Apologies in advance, this is another long review by me...
We booked this cruise last March while on Sun Princess on a two night coastal between Brisbane and Sydney. We took that cruise for two reasons -- to see if we liked Sun Princess enough to book a longer cruise and to take advantage of the benefits of booking while on board, especially the ability to cancel and rebook with no penalty.
We took advantage of this last benefit twice before final payment was due, saved more than $1500 total on the cost of our BE guarantee and even ended up with twice as much on board credit as we'd originally booked with. Win, win, win.
When our cabin was allocated we ended up with a BC, B227, another win.
Our cruise got off to an interesting start when I realised when we were stood in the queue to check in that we didn't have our passports. Luckily we live 10 minutes away, so half an hour later, at about 2.30 we were checked in and pretty much walked straight on.
When we got to the cabin, we were met at the door by our steward Andy, who let us in and explained the room and showed us the first of the goodies that come with the Ultimate Celebration package -- bathrobes (we got the fancy towelling ones, not the waffle ones, another win), Godiva chocolates and best of all a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne, 2002 vintage!
My partner bought the package for my 50th birthday, an event we'd be celebrating while we were in Noumea. It also included canapes one afternoon, a champagne in room breakfast, two 25 minute massages and best of all a personal invitation from the captain to visit the bridge.
The package was $535. Expensive? When you consider that 2002 Dom Perignon retails for over $300 and that the bathrobes are $125 each, the chocolates, canapes, massages, champagne breakfast and bridge tour are all free! It makes the $175 Behind the Scenes tour seem very expensive in our eyes.
Dumped our carry-ons, raced upstairs to grab a sandwich and it was time for lifeboat drill.
Once that was done we met my workmate Jo, her mum Mary and their friends Glenda and Mike up on the pool deck for the sailaway. It was the start of a fantastic 12 days.
We had a great time exploring the nearby South Pacific on Sun Princess Fijian Jewels.
The cabins on Sun Princess are pretty small but they have plenty of space to pack everything away. The bathroom could do with a bit more storage space but the benefit of the smaller vanity is a bigger shower. The bed was really comfortable and even the pillows got thumbs up from the two of us. The small, very shallow balcony was adequate for a bit of quiet reading but only just ok for breakfast and didn't compare with our balcony on the Rotterdam.
I've read a few reviews from people saying Sun Princess is tired and worn out but we didn't think that. We saw more worn furniture and frayed carpets on all of the other four ships we've been on. SP is a bit daggy, but not worn and was kept spotlessly clean.
We chose late sitting and were allocated table 197, right in the centre of the Marquis dining room. We scored big time with our table mates Tracey and her husband Darren and Kathy (Cathy?) and her husband Bob, four great people, and Jose and Von, the best waiter and assistant waiter we've had in six cruises.
The food was consistently good. We tried everything -- vegetarian, meat, poultry, seafood, shellfish, hot and cold soups. Not a single complaint. We had dinner at Sterling Steakhouse one night, it was ok, but an eye fillet eaten later in the main restaurant was just as good as that for the extra $20. We had standard room service breakfast a couple of times, breakfast in the restaurant once -- nice and unrushed, and the rest of the time ate up at Horizon Court.
The buffet is poorly designed in that the space between the outer stations and the centre is too narrow. You're squeezing past people who are also using the food service area as the walkthrough to enter or leave Horizon Court. Again, no complaints about the food in any way. As with every cruise we've been on, we were again amazed to see people piling their plates as though it was their last meal. I laughed each time I saw the queue in front of the ice cream bar at 11. You REALLY need ice cream that early people? Wow!
The bar staff were/are great as well. We'd like to single out Gretchelle, Solan and Getchelle's fiance Maki. Drinks varied from well priced -- most of the bottled wines to silly prices -- the sailaway cocktails at $11. On all of our previous cruises the drink of the day was cheaper and came with a complimentary glass or plastic glass. Standard cocktails at $11 were ok value as they were always full strength and the 'large' cocktails great value at $12. It was great to be able to bring on two bottles of champagne with us that we drank out on the balcony with Jo and her mum on different days. We brought the Dom back home to celebrate the completion of our new kitchen.
We ordered the canapes -- chocolate covered strawberries -- for late one afternoon and invited Jo and her mum to come along to share them and a bottle of the champagne we'd brought with us. They were amazing -- decorated in tuxedos of white and dark chocolate.
We decided (foolishly as it turned out) to order the champagne breakfast for our arrival in to Vila. It came at 7.20, when we were already docking, and was both delicious and way too excessive. The waiter arrived in formal whites and came in with a cloth to set a table. We moved the desk stool out on to the balcony and he covered them both. Then he brought in too many trays of food plus the ice bucket with the half bottle of champagne. Two plates of half rockmelons full of, and surrounded by, strawberries (one eaten). A plate with two sweet buns and five different preserves (not touched). A plate with six beautiful fresh pastries (half eaten). Two plates with a LOT of salmon, cream cheese and capers (all eaten) and another two plates each with a bacon and egg pie and a warm julienne of root vegetables (both partially eaten). Way too much food for two. It even got us a wry smile from the captain when he glanced down at us from the bridge as we scoffed down the crazy breakfast.
The package massages were ordinary and the couples room not much bigger than a large broom closet. We are suckers for a sales pitch and got talked into the full hour couples massage. Hideously expensive and just as hideously ordinary.
The entertainment was TERRIBLE. If we hear Brown Eyed Girl or Nutbush City Limits once more in our lives it will be a lifetime too soon. You couldn't escape the cheesy music played by Derringer or Walking Miracles. Poolside, Wheelhouse Bar, Atrium. Same old same old every time. They were good musicians, just their play lists were rubbish. I wonder if they play what the cruise director tells them to? If they do, then he needs to walk the plank and be replaced with someone who can cater for the tastes of all passengers and not just those over 70. Our running joke was there any music on the ship from this century.
The Customer Service Manager. I don't think any of those three words meant anything to him. Greeted him with a hello twice and was ignored. Watch him talk through a front desk staff member to a customer who had a complaint, while the customer was stood there. Bizarre. Witnessed him try to tell the growing group of passengers waiting outside the Regency Dining room for bus tickets to go away and come back later -- they said no and forced him to open the dining room. Heard of him berating another group of passengers who had been told to wait on deck five to leave the ship and asked why they were waiting there when they should be on deck four. I think he needs to be sent away to be retained so that he understands what customer service means. He was pompous to the point of funny.
Noumea. Why arrive in a port so late in the day? No-one we spoke to liked Noumea, especially those who had been before. Maybe with a full day people would be able to get out of what was a pretty ordinary town. We took a three hour tour with Noumea Shore Tours Gateway Tours for 3000 Pacific Francs each. We visited a couple of look outs, a patisserie and a cafe renowned for its milk shakes. At the end of our tour Alfred dropped us off at the restaurant that Genny had booked for my birthday dinner -- Le Miretti Gascon. Alfred then came back and picked us up and returned us right to the ship. Alfred was very entertaining, the van was very comfortable and even if the tour wasn't that great, the service provided was worth every franc.
Isle of Pines -- we were off on the second tender (the first broke down so those folks joined us) and walked around to the beach where most everyone goes. The snorkelling was ok -- plenty of fish but not much coral, the people much more friendly than those in Noumea, we ate a freshly fried fish with coconut rice and coconut juice. Delicious. A wonderful relaxing day.
Suva -- booked a city and village tour off the pier. Nine of us eventually piled into a minivan for what turned out to be a terrific little tour. We didn't bother going in to the store that was the first stop and instead just mosied around outside watching the passing crowds. We then drove by the president's house, the closed parliament buildings and on to a wonderful village tour. It was a brilliant personal stop. We were greeted in the communal hall with a kava ceremony (not as bad as we'd been lead to believe), were sung to, taken out into the village by two young guys who walked us around and explained the village and its neighbours, went back into the hall to more songs and music, some dancing - I was dragged up first to start a conga! It was brilliant. We walked back into town after being dropped off and made the long trek to the museum. It was much more interesting than it first appeared. A very ordinary late lunch in a food court of one of the big shopping centres. Wandered through the markets. A very interesting day.
Port Denarau -- booked a two hour snorkelling tour off the pier $89 each. Six of us whisked on a large speed boat out into the gorgeous blue waters off Port Denarau. The water was warm and clear, better coral than Isle of Pines but still a lot of broken coral. Saw a small reef shark and a couple of sea anemones with little clown fish swimming around them -- go Nemo. Terrific morning. When we got off the boat there were some big black 'trikes' parked by the path back to the marina complex -- V8 Trike Tours. They looked very cool. We had a cold drink and then came back and enquired the price -- FD120 each. Imagine a giant tri-motorcycle with a V8 engine between the rider's legs and two rows of two seats behind. It was supposed to be and hour trip but we were away for and our forty five. Mr T even let me and the other young guy have a drive for a bit. It was terrific. A great day ended with a late leisurely lunch at one of the cafes by the marina.
Vila -- Ekasup Village tour and town tour booked through Noumea Shore Tours Gateway Tours. This tour was 6000 vatu including entry to the village. Met at the gate of the port by Alfred's nephew Kelson. Pretty ratty van but most were the same. We were at Ekasup by 8.30 and it was obviously earlier than they expected us. It was an interesting hour made more so by some very cool music and dancing but was way too short, especially for the money. We had told we wouldn't be back at the ship until 1 and we were driving out of Ekasup just after 9.30. Jo asked Kelson what else we'd be doing between now and then. Kelson took us back in to town and dropped us at the duty free, the highlight, it appeared, of most people's cruise if the crowds were anything to go by. We joined them and bought some amazingly cheap booze! We wandered and decided we'd take a helicopter flight around the island. A brilliant, if expensive, extra birthday present!
Kelson must have been on the phone to Genny back in Noumea because he was a new guy when we got back in the van. Off we went on a drive around Vila, with much more commentary, culminating in a visit to the 'best restaurant in Vila'. It turned out to be an empty block of land on the ridge directly above the ship. Apparently the locals come up here and eat takeways and watch the movies on the ship's big screen when they are in late!! Kelson dropped everyone else back at the ship and then us in town. We wandered a bit more. We visited the fresh food markets that I'd walked through 35 years ago, bought a large painting at a market stall and spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the 'yacht club' looking back across the bay towards the ship. We ended our day by taking the water taxi back to Sun Princess.
The invite from the captain finally arrived for our bridge tour. We were allowed to bring one guest. Jo was excited beyond words, as was I.
We met the rest of the invitees in the lift lobby on deck 12 and were escorted on to the bridge by two security staff. The captain came out and welcomed us to the ridge before leaving us in the hands of one of the second officers. He explained the workings of all of the controls. We were free to roam and ask questions. We went out on to the wing directly above our balcony cabin where the cabin had seen us eating the extravagant breakfast as we sailed in to Vila. It was the perfect moment to end a great cruise.
Would we sail on Sun Princess again? Most likely yes, even with the rubbish entertainment as the ship, her crew and the great food made up for those shortcomings many times over.