EMBARKATION & DISEMBARKATION Princess deserve a gold star for the smooth embarkation and disembarkation -- we received an email when we were in Beijing before the cruise advising that embarkation had been delayed until 6pm rather than the 12 noon as planned. We were able to alter our travel arrangements (bullet train) and arrived at the port at approximately 5.45pm -- it was so easy to check in, we were offered food and drinks while waiting and when we reached our cabin 45 minutes later our luggage was already there !! On disembarkation day we had booked a Princess transfer to the airport and it ran very smoothly (except for the people who had to be first on the bus and wouldn't stay in line) and we were at the airport by 9.30am where our luggage was waiting for us.
STATEROOM: Our stateroom (obstructed view) was excellent -- the obstruction was very minor - the room was clean and plenty of space for hanging/storing clothes -- our steward kept the room to a good standard however we could never work out when he would be cleaning -- minor detail but a bit annoying at times.
DINING: We chose 'Anytime Dining' -- for us this worked really well -- we tried several of the dining rooms but felt that the Savoy was by far the best re service etc. Food was great, fairly varied and enough of it -- it was a little odd to see asparagus every night. We were fortunate to dine with a wide range of people and it was most enjoyable to meet many other passengers. We dined in the Sterling Steakhouse one evening and it was superb -- definitely worth the cover charge. Breakfast we went to the International Dining Room rather than the buffet -- excellent choice. Lunch we either went to the buffet or had pizza etc on the deck -- all good food.
ENTERTAINMENT: The shows and entertainers were of a good standard although some of the shows were very short. Good range of entertainment, including the films and various ice carving etc.
PORT LECTURER: We went to a couple of talks which were interesting, however Hutch lost us when he gave a 20 minute diatribe of the Vietnam war (a very US slanted view) and promised that he would talk more about the war the following day. A lot of people walked out of the theatre during his 'talk' and many other people were talking among themselves and getting quite annoyed -- we were there to hear about the port and points of interest, not the war -- very bad choice.
PORTS: Unfortunately due to the harbor being closed because of bad weather, we spent our first day berthed at Tianjin !! The captain was most apologetic and explained that it was the call of the harbormaster. Due to leaving 26 hours late we were then unable to visit Nagasaki which was disappointing for a lot of passengers.
BUSAN: We loved this port from their warm welcome, the money exchange on the wharf, to the fireworks display as we left -- we took the shuttle into town and then caught a city tour bus -- great way to get a snapshot of the city. We found out later that there was an excellent Maritime Museum and aquarium near the wharf -- it would have been good if Hutch could have mentioned this during his talk rather than promoting Princess tours!
SHANGHAI: Due to missing Nagasaki we were able to have longer in Shanghai which was a bonus -- we did a Princess tour to enable us to ride the Maglev train -- we also visited the observation deck on the 88th floor of a building (I have forgotten the name of the building) -- then at the request of many of the passengers we were dropped off at The Bund (where the shuttle ran from) which enabled us to explore this wonderful area. We felt that this Princess tour was value for money as it would have been difficult to get to the Maglev train on our own, however this was the only Princess tour we took as we felt that in the main they were expensive and not value for money.
HONG KONG: Great place to visit and we did our own thing as HK is very easy to get around -- we caught a bus to Stanley Market and back -- it was overcast so not worth going to the peak. The ship sailed into the harbor when we left and we were able to see the laser show which was interesting.
NA TRANG: This was a tender port and Princess did an excellent job of getting everyone off quickly -- we took the shuttle into town and wandered through the markets etc, resisting the hawkers selling everything imaginable. There was a market on the wharf which was the best of the whole trip -- overall this was a great port to visit and it would have been great to have longer to enable passengers to see more of the sights.
HO CHI MINH: We have previously been to Ho Chi Minh (and loved it), however we were not prepared to spend at least 4 hours in a bus so opted to take the shuttle to a nearby town -- what a waste of time -- constantly harassed by hawkers and only 1/3rd of the market was open. Princess need to make a serious decision about visiting this port -- the ship is too big to get up the river -- we would have preferred to go to another port in Vietnam -- maybe Da Nang even if it was a tender port. Where the ship docked is a new container port in the middle of nowhere so the option of just going for a walk was not possible -- very disappointing.
SINGAPORE: Great port and so easy to get around -- getting off was a bit of a 'bun fight' due to staff changing procedure from what had been announced in the newsletter.
OVERALL: We really enjoyed our trip, but felt that there were some areas that could be improved. Due to an outbreak of Noravirus on the previous cruise, passengers were not allowed to serve themselves at all -- we did not have a problem with this having contracted Noravirus on another cruise, however it was disappointing that there were not hand sanitisers in more of the public areas on the ship -- they were only outside the dining rooms and often ran out.
Money exchange was disgraceful - $4.50 US charge to change money via the machines and the machines didn't stock currency for all of the ports we visited. Princess would buy back any left over currency at very low rates, plus a service charge -- total rip off -- we kept our money and changed it all in Singapore. I think there were 3 machines on the ship, however there was always 1 or 2 of them out of order even on the mornings we had arrived in ports -- not good enough really.
My final comment would be that Princess seems to have dropped their standards a little, and there was inconsistency with many things. We found that the crew were happy, smiling and friendly at most times. We felt that the ship was a little elitist -- often finding areas closed off for functions for Platinum members etc -- these people actually pay less that the Gold & Blue class passengers so why do they need special events ?? My opinion only!!