We booked through Bolsover Cruise Club, the booking was handled by Craig very efficiently and we were pleased with the service. An unexpected bonus was that our P&O loyalty was acknowledged by Princess (it doesn't go the other way though) this put us straight into Platinum. However as my wife did the booking only she got the upgrade, a quick call to Princess fixed this, apparently this does happen when transferring loyalty. We had booked a guaranteed balcony cabin on E deck, when the cabin was confirmed we had been upgraded to A deck. The Roll Call on Facebook was useful, just a shame that more people did not join in, we even had a get together in the Wheelhouse bar, time to put names to faces.
This ran very smoothly, though the traffic in Southampton was heavy with four ships in port. This was the first time to get a combined cruise card and room key, it just makes better sense. From handing over our luggage to walking into the cabin took about 30 minutes, and our first case was already in the cabin.
This is the biggest ship we've cruised on and we were expecting it to be a complicated layout, but it works and it's 'relatively' easy to find things without walking miles. The atrium is quite small, only three floors and can become congested.
The cabin was functional rather than glamorous, and a bit dull/tired. The fridge is a good size and replenished with ice every morning. The 220V power point under the bed is not very convenient, but we had been recommended to take an extension lead. The balcony was in need of some TLC, the doors rattled (fixed this with a cardboard wedge), and large area of pealed paint on a down pipe (back to bare metal) and the bottom of the patio door was sealed with duct tape. Our cabin steward Dixon was excellent, nothing was too much trouble.
Things that go bump in the night, we knew that being under the Lido deck there was potential for noise, and most of the time it was perfectly quiet. Our cabin (A312) was under the doors leading from the Lido area and around 04:30 most mornings a heavy trolley would clank over the grating (we should have mentioned it); similarly some mornings when the deck was being hosed at 06:30 could be disturbing.
The internet access wasn't great and kept dropping off; I even went and stood by the access point in the corridor. Near the end of the cruise I had a chat with the Internet Manager who pointed out that because I was using an iPad I needed to change some settings. I wish that had been mentioned in the guide in the cabin, iPads have been around for a few years now.
We're up for trying most things! There's a good selection of places to eat and we tried most of them. Prego pizza was very good, thin and crispy as it should be, but it appeared to be under used. Not so with the Trident Grill, busy, great sausages and burgers. We selected anytime dining which worked well for us. We are not too bothered about the entertainment, preferring a leisurely meal, and never had to wait to get into the Michelangelo dining room. The choices for breakfast were very American orientated, but you could ask for just about anything if you were prepared to wait a little. The Horizon Court was particularly good for breakfast with a good selection of fresh fruit. Alfredo's was good for lunch a couple of times, but the menu is limited and unchanging; daily special or extra toppings would be nice. The quality of the pizza is again excellent, thin and crispy.
Sabatini's was a great experience, beautiful food and attentive service, well worth the extra $20. Crown Grill is definitely for those with big appetites, and a taste for good meat. We thought the menu was a little limited, but a good experience, worth the extra $25. I particularly liked being asked to cut my steak to ensure it was cooked to my taste, before the sauce was poured on.
The only room service we tried was the champagne breakfast which offered exceptional value for $32. Seven plates of food arrived at our cabin at the requested time along with coffee, juice and half a bottle of champagne, the only downside was that the weather was not quite good enough to eat it on the balcony.
The show put on by the catering team was highly enjoyable and amusing; the 'tasting' chef is definitely a larger than life character!
Bars and Drinks
We enjoy our drinks on holiday and every night will have bottle of wine with dinner, therefore we did find the prices high particularly with the 15% non-negotiable gratuity. A two times uplift on the price of a bottle of wine is not unreasonable, but most were closer to three times. The bar sweep cards are not well publicised, we managed to complete seven! Our favourite inside bar was the Wheelhouse, shame it was not open at lunch time. The two organised wine tastings were both interesting and entertaining, hosted by the resident sommelier Andre Smith. Vines is pleasant but seems under used, didn't see any evidence of the sushi or tapas in the evenings. One of the advantages of Platinum tier is access to Bar One5 and the food action station before dinner, this was very enjoyable and the chef was very attentive.
We did use the gym several times; it is very well equipped with modern equipment, although it could use a second rowing machine.
I have to say this was disappointing; the quality of the casual portraits was not great. Out of the 15 or so pictures they took we thought that we might have three, and then we found out that they were $19.95 for each 10x8 print. This is the first cruise that we have not purchased any pictures. It's also the first time I've seen the photographers trying to sell the photos on the day of disembarkation, there were an awful lot of unsold photos.
Ports of Call
We had been to some of the ports before, and were looking forward to trying the ones we had not. The organisation of the crew to get you off on your trip was very slick, and waiting time was kept to a minimum. We took Princess organised trips in Malaga, Barcelona, Cannes, Rome and Ajacio; all were well organised and enjoyable. In Rome we took the trip to Orvieto. There were only 19 on a 50 seater coach, it was almost like a private tour and absolutely delightful. Orvieto is a small hilltop town with a large cathedral, very pretty and pleasant to walk through. In Naples what with having to dock, undock, tender and redock, we just took a walk round the terminal. Gibraltar, where we have been many times, was the usual fun place, good for some last minute shopping before the sea days taking us home. The sail away was lively, but not much evidence of a 'cocktail of the day'.
A good cruise, although areas of the ship (particularly our cabin) are looking tired and in need of updating. But we have paid our deposit for our next Princess cruise!