We were a group of 8 traveling from the U.S. The other six individuals have done one or two cruises each. We were excited to sail on our first Princess cruise and also very excited to cruise the Norwegian Fjords and North Cape. We became interested in this cruise when on a previous Baltic Cruise (RCCL Jewel of the Seas) and subsequently sailed Alaska two summers ago (RCCL Radiance of the Seas). As this was our first Princess cruise, I will provide what we found to be our pros and cons throughout.
We all arrived in London several days ahead and stayed at the Rubens Hotel. This was a wonderful hotel, very charming in a great location. The rooms are all very different and while not large - some are easier to manage than others. One couple had a room that required them to store their suitcases in front of the closet as there was literally no other space for them and there were items (safe, tea service) on the floor of the closet). We had a king room and it had plenty of space for us, was very quiet and the bed was very comfortable. The elevators are very small, so it does help if you are able to take the stairs periodically. There are some confusing things with this hotel. No one told us that breakfast was included. We opted to eat at the hotel the last morning. Two chose the cold breakfast and two the hot buffet. All was free - but we had no idea until we checked out. One couple received cold champagne in their room, some received tickets to things in the area - but we were not clear who was receiving what and it was not consistent. If you book here - make good notes of what is included and then follow up on arrival. The internet was free and much appreciated.
We booked Smiths for Airports based on CC reviews. We used them for a total of six transports throughout and were very pleased and impressed with their promptness, professionalism and friendliness. When we arrived at Heathrow, as we exited from gathering our luggage, our driver was in the exit chute holding a sign with my name on it. All of their vehicles were comfortable and had plenty of space. Smiths charged my credit card several days before we left and then we just needed cash for driver tips.
From the Rubens Hotel we mostly walked to where we decided to go - two couples did use the HOHO buses. The Royal Mews is directly across the street and the Churchill War Rooms are just on the other side of the park. The War Rooms are definitely worth a visit. On Monday evening we attended Evensong at Westminster Abbey. This is free and at 5:00. The doors open at 4:30. It is worthwhile to be there then as you do get seats closer in and can see more. This lasts about 45 minutes.
Dinner that evening was at the Crusty Pipe in Market Square of Covent Garden - lower level. We had reserved a table for six and they actually put us in a small room, which was very nice. Because of doing Evensong, we were a bit tight on time so did have to rush a bit. Following dinner we walked to Shrek which was playing just across the street. I had previously booked the tickets online which was easy to do, it was a wonderful show and a beautiful theater. Thankfully we were on the main floor as there are three balconies.
On Tuesday morning, Smiths picked all 8 of us up and took us to Stonehenge on our way to Southampton and the ship. This was an excellent use of time and I highly recommend doing a stop somewhere en route. We had arranged for pick up at 9:00 and we also made a stop at a grocery store on the way. We printed some of our luggage tags on shipping labels. We purchased cases of water and soda and stuck the shipping labels on them and dropped them with the baggage. All arrived promptly to our rooms. We did buy a total of 8 bottles of wine, but as we had space in rolling carryons - we just put them in there and walked on the ship with them. We had our room steward empty our refrigerators and using this for soda, wine and water during the week was very handy.
Embarkation went very well. We were on board by 1:30. We had lunch at the buffet which was okay. We found this to be a little more confusing than our previous cruises. You have to find a seat and then wait for waitstaff to track you down. They then get you silverware and drinks. I do appreciate the service element, but find it quicker and handier to just grab a napkin/silverware and also the ability to take water/iced tea/lemonade as needed. On some previous cruises, we have had waitstaff walking around with trays of extra - which was nice. This did tend to take some time, so your food did tend to get cold. Refills were also time consuming. I did eventually figure out where the stations were. The iced tea often had issues and was not very good and you had to ask for lemonade. There were not many drink stations available - compared to what I've experienced on other ships. I started making hot tea and putting it over ice - based on the suggestion of another cruiser. I had brought a large water bottle - so this made this work better. We did get in the way of each other a lot though as the servers needed to be fixing drinks at the same stations.
For our luggage tags, we printed them on paper, covered them in packing tape, punched holes and put bread ties through the holes. Worked beautifully.
We were blessed with beautiful weather on this trip which was totally unexpected. That said - it was still a cold weather itinerary and not beach weather. Unfortunately the ship used for this trip is better suited to a warm weather itinerary. On sea days, short port days and evenings it became very difficult to find a quiet place to read or study. There is not enough indoor space and the weather did not permit this outside due to wind and colder temps. The ship could compensate for this by making more areas available for quiet spaces - however, they use a lot of spaces to display/sell art for the auctions, hold bingo, trivia, etc. Even if we found a quiet place, it was only a short time until it would be used for something different. Skywalkers was typically quiet - although it was used for private functions periodically. When available, it was packed. There was rarely bar service here and no complimentary water or tea available. Only two elevators run to this floor - so bringing drinks from the available drink stations and getting them here is a challenge especially for some of the cruisers.
I found the elevators on this ship to be confusing. There are three elevator banks, however, all cars to not run to all floors. To get to our dining room - we usually had to go up and over and down - or walk up a flight to get an elevator to go up or down. Similar issue with Skywalkers. The waits were longer than we've experienced on other ships due to the layout of the ship. We really like being able to walk from one end to the other without going up and over. Additionally the elevators only have buttons on one side and no readout across the top.
Our balcony rooms on Deck 9 were very nice. This ship refers to things by letter which is confusing. instead of being in 9509 like you would be on most ships, we were in B509 and on Baja deck. It seemed to require extra explanations throughout as you needed to know that B was on 9.
We liked the layout of this room very much. The storage/closet area is well thought out and very useful. We had more storage than we needed and found it easier to get ready in the stateroom - especially if someone was still sleeping. I also liked the location of the bathroom door - by the closet - rather than behind the cabin door. The safe was easy and at a good level. The nightstands held a lot and had drawers - so much better than shelves. There was plenty of room under the bed and in the desk drawers. I liked that the balcony was a sliding door.
The balcony size was okay and came with two chairs and a small table. We had intentionally booked our four rooms next to each other so we could open up our balconies. What we did not realize is that the half wall that opens - swings into your space and does not lay flat. The balconies on either side of us - both opened into our space. Therefore, if both sides were open, we didn't have enough room to use our chairs and table. One side had a faulty door - so it would also bang all night when it was windy. It was jimmied shut with paper which stops the banging, but doesn't allow it to be opened. Given the good weather we had, it was nice to be able to share our balcony space and it also allowed us to move things between rooms without going into the hall.
We were scheduled for dinner at 6:00 in the Palm Dining room. For some reason this was moved to 5:45 and kept at that time throughout. We were also told there would be two formal nights - and they ended up having three. We are not big fans of formal nights - certainly not on this type of itinerary. Because we had a full table of 8 and were traveling together - we opted for a more casual "formal" approach. The men wore long sleeved shirts and ties and the women wore dressy tops and pants. This was no problem. There were people dressed any which way. We had a wonderful table by the window and had Veronika and Danielo as our waitstaff. Both were excellent. Overall, I found the food on this cruise to be of a better quality than our previous cruises - with the possible exception of Celebrity. We were at table 16.
The first night they only had two shows, so there were not enough seats for everyone to see it. The opening show was mostly an advertisement by the CD (Dan) and staff with a few short bits added. Songs were not good and the singers struggled with them. The sound system definitely has some snags.
The International Cafe is wonderful and has EXCELLENT desserts. The salads, breakfast items and desserts are complimentary - but the drinks here are not (including the coffee). The coffee drinks that we did have were excellent and generous. You could get them in china mugs or paper to go - which was handy if leaving the ship or heading to your room. Clocks went forward one hour the first night. This was the only time change on the trip and they went back two days before the end of the cruise.
There is a Vines restaurant on the first floor. They did have "complimentary" tapas and sushi, however you had to purchase something to drink. As I mainly drink water and iced tea, I never got to try their items.
Also nearby is the Internet Cafe and Library. I'm usually a huge fan of ship libraries. According to the librarian, Princess has had a lot of issues with theft of books on the ship so the books are locked up except for certain times. It's also on deck 5 and mainly the internet cafe. So I really didn't spend any time here as it was a busy place.
A very big plus on this ship is the laundromat set up. They were clean, organized and well thought out. It's $2 in quarters to wash or dry a load of clothes. They post the times required on the wall. There are also irons and boards available as well as a sink. It was so nice to take less clothes and nice to not have to wait a day or so for laundry service. It was also nice to wash the gym clothes at the end rather than sticking them in the luggage.
The Patter is delivered to your stateroom each evening. We usually received them after 9:30. I'd have liked it a bit earlier to plan our days while our group was all together. I do like the format of the RCCL newsletter better. They put everything on the last two pages - so that is the only one you have to carry around. Plus it is perforated so it folds down nicely.
The pillows and beds on this ship are not very comfortable - compared to other ships we have been on. We did ask for extra pillows and received them without a problem. They also only provide one small towel per person - but they do provide two beach towels in each room, which is nice. You can also ask for robes.
The port maps provided by the ship were pathetic and out of date. Tromso moved their information center six years ago - and the old location is still shown. They should either provide relevant points of interest on these maps or discontinue them.
MUTS is a cute idea, but rather cold and not as much fun in the land of the midnight sun. They do provide blankets - but it was COLD most nights up there. The movie selection was not all that good.
We found breakfast in the dining room to be very good and most of the specials were excellent. I'm a huge fan of Muesli on Celebrity, but didn't care for the one provided as a special in the dining room. The one at the IC was better.
On our first sea day we did have a CC meet and greet. We had good attendance, but the venue was not ideal. Dan and one of his staff did stop by.
I went to the stretch class (7:00 a.m.) on sea or late port days. The instructor was very good and actually showed up and held the class on time - even with time changes! There were other classes that sounded good - but were held at odd times - like 5:00 - which doesn't work with a 5:45 dinner time. They did hold the "seminars" in the gym to try to sell things. This takes up the wood floor and a considerable amount of useable workout space and was done several times during the cruise. There is a good selection of workout equipment and early in the morning it was easy to use what you wanted.
We were not able to do the shows every night as sometimes we just could not get to the theater early enough to get a seat for the 8:15 show. They did run three shows as they are fairly short.
On sea days, a Pub Lunch was provided in the Crown Grill. This was very well organized and excellent. It is a limited menu, but includes bangers & mash, fish & chips, ploughman's lunch and an awesome bread pudding. The items are pre-prepared so it's a quick and delicious alternative. We enjoyed this twice and ate in the dining room on the other sea days. We have enjoyed ships that offer a dining room lunch on non-sea days. Unfortunately this ship did not do that. There is a grill and pizza option and both are excellent.
There are movies in the Princess Theater on sea days, and they were well attended. I enjoyed the J. Edgar movie - but did not care for Tinker Tailor Solder Spy. On Sunday, a staff member led an interdenominational church service in Fusion. This was well attended and well done.
Trivia was fun. It is best when the monitors are used as some of the staff had to spell multiple clues for unfamiliar words. We ran out of time several times due to scheduling and participants.
All in all this was a wonderful trip and we had a great time. We're not sure if we will cruise Princess again - we do know we'd certainly do more research on the ship to make sure it was appropriate for the itinerary chosen.
I've provided specific port information under that port tab. If no tab - then it's below.
This was an amazing ship tour - probably one of the best I have ever taken. We met on the ship around 7:45 to tender off. Only those going on ship excursions were taken off at this port. The ship then continued up through Geiranger Fjord to Geiranger. We were able to see this fjord later - as the ship has to come back through it to exit. We took the Briksdahl Glacier excursion.
The bus stopped at several scenic spots along the way and then arrived at Birksdahl glacier around 10:45. We were asked to be back at the cafeteria area around noon - which did make for a brisk walk. Ideally getting here around 10:30 would be better. The walk to the glacier is mostly uphill, but on nice wide paved paths. The last portion is dirt and gravel and narrower. You never actually walk on snow or ice - you just get to the river/falls runoff at the base of the glacier. They did have trollies available and you could pay to ride part of the way up or back. The trollies only ride on the paved portion of the road. You could opt to just stay at the gift shop/cafeteria if for some reason you were not up for the hike on the day you were there. This is an option if someone in your group wants to come along, but can't do the hike. We had a beautiful day and only wore light jackets, which we had removed by the time we reached the glacier. The lunch on return was excellent. We were served cream of mushroom soup, salmon, potatoes, cucumbers and a dessert crepe. There were bottles of various types of soda - plus water - on the tables. We then went to the National Park center where you could watch a video, wander the exhibits and gardens. We had about 45 minutes here and it was nice that the stops were spaced throughout so you were never riding for too long. All of the scenery was beautiful. We then stopped at Mt. Dalsniba for about 15 minutes on our way to meet the ship in Geiranger. On return, we needed to board as it was almost time to set sail.
Arrival here was at noon. Another beautiful day at 59 degrees! We took the ship tour to the North Cape. One thing they did not tell us until we were en route, was that we could not leave anything on the bus. We had brought extra jackets and such, planning to do so. Unfortunately we had to lug all of our stuff around with us at the North Cape spot. A bigger disappointment was the fact that there was NO narration on this trip. NONE. She quickly told us how long we would have at each stop, before we ever left the parking lot. Narration would have been welcome. I did not care for the Sami stop. I thought it was rather pathetic and could be significantly improved. The North Cape facility is nice. The movie is worth seeing - but again - NO narration. So you really don't learn much about the North Cape by going on this tour at all. In the North Cape building, there is an amazing Grotto Bar. We'd have liked to hang out here as it was a beautiful space. Unfortunately it was closed while we were there. We were given 1 1/2 hours at the North Cape. One hour would have been sufficient. You do have to then go out in the parking lot and stand around and look for a new bus to arrive that will be your bus for the return. There is no meeting place given. We only had to wait about 15 minutes and one arrived for us. It was interesting to see the North Cape - but this tour could be much improved. Four of our group went on the bird watching tour and really enjoyed it. Consider that as an alternative.
On our return to Honningsvag, we went to the ice bar. It is near where the ship docks. It was fun to see - rather crowded and a tad confusing - but seems like something you should do when at the North Cape.
This was the first (of two) towns where you need a ship shuttle to reach town. The cost from Princess is $8/each way. You can purchase tickets ahead - which is really convenient. What they don't tell you is that a lot of people will not do this and you all wait in the same line together. Obviously the line moves slowly when they board the bus one person at a time and have to sell tickets along the way. Same on the return. if these could be free - buses could pull up - open both doors - load up and go. Often there were multiple buses, but we could only load one person at a time through the one door of one bus. I really tire of waiting in lines. If this is the only way to do it - do not penalize those that purchased their tickets ahead. Have a separate area for the sale of tickets. Or just load up the buses and figure it out en route. When having to purchase a ticket, standing should be an OPTION - especially for older folks.
Tromso is a lovely town. Six of us had lunch at Emma's Drommekjokken. I highly recommend this restaurant and the sampler plate. It is a short walk from the information center and they can direct you. They were busy all afternoon. For lunch, you actually eat in the "cafe" portion as the restaurant is only open for dinner.
The library is the white building with the wings in the center of town. The internet is free and there are computers to use. It's just up the street from the Burger King.
The shuttle drops you off in the main portion of Tromso. The Arctic Cathedral and Cable Car are across the bridge on the other side. It's a fair walk if the weather is not good. There is also a botanical garden. Two of our group did go to that and said it was okay. You walk from the ship, across the parking lot, under the street and over to the university. As you are paying for a shuttle - it seems it could drop folks closer to the garden and also on the side by the Arctic Cathedral.
There is nothing to see in either town. Two with our group took the ship shuttle and it dropped them at one city, when the other was the one indicated. This was eventually straightened out. They then took a bus to Ballstead and were able to find a charming cafe. Four of us rented a private taxi tour with Leknes Taxi. We chose trip 2, but had to skip Nusfjord due to time. Our trip was from 9-1, but we didn't leave until 9:30 as we didn't realize how long it was going to take to tender over. We were on an early tender, but the ship decided to wait and fill each tender and this took some time to wait for people to come down that wanted to go over. On the return, they also filed one tender at a time -so the lines were considerably long (and there was more than one tender ready). The museum in Sund was not worth the admission - but good for a laugh. All of the cities/towns were beautiful. Our driver was very nice and would answer questions as he was able. He wanted us to tell him what we wanted to see -so you do need to be prepared. We found a delightful little bakery in one town and really just wandered around. This was the way to go. It's a little difficult to communicate with this taxi company as they take 7-10 days to answer each email. But he was on the dock and ready when expected. It was a normal car and he took four of us - so it was a tight fit - but we stopped often. In retrospect, I wish we had booked 5-6 hours and allowed time for lunch. Hertz did have a van at the port - so that might be an option. There was also a sign at the port for bikes - but not sure where you would ride.
This is a wonderful city and I wish we had more time here. We wandered the streets of the old city and visited the Petrol Museum which opened at 10. We had planned to spend an hour, but were here closer to two. We had the back half of the museum to ourselves the first hour. We had hoped to see the Fish Cannery but did not have time. We had a ship tour to Utstein Kloster in the afternoon. In retrospect, I wish we had not done this as we could have seen more of the city. For the ship tour, you had to meet on the ship (rather than the dock) so we had to go all the way back. Our bus was full and we were in the back with a woman with mobility issues. No one from Princess or the tour group stayed behind when we reached the monastery, so they didn't know that she fell in the bus stairwell. By the time we got help for her, we missed whatever the guide had shared about the Monastery. They then herded us all into a very small room for waffles and coffee. This was puzzling as there was a room with tables and chairs (but empty) right next door. So this took much longer than needed as it was so tight. Another option would have been to split the group in half and have half tour the grounds and then switch. The recital was lovely as were the grounds. The drive was very nice. By the time we returned, it was time to board the ship and leave.