It was great to be able to sail on a proper cruise again, instead of one of those short seacations. As usual, we travelled to the port the day before and stayed in a hotel. This was a short walk to the Southampton Docks and on the morning of the cruise we walked down there. We were surprised to see Regal Princess docked at the Ocean Terminal. All our information from the cruise personalizer said that we would be leaving from the Mayflower Terminal, so we were glad to have seen the change for ourselves that morning. Our car park was a short walk from the Ocean Terminal, so the change of dock saved us having to get a taxi and we just walked up with our cases.
We dropped our luggage and were then directed to a door alongside the terminal to take our Covid Lateral Flow Tests. We were in group A, which was the earliest arrival window (11.45am to 12.15pm), so it was not too busy.
We had to show our proof of vaccine, which we had printed out, and our passports. We were directed to one of several desks and asked to confirm some details including our mobile numbers and a wrist band was attached to us. We were told we would get a text when our results were ready. We were then directed to another staff member who carried out our Covid Test. It consisted of a gentle swab around each nostril a few times.
We were then directed back into the terminal and were shown to a waiting area until our Covid test results arrived. We received texts from Princess to say our details had been registered and received a second text around 20 minutes later confirming the test result was negative. We then joined a short queue to pick up our medallions.
Boarding had not yet started and so we were shown to a priority waiting area just outside security. After 10 to 15 minutes we were told we could go through security and board. As we walked onto the ship via the gangway, we passed a film crew who were filming for the new series Cruising with Susan Calman. We said hello to Susan as we passed and then saw them film a section as she walked onto the ship. The episode will be shown on Channel 5 in the UK next Spring. Our medallions were scanned when we got on board and we were free to go to our stateroom. It was very quick and easy with no problems.
As was the case with our previous short cruise, all staff members wore masks all the time. Cruisers were required to wear masks inside the ship while moving around, but these could be removed once you were seated in most venues. Masks had to be worn all the time in the Princess Theatre and in Princess Live.
We had opted for the Princess Plus fare and so we had the Premium Beverage Package and MedallionNet WiFi. This would not connect initially, but sorted itself out by the time we sailed. There was a 1-page Princess Patter in the stateroom printed both sides and this was delivered to the room each night. Princess robes were already hanging in our wardrobe and our minibar had already been set up. It was not long before our luggage arrived. We met our steward and opted to refuse the nightly turndown service, so he only serviced our room once a day. He was helpful and friendly and immediately got us extra hangers and swapped out our Coke and Sprite for sugar free versions. We then went to the Concerto Dining Room for lunch.
The new safety set up is fantastic. We just had to watch the safety video on the stateroom TV and then check in with our medallions at the muster station. No sitting in venues listening to announcements and watching staff put on lifejackets, and no traipsing round the ship with those lifejackets. However, there were lots of announcements for people to do this right up to sailing, so some people just can’t follow simple instructions.
Having the beverage package meant that we were more likely to try new drinks, but we had one disappointing thing happen. We were sitting in Good Spirits and I scanned the QR code to bring up the cocktail list. I wanted to try the Vanilla Sky cocktail and called over a waiter. He did not seem to know what that was, so I showed him on my phone. He came back from the bar and said that I could not have that cocktail as it was only available during the shows. I asked him what I could have then and he told me to scan the QR code, to which I responded that I had done that and you have just told me I can’t have the one I wanted. He got me a paper menu and I ordered something else. I just cannot understand why a particular cocktail is only available at limited times. I never did get to try a Vanilla Sky.
We were delayed in departing by a couple of hours. At first we thought that it was because of people not following the safety procedure, but as the delay went on, it was clear something else was going on. Our balcony overlooked the gangway and we saw a number of groups exiting the ship with their entire luggage. We thought it might be a medical emergency or a family who had received bad news about a loved one. On a cruise forum it was said that a coachload of passengers from Glasgow had been forced to disembark because one passenger from the group had tested positive for Covid. I have no evidence as to whether this was true or not.
We set up all of our Dine My Way reservations in the app before the cruise. We opted for a private table each night at 6.40pm in the Concerto Dining Room except for the first night. We booked a table for 7.20pm because of the time taken with unpacking and the sail away. We were seated pretty much immediately on every night apart from this first night. When we arrived at 7.15pm there were long queues and no indication of what you should do if you had a reservation. The couple next to us had a reservation at the same time, so we stayed put in the queue. A staff member came down the line and told us and others behind us to go to the other dining room door, but the way she did it meant that those that were behind us got in front of us at the other door, so we were even further back than we were before. The couple in front of us noticed this and let us go in front of them, “It’s only fair as you were here first” they said. How nice, and we thanked them for doing that.
It was the same as on our previous cruise, the staff were not able to identify us with our Medallions and each night we were asked which stateroom we were in and whether we had a reservation. They then looked on the restaurant plan and found us a spare table. When we arrived each night at 6.40pm, there was no wait, but whenever we left the dining room at around 8pm, there were always people queuing. It does not appear that Dine My Way has worked in the way it was advertised.
Menus are still on one sheet of paper, but the salt and pepper shakers are back. Bread and butter is served by the waiters, but we had no problem in getting extra if we wanted it. The food was very good and we had no cause to complain about the quality and the choice.
We ate at Crown Grill twice and Sabatini’s once. We also had an evening meal at Alfredo’s because we could not get a reservation at Crown Grill that night (we chose another night for Crown Grill instead). We made the bookings for the specialty restaurants via Dine My Way in the app while onboard. That way we could use our onboard credit rather than pay by credit card. This was easy to do and the app automatically cancelled our previous reservation once we confirmed our new booking. Crown Grill was brilliant on both nights. We explained to our waiter that we could not find a wine we liked onboard, as we prefer a medium sweet wine. Woodbridge White Zinfandel was our all-time favourite before Princess discontinued it. The waiter and a colleague set about giving us tasters to see if they could find a wine we liked. Eventually we tried Eroica Riesling and found we liked it. Although it was not on the wine list by the glass, they let us have it as part of our drinks package at no extra cost. What fantastic service. We again told our waiters that we were sad that Princess no longer served Chocolate Fudge Obsession for dessert. They both said that lots of people are asking for it, so hopefully Princess will bring it back.
I had never been to Sabatini’s before as I am not a big fan of Italian food and do not eat pasta. My wife does though, so I agreed to go. The waiter was very helpful to us both and the meal was excellent. I had risotto instead of pasta and there were lots of other choices that suited me. My favourite remains Crown Grill, but I would be happy to eat at Sabatini’s again.
The cruise started with 3 sea days across the Bay of Biscay. It warmed up quite considerably after the first day and the weather was great. The sea was so calm that it was like being on the Norwegian Fjords. I have never seen the Atlantic so docile. It was advertised in the Patter that Susan Calman would be filming a dance sequence for her TV show on the Lido deck near Movies Under the Stars. For this they had to move all the people and their lounge chairs off of the central platform where the fountain light show takes place. They promised to move them back to their original places when the filming was done. Just as they were clearing the last chair away, an indignant looking woman got onto the platform and wanted to sit down on a chair. She was complaining bitterly to anyone who would listen. Eventually she moved off, but was not at all happy. The sequence filmed was of Susan Calman dancing and lip syncing to Copa Cabana surrounded by a few Princess dancers. Anyone who has witnessed filming will know they did about 5 or 6 takes, which included distance shots, close ups, crowd reaction shots and filming from a drone. This took a couple of hours and will turn into a 30 to 60 second piece at the end of the episode. It was good fun though and if you get to see it, you might see us in the crowd. We were in front of the hot tub on the starboard side.
The Patter advertised a quiet lounge in the Symphony dining room between 9am and 3pm on sea days. We have only seen this on one other cruise and so we were very happy, as we always look for somewhere quiet to read and often move because people sit near us and start chatting. We either find somewhere else to sit or go back to our room and sit on the balcony. This time, we settled ourselves down in the quiet lounge and began reading. Not long after, a member of the entertainment staff started setting out craft materials on a table next to us and started calling over a group of people to start a craft class. We pointed out to him that this was supposed to be the quiet lounge and there was a notice on the door saying that. He went to look and came back with a rather annoyed and rude tone saying “Well I suppose I’ll have to find somewhere else then”. He then set up in the bay behind us, which was still within earshot, so we got up and went to our room instead.
My wife was so disappointed that she said post something on the Elite Forum saying that it seems that people wanting a bit of peace and quiet are not important to Princess. I said no, as it would probably attract a few negative comments, but she said she wanted me to do it. At first I got a few comments from people expressing support and saying they also find it difficult to find quiet areas. I also got the usual comments from people who had missed the point, saying just move somewhere else. That wasn’t the issue, as we always do that anyway, the point was that this was a quiet area set aside by Princess that was being ignored by their own staff. We saw later that at least 2 entertainment activities were scheduled to take place in the quiet lounge at the same time as it was supposed to be quiet. Then the comments started to get more personal and nasty. People were saying that they can’t yet cruise and so we were lucky and shouldn’t be posting negative comments. Someone accused us of being stick in the muds because we didn’t want to move, which we never said. As more and more negative comments came in I decided to turn off commenting and draw a line under it. However, another member opened a new thread to tell us that if we wanted peace and quiet we shouldn’t be cruising. More people were posting snarky comments on this new thread, so I took the decision to leave the forum altogether. I had heard about this sort of thing on Facebook, but never thought I would experience it.
Our first port was Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. We were told to take our proof of vaccine and our passports with us at every port. However, we did not have to show them to anyone at any port. Masks were required ashore, but not while in the open air or while seated in a café. We walked out of the port and past the Mall to get to the beach. We found a café and sat by the sea and ordered coffee, which we paid for by credit card. We then walked for 20 to 30 minutes along the promenade in lovely sunny weather before returning to the ship.
Our next port was Santa Cruz in Tenerife, and again we decided to just walk off and go for a stroll. Instead of heading into town, as most people seemed to do, we walked up the coast towards a building that looked similar to Sydney Opera House. We passed an open air market, but did not go in as it was very busy. The building turned out to be a concert venue and it had a café on the side with open air seating. We ordered a coffee and sat looking out over the sea in lovely sunny weather. There were some old fortifications nearby, which we walked around before returning to the ship.
Next day we called at Arrecife in Lanzerote. It was a nice 20 minute walk into town through a marina area. There was a very pretty small boat harbour in town that had shops and cafes around it and we stopped for coffee. The water was clear and we stood and watched the small fish as we made our way back to the ship.
Our next port was Funchal in Madeira. We had been here before and most people walk along the coast to the right to visit town and travel on the cable car up to the botanical gardens. Instead, we walked left out of the port and up a steep hill. I wanted to try pasteis de nata, a Portuguese custard tart and I had researched a place on the internet that was supposed to sell the best examples on Madeira. We got to the top of the hill and asked a taxi driver at a taxi rank to direct us, which he did. The café was called Petit Fours and the display of pastries was mouthwatering. We ordered coffee and 2 pasteis de nata each and they were delicious. Still warm and sweet with lovely flaky pastry. We took some scenic photos on the way back to the ship. It was very hot and humid and so we were glad to get back onboard.
After a day at sea, we arrived in Vigo, Spain. This was a much more built up city, but we stuck to our plan of walking around and stopping for a coffee. The area was dotted with interesting sculptures and things to do with Jules Verne. None of the cafes in town attracted us, so we had our coffee back at a place right next to where the ship was docked. It was much cooler here, but still the sun shone. We made our way back onto the ship and settled down for lunch.
The sea day before we arrived back at Southampton was much more typical of the Bay of Biscay, with a bit of a swell, but not too bad. It just rocked us to sleep at night.
Disembarkation was straight forward, but there was a bit of a queue to get out once we had our luggage. I am not sure why, as there were no checks being done. It was perhaps due to the narrow exit. Something that would help was if the port staff placed the luggage of the first people to disembark furthest from the ship in the arrivals hall. That way, later people would not have to walk all the way to the far end near the exit and then walk back again to join the queue with their luggage. The disembarkation group option on the app is still not working, so it was done the old-fashioned way with a disembarkation sheet and colour coded tags delivered to your room. We wanted our departure time changed and that was simple to do by using the crew chat option on the app.
We had a fantastic time and cannot wait to be back onboard again. Pros and cons on this cruise were:
- The view of the sea from our balcony and on deck was amazing and we had missed that so much. Sunrises and sunsets at sea are the best.
- The vast majority of the staff were fantastically friendly and helpful and pleased to see passengers again.
- The ship was as impressive as ever and the food was excellent.
- The staff in the shops, and particularly the fragrance outlet, were really helpful, but not pushy at all.
- They have changed the recipe for the breakfast muffin, making it slightly bigger and softer, however, this had a consequence (see cons).
- The new breakfast muffins have runny yolks and on the first day I got egg yolk all the way up my arm because I bit into it too eagerly LOL.
- The entertainment was not to our liking. Too much classical and jazz and not enough rock music. That is just personal choice and we understand you can’t cater for everyone. We did not go to any shows because we did not want to sit in a mask the whole way through.
- The Entertainment Director not responding to our message about the rude staff member who set up an activity in the quiet area. A response of some sort would have been nice.
- The taste of the coffee throughout the ship was not consistent. Sometimes from International Café the coffee was excellent and at other times it was bitter or tasteless. The staff are so rushed there, that sometimes they maybe don’t have time to take care.
- Wait staff in the International Café seemed a bit uninterested and it often took ages to get someone to come over to us. Maybe they are short staffed or maybe the fact that most people are now on a drinks package, they no longer need to chase tips.
We have another cruise booked for May 2022 on the Emerald Princess around the UK and we cannot wait.