying people down the mountain back to the pier, which we could ride in.
I must admit, to say I was a little upset would be an understatement. The rage with which Mount Vesuvius often erupts was coursing through my body. Upset, dirty, injured, and bleeding, I had lost my camera, ruined my shoes, and all was lost. Sure, I didn’t go off the cliff, but after accepting that, what was important was my health and belongings. The ship’s medical center was able to repair my body (at great cost, I later discovered), and I sought out to inform security and the shore excursions manager of my accident.
Upon speaking with the Excursions Manager, what I was presented with wasn’t “Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry!”, but instead a tone carrying accusation and disbelief. She asked me if this was a Princess excursion, or independent – it was a Princess tour, booked via Princess.com and the Personalizer. Regardless of their reasons, no one should approach a passenger who had an accident like this with “I’m sorry, you could have manufactured these wounds in your stateroom. Before we do anything, please allow me to speak to the tour guide and the ship’s doctor.” It is worth noting, I didn’t ask for a refund off the bat. The two excursions totaled $79.98, and given the already large amount of money we spent on the boat, a refund of nearly $80 dollars isn’t a big drop in the bucket.
Surprisingly, she did refund my excursions and offer to clean my shoes and shorts. I also submitted the Princess accident forms. After doing so, I just wanted to be alone and go over the incident in my mind. I just had a near death experience, it remains very traumatizing for me.
After offering to clean my shoes and shorts, the ships laundry master stated they would be unable to provide the returned articles before 9 am the next day. Our Sint Maarten rental was due for pick up at 8 am, with a maximum hold of 1 hour. The laundry team informed me I would have to sign for the return of the items to ensure they were cleaned to my satisfaction. This turned out not to be true, causing me to lose my rental at full cost, and thus my departure (however brief) to the island. As such, I didn’t leave the Regal while docked in St. Maarten.
Who’s to blame? (the version for literate/logical people)
Anyone can have an accident, and I accept that I fell. I do not blame Princess as a corporation for my fall- after all, Princess didn’t materialize behind me, pushing me off the steps. Personal responsibility and all… while I do not think there is anything I could have done to prevent this, I believe it could have been prevented by Princess.
I do blame Princess for not following up on their safety measures, as they like to preach in their advertisements, website, and on-board excursion videos. Some simple anti-slip tape would have prevented this problem, for sure. Also, properly training tour guide staff in the ways of handling accidents would go a long way. While I am glad I was not more seriously injured, or dead, being accused of manufacturing my wounds for a lousy refund of $79.98 is incredible. I also think I shouldn’t have had to pay their rediciulous fees for medical care as the accident wouldn’t have happened if there were sufficient anti-slip tape on the steps and a handrail to hold.
I would say the tour bus didn’t have handles one could use to ensure they don’t fall when exiting the vehicle… but that isn’t true. It did have handles. One at the top. However, you couldn’t wrap your hands around it as it was attached to a vinyl cover, I presume used to slide down like a window-shade to protect the vehicle when not in use.
Who’s to blame? (the version for the illiterate/lazy)
Princess Corporation is not a person, they are a business which only legally exists on the Incorporation papers used to form the corporation. Therefore, they are unable to push me down the steps or cause me to slip.
I blame Princess for not properly following up with the tour operator to ensure there were/are appropriate safety measures, i.e. the anti slip tape/tape with grit to prevent slippage. I blame Princess for accusing me of manufacturing my own wounds just to get a refund of $79.98, something I find abhorrent and incredulous.
I blame the tour guide for not having up to date first aid products (i.e. having antibiotic cream on hand that wasn’t expired), and for refusing to provide me with the necessary information, phone call, emergency number, etc.. so I may obtain medical treatment or a taxi back to the ship.
It was not my on-board experience that caused me to feel this way. It was not the food, the live shows, the comfort of the mattress in the state room, etc… I am angry because they accused me of manufacturing my own injuries and denying me medical care while on shore.