Princess Cruises Star Princess Review
Aims for a consistent, if conventional, experience, catering to the masses, and delivering a little something for everyone
Spa and Gym
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Lounges & Public Spaces
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shows and Entertainment
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.
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