Travel Weekly's San Francisco bureau chief, Laura Del Rosso,
cruised three nights aboard Princess Cruises' Star Princess,
sailing from Los Angeles to Ensenada, Mexico. Her report
rincess Cruises' newest ship
arrived on the West Coast in March with much fanfare. And, much to
the delight of travel agents, who long have wanted a glamorous new
ship based in Los Angeles, it's likely to stay put for a while.
The Star Princess probably is destined to sail the West Coast
year-round -- the 109,000-ton, 951-foot vessel simply is too large
to move to other prime cruising spots without undertaking a long
sailing. Too wide to pass through the Panama Canal, the ship cannot
easily be repositioned to the Caribbean or Mediterranean.
In fact, to get to Los Angeles from Italy's Fincantieri
shipyard, the ship sailed through the Mediterranean and the Suez
Canal and across the Indian Ocean to Singapore, where it embarked
on a 26-day inaugural voyage across the Pacific.
On its transpacific sailing, the hefty vessel broke records
everywhere it went, Princess said.
"Each time it entered a port in the Pacific, it became the
largest [cruise] ship to ever visit that port," said Phil Kleweno,
The Star Princess will be repositioned to Vancouver from Los
Angeles this month, where it has been conducting seven-day Mexican
Riviera cruises. From Vancouver, it will cruise Alaska, and at the
end of the season in September will return to Los Angeles through
May 2003 for another season of Mexico sailings.
Line officials hinted the remainder of the Star's 2003
itineraries might not be vastly different from 2002.
But during a three-night sailing to Ensenada, Mexico, Princess
executives emphasized to passengers -- who included a large group
of representatives from top-producing travel agencies -- that the
ship's selling point is that the vessel itself is the "star."
"Being on the ship alone is the experience," said Kleweno.
The third of the line's Grand Class vessels, the Star Princess
closely resembles its sister ships, the Grand Princess and the
Golden Princess. Except for some changes made based on Princess
executives' experience from operating the other two ships, the Star
is practically identical to those vessels.
Among the design highlights are a three-story atrium featuring
marble staircases and glass elevators. A large disco and
observation lounge is located above the stern and is accessed by a
glass-enclosed moving sidewalk.
The Star Princess' few differences from its sisters include a
larger Lotus Spa, developed exclusively for Princess ships and
expanded in response to its popularity on the two other ships.
Like its sisters, the Star Princess has three main show lounges
with rotating entertainment which, judging from the response of the
agents and other passengers, was one of the top features of the
The singers and dancers in the jazz and swing-era revue "Da
Beat" were excellent. "Da Beat" is one of two new productions for
Princess, and it's the kind of show that appeals to all ages.
The Princess Kids Room was given more space on this ship than on
previous vessels; it's now the largest such facility in the fleet,
with different areas for age groups 3 to 7, 8 to 12 and 13 to
As with other Princess ships, the Star Princess provides Personal
Choice dining, enabling passengers to eat meals in an elegant
dining room whenever they want and with whomever they want.
There also is fixed-seating dining for those who want the
traditional experience as well as a 24-hour restaurant and two more
eateries -- Sabatini's trattoria and Tequila's, a Southwestern
casual restaurant -- where an extra service fee of $15 and $8 per
person, respectively, is charged.
The fee didn't seem to bother any of the passengers. In fact,
within a few hours of boarding, it was impossible to get a
reservation for the rest of the voyage.
However, once reservations are obtained, it takes only one visit
to Sabatini's to figure out why the Italian restaurant is so
popular. Lively waiters often burst into song and folk dances, and
the food shone: sea scallops with a dollop of caviar sauce; risotto
with asparagus topped with guinea fowl ragout; and light, airy
gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce.
The meals at the ship's main dining room also were excellent,
with a rack of lamb that was juicy and tender and a swordfish
grilled just right with a hint of herb butter.
Kleweno said the alternative dining plan, which the line
introduced in January 2001 on the Grand Princess, has taken off
after what he conceded was a shaky start.
"We probably could have done a better job of introducing [the
program], because it did create some confusion with travel agents,"
Twenty percent of passengers who choose the traditional
fixed-seating option before the cruise end up switching to Personal
Choice on board, Kleweno noted, and over the years, that percentage
is expected to rise. On the Mexico sailings, one-third opted for
the fixed dining.
Tipping is the main concern for passengers new to Personal
Choice. The line handles the issue by automatically adding a tip of
$10 per person, per day, on passengers' bills, covering state room
steward and wait staff, unless guests request it not be added. The
tips are pooled and allocated to the staff.
In the dining rooms and throughout the rest of the ship, there
weren't crowds of people anywhere. The ship is large but not
overwhelmingly so, except for the first day or two when guests
struggle to learn their way around. (The very good signage
Kleweno said Princess is emphasizing its "Where I Belong"
campaign this year. Its message focuses on the line's unstructured
and relaxing atmosphere.
That theme, which is especially geared to younger cruisers who
prefer unstructured time and options, will be carried through to
the introduction of Princess' new ships: the Coral Princess,
scheduled to debut in December; the Island Princess, expected in
June 2003; the Diamond Princess, slated for July 2003; and the
Sapphire Princess, set for a May 2004 entry.
West Coast retailers get their wish
By Laura Del Rosso
LOS ANGELES -- West Coast agents said Princess' newest vessel
gives them a product to sell to clients who want a premium class,
large-ship cruise -- and a home port within easy driving
Agents also said they're happy a cruise line finally recognized
that Southern California is underserved with such ships.
"The West Coast has been like a stepchild," said Gary Pollard of
Ambassador Tours in San Francisco. "We get the ships from the
Caribbean when they've done their time [there] and the lines decide
to move them West.
"This ship is going to be here forever because it can't go
anywhere else," he added, referring to the Star Princess' beam,
which makes the ship too wide to transverse the Panama Canal.
The only potential block to strong sales, Pollard said, is that
many West Coast residents are too familiar with the Mexican Riviera
and might be looking for new cruise destinations.
But that's where the glamour of a new, large ship is important
in selling cruises from Los Angeles, he added.
"It's a perfect ship for L.A. because there are a lot of people
who don't care for the ports of call, and the ship is a resort in
itself," said Richard Molander, president of Travel of America in
West Covina, Calif.
Molander said he has sailed on Princess' other Grand Class ships
and found "no real surprises" on the Star Princess.
"I like these ships. They are large, so they don't appeal to
everyone, but everything is designed to give a small, intimate
feel," he said.
By contrast, it was Jill Hussey's first time on a Princess Grand
Class ship. An agent at Montrose Travel in Montrose, Calif., Hussey
said she was "pleasantly surprised."
"I was thinking that it was going to feel huge, but it never
felt that big," she said. "Large ships aren't for everybody, but I
think for people who want a lot of choices and activities, they're
Hussey said because many travelers prefer to stay close to home,
the agency expects to sell the Los Angeles sailings with ease.
Helen Wirshen of Sisters Three Travel in Scottsdale, Ariz.,
agreed the Star Princess sailings will be popular due to Los
Angeles' proximity to major population centers.
"I see my clients driving from Arizona and taking a vacation in
Southern California before or after the cruise," she said.