Overall, we had a good time and do like Princess. This was our third Princess cruise, and we're booked for another in January.
Embarkation was swift and efficient ' in fact, maybe too much so for our steward! He seemed shocked when we entered our room as he was still getting it ready. We went for lunch, and all was good when we returned. My suitcase arrived shortly thereafter, but alarm bells were ringing when my husband's hadn't turned up by dinner. Thankfully, it was there when we returned afterwards.
For the Mediterranean Medley, we were in a mini-suite (D228, I have a video up on YouTube of it), which has probably ruined me for anything less. There was plenty of space, good storage, and a big bathroom (with a shower over bath). It had a balcony, but unfortunately with mini-suites on Dolphin deck, there is no privacy as they're all overlooked. No wandering out in your nightie! No matter, though ' it was either too wet or too chilly most of the time to use it.
Unlike others who've done reviews this year, we experienced no plumbing or odour problems. All was smooth sailing (ha ha). Some complained about the Bay of Biscay being choppy, but it didn't bother us. Maybe we're less sensitive.
Unlike some, we didn't opt-out of the auto gratuities, as whether or not we as Australians agree with that system, it's the one in use. The ship's staff work hard for long hours, and the bulk of their income comes from gratuities, like it or not. Those who said they refused to tip so as to discourage such a system, are full of it. They're simply tightwads who are ripping off hard-working people.
We found the ship to be in good order overall. D'cor was pleasant enough throughout. I LOVED the paintings of Mediterranean scenes on the ship, especially in the dining areas (by a Hungarian artist named Istban Bernath, commissioned by Princess to do them. I'd hoped Princess offered prints of them for sale, but it appears they don't. Pity, as I reckon they'd sell).
There were plenty of things to do, or not, depending upon our mood at the time (though sometimes things were crowded and we couldn't get in). My husband enjoyed the lecture about behind-the-scenes operations of a cruise ship. I enjoyed quiet reading time, once I was able to find a seat (more later). I stayed away from the art auctions as I've heard they're way overpriced. We browsed the shops (limited stuff, and very limited offerings in larger sizes for women), and admired the pricey jewellery. I did get annoyed at times with people trying to sell me things I didn't want or need.
They were always trying to take our picture, and when getting off the ship for an excursion, it felt intrusive to be pulled into a photo with two female crew members dressed as pizza chefs with drawn-on moustaches, holding empty pizza boxes. So tacky. We did like one of the photos from a formal night, and found we could not purchase four 5x7s, why, I don't know. It was either three, or some package which included a bunch of wallet sized pictures we didn't need (did they think our grandkids would carry us around in their wallets to show to their friends?!).
We are not 'spa types', so I can't speak to the spa experience. I did get my hair done in the salon for one of the formal nights, and was happy with the result. It's not the cheapest, but not the dearest, either. Spa and salon people are not employed by the same people who employ the rest of the ship's staff, so are not included in the normal gratuities. They had to be tipped separately.
I would have enjoyed doing the ballroom dance lessons, but sadly, my husband is a big drip and refused.
Internet was very expensive. We ended up spending a couple hundred dollars for it (at least). One good thing in doing a cruise with so many older people is that the ship's wireless network wasn't very congested, so it wasn't nearly as slow as it could've been.
I think the ship may have its own mobile phone cell. I recall hearing a passenger complain about incurring thousands of dollars in data roaming charges on a previous cruise. We only turned our phones on very briefly during the two week cruise, basically to send a message or check email, and each of us incurred around $300 in data roaming roaming costs. So beware.
We always found it easy to access Passenger Services, whether to make an enquiry, or to get coins for the washing machines. We later discovered that there is a kiosk near the shops where at any time, a printout of one's on-board account can be had for those who want to keep tabs on their expenses.
We deliberately set out to do this cruise outside of school holidays (we love kids, but it can be very unconducive to relaxation having a thousand kids running amok). Instead, we got the opposite end of the spectrum.
I won't complain about all the walking frames and mobility scooters (though the small corridor to the lifts near our room was blocked off every night with someone's scooter parked there). My husband and I are 10 years away from retirement, so we're not exactly spring chickens. This is the time of life for those folks to enjoy their leisure time, and they're perfectly entitled to do so. It's simply unfortunate that they all decided to do so at the same time on the same ship.
Firstly, entertainment is tailored for the age group (so said a waiter in one of the bars, who agreed that what I call the 'joyless' duo was indeed terrible, as others had complained too). That's probably why the proliferation of insipid musical acts was most likely chosen - because they wouldn't offend 90 year olds, and they were probably willing to work for the least money. "Past time Duo" was OK, the woman was a pleasant singer with a whispery delivery (sometimes singing phonetically, you could tell when the words in English made no sense), the guy played guitar nicely, but they got boring pretty quickly. That they were on for two weeks, was way too much. They were simply background music, to pass the time - hence, their name. Seriously, we're 55, but we grew up on the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Led Zepplin, and loved Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc ' rock music. We don't expect heavy metal bands, but jeez, something a *touch* less bland would have been nice for those under 80. Even 70 year olds enjoyed Elvis when they were young! At night, I want to see a decent rock band ' at least, as ONE option. It's got to beat having these duos playing to empty rooms.
I'm sorry that I can't remember the name of that absolutely awful other male/female duo, whose joyless performance was matched only by their miserable delivery. There was also a "party band" which I believe had the word "Tyme" in their name and used some pre-programmed musical tracks. Ugh. Woeful. They looked and sounded like a bad Eurovision reject (for some reason, all the bands seemed to have women as singers. Are male singers too threatening for Princess, or something?). The Crown Princess Orchestra was good, though - their "Dixieland" show in the atrium was excellent, and I was annoyed that we'd missed the first 3/4 of it. Therefore, I was happy that they were playing again in one of the bars as a jazz band. Well, I guess you'd have to be a devoted instrumental jazz lover. Every single song, each. guy. had. a. long. solo. For non-fanatics, it was excruciating. We left after less than half an hour. Personally, we probably would've enjoyed it had there been a vocalist for at least a few songs, but that's not what they're about. I guess those who love freeform jazz and lots of solos would have loved it. But a few walked out while we were there, so obviously we weren't alone in our opinion.
There was a comedian on one night in one of the large lounges, someone who'd been on British TV back in the day. The venue was packed ' hour before the show, so we were told to come back for the next one. Sadly, many of the patrons didn't leave, choosing instead to stay for the second show and the trivia (which we'd hoped to attend). So we missed out.
I was hoping to do karaoke, because it's the ideal situation for it (among people you'll never see again!). It didn't seem to happen much, and when it did, was early in the evening and very brief. I found that disappointing. To be fair, though, previous Princess karaoke offerings on other cruises, though late at night, had a catalogue of offerings as bland as what the entertainment duos play ' even the person running it on one cruise agreed. So they need to do something about that and rock it up a bit!
We've been on Princess for 3 cruises as I said earlier, but have never been able to enjoy Movies Under the Stars due to it being too wet, or too cold. I doubt we would have been able to get a seat, anyway.
We had a look at the Casino, which appeared to be well-appointed (I'm not a casino person, though). Unfortunately, it's one of the few places on-board where smoking is permitted, and it stank (as did we after leaving there). They had a couple of smoke-free nights, big whoop.
For the most part, we enjoyed the food. I am a vegetarian, and in the dining room assigned to us, menu items were marked (V) if vegetarian. Sadly, that was not the case in the Horizon Court buffet or the Caribe Cafe. I don't understand why, as each item had a printed "title card" above it. How hard would it have been to put a (V) on it? I got sick of having to query the suitability of each dish and soup (after having sampled a "rustic" pasta dish which contained chicken), and suggested that they make the notation. But I guess it was too much effort. The variety and quality of the food in the buffet overall was good (I'm sick of hearing gourmands whine about it ' this is a mid-priced cruise ship feeding thousands a day ' what do they expect?!). We didn't enjoy the dining room experience as much as we did on our last cruise (which was on Royal Caribbean). The RCI table staff worked as a team, had personality, and the food was nicer ' they'd bend over backwards to please ('If you don't like what's on the menu, we can make you something special'). The RCI dining room was a 'buzzy' place, with efficient staff who continually came back to see if we needed more fresh rolls (or anything). Not the same this time.
The pizza by-the-slice from the pizza bar was very good (and free). For a $3 charge, a 12' pizza could be delivered to staterooms. We ordered a couple, and they arrived warm/hot. Better to eat pizza up on deck, where it's hot. Still pretty good, though. It was possible to get food reasonably late in the evening from several venues, and I believe there is a (limited) 24 hour room service.
The biggest problem with an elderly crowd, we discovered, is that they'd get a seat somewhere and settle in forever. There would be people looking for a seat in the Buffet dining rooms, yet some of the older folks thought it was perfectly good manners to finish their meals, and whip out a deck of cards, dominoes, or mah jong, ignoring the looks of desperation from those walking around with plates of food and no place to eat it. I noticed the waiters eyeing these inconsiderate people, but nothing was ever said to them.
It was as bad down in the International Cafe, or at any seating throughout the ship (especially along windows), or on the deck chairs by the pool. It seemed that the younger folks would do this or that, and move on to do something else during the course of the day. The older folks, however, settled in with a bag of knitting or crochet, or a book, and could not have been blasted out with dynamite. We'd tour around looking for a place to sit for a coffee, and the same people occupied the seats for hours, every day. In the end, we got coffees and brought them up to the nightclub up top, which is quiet during the day for reading (now that they've gotten rid of the library).
We used the ship's laundry service, which was good, and we also did DIY at the ship's laundrettes. We discovered an odd thing about them, after using two drying cycles with the clothes still being wet (it was neither a huge load, nor did it contain heavy items). By shining a light behind the dryers, we discovered that the way they were installed pushed the exhaust hose back onto itself with many of the dryers, limiting the exhaust of moist air (both my husband's father, and my father, were in the home appliance repair business so we know our stuff here). We tried explaining this to a tech guy, but he had no idea what we were talking about. He kept going on about the second lint filter behind the machine, why I don't know (which would probably never need cleaning as the primary lint filter didn't get enough air pulled through it to collect lint in the first place). Anyway, when you go to wash your clothes, make sure your dryer's hose isn't too kinked, or you'll be feeding an awful lot of quarters into it. The dryers nearest us on deck 8 were no good, but those on the other side were ok. They seem to be about half and half.
We did all of our shore excursions with Princess as my husband was too scared of being late back to port and having the ship leave without us.
Barcelona was nice, but as much as I liked the Sagrada Familia, Jeez, why was virtually all of our off-bus time spent there? There was an open market on the green, and a (very crowded) city market which we didn't even bother entering as what was the point, for only 15 minutes? We had enough time to grab a quick sandwich next to the market, then discovered, with the others who chose to use their 15 minutes independently, that the tour guide didn't turn up at the appointed time to get us. He'd gone on to the bus, so as we'd waited for 10 minutes past the appointed meeting time for nothing, we suddenly had to run to the Bus pickup point. That 10 minutes could have been used at the open market, but was wasted. Not impressed.
My husband hated Corsica, I didn't. It was lovely, but unfortunately, we were there on a public holiday and everything was closed (I recommend checking itineraries against each country's holidays, Sundays, or siesta times so you can best plan). As a consequence, there was no 'vibe' and no place to grab a coffee. We did a quick tour on the bus. It took us to a coastal area, pretty, where we were dumped off the bus by the guide, and told to go explore the nature. Heh. There was a table with someone selling nougat. There were toilets for visitors, which for women, required 50 cents Euro to use (no charge for men to use the urinals, though). There was a shrieking girl going around with a tin of change for the toilets, but no one understood what she was saying. We thought she was the Toilet Police! The bus next took us to the old town (loved that!) and to Napoleon's childhood home. The sign on the door stated that it was open despite the public holiday, however, we learned that our tour didn't include going inside! We then went to the Napoleon monument, and the public square with more Napoleon. It was lovely. We passed lots of closed shops selling knives. Then, we were brought back to the town where there was a shop open selling cheap souvenirs, and advised that we should find our own way back to the ship on foot. Not a big deal, it wasn't that far, but the guide looked surprised that we didn't tip (the only one we didn't tip, and in fact, the only one I've ever not tipped). It was a huge disappointment of a tour. Unfortunately, my husband's opinion of the island was soured by it.
Monaco is a pretty place, but the tender ride was enough to make you lose your lunch. That's not anyone's fault, bad weather happens. It rained throughout our walk through the principality, which contained charming little streets and laneways. I was able to go to the post office (right near the cathedral) and mail postcards to my loved ones. We saw Princess Grace's tomb behind the altar in St Nicholas' Cathedral, along with those of other deceased royal family members. We got to walk right up to the royal palace.
We were fortunate to get a stop at the Casino, and although I'm not a fan of them as a rule, it was as ornate as one would have expected. A passport was necessary to enter, which was presented to a dour, personality-less woman after standing in a long queue. We were then issued with entry tickets bearing our names (which are now souvenirs). I contributed about $4 to the Monegasque economy.
Monaco was in overdrive getting ready for the Grand Prix, so it wasn't as pretty as it normally would have been. There were half-completed stands, scaffolds, and guard rails all over the place. I'd love to go back and see it outside of GP season.
We loved Florence. Our tour included 'time on your own', so we wandered the old town in the rain, checking out the leather goods and strolled along the Ponte Vecchio. We stopped in a little caf' for an amazing Caf' Latte. For the next part, the bus took us up to an old Castelo (castle) originally built in the 1200s in Chianti. We drove past lovely vineyards on our way, and ate a 3 course meal made from local produce. I asked ahead and was provided with vegetarian offerings. Our tour group used up several tables, and our table consisted of about 10-12 people from our tour. We had a delicious lunch, ended with biscotti dunked in a liqueur produced at the Castelo. Divine. On the way back, we stopped in a little provincial town and went to a 'wine cellar' for a tasting experience. We were each issued with a card and each dispenser cost 1 euro, I think. I'm not a drinker so I gave my card to my husband and went up and out to check out a local supermarket (I like looking at everyday things). Unfortunately it was closed for siesta but the nearby gelato place was not, so I got a cone and had a seat on a bench and watched the locals. Nice. We decided that we definitely enjoyed that whole tour experience of Florence, and would love to spend more time there (preferably when it's not pouring the entire time!).
Rome. Wow. I'd really looked forward to our tour there, but the new Pope really loused it up for all of us. ;) We received late notice from the ship that our Colosseum and Vatican tour had changed. In lieu of the Vatican Museum and St Peter's Basilica, our tour would take us instead to the Trevi Fountain. I pretty much hit the roof, and I wasn't spending $200 + each for that. So down to the tour desk I went. We ended up on a half-day bus tour of Rome, much cheaper, which allowed us to get off at the Colosseum. Unfortunately, this tour didn't include actually entering the Colosseum, so we'll have to do that next time. We still got to see some great sites around Rome, with an informative guide.
Naples, well, we didn't do Naples itself. Pompeii and Herculaneum have been life-long dreams of mine, so I was going there instead. Sadly, the tours are very limited. I'd love one which took in even a half-day of each, but no. Or, a half day of one, and a visit to the museum which houses all the artefacts from both places. Nope.
The tour we chose had us do a half-day in Sorrento (lovely, and very touristy), and then Pompeii.
Our first stop in Sorrento was a store which sells ceramics, and beautiful inlaid wood objects (which cleverly provides toilets for tour buses). The hard, hard, very hard sell was put on us to buy a table and have it shipped back to Australia. Tour operators receive kickbacks from these places, which is why tours include stops at places like this. We didn't buy anything.
I'd pre-warned my husband that authentic Neopolitan pizza wasn't slathered with toppings the way it is in Australia. It was either Margherita, or simply tomato and herbs. However, in Sorrento, there were all the toppings from home, for tourists. I was disappointed in that.
We walked the little streets past all the tourist shops, and had a lovely day (at least it wasn't raining for once!). But there wasn't enough time. Before we knew it, it was time to get back on the bus, for Pompeii.
Our visit to Pompeii included a visit to a local shop where cameos were hand-carved ' again, a clever provider of toilet facilities. After waiting to use the restroom, it was time to enter the ruins.
I loved Pompeii. Walking those 2000 year old streets was awe-inspiring. There just wasn't enough time there. We saw such a small piece of it. And afterwards, I purchased a Cameo very quickly, so there wasn't enough time to buy souvenirs outside, or to get a pistachio gelato, or a coffee.
One poor lady on our cruise had been spotted buying an expensive cameo by a couple of thieves, a man and a woman, who followed her into the ruins. Apparently when she was taking a photo, they snipped off her handbag from its straps and got away with the cameo, her cash and cards, and passport. It was the talk of the ship that night. You can NEVER take your hand off of your bag while in any port.
Next stop was Gibraltar. We didn't realise we'd booked a 'nana tour', which included a quick drive around to see the sights (it's not a big place), with a stop for tea at a shabby old British landmark hotel being the highlight. The tour guide was a hoot. Although we enjoyed that tour, next time I wouldn't waste my limited time in Gibraltar drinking tea. I'd wander Gibraltar ourselves, same with Corsica ' but you don't know these things before you go there.
After that, it was back to Southampton, where disembarkation was swift and efficient. We elected to put our main bags out the night before, and we easily found them in the terminal building the next morning.
We used Smiths for Airports to get us back to Heathrow. We'd also used them to get us to Southampton, and found them very reasonably priced, with excellent service.
I would happily do this cruise again, but would be sure to get to the buffet before the herd, and be at shows/events at least an hour early to get a seat. And I probably wouldn't go while they're pushing the Seniors Cruises, as they did this time.