Thursday, May 15, 2003
OK, I think I can actually manage to walk upright without swaying side to side too much now, so as promised, I will write some further impressions and details of my cruise.
The ship: As I spoke of briefly in my entries from the cruise, the Star Princess is huge. On the last day of the cruise, we were given a log of the cruise, which contained some stats about the ship on the back. Some of the highlights from this:
Gross tonnage: 108,947 tons
Displacement: 50,227 tons
Width(at bridge): 165.7ft/50.5m
Maximum passenger capacity: 3,100
Normal crew compliment: 1,120
Fuel capacity: 3,470 tons
Fuel used for this cruise: 630 tons
The size of this ship makes it not only significantly larger than the Titanic (which was 883 feet long, 92 feet wide and 104 feet tall), but also too large to fit through the Panama Canal. To compare and contrast in terms that the readers of this particular site are more likely to associate with, the Enterprise from Star Trek:TOS was (according to this site) 315 meters long, 140 meters wide, and 80 meters tall. Or to put in more down-to-earth terms, Star Princess is the equivilent of taking an 80-story building, putting it on its side and making it not only float, but be able to cruise at a speed of 21 knots. Strangely enough, one of the best ways to get an idea of the size of the ship while aboard is to walk one of the hallways on a stateroom deck from one end to the other. These hallways are fairly narrow, but are close to the length of three football fields. I found that at my normal walking pace (which is faster than average, I've been told) it took nearly three minutes to walk from one end of the hallway to the other. In spite of the massive size of the ship, some concessions do still have to be made. While there is a lot of Italian Marble, glass and nice woodwork to be found throughout the ship, you can tell that quite often, substitute materials are used throughout the ship, presumably to reduce weight. For example, a lot of the wood on the ship isn't wood at all, but some sort of metal (probably aluminum) painted with a simulated woodgrain finish. The effect is pretty convincing, however, and I didn't even notice this until the second day onboard. You will also notice the fact that the staterooms tend to be narrow, and overall not particularly large, although most of the ones on the outside do have their own private balcony. This doesn't matter too much, since most passengers won't be spending a whole lot of time in their rooms anyway.
Still, for the most part, the public areas of the ship are quite open, and you never feel crowded while aboard. In fact, if not for being able to see the ocean going by outside, at times you'd even forget that you're aboard a ship. Some of the amenities of the ship include five different pools (and something like ten hot tubs to go with them) including one that is under a retractable class dome, numerous bars, shops on the Promenade deck, a full-service spa, a couple of themed restaurants (Italian and Steakhouse) for when you don't feel like eating in the main dining rooms, an art gallery containing signed prints from such artists as Rockwell, Chagall and Picasso, a casino (albeit nothing like the ones you'd find in Vegas), a nightclub, a wedding chapel, an Internet cafe (somewhat expensive), a library, and two different theaters. Chances are, you'll never find yourself with nothing to do while aboard the ship. On the other hand, this particular cruise was just 3 days at sea, and did not include any ports of call. As nice as the ship is, after several days at sea, you'll be glad for the opportunity to get off, whether at a port of call or to disembark the ship.
While the ship is moving, there is essentially a constant 20-knot wind blowing while you're above decks. Although they do have windscreens throughout the decks, the wind will still be blowing. I imagine that this isn't much of a problem in relatively warm tropical climates, but off the Pacific coast, this tends to make things rather chilly. The pools are all heated though, and are filled with freshwater (On a lot of cruise ships, some or all of the pools are filled with saltwater. This is one of the advantages of having onboard desalination systems that can produce 6,000 gallons an hour, in addition to the 3,308 tons the ship can store.) When the waves at sea get up some, you will notice that the water in the pools will start to ebb and flow along with the waves below. To keep the water from the pools from splashing out onto the decks, the pools are designed with high walls, and the water levels can be varied based on sea conditions.
From both an engineering and a practical standpoint, Star Princess is an amazing ship. As a guest aboard the ship on vacation, you really don't get too much of an idea of all that goes into building and running such a vessel. One of the more interesting things aboard the ship is a channel on the television that displays real-time data from the bridge showing position (with maps), heading, speed, sea and wind conditions, and other information on the current status of the ship. They used to offer tours of the bridge, but can no longer do so after September 11th. The only real "behind the scenes" tour while aboard the ship was of the galley. This was little more than a quick overview, but it gave us at least some idea of what it takes to cook 10,000 gourmet meals a day (and then after that needing to feed the crew.) The scale of this operation is staggering, if you think about it.
The experience: The ship has a crew of over 1,100 people. Even considering the fact that a significant number of those people are going to be working below decks and behind the scenes, it is obvious that service is a top priority. Although the only crew member that I really got to know was our cabin steward, throughout the ship the crew was very friendly. The cabin stewards would greet you when you passed by in the hallways, the waiters would frequently ask if they could get you anything, and overall a lot of effort was made to make sure that the guests were well taken care of. One thing that is interesting to note is that in addition to their name, each crew member's tag also included their nationality. The staff on the Star Princess (and in fact the vast majority of cruise ships) comes from many countries. A significant portion of them come from developing nations, and even though the pay they receive is low by our standards, it is often far more than they would be able to earn in their home countries. Although their accomodations while aboard the ship aren't nearly as nice as those for the passengers, the crew is well cared-for, and has many of their own facilities at their disposal.
There really isn't a whole lot that you have to worry about while aboard the ship. When you board the ship, you are given a card. When you get on the ship, you can go to your stateroom, throw your wallet in the safe, and forget about it. The card you are issued is just about the only thing you will need to carry while aboard the ship. As far as I can tell, there are only two areas that cash is used on the ship: The casino, and the coin-op laundry. That's not to say that there isn't much to spend money on. It's just that all charges while aboard the ship can be put on this card, and you'll get the bill at the end. And while the food doesn't cost anything (besides what you paid for the cruise in the first place), the drinks do cost money. Between the bars all over the ship and the wines available in the dining room, I imagine it wouldn't be difficult for someone to run up a pretty good bar tab. (but hey, if you've got the coupon, you can get a free ounce of Caviar when you buy one of those $200 bottles of Dom Perignon.) For those of us who don't drink, you can buy a sticker to put on your cruise card (price varies depending on cruise length, I think it was $11 for this one) that will get you all the Coke you can drink for the duration of the cruise. Compared to the rest of the stuff at the bars, that's cheap. They also have a few shops on board, although they sell primarily overly expensive household decoration items. Just in case you need to lose some weight (in the wallet department, at least) there's also the spa, which offers all manner of treatments, often carrying a rather hefty pricetag. There's also $10 per day put on your shipboard account that covers all gratuities, which is actually rather convenient. You can change that amount if you wish. I thought the staff in general was very friendly, and just left it where it was.
Every evening while aboard the ship, you receive a copy of the Princess Patter, a newsletter of sorts for the ship, which outlines the next day's events. There's actually quite a bit to do on the ship, should you be so inclined. Alternately, you can do nothing at all (The Calypso Reef pool is a good place to do this.) About the only thing that you absolutely must do is attend the safety drill before the ship gets underway, so you know what to do if there's trouble. In my case, I probably wouldn't have been able to get away without attending the twice-daily trivia session either, since I seem to be the useless information expert in the family. This was pretty much an informal 20-question trivia quiz, with some cheap little backpacks as the prize for winning. It took us four tries, but we managed to win the backpacks on the last chance possible, which is a good thing because I'm not sure I would have been able to get all my stuff back into the suitcase I brought it in. Other activities included various "game shows", culinary and ice carving demonstrations, shows (there were several different ones while I was on the ship, including a comedian and a magician, who were pretty good, although nothing absolutely must-see) and various bands in the different lounges. Other options include an overly loud nightclub, an overly quiet library, and various games to be found either on the sport deck or in the card room.
All in all, as much as I enjoyed this particular cruise, I don't think that I really got the full cruising experience from just about 2.5 days at sea in a not-so-tropical climate at a not-so-warm time of the year. 40 miles off the Pacific coast, there really isn't a whole lot of scenery to go around. Every once in a while, you'll see something interesting out the window (or off the balcony, if you're lucky enough to have one) but for the most part, it was nothing but a lot of water as far as the eye could see. The wind also made it somewhat difficult to spend too much time above decks. I can imagine that a lot of people (read: tourists) on an Alaska cruise are going to be wearing arctic survival gear while outside. Even so, I tend to think that the next time I look at taking a cruise, I'll be opting for a somewhat warmer climate... The Mexican Riviera perhaps? Or the Caribbean? In the meantime, I'll have to go turn down my own bed, while noting the profound lack of a chocolate on the pillow when I get down there.