We are a family of four, including two teenage daughter (19 & 17). This was our 13th cruise, 4th with Princess (on second on the Sea Princess) so we knew what to expect and were no strangers of the consummate host policy as well as the standard of other ships and lines. Our cruise visited Fiji, Vanautu and New Caledonia over 14 night on the Sea Princess and was a New Years Eve cruise. Due to Cyclone Freda we had to rearrange our itinerary and divert the bad weather, which meant we arrived late to Noumea by a couple of hours and had our Vila port delayed to one of our sea days.
Some things which weren't to our liking or contained some issue:
The tender service wasn't up to scratch. Accidents occurred at one of our ports (Savusavu, Fiji) which included a heavy collision causing glass damage and the tender not being tied properly to sure. The service was often slow and uncomfortable, taking up to 45 minutes once to proceed ashore. There was a strong smell of diesel and no open windows. On one occasion a window was left often at the front of the tender and the boat was speeding at a significant pace over large enough waves; when a large wave was hit, the water enter through the tender, hitting and soaking the two front rows completely a couple of times.
The service over New Years was slowed, not that we minded. We enjoy our dinner and drinks service to be relaxed, yet for those of you more fussy or experienced passengers you wouldn't enjoy this. Nevertheless, this was only due to the influx of crowds due to the holiday cruise and the high standard of perfection needed to be upheld during the season. The steak in the dining room was inedible due to its toughness and the crÃ¨me brulee had no crunch and was freezing cold. Beside that the food was quite wonderful. If you don't mind heading upstairs to the Steakhouse and paying 20 extra per head, it's an amazing culinary experience. We make it an event every Princess cruise we do.
Unfortunately the spa was a major let down, especially compared to previous Princess spa treatments. Having been on the Sea Princess this time last year, the Pacific Princess in 2007 and The Diamond Princess in 2009, we enjoyed ALL our treatment sessions and were impressed by the prompt, enthusiastic and professional treatments. Most of our dissatisfaction was with the "manager" of the spa. She mixed up two of our appointments, writing down one time on a card, receiving a different time on our stateroom confirmation letter, and another time when questioned in person after this incident. It was all very confusing. Additionally my 17 year old sister had her neck and back massage in the salon, where other people were getting their hair done or manicures or pedicures. I don't think this venue was appropriate for a massage, and doesn't follow the relaxation mission statement the cruise promotes. This was not escaping completely.
At Noumea the ship had to dock at an industrial port, not the commercial customs port in town, and we were confused as to why when there was no cruise liner at the other dock. Free shuttle buses were forced to take us, there was no way we were able to walk but the problem was waiting for one to leave the boat. The queue extended from outside the dining room all around the atrium and down in a circle. This is unacceptable. A more suitable solution which could have been initiated, even with the itinerary diversion was to ask cabins which time they want to leave the ship at Noumea and pass out according tickets, and then call them out over the PA in an orderly fashion.
There were also queues for breakfast a couple of times in the dining room, which is unusual and we've never experienced on our 13 cruises. The cruise also push for group seatings and originally our family of four was put with another couple for dinner. This made them feel very awkward as I would feel in their shoes. 12 months ago this didn't happen. It's upsetting Princess are pushing this direction since they were known (and loved by us) for traditional family dining.
On two occasions we found bugs in our salad, once in the buffet and once in the restaurant. During the restaurant occasion there were two bugs and one hair. We didn't cause a fuss, just didn't eat the rest, but it's not acceptable for a Princess cruise.
The air conditioning onboard was hardly ever on and we found the dining room very hot. Additionally the roof in the dining room looked quite grubby and despite the ship having renovations done in April-May 2012, it wasn't to scratch.
Entertainment in the princess theatre was very poor. The shows we didn't see due to their poor standard last time on the Sea Princess, but the violin act lacked professionalism and could have done without the comical sketches and lame jokes. I read on another review that "entertainment was an insult to intelligent people" which I agree, yet on the other hand other activities such as lectures, games and bingo were great and well hosted. Big props out to the guest history lectuer Dr Mark Johnson who was fabulous and very approachable- enjoyed his talks very much on sea days! Also every one of the bands were great,enjoyed them including the string trio and Princess band.
However, on the other hand, the following include our highlights over our cruise:
The bar and restaurant staff were all wonderful, catering to every single request you have. We enjoyed our 3 meals a day in the Traviata restaurant and the menu and the service was incredible! Our waiting staff Enrique, Kateryna and Siliva were wonderful. They went above and beyond to take care of us, bringing us extra food and new drinks without even requesting it. Very happy with the bar and restaurant waiters. Our room steward was just as lovely. He was prompt, polite, catered to our needs i.e. additional towels and dry cleaning concerns, and was a pleasure to be around. Our room was left clean all hours of the day. We had a minisuite which was excellent. Even the staterooms on board are good.
The bread and pastas are made fresh which is excellent. They taste great. Our head waiters, Jose, Marius and Andrea were wonderful! They took extra special care of the guests and were superbly allocated. Enjoyed their company.
Deck cadets handed out cold towels at the more hot ports so we stayed refreshed while waiting for tenders or boarding the ship. It was a clever initiative and very comforting. Well done Princess!
Captain Street, was absolutely brilliant. He made lovely and kind midday announcements updating our nautical progress. He also very kind when we met him as well, and willing for a chat and photos. He also made some excellent executive decisions due to the bad weather and the developing Cyclone Freda.
The deputy cruise director, Andrew, was great. He was a kind man and often got involved with the passengers, more so than the Cruise Director who could never be found.
Disembarkation and Embarkation were prompt, friendly and easy, even with customs on and off. We were impressed and pleased.
Shore excurions were great. Offered variety and were pleased with our ones. If you do visit Vila Vanatau, please make it a must to see the Cascades and waterfalls in Mele. They were incredible and the tour was one of our best. Honestly made our trip!
The itinerary was excellent and this is where Princess excel. Princess knows the market and take advantage of beautiful ports. Our ports were lovely and we enjoyed the cultural and geographical experience, even though we have seen a few places before. They also took advantage of New Years onboard which was the reason we chose this cruise. There were tonnes of entertainment and parties onboard, an excellent evening planned.
Plus their onboard booking and credit scheme over two years is a great idea and definitely something to take advantage of if you are interested in cruising again with princess.
Overall we were disappointed with Sea Princess, after witnessing a flawless vacation 12 months earlier. Yet due to the personal touch of Princess and their comparison to other lines we've sailed with e.g. PnO Australia, Louis, Thompson & Norwegian Cruise Line we'd definitely sail with them again.