We booked back to back cruises, first the repositioning cruise from San Francisco and the follow-on circumnavigation of Australia and New Zealand. We had the same cabin for both cruises but the second 33 days were very different from the first 27 days.
Embarkation in San Francisco was held up 3 hours because the ship had been in a 10 day rehab and was still off loading trash. The port in San Francisco is in dire need of updating if they want to increase cruise ship traffic. There is no place to wait inside the terminal, you have to stand outside on the sidewalk. No fun if it is raining. You must tip the local porters to take your bags to the ship. Australian passengers were having a real hard time with this because they don't tip.
Cabin - We had a balcony cabin across from the aft elevators, starboard, Baja Deck. We were a little worried about traffic noise from the elevators but it really was not much of a problem. We could smell garlic and onions and a noxious fume mainly at night. After a couple weeks of this we mentioned the noxious fume was causing headaches to our room steward. He said he would tell his supervisor and it seemed to go away for the most part. The only other issue we had was the air conditioning went out but was repaired within 2 hours. The cabins on Sea Princess are slightly smaller than other Princess ships. We did notice that Shampoo is now attached to the shower in a pump bottle. We don't know if it is just the Sea Princess or a change for the entire line because in the spring on Emerald Princess we were still getting individual shampoo bottles.
Food - Horizon Court - The food on the Horizon Court is terrible. While food is a matter of taste and not everyone likes the same thing, I will address the quality and preparation. All the meats are a low grade cheap cut. We had slices of meat that we were lucky to get a bite or two out of after the fat and gristle were cut off. Cheaper cuts of meat like beef chuck and stewing hens need to be cooked longer before you can hope to chew them. I had braised short ribs of beef that I could not cut with a knife. Fish dishes were dried out and overcooked. All pasta dishes were under cooked and inedible. If you like pasta almost crunchy, then this is for you. Fruits were all what we called "blemished" as in bruised and banged up. We could understand bananas getting black after long stretches at sea but there were enough port calls once we got to Australia that this should not have been the case. Cooked vegetables were under cooked for my taste. Once we got to Australia, vegetables seem to be steamed slightly longer but still half cooked as far as I was concerned. The Horizon Court intensively used leftovers. Any day at lunch or dinner you could see the ghosts of meals past and what the MDR didn't use. The food was just a little more dried up and picked over. My pet peeve was nutmeg in the mashed potatoes. This seems to be a Princess thing because it showed up on Emerald Princess as well. We got to where we could not bear to eat the vile mashed potatoes and unfortunately, these same mashed potatoes were recycled in to soups for thickeners or Shepard's Pie, Twice Baked Potatoes, etc. Nutmeg showed up in dishes that should not have nutmeg. Pre-made sandwiches were disgusting. There were strange combinations such as sliced roast pork with cold eggplant on soggy cold toast. If you like soggy cold toast, this is for you! On the positive side, breads and pastries were very good. Lots of food was wasted because people just could not eat it.
Riveria Grill - On the way to Australia, hamburgers, cheese burgers, hot dogs, and chicken sandwiches with French fries were pretty average but much better than the Horizon Court. Once in Australia, pies, sausage rolls, and what Americans call Gyros but Australians call Kebobs were added. I tried one of the pies that looked like a beef pot pie with no vegetables but could not eat it because it was hard as a rock on the outside. I don't care for lamb so I did not try the Gyro or Kebob.
Cafe Cornishe - You could only get pizza on deck 8 from Noon to 2 pm and 6 pm to 11 pm. In the afternoon all you could get was pizza. In the evening you could get antipasta, Cesar Salad, soup, Lasagna, and ricotta, spinach crepes and dessert. The pizza is very thin crust with add your own Italian Seasonings. Each pizza is individual size and cooked to order. With out the Italian seasoning that you add yourself the pizza is bland. DH had the Lasagna three times and it ranged from awful to OK. The Spinach crepes were mushy swimming in a soupy sauce. If you like thick crust pan pizza, this place is not for you.
MDR - The first half of the cruise we had anytime dining but it was not offered as a choice once we got to Australia. The food in the MDR was 100% better than the mess served in Horizon Court. We ate as many meals as we could in the MDR during the second half of the cruise. Breakfasts were good, lunch was usually good with some inconsistencies, dinner ranged from just OK to excellent. Portion sizes were small but you could get a second entree if you wanted it. Fish dishes could leave you hungry if you did not get appetizers and dessert. The "always available" menu was very good and often a sell out for our table. When we reached Australia, the menus changed or I should say what the food was called changed. Thankfully our great waiter, Jerome would tell us what the descriptions meant. There were a lot of strange food on the menu, cold pea soup with mint made us all gag and no one ordered it! One day pork bellies was offered! No one ordered that either. The only really bad meal I had in the dining room was pot roast. It was tough and served with nutmeg mashed potatoes.
Entertainment - Again this is a matter of taste. There were guest lecturers for a wide range of topics. Zumba was available on sea days. Television was most improved. MSNBC, CNBC, and FOX replaced CNN International and Headline News and was a great improvement. MSNBC and Fox disappeared once we got to Australia and was replaced with Sky News. There were 191 Americans on the second half of the cruise and many of us complained that we wanted to see the Third Presidential Debate and the Election Returns. MSNBC and Fox came back for the Third Debate and then again for two weeks beginning on the Sunday before the election.
Stranded in Akaroa, New Zealand - 712 passengers and 50 crew were stranded in Akaroa, which is a tender port. The story Princess put out was that the weather turned bad faster than expected. Before we left the ship we were all told to wear close toed shoes and to dress for bad weather. We were on tour and returned at 5pm to find that the tenders were shut down and one was filled with water. We were taken to the Akaroa school gym. Local people provided water and coffee. Around 8 pm "food" arrived. Food was once slice of buttered bread with 1/2 breakfast sausage covered with ketchup. Accommodations ranged from a bed in a private home, two strange couples sharing hotel rooms, a couple with a strange man or woman sleeping on the couch in their room, to 5 star hotels in Christ Church 90 minutes away. Princess paid the hotel bills and gave us all $85 to pay for missed meals. Andrew, an assistant cruise director who was stranded with us was terrific keeping order. Kudos to all the crew who were stranded with us. Boo to the Captain who made a bad decision to let us off the ship in the first place. This debacle cost Princess a bunch!
Fellow Passengers - On the way to Australia, about 1/3 were Australians and New Zealanders, about half were American or Canadian, there were about 200 Germans and as many French, with Chinese and Spanish speakers as well. Most of the passengers were in the 50-75 age range. You could count the number of kids on one hand. Once in Australia, there were 191 Americans, a few British, a few New Zealanders, and the rest Australians. Age range seem much older with few 50's and many people late 70's up to 90 year olds. During the second half of the cruise people embarked and disembarked in several ports and younger people with kids did get on. One warning to American and Canadians taking an Australian based cruise, Australian table manners are not what you are accustomed to. This seems to be a cultural thing because they all do it. Australians eat with two utensils at the same time. Usually they hold the fork with the left hand upside down and use a knife or table spoon to scrape and push food onto the back side of their forks. We found ourselves sitting with a large table of Australians and they were elbowing each other poking fun at us because we ate with one hand and put our knives down after we cut our meat. Emily Post would faint dead away if she had to sit at a table with these folks. The people on the second half of the cruise seemed to favor lots of perfume. At times it was overwhelming.
Ship changes - When we got to Australia, all the prices went up. The port t-shirts that were 2 for $20 were raised to 2 for $25. The junk sale of cheap watches, purses, scarves, etc. that were $10 each became $20 each. Post cards that were $1 became $1.95. A box of peanut brittle that had been 11.95 became $16.95. Cokes went from $1.95 to $2.45. Since Australian money is worth $1.03 USD, prices should have gone down. We were told that since Australians didn't pay tips that the prices were raised. It was clear that Australians paid higher cruise fares. I think that Princess takes advantage of the fact that Australians are used to paying higher prices for everything so they charge them more.
Laundry Mats - Each passenger deck has only two washers and two dryers. In 60 days I could only use the laundry on deck 10 once. I always did laundry on port days and could use the deck 5 laundry without waiting.