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ceilidh1

Loyal Princess Cruiser Tries NCL - And it Was BLISS!

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Background: Sailing was myself, DD (11) and DS (7). We have all sailed enough times on Princess to be elite, but have also sampled Carnival, Holland, Disney, and RCCL. We have never been on a cruise we didn't enjoy, but have tended to stick with Princess for the kid programming. However, in recent years, my kids have commented that they have done ALL the kid activities on Princess many times so have requested to sample other lines. For this journey, we decided to sample the new mega ship BLISS when it came to our home town of Vancouver for a 5 night coastal sailing.

 

 

Pre Cruise: I booked this sailing before the ship was even built and opted for the lowest priced room available - a guarantee inside. I got a great price for the 3 of us, and one of the perks was an all-inclusive beverage package for myself and the soda package for my daughter (she would have received the beverage package had she not been a minor). I wasn't aware, at the time, that NCL has a "bidding" program whereby they invite you to bid on an upgrade 80 days prior to sailing. I carefully considered the price I paid initially and how much I would be prepared to pay on top to upgrade. For me, an upgrade to an oceanview wasn't worth much so I put in the minimum bid of $50 per person (only the first 2 passengers are charged). I was more interested in a balcony, so bid $175 per person. I had heard that you usually find out if you are successful a few days prior to sailing so I was surprised when a week later my balcony bid was accepted! The room we were assigned was at the very back of the ship but was selling at over $2000 more than I originally paid, so I felt I got a decent deal (all currency quoted is in CAD$)

 

 

There seemed to be much confusion around this particular sailing as the ship was coming into Vancouver for the first time ever. Due to its size, it could only fit under the Lions Gate Bridge once every 24 hours at the lowest tide. For this reason, there was an overnight in Vancouver and no one was able to give an accurate answer as to when passengers were required to be on board, when muster drill would happen, or even what time we would set sail. Times and e-docs changed frequently, as did departure times from Vancouver and arrival time to Victoria. None of this bothered me since I planned on boarding at the earliest possible time and did not intend to get off in Victoria. However, others on our rollcall needed some answers so they could get tours/excursions/sightseeing nailed down. This information never actually came until the day before we were to board....

 

 

NCL promotes freestyle cruising. I guess my definition of this is a little different to NCL's. I had assumed it meant that you do what you want, when you want it. This wasn't the case with this ship - ahead of time (about 90 days out) you need to pre-book for shows and specialty dining. Thankfully, our rollcall made me aware of this as I had no idea. I booked the two main complimentary shows - Havana and Jersey Boys, but admit to feeling a little stressed about doing so as I had no idea of what else might be happening onboard at the times/days I booked! I didn't book any of the paid specialty dining as I wasn't planning on doing any of these.

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EMBARKATION: Bliss came in to Vancouver empty, so I anticipated being able to board early. When completing your docs online, you are able to select an arrival time - the earliest being 9:30am for this sailing. I chose this as I live within an 8 minute walk of the port. The day prior to cruising, I received two automated calls letting me know that check in would open at 9:30am and to arrive early to avoid congestion at the port. I arrived at 9:20am and was directed upstairs to Hall A. This was where baggage drop was. After dropping our bags, we were sent to a seating area to await check in opening - there were around 150 others already seated before I got there. Check in didn't open at 9:30am, or at 10am. At 10:15am one of the agents announced that there was a problem with electricity on the ship so they would be late starting but hoped to be up and running in 20 minutes. At 10:45am, they eventually announced that they would be taking people through to check in, row by row. It was well organised and they had MANY check in booths open. Unfortunately, we seemed to get the person that had no idea what she was doing. She took forever scanning passports, credit card, getting room keys, etc. We finally headed down to security around 11:15am. There was a small line, but nothing too major. Just as we got to the front of the line, the check in agent ran up to us and told us she had made a mistake and we needed to go back upstairs to check in again. WHAAATTT??? Off we went, then stood at check in for another 10 minutes. Then a supervisor had to come over to help. Apparently, whatever had been done was wrong so for the third time we went through the passport, credit card scanning process. We then got escorted back down to security so we at least didn't have to line up again. Finally, the ship was just steps away - but it was now 11:45am! A full 2 hours and 15 minutes since our arrival at the pier. HMMMM....

 

 

Just when we thought nothing else could go wrong, we got to the ship and they scanned our cards. Confused looks at the screen. At me. At my kids. More scanning. Then they asked our names. More confused looks. Apparently, the cards had been incorrectly assigned - my 11 year old was now listed as the primary passenger and credit card holder, with my picture. GAH!!! Thankfully, they let us proceed and told us to go to guest services.

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I’m glad you enjoyed yourself, but frankly, this is the exact reason I cancelled our bliss cruise. You see, I wanted a haven suite. But quickly realized that most people on ncl are opting to wait and bid on rooms. That’s great IF you don’t mind getting stuck in the original room you booked if you don’t get the upgrade.

 

Well, the problem is if you do mind the original room, you will feel like it’s a lose lose. Because you get stuck paying an arm and a leg for the room you want while others pay next to nothing. So essentially, I’d be paying part of their cruise fare. No thanks.

 

I decided to go back to princess and stick with them for now. If ncl stops their bidding process, and their nickle and diming people over stupid things, like refusing to let you bring a bottle of water on board so you have to pay them for it. Maybe I’ll reconsider.

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THE SHIP: I cannot begin to explain the magnitude of this ship. It is spectacular. Even after 5 days, I was till finding areas I never knew existed! I didn't love the boarding area - you enter on deck 7 which is basically equivalent to a promenade, but with lifeboats all along blocking any kind of view. There was no entrance into an impressive atrium or piazza, just into the hallway near the elevators. We were fortunate to board at the aft so didn't have far to walk to our room! However, the many times we walked front to back were LONG walks!

 

 

I really loved the Waterfront - an area that had bars and restaurants, outdoor seating and a great promenade type walkway. There were many bars and restaurants on the ship (most restaurants charged an extra fee) but my hands down favorites were The District Brewhouse for their amazing draft beers, The Sugarcane Mojito Bar for the outstanding and unusual Mojitos, and The Local for the great bar food! The highlight of this ship, though, is The Observation Lounge! Think Skywalkers, but multiply it by about 4, add in a bar that seemed to be always open, breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea, and some comfy sofas.....the only difference being that it's at the front of the ship! The bad part of the ship (in my opinion) is The Atrium. This place was just too small and always crowded - trying to make yourself heard at guest services (which is in the atrium) was next to impossible! The Internet Cafe is also located there (with about 6 computers - tiny), along with shore excursions, cruise next (future cruise sales), onboard credit desk (not really sure why there was a desk for this), specialty dining reservation desk, and Starbucks. As you can imagine, this place just became jammed with people trying to access all of these things!

 

 

(more to come)

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I’m glad you enjoyed yourself, but frankly, this is the exact reason I cancelled our bliss cruise. You see, I wanted a haven suite. But quickly realized that most people on ncl are opting to wait and bid on rooms. That’s great IF you don’t mind getting stuck in the original room you booked if you don’t get the upgrade.

 

Well, the problem is if you do mind the original room, you will feel like it’s a lose lose. Because you get stuck paying an arm and a leg for the room you want while others pay next to nothing. So essentially, I’d be paying part of their cruise fare. No thanks.

 

I decided to go back to princess and stick with them for now. If ncl stops their bidding process, and their nickle and diming people over stupid things, like refusing to let you bring a bottle of water on board so you have to pay them for it. Maybe I’ll reconsider.

 

Sorry, I'm not sure I understand? Regardless of cruise line, I always book a room I am happy with at a price I'm prepared to pay. This has been inside, balcony, suite - I would never book a room I wouldn't want? I have been fortunate to get upsells from Princess to balconies from insides, and suites from balconies - I paid far less as an upsell than I would have paid upfront. It's not that different to how NCL does the bidding process except they open it up to everyone. I'm not even sure NCL does the "highest bidder wins" process - I think they figure out which rooms are in demand, which rooms are hard to sell and apply a similar logic that airlines and hotels use for their demand-based pricing algorithms. It makes good business sense to me.

 

 

We never had a problem taking bottles of water on the ship...or are you talking about a case of water?

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Sorry, I'm not sure I understand? Regardless of cruise line, I always book a room I am happy with at a price I'm prepared to pay. This has been inside, balcony, suite - I would never book a room I wouldn't want? I have been fortunate to get upsells from Princess to balconies from insides, and suites from balconies - I paid far less as an upsell than I would have paid upfront. It's not that different to how NCL does the bidding process except they open it up to everyone. I'm not even sure NCL does the "highest bidder wins" process - I think they figure out which rooms are in demand, which rooms are hard to sell and apply a similar logic that airlines and hotels use for their demand-based pricing algorithms. It makes good business sense to me.

 

 

We never had a problem taking bottles of water on the ship...or are you talking about a case of water?

 

I was told no water on ncl.

 

Can I ask how you did the upsell process on princess? I would be interested in that. I just booked a minisuite and would love to upgrade to a suite.

 

I guess ncl irked me with their bidding. With how crowded it was, I didn’t think I’d be happy with a non haven room. But the bliss does look like a beautiful ship. It was just in our home town this week and I watched it set sail.

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THE SHIP (continued): I am trying to avoid jumping all over the place, so will try to go deck by deck. I am only going to talk about places that I actually went to - there were so many that I didn't get around to seeing!

 

 

 

Deck 5: Kids and Teen Programs. The kid programs are split by age range - Guppies for the under 3 crowd, Turtles for the 3-5 groups, Seals for aged 6-9, and Dolphins aged 10-12. Entourage was the teen area. Entourage and Guppies had their own rooms, while the other 3 groups were housed in the same space - the space was huge so there was more than enough room! There were scheduled activities for each age group, but also free play times when all the groups could play together if they wished. The area was bright and spacious and the staff were always happy and energetic. There was a weird policy about permission to sign in/sign out (ages 10-12 are permitted to do so if a parent gives consent). DD is used to this privilege on Princess but NCL have a policy that they must stay a minimum of 2 hours before they can sign themselves out. DD was not impressed as she likes to go to the club with the option of leaving if her friends are not there, or if the activity is not to her liking....There is also no pager system like on Princess. Instead, when you drop off, they ask where you are going to be. I never really understood this, either! I'm not likely to be in the same spot on the ship for the next three hours and, even if I were, would they really come looking/be able to find me if they needed me??? Regardless, my kids really enjoyed the club - they didn't go all the time, but enough for me to feel like I got a vacation, too!

 

 

Also on deck 5 was the video arcade - DS LOVED this place and would have happily spent the entire vacation in there! The arcade had games that you could win tickets to turn in for prizes, as well as regular gaming games. I had thought about getting the arcade package for the kids but everyone in the room had to buy it - no way was I getting a $50 package for me when I wouldn't play even one game! I'm glad I didn't do it as the games that you win tickets on were not included in the package - these were the games my kids were most interested in. We did blow through about $30 between the two of them and got prizes that we could have got from the dollar store. They had fun, though, so that's all that mattered!

 

 

Deck 6: Aside from the atrium, mentioned earlier, the complimentary dining rooms were also on this level. We only ate at Taste and Savor and had good experiences with both. There is also a paid chocolate cafe called Cocos. DD used some of her own cruise money to buy a $18 shake - it was HUGE! It was a work of art, full of chocolate, candy, sugar. Every 11 year old's dream! Deck 6 is where the Social Comedy Club is - a small club that required reservations for the comedy acts. We caught the early, family friendly show and really enjoyed the comedian. I believe this club also housed other events/shows but we only saw the comedian in there. Deck 6 has a small library and meeting rooms. The library had a few children's books, games, cards, and adult books that could be checked out. It seemed tiny for a ship of this size! I saw art work around the area so assume there was an art gallery on this deck, but never had any desire to check it out!

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I was told no water on ncl.

 

Can I ask how you did the upsell process on princess? I would be interested in that. I just booked a minisuite and would love to upgrade to a suite.

 

I guess ncl irked me with their bidding. With how crowded it was, I didn’t think I’d be happy with a non haven room. But the bliss does look like a beautiful ship. It was just in our home town this week and I watched it set sail.

 

Princess contacts passengers by email (I'm not sure how they choose who to contact - maybe room types that are oversold?) and offer a cabin category for a set price. They give a phone number and you have to call and tell them you are interested. It is first come, first served so you have to be quick off the mark! My best ever upsell on Princess was a 15 day Hawaii cruise where we went from a balcony to owners suite for $750 total (and the original price I paid for the balcony was way less than I usually pay on Princess)!

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Deck 7: I already mentioned the odd wrap around deck that was obstructed by lifeboats. The theatre was located on this deck - nice theatre but too small for a ship of this size. Even with reservations, we were told to arrive half an hour prior to show to be guaranteed seating! I will talk about entertainment later, but I didn't love the reservation aspect of NCL. I go on vacation to get away from being tied to a schedule - yet if you wanted to do/see things on this ship then you had to reserve....

 

 

One of my favorite spots on the ship was on deck 7 - The Local. This is an Irish style bar that has complimentary food. The seating is such that you can look down over the atrium - much more pleasant than dealing with the madness on deck 6! We spent a fair bit of time at The Local - it was always busy, but we were always able to get somewhere to sit and never had to wait long for food.

 

 

 

The casino was on this deck, too, but other than to walk through we didn't really take much notice of it. I did feel that it smelled of smoke when we walked through, despite the smoking area being closed off. I am a non-smoker so likely more sensitive to it than some. It wasn't awful, but noticeable to me!

 

 

Deck 8: The Waterfront and the all the associated bars and restaurants. I can only comment on those I visited so will leave many out! As mentioned earlier, The District Brewhouse was another favorite of mine. There were lots of different draft beers to sample, some interesting cocktails, and food to purchase. I was surprised that this place was never crowded - often there would only be a handful of people in there!

 

 

The Cavern Club - I really enjoyed the Beatles cover band that played here, but the place was so packed all the time! It was a nice little club but if you didn't get there early then it was standing room only. I enjoyed the karaoke in here, as well as Siglo.

 

 

Sugarcane Mojito Bar - I had never heard of, much less tried, some of the mojito varieties offered in this bar! Most were outstanding and left me wanting more! Thank goodness for that drink package!

 

 

Stores - I believe the stores were on deck 8. Like most cruise lines, I was disappointed that I wasn't able to spend money in the stores as there was nothing that appealed to me! Believe me, I really did try. Jewellery, cosmetics, Bliss emblazoned clothing....nothing jumped out!

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Deck 9-14: I believe just staterooms. If there were other things, I never found any of them!

 

 

Deck 15: The Observation Lounge. I already talked about this, but will say again that this was the highlight of the ship! It is truly beautiful.

 

 

Deck 16: Garden Cafe (buffet): The buffet was overwhelming - so much food, so many stations, so many people. I felt as if I walked around in circles constantly as I was never sure where one section ended and another began. I liked that the self serve drink stations included juices (well, flavoured sugar water disguised as juice), tea/coffee, hot chocolate, and water. My kids loved the self serve ice cream. The food was typical buffet food but the Taste of India section was to die for! I loved everything I had from there. I did like that they would announce what would be served at the buffet the following evening - prime rib one night, lobster and shrimp another night, mexican night, and mixed grill.

 

 

 

The Market Place: I mention this only because I never discovered what it was actually for! It was an area on the open deck with a big sign and lots of counter space. But it was always empty. Anyone know???

 

 

Aqua Park: This was a nice little play area for kids with water guns, a mini slide, climbing frame, etc. My kids really liked playing in there. Next to it was a saltwater family pool and opposite was the adult pool. The adult pool rarely had anyone in it, yet the family pool seemed to be frequented by adults without kids. Not sure if one was warmer than the other....The pool deck and pools were very small for a megaship. I couldn't imagine sailing on a hot weather cruise as, even, for our 5 days down the coast it got packed out there! The big screen seemed to show a lot of sport events. I don't recall seeing any movies advertised, but I could be mistaken.

 

 

Deck 17: The waterslides - two slides, the aquaracer that you go through enclosed tubes on an inflated donut and the freefall slide that looked terrifying to me! I did brave the aquaracer with my kids but nothing would have got me on the other one! We saw many women getting stuck on the uphill portion and needing to be rescued through the hatch. DD braved it and got stuck - she was fine and said it was awesome, despite not making it all the way around. She was going to try again but the crew person at the bottom said that she was just too light. There is both a height and weight limit. Height is 5 foot, which DD met and weight is 99 pounds. They weigh you before you enter - DD was 110. The crew person said that almost everyone under 120 gets stuck!

 

 

There are two hot tubs on deck 17 - they were always packed. There is also another one at Spice H2O, which is an adult only area. I didn't like this area as it was a smoking area and I found it very smoky when I was there.

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Deck 18/19: Lazer tag and Go Karts - neither of which we did, but they deserve a mention. Originally, these two things were the selling point of this ship for us. My kids went nuts when they heard about them. Ironically, we didn't do them! The Go Karts are not kid rides - they go fast, there are sharp turns, and I knew there was no way my kids could handle being able to control them. I considered the two person karts but with three of us, it was impossible to get reservations one after the other. The lazer tag was booked for the entire time by the time we boarded. We could have tried as standby but there were so many other things going on that we never got around to it!

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That's about it for the ship, so I am going to circle back to embarkation and let you know what happened when we went to guest services to fix the card mix up! Of course, like all guest services, there was a line up. It took about 10 minutes in line to get to an agent and then another 10 minutes explaining what had happened, explaining who was who, which picture should go with which card, etc, etc etc. Finally, it got sorted out and new cards were issued for all of us. Off I went to test out the drink package. I ordered my mudslide, handed over my card, and was told "This card is for a minor!" WHAAATTTTT????? Back we went to guest services - only this time, the line was even longer. Another 30 minutes at guest services where they confirmed that my picture and name were correct, but my DD's date of birth was linked to my card. They fixed it, printed us yet another set of cards, and sent us on our way. Back to the bar I went. So ready for that mudslide. Handed over my card, the bartender swipes it, all is good. YAY. Or so I thought......Several drinks later, I checked on my onboard account only to find that I had been charged for all the drinks. I asked the bartender and he told me that my card had a soda package. I then gave him my 11 year old's card. Yup, you've guessed it....she had the all inclusive beverage package....guess where our next stop was???? If you think we have had it easy with guest services prior to this, you would be right. This turned out to be a real problem as it wasn't simply a case of switching the packages. Phone calls needed to be made, permission needed to be granted, emails to corporate and finance needed to be composed....at one point I offered to just change my name to my daughter's!!! It took us almost an hour to get the drink package sorted but, thankfully, this was the end of our troubles and it was smooth sailing from there.....

 

 

More tomorrow....

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Glad you're having a great time but seems like this might be more appropriate on the NCL Board. Just sayin.

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Glad you're having a great time but seems like this might be more appropriate on the NCL Board. Just sayin.

 

I figured there would be more people on the Princess board that had not sailed NCL and would be interested in hearing about the experience. Those on the NCL board have typically already sailed NCL and know what to expect...

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The incompetence of the staff is incredible. I can't imagine wanting to sail this ship or this line. I'll stick with Princess. Thanks for the review but no thanks to NCL. Your experience doesn't sound like "bliss" to me. I certainly can't imagine paying $18 for a milkshake! :eek:

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NCL was a one and done for me. Found poor service and an unmaintained ship. No desire. My 25 year old who has sailed Disney, Princess, Carnival and RCL went on one recently just to try it out and said he would never go again no matter how cheap it was; it was just OK but nickel and dimed to death, reservations for everything, poor food quality, among other issues. Glad you enjoyed yours despite all the issues; I would have started out angry and probably got more angry as the day went on with incompetence all around.

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I figured there would be more people on the Princess board that had not sailed NCL and would be interested in hearing about the experience. Those on the NCL board have typically already sailed NCL and know what to expect...

 

 

 

Thanks, ceilidh1. I was curious and I appreciated the review. Nice to hear a perspective from a Princess cruiser. Plus, it avoided all of the negative comments from NCL regulars.

 

Thanks again and Safe Journeys, Paul

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Forums

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Excellent review and comparison! We were a family of four on the same Bliss sailing from Vancouver (kids 12 and 8) and our next Princess Cruise is the 33 night South America in 2019. When the stars and moon align (ie price, itinerary and work calendar!) some stellar deals can be found. (We booked Bliss in Feb 2017.... kinda like how we already have Sky Princess inaugural for Dec 4, 2019 booked)

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Forums

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from a different perspective - I once cruise NCL years ago with a girlfriend = Murphy's Law was rampant - if it could go wrong it did.

 

I wrote NCL and six months later received a letter thanking me for writing and letting me know they can't wait to see me again as a passenger. They never addressed the problems. That said,. I vow to this day to never accept even a free cruise from them.,

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Thanks for posting your review here. We're loyal Princess cruisers but have tried other lines. Our only NCL cruise was nearly 30 years ago. Once we sailed on Royal Caribbean, we said we'd never go back. NCL's latest offerings haven't enticed me, either, but we have friends who sail on NCL in a Haven cabin and love it. They also paid more for their cruise than we did for our last three cruises combined.

 

I can't imagine an $18 milkshake. Also did passenger services offer you anything for your trouble? On a 5-day cruise, you spent a considerable percentage of your time waiting for NCL to get things right.

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I figured there would be more people on the Princess board that had not sailed NCL and would be interested in hearing about the experience. Those on the NCL board have typically already sailed NCL and know what to expect...

 

I sailed NCL quite a few times and it was good BITD then it wasn't so good and I gave up on it

 

In the last two years I have sailed NCL again twice and found it greatly improved in almost every way. Entertainment is way more fun than Princess. Food is IMHO about the same.

 

Never had the problems you described, and I guess that because we anticipated the nickel and diming etc it didn't affect us much as we just ignored it.

 

But we still book 4 Princess cruises for every 1 NCL.

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My most recent cruise was on the NCL Getaway and while we didn't encounter the problems the OP encountered, we did have a very enjoyable cruise and would sail with them again. Observations:

 

1. Unless you are sailing in a Haven suite, there is just one tiny adult pool with a tiny kids pool adjacent. Since nearly everyone has a drink package, the pool bar added to massive congestion in the area.

 

2, The atrium is very tiny compared to Princess. It gets very crowded as it is used for games and trivia.

 

3. Unless you want to spend extra money for the specialty restaurants, your choices for included dining are the buffet, the pub and 3 dining rooms.

 

4, NCL is the undisputed king of nickle and diming, No outside beverages of any kind. Wine is subject to corkage charges regardless of where consumed. Drink prices, if you don't have a drink package are higher than on Princess.

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Thanks for the great review. I was wondering about the Bliss since NCL will be doing some of their Bliss cruises from LA. Will also stick to Princess.

I always appreciate a review posted on Princess about someone's experience other than a Princess cruise.

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