Lost at Sea – Cruise Ship Service

Vacation travel on cruise ships has never been so popular. Last year over 30 million opted to voyage out to sea for leisure and relaxation, and cruise lines continue to build massive hotel/entertainment ships at record speed. This month I followed the millions and traveled to Cabo San Lucas on Princess Cruises.

No matter the circumstances – work or play; I’ve accepted that my observation and evaluation of service is just a part of my DNA. In my attempt to mute this characteristic, I voyaged the ocean to break away from the monotony of the day to day and looked forward to “unplugging” from my laptop and smartphone. Foolish mortal – without these electronic distractions only enhanced my sensors of observance and provided this inspiration to write the article.

This was my third travel with the Princess Cruise lines in two years; I’ve now traveled on three different ships: the Star Princess, Ruby Princess and most recently, the Royal Princess. After this recent cruise, I doubt if I’ll return as a customer of the Princess Cruise Line, the “Love Boat” dining and entertainment experience, and overall service appears to be decline as I expected royalty, it was more like a royal tease. In such a competitive industry service must not be compromised, especially dependent on expendable spending.

The Medallion

As with many travel and entertainment companies, Princess Cruises has introduced a new gadget the Medallion for facilitating passenger spending and accessibility. The Medallion device is promoted to enhance customer’s travel convenience, but let’s be clear, as multiple techies have shared with me the intent of these types of devices are designed for customers to easily spend, and to track spending habits.

The majority of the time of my voyage the Medallions did not work as most passengers complained of quirks or other difficulties.

It became visually notable that staff members assigned to assist customers were getting frustrated – I found out later the primary issue was caused by the interference from the customer data on the previous cruise not clearing. Speaking of being “out of touch” throughout the trip the cruise director kept marketing the device and assuring passengers if anyone experienced any difficulties, dedicated staff would be happy to help – apparently, he doesn’t use one.

I happen to travel and participate in Princess Cruise’s attempt to break the Guinness Record of most marriage renewals conducted simultaneously at sea. The cruise line was really playing this up promoting that the actress who portrayed Captain Stubing’s daughter on the 70’s television series The Love Boat was scheduled to be in attendance. However at the event, the cruise director made the announcement, unfortunately, Jill Whelan recently endured a tennis injury and would not join us. I wonder if, from the stage, the 800 of us participants must appear as minions wearing medallions around our necks. Nobody expressed disappointment but most commented, likely her absence reflected a reluctance to any possible exposure to the Coronavirus (more on that later) or likely the money just wasn’t right for her to wave and shake hands at sea.

Scam at Sea

Despite the record being broken the event had a dark side to it. As a perk to break to the record, an incentive of a $250 gift voucher was offered to participants. This promotion turned out to be a “bait and switch” marketing tactic by the onboard jeweler store. The e-mail communication did not mention that the jeweler offered nothing at the price and that the incentive was offered only to those purchasing items at minimize price of $800 – come on! The store did sell items for less than that, however, one could not use coupons or vouchers to purchase these products- Ahoy Scam at Sea! Despite my e-mail copy and the announcement at the event, the majority of employees had no idea of this promotion which required couples to even submit copies of their wedding certificates.

Token Service

One day I decided to use the laundromat and discovered the vending machines did not work. I was advised from the front desk they were aware of the issue and had tokens available. From the complete opposite end of the ship and the 15th floor, I traveled down to the 5th floor. I inquired as a guest, why no one from their staff (five employees at the front desk with no customers sat talking to each other) could be service orientated to go up and assist; and if they knew of the circumstances with the machine why no signage was posted. So back up I go to find out they gave me wrong tokens, again pick up the phone but I was required to again take a long walk to get right tokens. Get this, the washer worked but did not go off or change cycles it’s like still running today.

The Wake Show

Each morning the ship airs a morning program The Wake (pronounced the Way-Key) Show formatted as a late-night talk show. The show’s intent is to keep guests informed of events scheduled for the day, as well as market the jeweler, spa and other services available onboard. After watching this program on three different ships it has really gone downhill. Perhaps it may be the monotony of the task but the host (cruise director) appears tired of hosting, guests (staff) being interviewed staff are unprepared and difficult to understand. At times the program was irrelevant and inappropriate, example the conversation included discussing staff dating and relationships and one employee discussing his part-time gig and compensation doing voice-over work in his home country. There exists a definite need for professional training and overview, especially what and how to communicate with guests.

Bring a Book; Leave Your Cigars at Home

I forgot to bring a book to read however I was advised the ship’s library had an extensive supply of reading material. My interpretation of extensive is way off – no kidding I counted 8 books! As far as games available the place was loaded as for a moment I was in Toys R Us.

I admit I enjoy the relaxation in smoking a good cigar. The ship features a smoking lounge named after the distinguished Sir Winston Churchill. As I entered Churchill’s lounge what a disappointment in fact if Sir Winston saw the smoking room featuring his last name of distinction, he’d be turning in his grave. No bar, dirty ashtrays inside a room equivalent to the size of two large walk-in closets. In comparison to the smoking room on the Star Princess which featured a full sports bar, either this room met a requirement to have a designated smoking area or served as the company’s efforts to ban smoking. Interestingly there was no problem for passengers to locate an employee to buy a cigar, but not to order a drink or clean ashtrays.

Finally (but I have so much more…) I noticed the rudest group of employees work at the grill at poolside. No smiles and poor listeners I had to mention – 3 times some of the condiments were empty. One lady behind me waited in line for 20 minutes and when it was her turn to order requested a veggie burger. I heard an employee grunt out she’d have to wait an additional 10 minutes (signage please, especially in areas where people might be waiting in line).

Unfortunately, other Princess Cruise customers recently suffered a worse fate than mine. Passengers onboard the Diamond Princess were exposed to the Coronavirus in Japan and spent three weeks quarantined to their cabin. Although no longer on the cruise ship the American passengers remain quarantined today on military bases, here on the good old USA. I can’t seem to get the theme song of Gilligan’s Island out of my head “a three-hour cruise, a three-hour cruise.”

The question posed has been with such health concerns why did I risk traveling? Well since I didn’t purchase cancellation insurance, so I gambled that I wouldn’t be exposed to the virus on this trip. It was obviously noticeable as we embarked on board and throughout the initial days of the voyage, sanitation procedures were on high alert, yet as we disembarked staff and passengers were coughing and sneezing away back to normal.

My main reason for sharing is that I evaluate service professionally, and most people don’t offer critical feedback for improvement. Otherwise, companies like Princess Cruises think they’re doing a great or satisfactory job on the basis of return patronage. I shared my observations with Princess Cruises directly however my commentary must have been tossed to the wind, as I haven’t heard back.

Perhaps I should thank the company for the inspiration to become a travel critic.


Al "Skip" Solorzano
SKIP is a recognized expert in the field of diversity with keen ability to build strategic alliances, and successfully expand supplier diversity initiatives. He has consulted with multiple client sectors including pharmaceutical, insurance, manufacturing, health care, telecommunications, utilities nonprofit organizations, business entities and employee groups. As a facilitator and learning consultant presents unique perspectives to develop solutions; and promote qualities to successfully work with others through diversity, team-building and leadership development. Solorzano has been featured as a presenter at conferences sponsored by such entities as: AT&T, The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Social Security Administration. A former Governor appointee and member of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials; Solorzano has been recognized by United Way as Most Influential Hispanics of the Bay Area; and a recipient of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Corporate Advocate of the Year award. Skip’s career endeavors as a corporate liaison, community leader and entrepreneur, provides the unique insight to write on an array of subject matter from learning processes; diversity; with a shared humorous perspective of life.

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