Background & pre cruise:
We're 60 year old Australians with 11 previous cruises on different ships (and many different cruise lines) with which to compare.
This cruise was actually three by seven days cruises that started in Barcelona and finally finished in Venice. Some passengers did a combination of part of the 3 cruises. Although our on-board credit account was carried over to the end of the 21 days, we were given new ship passes for each sector.
As we finished a 9 day Globus coach tour through Spain on the morning of this cruise in Barcelona, we were ready for a relaxing time. Not too relaxing, as this was a port intensive cruise with only 1 sea day each week! Our hotel in Barcelona was next to a bullring converted into a shopping centre. An added surprise was the colourful fountains dancing to music in the evening opposite our hotel.
A taxi took us down to the terminal which is centrally located here.
Embarkation went smoothly with no delays. Once on board, we were directed to our cabin where we left our hand luggage and went for lunch.
Throughout the cruise we had 2 Cruise Critic meetings which were well attended by members and the ship's officers.
Built in 1999, the Ocean Princess was showing its age but is due for a refurbishment next year. We liked the traditional cruise ship look of the public areas with a lot of wood panelling. With only 688 passenger capacity, it was much smaller ship than others we have been on - there is never a line up for anything on the ship. We enjoyed the change as you keep running into people you know and it was never far to go to various venues.
The promenade deck was short as it only ran along the centre of the ship but with only 3 sea days there wasn't much time for walking. There was a small walking/jogging track up top on deck 10.
On this cruise we were pleasantly surprised when we received our first ever upgrade -- from an inside cabin to an outside one with a window!
The overall size of our cabin is not large, but sufficient for two people and our luggage. The space between the wardrobes and the ensuite could have been wider as the wardrobe doors could not be open when using the ensuite -- we prefer the open style walk-in type robe.
There was a small fridge which was handy for keeping our supply of Coke & snacks cold -- ice was also supplied. Also if you want a top sheet, ask for it. Our cabin steward was friendly and seemed efficient at his job.
Food & drinks:
Overall we found the standard of food and the service in the main dining room to be excellent. Fixed-time dining enabled us to get to know 3 couples over the 21 days. Also our wonderful dining room staff got to know our preferences. The lobster on the formal nights was very enjoyable. Wine choices and price were similar to other cruise lines.
For breakfast & lunch, we used both the main dining room and the Panorama Buffet. Also the burgers by the pool were good for a change.
Although the free coffee was fine, we did purchase a coffee card for a treat sometimes.
Staff and service on board:
Princess obviously trains their staff well as they were always friendly and polite even at reception. In the Panorama Buffet they were very attentive and offered to help carry your plate & find you somewhere to sit.
There is only one coin operated (USD2 - 8 quarters per machine) laundrette on board with only 3 washers & dryers working for the whole cruise. To avoid waiting for a machine, we arrived there before the 8 am opening.
On cruises we enjoy the shows in the evening. The singers & dancers did a superb job. The guest entertainers were also good especially the guest tenor who sang songs from musicals (he actually appeared in Les Mis in the West End in London). The entertainment is a bit limited because of the ship's size but after going ashore at the numerous ports, we enjoyed the early nights! On the last few days we've both slowed down with coughs/colds.
The shows were held in the Cabaret Lounge which has limited capacity due to its lounge chair layout with a lot of wasted space between the seats. As a result you had to arrive early to secure a seat near the front where you could enjoy the intimacy of surrounding the entertainers.
Shore Excursions & Destinations:
We normally try to avoid shore excursions organised by ships as we feel that they were too expensive -- although we did use them 3 times on this cruise; at La Goulette (for Tunis city tour), Itea (for ancient Delphi) & Crete (for Knossos). Cruise Critic members organised 5 private tours that we joined; at Livorno (for Cinque Terre & Pisa), Civitavecchia (for Orvieto & Civita di Bagnoregio), Santorini (full island tour including historic Pyrgos,) Piraeus (for Athens) and Koper (for Ljubljana & Bled Castle). Armed with maps & information collected before the cruise (supplemented with detailed free local maps picked up on land), we easily explored ourselves at the other ports. As some ports were a distance from the town, Princess provided a shuttle service which was overpriced as usual.
With the unrest in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia in northern Africa, recently in the news; we were lucky to get there earlier in the cruise.
One highlight location we visited from Civitavecchia (instead of Rome) on a private tour were 2 quaint old towns, Orvieto & Civita di Bagnoregio; both amazingly perched high on plateaus in the hills north of Rome. In the former, we explored underground tunnels with 3000 years of history; and in the later, we found an almost deserted town (except by tourists) as the only access is by a foot bridge - here time stopped several hundred years ago when the surrounding land subsided, isolating the town.
This was very quick and efficient at Venice as we could just walk off the ship with no passbook checks.
In our opinion the ship itself and the service are excellent; whereas the food and entertainment are generally good. The smaller size of the Ocean Princess makes it easy to go to various venues and to get to know the crew and fellow passengers. Princess proves that you get what you pay for. The company seems to build loyalty by rewarding past passengers. We take advantage of both their Future Cruise Credits and Carnival's Shareholder Benefits schemes.
We would highly recommend Princess Cruises.