We chose this sailing to fulfill a dream of cruising the Holy Land. It was a packed itinerary and physically exhausting to see so much in 12 days. I'm sure there's a method to Princess Cruise Lines madness of putting 2 days of Israel and 2 days of Egypt back to back but it would have been nice to have a sea day in between. That would be my only complaint about the itinerary.
We flew into Venice the day before embarkation and stayed at Hotel Arlecchino. This hotel fit our needs very nicely and we were able to catch a cheap bus from the airport to Piazzale Roma and walk to our hotel. We were also able to walk to the cruise port with a little help from Venice's people mover. Once off of it, Princess had a bus to take us on into the port area. Very easy to do. Embarkation was extremely quick with no lines while we were there.
My husband and I have cruised 5 times, twice taking our kids and the other 3 alone. My youngest was concerned about this being a smaller ship and not having all the activities of the larger ships. It was not an issue on this port intensive itinerary. The Pacific Princess library is wonderful. A lovely room with so many books to borrow while on board. We also enjoyed the available board games as a family. We enjoyed the on board trivia a few times. One daughter enjoyed the spin classes in the exercise area and another enjoyed line dancing activities. I also attended the chef's demonstration and the kitchen tour. It was really nice to see how clean everything was!
This was our first small ship experience and it did not feel "small" at all. It has a large ship feel and the only time I noticed how small it was, was in the buffet! The lines were never too long nor was the clamoring for food as unorganized as it sometimes gets on the big ships. Also, I was concerned about motion sickness being worse on the small ship but I noticed no difference. My usual triple threat against it worked: Meclizine, ginger, & pressure point wrist bands added during extra motion times.
We tried to eat in the main dining room most evenings. We chose the late seating, 8:15, due to accommodate our tours and port times. I don't usually like eating late but it really worked out well on this trip. We found the menu selections to be a wide variety although there were some strange combinations in my opinion. Of course I'm just a country, home cook and many of the menu items had things not even available in my area! It was fun though, to try new foods and my 14 year old picky eater ate things I never thought she'd try! We found most of the food to be delicious and beautifully prepared. We did not use luggage space for formal wear so did not plan to participate in formal nights. Princess highly suggests on formal nights to participate or eat elsewhere so we did not go to the main dining room the first formal night. Our waiter, Lucio, was very disappointed and encouraged us to attend the 2nd one even though we had no formal clothing. We did and were certainly under dressed and in the minority but not the only ones. Lucio was happy to see us though and that's all that mattered to me! He and his helper Alesander were excellent. We ate in the buffet restaurant numerous times as well. The food area was clean and there was always a very good variety of food. We especially enjoyed the wonderful salad bar area with the vast array of very nice selection of fresh fruit. A nice extra on the last sea day was the chip, salsa and guacamole bar set out by the pool area. It was delicious. We are not alcohol drinkers so I can't say anything about the drinks. We did by a coffee card for cappuccinos and lattes. It was $29.00 for 20 drinks. We did not purchase a soda card although probably should have because several family members had one or two a day. We did not go to any specialty dining rooms.
We had room 7055 & 7043 both inside cabins. We are very happy with insides because we all sleep better in dark rooms. The staterooms were very roomy with nice storage in the room and bath room for toiletries. Jose and Arnold, the stateroom stewards, both provided excellent service. I really applaud cruise ship employees, especially the waiters and stateroom stewards. They work endless hours for months at a time and have to keep a smile on their face. We are always happy to give them a little extra at the end of the cruise.
We enjoyed the television channels that were available in English and a few of the movies they would show. Also, Port Lecturer Joe May was very helpful, both at his desk on the 4th deck to answer questions, and on his television shows that were shown about the ports on the day before docking at each one.
The ship overall was beautiful and tasteful traditional style. It looked to be in very good condition. I've seen expressed in other reviews that it was time for a refurbishing but I liked it and did not think it was run down at all. The pool deck was ample for the ship's size but on sea days it was crowded at times. My family enjoyed sunning on deck chairs some but I don't think anyone ever got in the pool. It is a smaller pool and not set up with slides, etc...for kids although they could certainly swim in it. This was not important to us.
We usually enjoy the on board entertainment every night on cruises but with our late dinner seating, we were too exhausted on most nights to attend a show at 10:15. My husband did enjoy listening to Kathy Phippard occasionally. We also enjoyed a couple of shows featuring The Pacific Princess Singers and Dancers. I'm sorry I can't remember the names of the male and female lead singers but they were very good. We also heard Christopher Riggins second show on the ship. Wow! He is excellent as well.
I can't end the ship portion of my review without commenting on the laundry room! As a mom of multiple kids, I know laundry! With new airline restrictions, we limited each to one suitcase each for the 16 days we were gone. All I can say is thank you Princess for having a self serve laundry! It was a madhouse on sea days so I suggest everyone try to work around those days! With our cabins being just down the hall it was very convenient for me to do laundry when I needed and to avoid the crowds. It takes about 30 minutes to wash and 45 to dry and was $2.00 for each. The machines take American quarters only which are easily available on the 4th floor reception area. (The workers there are also very helpful and polite.) They sell soap and other items but I found the convenient Purex Complete 3-in-1 laundry sheets purchased online before cruising to be extremely effective for travel with no mess involved.
Our first two ports were Ravenna and Dubrovnik. My husband and I had already been to both so we did not join any tours here. We walked around Ravenna and toured the mosaic churches and enjoyed a nice lunch at a sidewalk cafe. Princess had a free shuttle from the port to the town of Ravenna. This was the only time it was free. In Dubrovnik, a few of our family walked the wall while the others walk through the old town. We then took the cable car up Mt. Srt where the views are amazing.
In Patmos we got off the ship and hired a taxi just a few steps away to take the 5 of us to the Cave of the Apocalypse then to John's church. He dropped us off at each, gave us a pick up time and left. He came back and took us to the next place, returning us to the port. We then ate at a cafe with wi-fi and walked around and shopped a little.
The next 4 port days were intensive! The first was Haifa and then Ashdod in Israel. With a family of 5 we just did not want to spend the extra money on ship's excursions. I'm very well aware of the benefits of them, mainly not getting left if you don't make it back before the ship sails, however most tour guides are very well aware of this and make it their goal to get you back on time. We hired Dina Horn as our tour guide. Due to my error, Dina was unable to pick us up on the first day but had her friend and guide Shraga Rosensaft escort us on that day through the Galilee area. His knowledge and pride in the history of the area was extremely good. He took us to a nice place on the Sea of Galilee to have a lunch featuring St. Peter's fish and a wonderful array of fresh salads with pita bread. We enjoyed our day with Shraga. Dina met us at the port just as Shraga dropped us off to check that we enjoyed our tour. She picked us up in Ashdod the next day and took us to Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. After lunch, we chose to go into Bethlehem over going to the museum. It was slightly intimidating going through all the security. Once past that and the small crowd inside the gate, we were swiftly escorted into cars by our guide. It is set up that the guide takes you on the tour and then you go back through Johnny's Souvenier shop to spend your money. We knew all of this ahead of time to help us make our decision to take the tour. We could have hired another private guide and avoided this but we were only there a couple of hours so I didn't think it was necessary. Let me say now that the sales people are extremely pushy in both Egypt and Israel; both in the stores and private vendors. We knew going into Johnny's that we would purchase something because the store supports some of the Christians remaining in Bethlehem. We purchase more than we intended but they did come off the , price around 30%. (Also, it is important to know that most private guides get something off of anything you purchase from the places they take you.) I can't remember our guides name in Bethlehem but he was very nice and informative and did make it possible for us to avoid the hour long line at the church of the nativity.
I would have like to have had another day in Israel and highly recommend Dina Horn and Shraga Rosensaft.
Next was Port Said and Alexandria Egypt. We hired Ramses tours and had Mohamed Khamis as our guide. Both he and our driver, also Mohammed were excellent. The entire ship population going on excursions that day proceeded away from the port in a convoy that seemed more like a parade. Quite impressive actually however, once in heavy traffic everyone got separated. We chose to stay overnight at the pyramids at the Mena House Oberoi. It was excellent. The traffic in Cairo was unbelievable but our driver expertly weaved his way where he needed to go. The pyramids and the Egyptian museum were all greatly enjoyed by our family. I will add that our 2nd day in Egypt we had an armed escort in our van. I'm not sure if it was because we were on our own or because we were American. I have heard it is the latter reason. I highly recommend Ramses Tours.
In Kusadasi, we hire Ertunga Ecir as our guide for the day. He was excellent as well and we enjoyed our day in Ephesus.
Our last port was Athens where we hired Paul's taxi service to take us to the many sites. Paul's son Dimitri was an excellent guide. While they are not licensed guides they are very knowledgeable and get great reviews online. They drop you off to see the sites on your own. We stayed an extra day and had Dimitri take us to Corinth. Early the next morning they also picked us up from our hotel, the Hotel Amalia, and took us to the airport.
I would recommend any of the above guides and services and would not hesitate to use any of them again. All of the vehicles were nice and air-conditioned and non-smoking although not advertised as non-smoking. I didn't even think to recommend this but am glad it worked out.
Our family loved this trip; both the ship and the itinerary. Disembarking was a breeze with no problems. I was a little nervous, with the political climate, about visiting some of these ports but all was well. Happy Cruising Everyone!