Pacific Princess Cruise Review by GradUT: A Blast in the Black Sea
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A Blast in the Black Sea
This was our second Princess Cruise, the first being a Panama Canal cruise a few years ago. We chose this cruise primarily because we wanted to visit Istanbul and because we had enjoyed cruising with Princess previously.
Here are some comments about the specific things I rated:
Embarkation: This was super-easy because we didn't get to Civitiveccia until after 4pm. There was nobody else at the terminal checking in, so it could not have been faster for us to get checked-in and on board. Note: Using public transportation from Rome to get to the port is easy and cheap. The train leaves every 30 minutes from Rome's Termini Station and takes just over 1 hour to get to the port. The fare is only 5 euros. Once you get off the train, there is a short walk of a few blocks to the port entrance and there you will find a free shuttle bus that will take you to the Princess terminal.
Public Rooms This is a small ship with around 650 passengers. Even on sea days, the ship More never seemed crowded. (The pool area was the most crowded area, particularly on sea days, but you could still always find a place to lay by the pool.) The lounges on Deck 5 were the best (wooden with comfortable cushions) and there were always plenty of them. There was also nice indoor seating in the Library, the Casino Bar and bar next to the dining room. We found the ship to have a classy dEcor (no "glitz" on the Pacific Princess!) and it was well-maintained. Although this may be an older ship, she did not show her age.
Cabin: Our cabin was a mini-suite and we loved the size of both the room and the balcony. It was located on the port side which we found to be the best side for seeing the sights such as Gallipoli and the city of Istanbul. We especially enjoyed the very comfortable bed and the bathtub (which is found only in the suites and mini-suites). The mini-suite had a sitting area with a sofa (which converted into a bed for those traveling with 3 passengers in the room), two chairs, and a table. There was also a writing desk in the cabin, lots of drawer and closet space and a mini-fridge.
Fitness and Recreation: I went to the gym on most days. There was a variety of workout machines stationery bikes, stairsteppers and treadmills which clearly were not new, but were in good working order. Each machine had an individual TV screen and you'll need to bring earphones to hear the programs. There were also some free weights and a separate area for classes.
Dining: We ate all but one of our breakfasts in the Panorama Buffet. There was a large variety of food and I found the food in the buffet to be quite tasty. There was also a "cook-to-order" omelette station. It was never particularly crowded for breakfast in the Panorama Buffet and we were almost always able to find seating outdoors on the aft deck to enjoy our meal al fresco. The Pub Lunch on sea days was a favorite of ours (fish-and-chips, shepherd pie, etc.) This British fare was well prepared and quickly served in the Steakhouse. Other lunch choices were the buffet, grill, pizza station and dining room (on sea days). The pizzas were good; the food from the grill was great. The evening dining menus were not particularly memorable. I was able to find something different each evening for dinner, but none of the meals "wow'd" me. I found the food somewhat bland---even the Thai lemongrass soup (a dish which normally takes my head off) was not particularly spicy. Perhaps the food is aimed for the palate of older passengers.
Entertainment: Because this is such a small ship, the Princess Dancers also worked during the day as assistant cruise directors running the various games and activities which were numerable, but not always well-attended. I found they performed exceptionally well in both jobs. The two vocalists, Rosemary and Joe, were excellent singers. There was a comic that we heard only on the "Welcome Aboard Night", a very good magician that even did an afternoon programs showing how he did a couple of his tricks and a talented vocalist named Christopher Riggins. In the evenings, we enjoyed Alan Shear at the piano. (The singing duo of Chico and Dawn was the only entertainment that we didn't particularly enjoy.)
Service The service could not be better on the Pacific Princess. Everyone greeted us wherever we went and several of the staff recognized us after only a few days. The wait staff at the buffet kept your drinks filled and the tables cleared. I found the front desk staff to be knowledgeable and helpful. We were definitely spoiled by the attentive service on this ship.
Shore Excursions We did only 3 Princess shore excursions and they were a day trip to Varna (from Nessabar); a tour of Constanta with the Zamfira Wedding Show and the tour of Sevastopol from Yalta. We chose the first two tours because my research did not come up with much to see and do in either Nessabar or Constanta. The tours of Varna and Constanta were OK; the Zamfira Wedding Show was a lot of fun. It was hard to skip Lavidia Palace in Yalta for Sevastopol, but I think we made the right decision. It was an interesting tour with a great lunch. The only problem with this tour is that they don't make a stop at any of the memorials/monuments commemorating "The Charge of the Light Brigade". There is only a quick drive-by with a chance to take a photo of the Valley of Death (if you are lucky, quick, and sitting on the correct side of the bus.) There is a new monument recently unveiled by Prince Michael of Kent which the bus drove by twice going to/from the submarine facility in Balaclava. Princess should include it as a quick stop on this tour along with a quick photo stop for the Valley of Death.
One thing I noticed was Princess's failure to describe public transportation as an option in their port information. We took public transportation in Rome (to Civitiveccia); Sorrento (to Herculaneum and Pompeii); Istanbul (the tram is right outside the port area); and Athens (the Metro is about a 20-minute walk from the dock and we had no problem finding it.) The fares on the trains, Metro and trams are significantly cheaper than cabs and we had no problem using fare machines. We really enjoyed travelling like a local! Just be sure to validate your tickets before boarding any public transportation and watch your belongings carefully particularly in Athens.
Debarkation Since we were staying for an extra day and night in Athens, we were able to be in one of the last groups to disembark. We had time for a leisurely breakfast after clearing our room at 8am. We went to the Cabaret Lounge to wait for our group debarkation at 9:30 am, but everything was running so smoothly that we didn't even have to wait a member of the cruise director's staff escorted us to the gangplank and we were on our way. I have never encountered such a smoothly-run debarkation. Non-EU passport holders are pre-cleared with Immigration before arrival, so we just collected our luggage and walked out of the cruise terminal in Piraeas on our way to the Metro to Athens. There was a Princess representative available in the cruise terminal to answer any final questions. (Note: One reason we stayed an extra day in Athens is that we were concerned that we could not make an 11:30 am flight, the latest available for our home destination. It would have absolutely been no problem since we did not have to deal with Greek immigration and customs. In fact, acquaintances of ours made a flight that left before 9am!) Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
We spent an extra day after the cruise in Athens. It was easy to get from the port to the city using the Metro (2 or 3 Euros). We stayed at the Hotel Plaka Athens which was within a few blocks of the Monastiraki Metro stop. It is a nice hotel with a rooftop bar (great view of the Acropolis) in a convenient area for sightseeing. I would recommend it.
We did sightseeing on our own using several Rick Steves MP3 tours. Just be sure to double-check the open hours of each place you want to go online right before you go. The open hours were different from those I found in a recent guidebook and from those posted in the hotel. We almost missed seeing the Agora because it closed at 3pm rather than 7:30 pm as our guidebook had stated!
Using Metro to get to/from Piraeus and to/from the Airport is easy and inexpensive but BE VIGILANT! You will be constantly warned that thieves and pickpockets are everywhere and it's true.
This is an easy port to see on your own. Begin by getting some Turkish lira from one of the many ATMs located on the street next to the port area. We got ours from an ATM next to a bank and then went inside the bank to exchange the large bills for some smaller ones--necessary if you plan to buy tram tickets.
The tram, with a stop just a couple blocks from the port area exit, costs 3 TL and takes you right to Sultanamet Square (or anyplace else you are likely to go). In our nearly 2 days in Istanbul, we were able to do leisurely tours of Suleyman Mosque, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace, again using the Rick Steves free MP3 tour. (We are not shoppers, so we avoided the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, but he's got tours of those too.)
Suleyman Mosque was a treat for us. It's not difficult to find, but is somewhat "off the beaten track". Because it's not near the other main tourist attractions, there are very few visitors there and you can actually experience what a mosque is like--unlike our experience in the Blue Mosque. We were disappointed that the buildings housing the tombs of Suleyman and his wife were not open, but you can see them through the windows. I would highly recommend a visit here!
We arranged a private tour before our cruise with Odessa Walks and I would highly recommend this company. We did a 3-hour Walking Tour of the Highlights of Odessa and our guide, Olga, took us everywhere in the Old City! This was followed by a tour with Olga to the Catacombs just outside of Odessa which was fascinating. Olga gave us the "unofficial" version after our "official" tour. The Odessa Walks offers several different tours for cruise passengers which fit into the ship's schedule and they cater to small groups. Since nobody else from the Pacific Princess had scheduled a City Highlights or Catacombs tour, we had Olga all to ourselves!
We'd visited Rome previously, but enjoyed a couple of days sightseeing here before our cruise. It was easy to get around by foot and to use the train to get from the Airport and to the ship in Civitiveccia. We stayed at the Aberdeen Hotel (within walking distance of Termini Station) and would highly recommend it--great staff!
We did a self-guided tour to Herculaneu and Pompeii.
The most difficult part was just getting from the ship to the train station since the Princess shuttle buses, which would have taken us to the train station, did not begin operating until 10am and we needed to be on the train NLT 9am in order to see both Herculaneum and Pompeii (which we had both visited before.) It's a long uphill walk to the train station, so a group of us overpaid a taxi driver 20 euros to take us to there.
It was easy to buy the train ticket and the train was good, but crowded with local commuters. The ruins of Herculaneum are located just a few blocks from the train station and can be toured in around an hour. The ruins of Pompeii are located right next to the train station. Buy your ticket (which covers both Herculaneum and Pompeii) online before you go or in Herculaneum because the line to buy tickets in Pompeii can be quite long. If you already have your ticket, you can by-pass this line. We used the Rick Steves self-guided tour (available in his guidebook, as a free MP3 download or as a free I-phone app) and thought it was a great tour. We spent about 2 hours in Pompeii.
Upon our return to Sorrento, we walked back to the ship--a lot of stairs DOWN, but not a long walk.
We actually did not see Yalta, but did the ship's excursion to Sevastopol. Due to the distance from Yalta and the short amount of time in port, I would not do a private tour to Sevastopol. Due to problems with the ship's engines, we ended up having to be tendered at Yalta. This, combined with the terrible traffic to/from Sevastopol, meant that any private tour would have had to have been shortened in order to get us back to the ship in time. Because we were on a ship's tour, we were able to see everything and then come back late and have a tender waiting for us.
The tour of the submarine base in Balaclava was interesting, but there's not a whole lot to see inside. The stop at the seaside park should have been changed to a stop at the site of the Charge of the Light Brigade--there's not much to see in that park. The Panorama museum was interesting, but don't let them rush you--take your time and see the painting on both levels! The lunch was best we had on the 3 ship's excursions we did--it included both champagne and vodka and the food was delicious.
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