The Ocean Princess is one of the 7 or 8 Renaissance ships that were sold after the 9/11 meltdown to Princess, Azamara and Oceania, and it looks like not much money has been spent by the Princess parent company over the years in retrofitting its public spaces and staterooms or modernizing its decor. It is 670 passengers - Princess' smallest vessel.
Having said that, we have become used to the grandeur and beauty of the Oceania 1250 passsenger, larger ships Marina and Riviera, Seabourn's 450 passenger ships and even in years past to Silversea 290 or 350. 1250 is about our limit. We have also been on the QE2, Regent and HA. So we have sailed and have lots of comparisons with all these ships with higher end ships.
We took this cruise because it fit our vacation schedule and had the circumnavigation of the UK itinerary we wanted - most of all a visit to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The latter we have to say was the high mark of the cruise. And the price was very attractive, in comparison with other offerings in the Northern Europe cruise market this summer among the smaller vessels we prefer. So a lot of people took this cruise because the fares were so reasonable. Real value cruise, and there is nothing wrong with that.
There were not a lot of big spenders on board, and the proof of that is that the two speciality restaurants - one Italian and the other a steakhouse - each not bad - could not both be opened the same night because there were not enough people on board willing to pay the extra $20 or $25 a person, to fill both restaurants at the same time, so these two had to alternate being opened. Two nights for one...then two nights for the other, etc.
And the bars were never really crowded with people buying drinks. We saw a lot of people walking around carrying drinks to and fro, or into the dining room, which we assume they poured in their cabins from a bottle of their own that they brought on board to avoid the wine charges or corkage fees. Wines by the glass were very reasonable at prices starting at $7.50, and Princess offered many wines in the $30-40 a bottle territory, pretty reasonable, but we did not see many buyers.
Unlike most of the other passengers we met who have never sailed on one of the so called luxury ships, and mingled with the different passenger mix one gets on those lines, we have had that opportunity a number of times. So we look at this ship and the other reviews we have read on Cruise Critic raving about the ship, food and service with a bit of a jaundiced eye.
The cabin we had - a mini suite - was very nice, as was the bath, which seemed to have had a bit of makeover with new flooring and sink and counter the past few years. They call it a mini suite, but it is just a larger sized cabin and veranda, but for us worth the extra couple of bucks. It had a nice closet, and plenty of storage space and a couch and chairs set up. It was just below the open deck above, and we could hear people running around up there all hours of the day and night.
The food was just OK in the main dining room. The serving staff tried hard, but there is a limit as to how good and varied the quality of the food can be when the revenue stream from paying passengers is not all that great. We always found something we liked on the menu, plus the standby dishes like filet mignon always available. The waiting staff, and particularly the dining room management headed by solid pro Luigi quickly recognize those who know quality, and they try to please as much as they can with special requests. Breakfasts and lunches were pretty good, but Princess, for example, saves on jams by not offering them unless you ask, and then comes a bowl they serve you direct from Tesco's or Costco's finest. Onto your plate. Croissants pretty bad. Dinner if you get there early was always efficiently served, and they tried to keep the hot dishes hot with plastic plate covers. Turkey one night was delicious. Lobster tail the one night it was offered was kind of what we expected. They tried to be imaginative with some of their menu selections and often succeeded.
The buffet is not the kind of place we like to frequent no matter what ship we are on. Too much jostling, and elbowing, and just people fighting for tables, and on Ocean Princess the buffet quality was just ok or a touch below. We had only one lunch there, but that was enough.The large, oblong shaped plates passengers use, made out of plastic, kind of shocked us at first, until we saw the appetites of the people partaking in the buffet. Princess knows its audience well, and when it comes to eating in the buffet, considering the girth of so many passengers on board this cruise, who just love this stuff, the oblong plates and the volume they permit hit just the right mark. Quantity is never the issue.
The food in the speciality restaurants is just a touch above OK but probably worth the extra price just to get into a room that sits only 30 or 40 people and is a cut above the quality down below, with very good service, but only one pasta dish on the menu of the Italian restaurant is a little surprising. Not too many veal dishes and the place had no Italian ambience to speak of, other than the maitre d'hotel was Italian.
The formal night rules have completely broken down, and very few were in black tie or even dark suits and ties. Further the dress code of Country Club Casual in the MDR for normal dinners is never enforced. Capri pants, long shorts, polo shirts for men......just about anything goes. We saw one man with a sport jacket in the MDR only twice. Good thing I did not bring mine. This crowd just does not care about such. We saw no one turned away, when many should have been.
The photographer hawking photo opportunities and constantly in your face is there. Annoying to us and discontinued on other lines.
The entertainment was definitely an A plus. A hard working group of four women and four men singers and dancers, and my wife and I have to say this was the best of any cruise and cruise line we have ever been on. Including QE2. Just amazing. and a good band too. 3 full and different production shows for an 8 day cruise is amazing. Well produced shows with tight, well rehearsed in sync choreography. Good sound system in the Cabaret Lounge, and good lighting make the shows more enjoyable.
Embarkation and disembarkation were very easily accomplished, and Princess gets high marks in our book for excursions and transfers. Everybody aways likes to complain no matter the cruise line one sails on that these tours are overpriced. Universal complaint. Check it out. WE thought we got value on our tours through the ship, and we took one on our own out of Rosyth, a dismal port.
Captain never seen, and same for senior officers. We heard him at noon giving us our daily positioning, but he did not have any visibility. Great crew, who work hard under difficult conditions, and mostly very nice and friendly. We did not see any Captain's table or senior staff tables for guests the entire voyage, or maybe they existed and we were just not invited.
The seas around the UK were generally very calm the entire cruise, with the exception that we had to skip the stop at St Peter Port on Guernsey on Day 2 because the anchoring off shore would have been impossible for tender operations. That was disappointing, and from what I have learned quite common this year and past on this cruise with this one stop. The ship sailed very smoothly, with very little rolling and no pitching that we observed.
Edinburgh was a great stop and the aforementioned Military Tattoo that night a huge success. The ship's arrangements for this via a long bus ride were first class. Too bad the ship stops at Rosyth and not a closer port to Edinburgh with better logistics to get there on one's own. Wales and Dublin also good port stops with interesting tours of the countryside.
The cabins are a little old in their furniture and decor. Dark wood furniture with chipped finishes on some of the edges. Carpeting old. The cocktail table had one leg that would easily fall off if the table was moved unless i was very careful. Just old cabin style and needs complete refreshing. The cabin attendant did a decent job in keeping the stateroom clean, but the noise from the floor above was annoying.
The new Princess NO-Smoking policy in staterooms, on verandas and all public areas except a few on the open deck is excellent. We observed no one violating the policy. Thank you Princess for putting the health and safety of the guests and crew first, and we only wish Crystal and Seabourn, the latter a Princess sister company owned by Carnival, would do the same to respect their passengers. We can only hope. The Princess lifeboat drill the first day of the cruise was the longest and most thorough we have ever experienced. Again, thank you Princess.
The public rooms reminded us of the same rooms and layout on the three smaller Oceania ships of exactly the same vintage and design on which we have sailed, but with Oceania there is better decor, seems friendlier and it just seems not quite so old fashioned furniture and a bit depressing. Of course there is no string quartet on the Ocean Princess to entertain the guests before and after dinner time in one of the public areas as there is on the Oceania ships. Again cost control, to allow the value price cruise that this was. One thing about Ocean Princess is that there is not an awful lot to do to during sea days, and no movies shown in public areas and a limited amount of entertainment on the ship's TV system, although they did have Fox.
The passengers were mostly American and British, with a lot of kids and teenagers on board from some younger families or traveling with grandparents. Even with this the average age had to be in the late 70's I would say, and, reflecting our societal problems today in general, a large number of large and very large type people. We did not find many interesting people to share our experiences with, although I am sure there were some on board.
All in all this was our try with Princess. We went into this value cruise with no high expectations and so we were not terribly disappointed with what we found. We did not expect Oceania or Seabourn or Silversea or Regent, HA or Cunard or even Celebrity. We do not expect to try the Princess brand again, although friends tell us the larger, newer ships offer more, have a different clientele and are a lot better. So perhaps there is that chance.