As the third largest cruise line working the highs seas, Princess Cruises possesses a fleet of (mostly) big ships that deliver a consistent if conventional cruise experience. This cuts both ways. Our trip aboard Star Princess was certainly pleasant and the operation didn’t hit any rough patches, but in aiming for the broadest possible audience the cruise line is anything but surprising—a Princess cruise is the antithesis of edgy.

While there were no standouts among the ship’s four main restaurants, we had mostly good, if unexceptional dining experiences. The main dining rooms Amalfi, Capri and Portofino, where we took most of our meals, were consistent, and service was steady. The buffet venue Horizon Court showcased a decent array of food—not quite a broad range, but most of it changed daily so we never tired of eating here. Of the ship’s two surcharge venues, Crown Grill came out ahead, despite its harsh lighting. The meal was good—again, not exceptional—and the add-on for a steak dinner did not seem unreasonable. But our meal at Sabatini’s was disappointing, primarily for the lobster entrée that was, in a word, terrible.
Arriving on the scene in 2002, Star Princess was the third of nine vessels that make up Princess Cruises’ Grand Class—big ships that carry more than 2600 passengers apiece (at double occupancy). While there are lots of similarities between the Grand Class ships, as one of the earlier vessels Star Princess has a few distinguishing characteristics to show off, including a racy spoiler we found both amusingly retro and futuristic at the same time.

Our Interior Cabin was small and the décor was a bit bland, but it offered an economical cruise option—we were just glad not to be sharing the confined space with someone we didn’t get along with! For instance, other than the bed, there was only one place to sit in the bedroom (these quarters are just fine for singles). We did have an issue with sound leaking into our cabin from the Princess Theater below—light sleepers might want to pay careful attention to deck plans and cabin locations on this ship.
Would we sail on Star Princess again? Sure—the ship’s dining was generally decent, and service levels were above average, from a crew that was on the ball and engaging without being overbearing (one exception: the photography staff). The pool and deck areas were extensive and appealing, kept spic and span, and we enjoyed the variety of bars and lounges. We’d spring for a larger cabin, and we’d pay closer attention to the screening schedule for Movies Under the Stars, to catch up on a few flicks we might have missed in theatres. And we’d invite our extended family to come along for the ride. In catering to the masses, a clear strength of Princess Cruises is delivering a little something for everyone.

We stayed in an Interior Cabin, a category that represents 28 percent of the accommodations available on Star Princess—it’s also the least expensive. Heading up the price scale are Oceanview Cabins (in three categories: obstructed view, porthole, or picture window), Balcony Cabins, Mini-Suites and full-size Suites.

As is common on most of Princess’ ships, the exterior has a slightly pyramidal design, with balconies that jut out slightly beyond the deck above. This meant that virtually all of the balconies on decks 9 and 10 were mostly or completely visible from the decks above. On the plus side, with less ceiling above, from these decks you can see the stars overhead.


At 160 square feet, our cabin was definitely not spacious. As an inside cabin, there was no view to enjoy—just a mirror that stretched across most of the rear wall, which made the space feel a little less cramped. Décor was fairly bland—not ugly, but lacking in any character.

To save a few bucks, we booked a “guarantee” interior cabin—this meant our cabin wouldn’t be assigned until some time before our sailing date. In fact, it wasn’t assigned until the day we sailed. Initially we didn’t spot anything amiss, but the first evening of our cruise, at 9:45 p.m., we heard music coming through the walls. It wasn't audible in the hallway, so we knew it wasn’t from an adjoining cabin. Examining the deck plan, we discovered that our cabin was one of about a dozen directly above the Princess Theater—our floor was also the roof of the stage, and the evening show had just begun.

We asked for different cabin, but were told that nothing could be done, the ship was fully booked. Inside the theater we did not find the music over-amplified, but sound leakage in our cabin recurred every night the theater was in operation, up to 11 p.m. This might only be a consideration for early-to-bed types, but we feel a careful perusal of cabin location is warranted for the Star Princess.

Our queen-sized bed had a small nightstand on either side. There were light switches under the mirror/headboard (behind the pillows) for the two main lighting fixtures—one for each side of bed. The low-wattage lamps on the nightstands were barely adequate for reading.

Like most cruise ship bathrooms, ours was small but efficient, with a large mirror over the sink to the left, the shower (no tub) to the right, and the toilet in between. Beside the mirror were shelves adequate for a standard travel kit; there was no makeup mirror. The hairdryer was mounted above the desk, not in the bathroom.

The bathroom floor was elevated a couple inches above the cabin floor, while the shower stall was level with the bathroom floor—a two-inch lip kept the water in its place; there was a fabric shower curtain and, inside the shower, a retractable laundry line.

A sign in the bathroom asked us to help Princess by re-using our towels. They weren’t replenished when they were hung on the towel rack, but when we hung them on the hooks on the door they were unnecessarily replaced with clean towels. Two beach towels were provided and were replaced when used. A waffle-weave bathrobe was also waiting for us in the closet.

The layout of features was fairly efficient, with the closet area separate from the bedroom, creating a dressing room of sorts. The closet was 6-foot 2-inches wide with a shelf overhead, allowing ample storage space for clothes on hangers. There was no door on the closet, meaning everything on hangers was easily accessed. There was also a cabinet with five shelves (plus two more for the safe and life vests), and space under the bed for storing luggage.

At check-in, nametags were posted outside all cabin doors, identifying the occupants and their status level in Princess Cruises’ Captain’s Circle.

We did not stay in the rest of these cabins, but we have summaries here provided by Princess Cruises. Note that any photos on this page may be provided directly by the cruise line and not our reviewer.

Oceanview

"Oceanview staterooms offer value and picture windows for a greater sense of space. For extra savings, we also offer categories of Obstructed View staterooms, providing the benefit of sunlight to the room though with a restricted view due to lifeboats or other obstructions outside the window."

Balcony

"Balcony staterooms provide more space than other staterooms. They feature two twin beds that make up into a queen-size bed, and a bathroom with shower."

Mini-Suites

"Mini-Suites with balconies are larger than staterooms with balconies. They feature a queen bed or two twins that convert to a queen-size bed, a separate sitting area with sofa bed and desk, and a bathtub with massage showerhead."

Suites

"Suites with balconies can be significantly larger than staterooms with balconies. They feature a queen bed or two twins that convert to a queen-size bed, a separate sitting area with sofa bed and desk, and a bathtub with massage showerhead."

The standard amenities were provided, or were available on request.


We had some good meals on Star Princess, along with a couple disappointing experiences.
Counting the three “main” dining rooms as one, Star Princess offered seven distinct venues for us to enjoy meals, with one spot–the International Café–open 24 hours. We appreciated that the main dining room is split in three—we found this slightly preferable to a single room seating more than 1,000, as is common on many ships. We also found that, for those of us on the Anytime Dining plan, two-top tables weren’t hard to come by (especially when we weren’t trying to sit down at 7 or 7:30).

Although we didn’t have much put in front of us that we didn’t like, we will say the food on Star Princess didn’t exactly aspire to greatness. It aims for the middle-of-the-road palates, delivering satisfying if not ambitious cuisine—maybe a cut above comfort food. The Alaskan dinner we enjoyed in the main dining rooms was a highlight, the tasty steak at Crown Grill was a worthwhile (and modest) splurge, and we found good, hearty breads served nightly; desserts and pastries were also generally solid. On the other hand, the ship’s salads left us wanting and the lobster entrée at Sabatini’s was poor.

Throughout, we found restaurant servers to be well trained. Star Princess may be just another Princess vessel, but this crew made it feel real, unique and warm.
There are three matching “main” dining rooms on Star Princess on decks 5 and 6 aft, each providing an identical setting, ambience, kitchen and menu. Only the fresco backdrops seemed to change from one to the next (and these were so generic in style we weren’t even sure about that). Guests booking the traditional dining plan—seating at 5:30 and 7:45 p.m. nightly—had dinner in the Amalfi each evening; those choosing Anytime Dining ate in the Capri and Portofino rooms. We tried all three, and found service consistently friendly and upbeat, and our special requests were easily accommodated.

The Capri dining room was open each evening from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.; those on the Anytime Dining plan could also eat at Portofino from 7:45 to 10 p.m. Those on the Traditional Dining Plan were seated at 5:30 (Portofino and Amalfi) or 7:45 p.m. (Amalfi only).

Portofino was open for breakfast daily from 7 to 9 a.m. Lunch was served at Portofino on sea days from 12 noon to 1:30 p.m., and afternoon tea daily from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Comprising a series of rooms wrapping around the aft of Deck 14, Horizon Court was the ship’s efficient buffet restaurant. The selection was easy to navigate, in part because choices weren’t very extensive. But the variety was still good, and most of the menu changed daily. Despite the ship’s size—and Horizon Court’s popularity at breakfast—we never had a problem locating an empty table.

The breakfast selection was somewhat more varied than the menu at the Portofino Dining Room. As we’ve found on other Princess Cruises, the breads, pastries and muffins were very good. Lunches were somewhat uneven, but we usually found tasty items to enjoy. Again, desserts were a highlight, and after a couple days we found we couldn’t pass up the daily cupcake. “Light snacks” were offered late afternoon. Horizon Court was much less busy at night, but hearty meals came out, along with the usual spread of desserts.

Coffee, tea and iced tea were provided from dispensers, made from a concentrate. Juice flavors available at breakfast included orange drink, grapefruit, tomato, cranberry and apple. Fresh-squeezed orange juice was available at the nearby Calypso Bar for $2.75. The ship’s standard wine list was available, and cocktails from the standard drink menu could be ordered from servers.

Of the two surcharge restaurants on Star Princess, we expected the Italian Sabatini’s to be a pretty safe bet, with food cooked to order in an open kitchen. Murals of classical Italian coastlines lined the walls in an attempt to transport us to the Med, but we were distracted by the sound leaking from the adjacent bar, which competed with the light opera music playing in Sabatini’s. While the appetizers and desserts were fine, our entrée—lobster three ways—was not. But the atmosphere and personalized service was appealing, and we left feeling that we simply ordered the wrong entree.

In addition to the standard wine and cocktail list, and expanded, Italian-focused wine selection was available. Italian themed after-dinner drinks were also offered. The tiramisu martini—vodka, Kahlúa, espresso, Mascarpone cheese sugar and milk—intrigued.

Sabatini’s was open from 6 to 11 p.m. nightly, and it was fully booked on several nights of our cruise.

Located just off the atrium lobby area on Deck 7, the Crown Grill is the second of two surcharge restaurants aboard Star Princess. The add-on was reasonable for a hearty meal of Sterling Silver beef, served in wood-paneled rooms that faced an open kitchen. Our only complaint was the harsh florescent lighting that poured in from the Promenade Deck (we’d recommend a table away from the windows). Our waiter initially seemed gruff, but we admired his very direct reply when we asked if there was something from the seafood selection he recommended. “It’s a steakhouse,” he stated bluntly.

We chose the 12-ounce New York strip, which we found to be good if unexceptional. The chop was ordered medium rare and was delivered just so, with a pleasing layer of char on the surface. The marbling was about right, and gristle was at a minimum.

A series of gourmet sea salts was on the table from the start—black, pink and smoked. A nice touch, but we found all our dishes to be adequately seasoned, so we didn’t partake.

The standard bar menu is available at the Crown Grill, along with an expanded wine list.

Crown Grill was open from 5:30 to 11 p.m. nightly, and the venue was large enough that getting a reservation didn’t seem to be a problem during our cruise.

{{photo_gallery "Venue 4 Overview Photos", "Venue 4 Food Photos", "Venue 4 Drink Photos"}
No surprises here: These side-by-side eateries delivered competent grilled items, pizzas and ice cream.

Trident Grill served burgers (as well as veggie burgers and grilled chicken), hot dogs (including bratwurst) and fries. We tried a cheeseburger here, and found it pretty good. Roughly comparable to the one we received from room service, though the room service burger was a bit thicker.

The pizzas were okay—especially fresh out of the oven—but nothing to get excited over. Cheese and pepperoni were always available, along with a daily special.

We didn’t find sundaes at Sundaes—go figure—but there was vanilla and chocolate soft serve, and strawberry ice cream by the scoop, as well as milk shakes ($2.50) and boxed candy ($1.95).

The ship’s standard bar menu was available from Mermaid’s Tail, sandwiched between Trident Grill and Prego Pizzeria.

All three venues were open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Open 24 hours, the International Café was our go-to spot for a quick bite or shot of caffeine. Plates could be eaten at tables scattered around the lobby area (at a premium during the lunch hour), and coffee beverages were available in glassware or to-go cups. It was good to check the daily newsletter to see what entertainment might be scheduled; the lobby atrium became crowded at these times.

Served from deli style cases, the food selection rotated through the day. In the morning there was an egg, ham and cheese muffin available, along with various pastries and muesli. By noon the selection alternated to quiche, soups, salads and smaller sandwiches. Later in the afternoon pastries returned; a basket of cookies was also available. No one went away hungry.

The coffee bar served better java than was available at other venues, at prices ranging from $1.25-$3.75. Iced blended drinks were also available ($2.50-$3.75). A coffee card was priced $29 for 15 drinks.

The International Café was open 24 hours.

Breakfast was ordered with a door hanger the night before. Princess doesn’t set the bar very high for this meal. Primarily continental, there was one hot option: a bacon, egg and cheese muffin. The balance of the menu was cold package cereals, yogurt, fruit, and baked goods, along with juices, coffee and tea. Breakfast could be delivered any time from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m.

The standard room service menu was available 24 hours. Although it was not extensive, there were a decent number of options for when we weren’t in the mood to go out. A door tag was provided that we could use to request fresh fruit be delivered to the room. The tag said the fruit would arrive in the early afternoon, and would be replenished as needed. Beer, wine, liquors, soft drinks and juices were also available.

Some room service options carried a surcharge. Twelve-inch pizzas—pepperoni, cheese or the daily special—were offered for $3/delivery. These were available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to midnight. Hors d’oeuvres could be ordered with 6 hours’ notice, at prices ranging $6-$14. Other options included the champagne breakfast ($32/couple), and the lobster balcony dinner ($100/couple), which required 24-hour notice and includes a cocktail, a half-bottle of champagne, canapés, a flower bouquet, an 8×10 photo and a four-course surf and turf dinner.

Breakfast was delivered in the requested 30-minute time block. The simple fare was fine—the O.J. cold, the coffee hot, and the sandwich warm and oozing with cheese. No surprises here.

At lunch we were asked to allow 20 to 25 minutes for delivery; our order arrived 19 minutes later. The burger was on a plate with a plastic lid to keep it warm, served with lettuce, tomato and onion, and coleslaw on the side—no pickle or other condiments (they might have been available had we thought to request them), and no French fries (not mentioned on the menu).

Star Princess had more than a dozen dedicated bars sprinkled across the ship. Bar service could also be ordered at the pool areas, inside the theater, and at the casino. We particularly enjoyed Crooners, the spot for martinis (especially at sunset) while the retro Skywalkers Nightclub suspended above the ship’s aft section was fun for dancing late in the evenings (and conveniently quiet for enjoying the view by day).

A 15-percent service charge was added to all drink orders. The minimum age for drinking was 21.

Beer & Wine

Wines available by the glass included Chateau St. Michelle Riesling, Simi chardonnay, Rosemont shiraz, and Kenwood Jack London cabernet sauvignon, at prices ranging $7.25-$10.50. Korbel brut reserve was available in 187ml bottles for $7.25 and Nicolas Feuillatte brut reserve by the glass for $13. An expanded wine list was available at both the Crown Grill and Sabatini’s dining rooms.

The beer selection included the usual domestic favorites for $4.25, plus Bass, Dos Equis, Blue Moon and Beck’s for $4.95, and Grolsch and Guinness for $5.95. There were also a few beer cocktails for $7.25.

Mixed Drinks

Martinis were priced $7.95 and included the traditional “007 Classic.” The list of signature margaritas were all $7.95, as were other mixed drinks such as caipirinhas and mai tais. Simpler concoctions (made with house brands) were $5.50.

House spirits were $5, while call brands started at $5.50, and went up from there.

Drink Packages

Several drink packages were available for cabin consumption. A six-pack was available for the price of five for beer ($21.25) and soda ($9.75); four 187ml bottles of wine were $25 (brand unspecified) and a beer and wine package availed three 187ml bottles of wine and four beers for $32. There was also non-alcoholic drink package: the Ultimate Kids Package of unlimited soft drinks, mocktails, milk shakes and juices was $7 per day, “for kids aged 2 to 102.”

Non-Alcoholic Options

Several non-alcoholic cocktails were available, all priced $4. A coffee card was priced $29 for 15 drinks at the International Café, a good deal for those wanting a better grade of java.
The lobby bar was conveniently situated next to the International Café, making it a nice place to gather for a drink and hors d’oeuvres. It was also a good spot for live music of all stripes, including solo guitar, piano, a string quartet playing classical, and a band that played Swing and Big Band hits. The schedule for performances was found in the ship’s newsletter, Princess Patter.

The ship’s standard wine list was available at the Lobby Bar, and cocktails from the standard drink menu could be ordered.

This wine bar on Star Princess is a pleasant enough hangout, located on the ground floor of the lobby atrium. But it appeared that most or all of the wines offered—32 choices, by the glass—mirrored the ship’s standard wine list, which seemed like a real underutilization of the concept. This was the only venue, however, to offer wine flights—three smaller pours priced $8.25-$10.25. Even here, it would have been nice to sample more exotic offerings.

Light crudités were available, for those feeling peckish.

Most glasses were priced $7.25-$9.50, and among the better options were Seghesio zinfandel, Santa Margherita pinot grigio, and La Crema pinot noir. There were three choices with bubbles—at $17.50 per glass, Veuve Clicquot Brut was the most expensive offering at Vines.

The ship’s de facto martini bar, Crooners has an expanded selection of mixed drinks on offer—more than 50 iterations, including many we’d never heard of. The friendly bartenders knew their way around the list. It’s a great spot pre-prandial, with lots of people-watching or enjoying the sunset panoramas; a pianist shows up most evenings for light entertainment.

In addition to the standard bar list, Crooners has a special martini list, mostly priced $7.95, but some Ultra Premium for $8.95. All were shaken tableside (or at the bar) and served with cocktail mix and (as appropriate) a choice of olives.

Several versions of the Manhattan and Rob Roy are also served, along with wine and champagne by the glass and champagne cocktails (Bellini, etc.).

Crooners was open from 10 a.m. till late in the evening.

This large, centrally located bar was decorated with paintings of old ships and sea heroes. The venue was used for various events during the day, before the bar opened at 4 p.m. There was a bandstand and dance floor here, and techno music ramped up as early as 7 p.m.

The ship’s standard wine list was available, and cocktails from the standard drink menu could be ordered.

Wheelhouse Bar was open daily from 4 p.m. till late in the evening.

Tucked away beside the lower entrance to Princess Theater, this cozy bar was an enclosed space for cigar lovers. More than a dozen Dominican stogies were available for purchase, along with various whiskeys and cognacs. Shooter’s Bar also served as the sports bar and occasional live events were shown here, but those pool tables on the ceiling were strictly decorative!

The ship’s standard wine list was available, and cocktails from the standard drink menu could be ordered. We also found Johnnie Walker Blue Label here, along with Rémy Martin Louis XIII cognac ($75 for a 1-oz. shot).

Shooter’s Bar was open daily from 5 p.m. till late in the evening. It could be used for indoor smoking when the bar was closed.

This was one of five bars available on the upper open decks for sun-lovers—this one on Deck 14 facing the screen for Movies Under the Stars. During movies a small selection of candies was available for purchase.

The ship’s standard wine list was available, and cocktails from the standard drink menu could be ordered.

Overlooking the Terrace Pool, the Outrigger Bar was one of five watering holes available on the upper decks. It was also a good option for those dining at Horizon Court, just inside.

The ship’s standard wine list was available, and cocktails from the standard drink menu could be ordered.

When the weather was right, this was a great spot for enjoying a drink. The open-air spot faced the giant screen for Movies Under the Stars, but during the day, people-watching was a solid diversion.

The ship’s standard wine list was available, and cocktails from the standard drink menu could be ordered.

Lotus Spa, Salon & Fitness Center

The ship’s spa facilities wrap around the (outdoor) Lotus Pool, and are operated by Steiner Leisure, which manages spa services on many cruise ships. Prices are in line with Steiner services on other cruises, and somewhat higher than at most quality resorts. But there were discounts on port days, and other specials and packages offer discounts for one-off treatments not on the regular menu.

Services offered included several flavors of massage, as well as facials, acupuncture and salon services for men and women.

The spa also had a Thermal Suite, a communal relaxation area with thermal grottos, aromatic steam rooms, saunas, heated ceramic benches and mist fog showers. A week pass to use the facilities was $99, but (unadvertised) day passes were also available.

We sprang for a massage, a special offered late in the cruise—60 minutes for $119 (Actually $99, and another $20 if hot stones were added). The Thai masseuse's treatment left us relaxed and restored, and though we didn’t care for the sales pitch for beauty products at the conclusion, we wouldn’t hesitate to book her again. Only caveat: A vent flooded the room with white noise, and the steady drone was at odds with what should have been one of the quietest parts of the ship.

The fitness room offers a decent variety of weight and cardio equipment—we even found a rower. The facility didn’t seem large enough for the number of passengers aboard, and was busy most days, especially at sea. Waits for some equipment was not uncommon.

An array of fitness classes were available. Daily stretching and abs workout sessions were free, while Pilates, Balance (Yoga), and Spinning classes were $12 each ($30 for three); the four-session Body Sculpt Boot Camp was $120. Personal training sessions were $45/30 minutes, $85/60 minutes, and a package of three 60-minutes sessions was $209. Also on offer were body composition analysis ($35, or $50/couple) and nutritional consultation ($85 for one or two).

Sports Court

Perched on the ship’s highest level, this basketball court should be the spot for breezy games. Unfortunately we didn’t find any games or free throw sessions announced in the ship’s newsletter. Shuffleboard courts were just outside.

Lawn Court

Hidden behind the Movies Under the Stars screen on Deck 16, a spread of artificial grass in an industrial setting is the spot for lawn games—bocce ball, croquet and golf putting. We scoured the ship’s newsletter for tournaments but none were announced.

Neptune's Reef

Of the five pools on Star Princess, Neptune’s Reef is the central pool and serves as the main outdoor facility. The pool depth ranged from 4-foot 6-inches at one end, to 7 feet deep at the other. There were two hot tubs, showers and the screen for Movies Under the Stars. Depending on the weather, this area was sometimes quite busy.

Bar service was available from the Mermaids Tail Bar facing the pool area.

Calypso Reef and Calypso Bar

Of the five pools on Star Princess, Calypso Reef is one of the two largest, and the ship’s one indoor swimming facility. The pool depth ranged from 5-foot 2-inches at one end, to 7 feet deep at the other. There are two hot tubs, showers and loungers, plus the Conservatory, an upper deck wrapping around the pool that has Ping Pong tables and more loungers (the Conservatory was little used during our cruise).

The Calypso Bar was one of the busier bars on the ship, serving many of the guests using the Horizon Court buffet, and the ship’s standard bar menu was available. This was also where we got our fresh squeezed orange juice in the morning ($2.75).

Terrace Pool

This area was one of the more curious elements of Star Princess. The Terrace Pool is a bit smaller than Calypso Reef and Neptune’s Reef, but it sat at the tail end of Deck 12, meaning we could sit in the pool and gaze aft, watching the world go by. The oddest thing was the T-shaped “spoiler” suspended above us, Skywalkers Nightclub, a structure that shaded the pool for most of the day and provided a spacy view overhead. It was a great spot to hang out and bar service was available from the nearby Outrigger Bar.

The Oasis

This area was underused during our cruise. The pool was smaller than most, a glorified plunge pool, perhaps, and there was a kiddie pool next to it, but as it was quiet most times the space provided a nice area for sunning and relaxing.

The Oasis Bar never opened during our cruise, even on days when the pool was fairly active.

Lotus Pool

This smaller pool occupies a sunken space within the spa facility. There were 10 loungers, a couple small hot tubs, and showers. It’s outdoors, but with walls enclosing this space, sun didn’t land here most of the day. Still the secluded spot was somewhat more private than the ship’s other pool areas. It was also convenient for guests using the Sanctuary, just upstairs.

Vista Lounge

This large, theatre-style venue on Deck 7 aft was an all-purpose room, used for many function during our cruise, from Bingo sessions to movies—the bar was sporadically open for these. Other events included future cruise presentation, dance lessons and photography lessons.

Explorers Lounge

This all-purpose cabaret lounge had a stage for music acts and other events such as trivia contests and art auctions. The design is a tribute to intrepid travelers, with Egyptian columns and bookcases full of travel memorabilia.

Explorer’s Lounge was open daily from 5 p.m. till late in the evening.

Skywalkers Nightclub

A cool retro nightclub hanging over the aft of the ship, accessed by a tunnel with moving walkway. While some mock the architecture as giving Star Princess (and sibling Golden Princess) a shopping cart look in profile, we like to think of this outlandish accessory as the nod to space travel it was intended to be. Of course, a decade after it was completed, the appendage looks wonderfully kitschy, as well.

The bar spreads to both the port and starboard sides of the ship, with sweeping views fore and aft. By day, the bar was unstaffed, and it was a great, often empty place to stretch out with a book. At night a DJ was present and the dance floor got a bit of a workout.

The ship’s standard wine list was available, and cocktails from the standard drink menu could be ordered.

The bar at Skywalkers Nightclub officially opened to all at 10 p.m. for dancing till late in the evening, but bartenders were usually present earlier in the evening.

Lobby Atrium

The three-level atrium lobby of Star Princess, also known as the Piazza, was an attractive space that bustled with activities and events during our cruise. Live music included solo guitar, piano, a string quartet playing classical, and a tight band playing Swing and Big Band hits. There was also the Captain’s Welcome Aboard reception on the second night that included Princess’ traditional champagne waterfall, cameras at the ready.

On the lowest level, Deck 4, the lobby was flanked by the Vines and Lobby bars, the International Café and the Internet Café and Library. Deck 5 was where the ship’s passenger services desk was located.

Promenade

The Promenade Deck circuited most of the exterior portion of Deck 7. Near the front of the ship the deck ends, but staircases on both sides of the ship lead up to Deck 8. Three complete circuits of decks 7 and 8 equaled one mile, but note that the forward portion of Deck 8 is closed after sunset. There were ample deck chairs for taking in the sea breezes.

Deck 15

This large exterior deck extended from the bridge area of the ship and wrapped around the pools, leading to stairs and the Oasis. The forward section above the bridge represented some of the best views for those not wishing to spring for day-use fee at The Sanctuary. There were no deck chairs or services here, and the area could be windy (it’s closed after sundown), but still a nice perch.

Deck 17

This smallish deck towered above the Neptune’s Pool area. We found it rarely used during our cruise, but it was a nice spot for catching some rays. It was also the highest accessible point on the forward part of the ship.

The Sanctuary

We had mixed feelings about the Sanctuary, a paid-access club on Deck 16. With cushy loungers, screened sun, potted (fake) vegetation, and attentive waiters, it’s a lovely facility offering some of the ship’s best sea views. But we also felt such prime space should be accessible to anyone booking a cruise on Star Princess. Instead, there’s a $20 day use fee for the facility—it’s one more strike against the all-inclusive nature of the cruise experience.

We’ll put aside egalitarian notions for a moment. Much of what makes the adults-only Sanctuary so appealing is the dearth of bodies. The facility has ample loungers for its relatively few guests; a couple oversized private cabanas are reserved for massages (regular spa prices prevail). Waiters deliver light meals from a limited menu, but a $3 delivery fee was applied to food orders; considering there’s already a cost to use the facility, we found the additional surcharge to be a bit tacky.

It’s a quiet area, but MP3 players with themed playlists (Smooth Jazz, Chill Lounge, etc.) were available, with BOSE Acoustic Noise Canceling headphones. Free from crowding or romping kids, this elite club provided a good hideaway to a select few.

Editor’s note: In March 2014, Cruise Critic revealed that Princess had upped prices for Sanctuary access across the fleet. The price is now $20 for a half-day pass or $40 for the full day, but rates may fluctuate based on demand.

Princess Theater

The ship’s main showroom was used for multiple events during our cruise, including naturalist lectures and a few afternoon movies. But the main focus is evening stage shows, ranging from a comedy-magic act to Broadway-lite extravaganzas to the closing night Princess Pop Star guest showcase. One show, called “Destination Anywhere,” struck us as creaky and dated. But the “British Invasion” production was invigorating, with vivid costumes and sets, solid choreography, and a talented cast of singers and dancers.

Architecturally, the theater not a flashy joint, efficiently squeezing in about 750 passengers at a go.

Movies Under the Stars

This was one of our favorite features on Star Princess: a dedicated outdoor movie theatre. Although many ships have movie screens above their main pool areas, Princess does a particularly good job for its guests, putting blankets out on loungers, having fresh popcorn and even servers providing cookies and milk. It’s like a cozy drive-in at sea.

The outdoor screen rises above the Neptune’s Reef pool area. The movie selection represented relatively fresh releases that had been theaters within the last 6 months. And the presentation quality was strong enough that a relatively bright, crisp picture can be enjoyed, even when the sun is out (though it’s at its best after sundown). The usual schedule was each movie would play once or twice in the evening, around 7:30 and 10 p.m.; most of these repeated on another day at 10 a.m. or 3 p.m. There was also a daily concert video—Stevie Wonder, Pavarotti, U2, Paul McCartney—that would be played at 5:30 p.m.

The popcorn station was next to Sundaes, and the adjacent Mermaid’s Tail Bar offered a small selection of candies to complete the movie-going experience.

One complaint: Although sound volume was fine during most movies played here, one action film had a hefty bass track. The volume was so loud during certain scenes that bottles and glasses on the bar shelves opposite the screen rumbled and rattled, and conversations came to a halt. The entertainment staff should have been more attuned to the divergent needs served on these decks.

Reserved for guests age 21 or older, the Grand Casino on Deck 6 is a spacious, uncluttered facility. In addition to plenty of slots (starting with penny slots), table games included Roulette, Craps, Blackjack, Face Up Blackjack, Caribbean Stud Poker and Texas Hold ‘Em. The schedule of activities here included a Poker night and tournaments for slots, Blackjack and Texas Hold ‘Em; early in the cruise lessons were conducted for Texas Hold ‘Em and Blackjack. Players can charge up to $1500 per day to their room account, with no cash advance fee.

We appreciated that the well-ventilated area was not as smoky as some, and that benefits from being neither claustrophobic nor as smoky as some we’ve been to. On one night ofour cruise the casino was designated as non-smoking.

There was a bar in the casino, with video poker games embedded in the counter. The ship’s usual selection of drinks was available here.

A large area of Deck 15 aft was set aside for dedicated kids programs, divided into three separate facilities based on age.

The entry-level program is Princess Pelicans, for ages 3-7, and activities include arts and crafts (T-shirt coloring), a disco night, scavenger hunts, ice cream and pajama parties. Children needed a parent to sign them in and out of the facilities daily.

Pre-teens age 8-12 were grouped into a program called Shockwaves, which featured arts and crafts, Playstation 2 tournaments, sports, a spelling bee, and scavenger hunts. Kids age 8 to 12 were allowed to sign in and out of the facilities daily, with the parents’ permission.

Teens rocked out in Remix, a facility that was not always staffed. Activities included T-shirt graffiti, dance parties, a casino night, DJ workshops, mocktail parties, teens-only formal dinners, and games like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Pictionary, Scrabble, Jeopardy.

The general hours on sea days were 9 a.m. to noon, 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m.; on port days the facilities were staffed 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m. Group kid-sitting was also available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., for $5 per hour, per child.

Staff

Across the board, we found the staff of Star Princess to be polished, engaged and appealing. From our check-in attendant to cabin attendant and waiters in restaurants and bars, service levels were well honed. We would happily sail with this crew again.

One exception was the ship’s staff of photographers. While all were probably doing exactly the job they were hired to do—meeting a designated quota of passenger photos per day—they were particularly distracting on one scenic morning. While cruising through Tracy Arm, when the view was most definitely looking out from the ship (and not at paparazzi), the photographers asked guests to pose for photos, over and over. While some guests may have happy to have a few pricey shots to take home (or been flattered for the attention), we found that the photographers took away from the most scenic portion of the cruise.

Tipping

Princess adds a tip of $11.50 per day, per guest for crewmember services, other than bartenders ($12 per day for guests in Mini-Suites and Suites). The charge is automatically added to the statement during the cruise.

For bar service a 15 percent service charge is automatically added onto all beverage tabs. Tips for spa and casino staff are left to the discretion of guests.

Dress Codes & Alcohol Policy

Princess Cruises’ dress code encouraged sports wear and casual attire by day, with swimwear discouraged from public rooms and lounges. After 5:30 p.m., suggested eveningwear was Smart Casual—open-neck shirt and slacks for gents; and dress, skirt and blouse or trouser suit for ladies. On formal nights (there were two on our seven-day cruise), suggested attire was tux, slacks with dinner jacket or suit and tie for men; and evening gown, cocktail dress or trouser suit for women. Shorts, tank tops and T-shirts were not permitted in the dining rooms.

While there were plenty of passengers on board who dressed to the nines, there were just as many (especially teens) who kept their attire fairly casual.

Princess Cruises’ policy regarding alcohol at check-in allows one bottle of wine or champagne per adult per voyage. A $15 corkage fee per bottle is charged for any personal wines opened in public areas of the ship.

Loyalty Programs

The frequent-cruiser program Princess Cruises’ Captain’s Circle has an ardent following. The top 40 most-traveled cruisers aboard were invited to a private lunch with the captain, and the top three most traveled were heralded at a members’ cocktail party and awarded crystal trophies.

Passengers become Gold Level members following their first cruise, which avails some preferential pricing, launch savings and a members-only cocktail reception. Following the fifth cruise, passengers are awarded Platinum status, which includes preferred check-in and onboard internet credits. After the 15th cruise, Elite Level benefits kick in, including free laundry, 10-percent boutique discounts, upgraded cabin amenities, complimentary minibar setup, and more.

Laundry Facilities

Self-service, coin-operated laundry facilities were available on all decks with cabins, except Deck 14; irons and ironing boards were available here as well.
General Health and Safety

Held just prior to disembarkation, room keys were scanned when we arrived for the Muster Drill. Our Muster station was the Princess Theater, a venue that holds about 750 people. To our surprise, there weren’t enough seats for the attendees—at least 45 passengers were left to stand or sit in the aisles. We didn’t find this reassuring as we thought about how a real emergency might be handled.

All passengers were required to bring their life vests for the Muster Drill, and instructions for wearing them were provided. The information was conveyed in a thorough, detailed manner.

Hand sanitizers were present at all restaurant entrances and their use was encouraged.

Clinics

The medical center was located on Deck 4, mid-ship. It was staffed 9 to 11 a.m. and 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Smoking Regulations

Indoor areas of Star Princess—including staterooms and their balconies—were designated as non-smoking. The three exceptions to this policy were the casino (an area we found well ventilated), Shooters Bar (where cigars and pipes are also permitted), and one side of Skywalker’s Nightclub. Smoking was permitted in designated outdoor areas of the ship.
Internet Café & Library

This facility just off the Lobby Atrium combined the ship’s library and internet stations, and coffee was not far away (at the International Café). There were 18 IBM computers for surfing the web, with varied seating arrangements.

The basic rate for internet access—using our own laptop anywhere on the ship or using the Internet Café’s computers—was a heady .79 per minute, plus a $3.95 activation fee. Packages reduced the per-minute rates, and a 40-minute bonus was availed for those who signed up for packages on the first day of the cruise. A “last day” package was also available for the last full day of the cruise: 15 minutes for $8.99.

The library had a few hundred books, with a particularly constrained selection of travel guides to the areas that Star Princess sailed (none of which could be removed from the area). A few board games were available as well.

Although computers could be accessed anytime, the station was staffed several hours in the morning, afternoon and evening.

Hearts & Minds

Found on Deck 15, just outside the Lotus Spa, Hearts and Minds was the ship’s small interdenominational chapel. Times for bible study were announced in the newsletter Princess Patter (which referred to the venue as the Wedding Chapel). The space was also used for Bill W meetings, spa seminars and for various groups onboard.

Gift Shops

There are five main shops clustered around the Lobby Atrium, on decks 5, 6 and 7 at mid-ship.

The ship’s informal shop is Calypso Cove, with liquor at duty-free prices (purchases delivered to cabins on the final afternoon of the cruise), binoculars, snorkel gear, Princess-branded merchandize, sunglasses, T-shirts and informal clothing, handbags, and basic drug store sundries including sun block and pain and cold remedies.

Meridian Bay carried costume and other jewelry items, while the Facets was dedicated to higher-end jewelry, as well as Swarovski crystals and watches.

At Essence we found the fragrance and beauty products.

Next to Vines Bar was the Vines Shop, which carried chocolates along with oddball novelties and stationery products.

Photo-Video Gallery

This was the gallery where photos of passengers were displayed for purchase. On Star Princess, we found the photo crew was omnipresent, snapping away at guests at many points of the cruise. On one particularly scenic morning, the photographers were assertive to the point of being obnoxious in repeatedly asking guests to pose for photos.

Photos were on display in this gallery, with 8×10 snaps sold at $19.99; portraits (posed in front of backdrops on formal night) were $24.99—no discount on multiple copies.

In addition to selling photos, picture frames and albums, binoculars and cameras (Fuji, Nikon), and common batteries and memory cards were available.

Art Gallery

On Deck 5 was the ship’s art gallery, with art auctions held in the Explorer’s Lounge.

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