Having sailed extensively on Celebrity and RCC ships we chose this cruise to sample Princess to see how they compared.
I've been on old ships, new ships, big ships and small ones and almost without exception had a marvellous time.
All ships have their own personality. Some suit certain travellers. All have strengths and weaknesses.
Over the years I've only really ever heard very complimentary things about Princess Cruises and I know they have many fans. Especially of the food.
Although I must add I had read a few reviews on here at CC before sail away about Dawn Princess that I'd considered overly harsh. I tend to be a very positive person and have yet to write a negative review of a cruise.
I was surprised by what I discovered on board.
Sadly Dawn Princess does not reflect well on the brand, to the point where I will not consider another Princess Cruise.
The ship is very, very dated. Like an RSL, but not a good one.
It is showing its age and it shouldn't be.
Princess management has a lot for answer for.
In this day and age there really is no excuse for a ship going 5-10 years without a total refit. To me 10 years is even far too long.
This ship does not appear to have had ANY work done on it since it was launched 15 years ago.
There has been some fiddling around the edges, such as the addition of the outdoor movie screen, which is impressive, but the basics have been ignored completely. Certainly the carpets are not thread bare and the fabrics on the furniture is OK, but only just, which at least means that they are being maintained, but it really is decor going back 15 years and it looks appalling and feels depressing. Seriously.
As for cabins, one of the things I look forward to most on a cruise is climbing into a supremely comfortable bed and enjoying a beautiful sleep.
Not on Dawn Princess. The beds are very old and feel it. I equated it to like sleeping on someone's sofa bed. And the pillows were old, disgusting and really lumpy. Two together were so flat they weren't even as high as one of my pillows at home.
The print on the wall would have looked dated 15 years, after all that time at sea it was faded beyond belief.
We had significant rust on our balcony and this was accompanied by bright blue plastic matting on the floor that you would expect to see on a fishing boat.
Rust happens on all ships, even new ones, but good cruise lines rarely let it go unpainted for long especially on balconies.
I'm used to small cabins but these are the smallest I have 'enjoyed'. There is no separate sofa on which to sit, only a crappy tub chair thrown into a corner that only serves to take up valuable space.
Flat screen TVs had been added at some stage but these were the smallest Princess could have found, fitted to a hideous mount that wouldn't swivel - go figure.
In reality bathrooms are one aspect of a ship that really can't be updated. And if the rest of the ship was up to standard these excessively small, badly designed ones could be over looked - sadly they only added to the gloom, they were a dull musky colour.
Again dated, dark and depressing decor through out. 15 year old faded plastic plants are a feature of the main atrium.
The wheelhouse bar is just sad. As are virtually all of the bars, most decked out with uncomfortable tub chairs.
And here's the rub, a total refurbishment can transform a ship and make it appear and feel just like a new one. But the real problem with Dawn Princess is that even if this was done, and it should be, there are structural problems in the design that are virtually impossible fix.
The lifts are badly positioned and incredibly slow. I'd never really thought about lifts on other cruises, as they all seemed to run smoothly. On Dawn Princess everyone complained about them. You'd wait for ages, minutes at a time, and when a lift did arrive, you'd have to run across the width of the ship only to miss it.
The Atrium is served by its own lifts but they only go through about 4 levels which only added to the problems.
Instead of one large two story dining room, Dawn Princess has two on top of each other with low ceilings that make it seem cramped. As too are most ceilings on the ship. Some passenger corridors funnel down to half width and even have strange corners and steep ramps in them. All very strange and poorly designed.
The Princess theatre is only one level and hence no where near enough room to sit everyone for popular shows. Hence people hog chairs very early and if you want to ensure a seat you have rush through dinner and even skip desert.
The Horizon Court Buffet was perhaps the biggest disappointment. The food from the dining room was a highlight of the cruise, but not that different, or indeed better than what we've had on Celebrity. Like the Princess Theatre it was simply too small for the number of people on the ship. Much again comes down to poor design and even with a few people the lines for food were unacceptable and cheapened the whole experience. RCC and Celebrity do buffets so much better than this.
Princess have what they call a Premium dining experience - A steak house at $20 extra P/P. What a joke. Late in the afternoon staff fence off part of the buffet and start to hang very tacky nylon curtains. So there you are fenced off in the corner of the buffet and expected to pretend it is a fine dining experience - lights on the slanted windows mean that only view is of you and party eating, and of course those hideous curtains. Are they kidding??? - apparently not. It really is dodgy brothers.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the great staff and service on board. All were very happy, accommodating and professional and many went beyond expectations.
Most other ships cruising around Australia have two pools, one enclosed for inclement weather. You would think that as Princess has so many cruises that spend a lot of time in NZ and Tassie that they would allocate a ship with a solarium style pool. But no. On most ships that have these they are adult only spaces - Princess have this strange out door beast called the 'Sanctuary' which is an adult only space for an outrageous $10 per half day.
That being said the pool areas were great and worked well, as were all of the outside bars.
Other ships of this size and age can, and are, easily brought up to industry standard if money is spent on them.
And if done properly they can be as enjoyable to cruise on, or more so, than the new mega ships.
Just google images and reviews of Rhapsody of the Seas. She is like a new ship. And Rhapsody has none of the structural problems that plague Dawn Princess.
Celebrity Millennium has also only just had a high glamour makeover.
I find it appalling that Princess Cruises treat the Australian public with such disrespect and I feel saddest for all the people that choose Dawn Princess for their first cruise because it will likely turn many people off cruising for ever.
It feels as if Princess Management thought ........ "What can we do with this old tired ship?, Hey instead of bringing it up to standard, lets send it down to Australia, they won't know any different?"
"Oh and while we're at it lets charge them top dollar for the privilege".