Embarkation was well organised. The check in process and ticketing system to get on board the ship worked very well. We discovered later in the cruise that there were 2150 passengers on board, which is interesting noting that the publish capacity of the ship is 1950 persons. This may explain some of the issues we encountered in the cruise.
We elected the late sitting dining options as we have many times before. This was a mistake. For the first three nights of the cruise there was up to a 25 minute delay to the entry time to the dining room. Our meal and wine waiter did a great job but it was obvious that they had too many tables to service. We were on a table of 8. There were delays in getting our menus, and water was not provided until well into the meal. Further, if you were lucky enough to attract the wine waiter's attention to order some wine, there was a high probability that you would not get your wine until the main course or later.
All of these dining delays resulted in us missing the entertainment. The entertainment program started at 9:45pm, but early in the cruise we did not receive our deserts until 10:00 pm at the earliest. Furthermore, some of the activities (eg the marriage game) were only programmed during the late dining period. Clearly early diners had the advantage in terms of entertainment options.
The dining situation did improve later in the cruise, but the programming of the entertainment remained a problem for the whole cruise.
The laundry facilities on the Sea Princess were virtually non-existent. Most of the dryers on all floors were either 'undergoing maintenance' or 'waiting for spare parts'. The signs advising this appear to have been stuck up some time ago. We found out that the dryers were not expected to be fixed until April at the earliest. Interesting, the maintenance problems that stopped free laundry from being done did not seem to effect the ability of the ship to do paid laundry. I have a feeling that Princess has the ability to fix revenue raising equipment a lot quicker than complimentary equipment.
The management and organisation of shore tours was a shambles, which was made worse by the attitude of the ship's shore tour staff. In the past we have paid a premium to take the ship tours as (we thought) this gave a guarantee of a quality tour and the ship would be able to handle any tour complaints. We had a problem with a Port Denarau tour, but all the shore tour manager was willing to do was to email the tour operator. She promised to get back to us but we heard nothing. We made repeated attempts to discuss the matter, but were always fobbed off. The matter was not been resolved by the end of our cruise and we do not expect to hear anymore now that we have finsihed the cruise.
In Vila we arrived at the time specified on our tour ticket for a snorkelling tour only to be told that our tour had left half an hour earlier and 'we should have known that the tour time had been changed because there had been a generic insert to the princess patter letting everyone know all the tour times had changed'. Us and several others who showed up 'late' for the tour obviously missed this insert which was probably in amongst all the other inserts for spa treatments, watches, bracelets, and rings. Also, there was no mention of tour times changing on the morning wake show or any announcements to that effect.
The least we expected, from our experience on other Princess cruises, was that we would have got a personal note saying that our tour had changed.
On a positive note, our cabin steward Martin was great. He met all our requests and cabin was always clean and tidy. We also had very good time in the sterling steakhouse celebrating our 30th anniversary. The food was outstanding and the service staff were of a very high standard. The dis embarkation process was also very well executed.
In summary, our experience on this cruise is such that we are seriously considering if we will go on another Princess cruise. The staff appeared overworked, the entertainment scheduling for late diners was very poor, laundry facilities were non-existent, and shore tour staff were unwilling to deal with complaints. If Princess do not get their act together they will be overtaken by other cruise lines (if they have not been already).