Our family enjoys cruising on Princess, this was our fourth voyage and it took us to a part of the world we'd never seen: New Zealand and Australia.
There were six of us on this trip, no kids. The service, particularly in the Lido deck, was among the best we've ever had. The room was kept clean and tidy, the steward was quick to respond to every request.
Embarkation and Disembarkation
Brilliant! Our trip started and ended on a high note. We had no delays getting on or off the ship. We didn't have to sit once (in the past we've been parked for 15 minutes to a half hour.) The processing went smoothly, the folks processing our documents were not only pleasant but in a good mood. Very pleasant. When we disembarked, we had breakfast in the Lido and decided to walk down twenty minutes early to meet at the appointed spot for disembarking. When we got there, they told us to walk off the ship. Our luggage was easily accessible and in minutes we were out the door and waiting for our taxi.
As this is our fourth trip on Princess, we may be getting a bit picky. The ship shows its age. The balcony furniture in our room had peeling paint. The mirror was discolored at the bottom where water had seeped in behind. But you had to look close to see signs of aging and for the most part, there was too much to enjoy to notice the signs of age.
We're pretty set in our ways. We do traditional dining, early seating. There was a hitch in our reservations, so our group of six was split between two tables. We caught up with the maitre d' just after getting on board and he found us a table for six in the Vivaldi Dining room. Service started out a little rocky, but by the end of the trip we felt we'd been extremely well-treated. Things got better every day.
The food itself ranged from excellent to so-so. Their steaks were particularly disappointing most nights. I enjoy salmon, but their daily offering left me cold. The daily specials with fish and sea food were generally excellent. We started taking our waiter's recommendations after a few days and found she had an excellent sense of what was good on the menu.
The service on the Lido Deck was exceptional. There was always someone there to help out, carrying trays, bringing coffee, etc.
The food was as good as any we've had on Princess. In the morning, they did a top-notch job of serving eggs -- which isn't easy on a big ship. They poached, fried, soft-boiled your egg in a jiffy. And they offered specialties, like eggs benedict that were very good. At lunch they set up a daily buffet line outside on the deck offering a different themed food each day: Italian, desserts, Mexican. Those were quite good. Everyone tried the pizza, hamburger, or hot dog line at least once and no one was disappointed.
Big issue: The rear section of the Lido Deck opens on the smoking area. For some reason on this ship, Princess didn't set up the doors properly to reduce the smell of smoke in the dining area. We nabbed some tables for the six of us in the stern area on the first day and expected to come back, but after a couple of days, we were chased away by the smell of smoke. Until this gets fixed, we won't be going on the Diamond Princess again.
My wife and I hit the gym almost every day. The first day, only some of the treadmills had been turned on, so there was a line of people waiting for the few machines that were operating. There are no attendants, so exercisers started experimenting with various buttons and soon got all but one working.
In general, Princess has enough equipment for runners and joggers. It looks like most people follow the 30-minute recommended maximum when the machines are full, so there is rarely a long wait for a machine.
The group also took part in a few of the line-dancing and Zumba classes to keep our blood pumping.
The main stage was disappointing compared to other cruises. We saw one show with the Princess dancers and didn't go again. Two Texan artists were very good. One was a comedian and pianist, the other a tenor. The best show was a ventriloquist. Very funny with humor targeted at a cruising audience.
Diamond Princess has some of their acts do the main stage once and a smaller venue for a second night. This seems like a great idea. If you like an act, you can see it again.
We were, as always, delighted by some of the various performers at the lounges. The pianist at the crooner's bar, the pianist in the atrium who also played the pan flute, and the classical quartet that played in the atrium almost daily.
The six of us arranged some independent tours, which worked out well, and took some tours arranged by the ship, which also worked out well. We find the independent tours tend to be less expensive and more flexible, even if you are seeing similar things.
Not much to see.
Best excursion of the cruise overall. The six of us got an all-day tour of Rotorua and the surrounding area from a guide who is a resident of Rotorua. Delightful. We loved the lakes, the thermal features, and the sheep-shearing exhibition. Perhaps the highlight, though, was a picnic lunch in the town's rose garden, with fish and chips from an award-wining local restaurant.
This was the ship's first trip to Picton. Our group split up. My wife and I went hiking on Queen Charlotte Track. This was a ship's tour: a one-hour walk after a twenty-minute boat ride. We got to see the sound, which is beautiful, then walk through the fern forests. We loved it. They dropped us off in Picton and we caught the free shuttle back to the ship after walking around the stores. Others went to the wine country and got to taste some of New Zealand's wonderful whites, also on a ship's tour.
We were in town on New Year's Day, so shops were closed. We took the transfer to downtown, then walked to the Te Papa Museum. Nice museum.
Took a cruise of the harbor, saw seals, blue penguins and Hector's dolphins, which raced alongside the boat. The weather was perfect, sunny, and the skipper was a local who moved around the deck in bare feet and told stories about his exploits as a teenager diving for crayfish.
Best wildlife day. We split up again. Three of us took a private trip that required a fair amount of walking. We went to the Royal Albatross preserve and then to a private area with sealions, blue penguins, yellow-eyed penguins and a breeding ground for fur seals (with dozens of young pups sparring with each other in the tidal pools). The walk got us a few feet away from most of the animals. The other three arranged a wildlife cruise through the ship. They were able to see most of the same animals, except the yellow-eyed penguins, from the water and the boat was able to move in fairly close to the wildlife.
Petted the kangaroos. We arrived while wildfires were raging in the area. Many tours were cancelled, but our guide arranged a tour even though she was trapped by the fires and couldn't get out until the next day. She got a substitute driver and van which took us on a wide-reaching tour of the area around Hobart. We were most happy with the stop at the Bonorong Wildlife Park. This is a home for rescued wildlife. They have dozens of Kangaroos that roam the area without restraint. We got to feed and stroke them. The park participates in the Tasmanian Devil research aimed at saving the species and they allowed us to get very close to the devils, baby Wombats, koalas, and dozens of others species. We enjoyed our stop at the Cascade Brewery where we tasted a flight of their beers. The smoke ruled out a visit to their waterfalls or to the top of Mt. Wellington. Visibility was pretty bad.
We took the express bus to downtown, then took the tourist bus that showed us the highlights of the city. Very straightforward. Good place to shop. Got presents for the kids.
What can you do in half a day in Sydney? We found out when we arranged a private van to get us to the airport by 1 pm so we could catch our flights. Terrific tour that included a stop at the Sydney Fish Market and a half dozen stops at the best places to take photographs of the harbor.
Overall we had a great time and we wouldn't hesitate to get back on a Princess cruise, though not on the Diamond Princess. While it might be a minor issue for some, the smoke in the Lido deck is a deal-breaker for us.
We also left the cruise with a tremendous desire to head back to New Zealand and Australia.