We arrived at Sydney Airport on the morning of 20th May 2013, and were met by a very efficient Princess Representative who escorted us to a passenger waiting area, before being taken to the bus and transported to the new White Bay Cruise Terminal. Immediately upon arriving, we were able to complete our pre embarkation paperwork, hand over our credit card details, were given our Cruise Card, a numbered embarkation card, and joined the thousands of other passengers, families and friends in the waiting area. In less than an hour our embarkation number was called, and we were herded through the Customs & scanning area. With all that behind us, we followed the trail of eager passengers past the ships embarkation photographers and finally arrived at the gangway. For the 3rd time in our lives, it was so exciting just walking up the gangway on to the Sea Princess as the start of our next adventure was just about to unfold.
Review of the Sea Princess:
In writing this critique, it has to be noted that this cruise was full, with around 2000 passengers and over 1000 crew. The ship itself is getting older, and experiencing spasmodic maintenance problems that caused engine issues, and numerous episodes of leaking pipes which flooded staterooms, hallways, and the Princess Theatre. Staff were always quick to work on reported problems, & despite the age of the ship & all its fittings, everything looked clean, polished & well cared for.
Dining was nothing short of spectacular, to say the least. On our 1st evening, we were placed on a table for 4 in the Traviata dining Room, but only the 2 of us turned up, and we spent the first week having very romantic dinners on our own. Following this, we asked the Maitre D if we could be moved to a larger table, and this was executed with precision to table 108 Traviata 1st sitting. Here we met up with 6 other delightful passengers who over the course of the 104 days, made our cruise very memorable. Four of our new dining companions were Americans, and the other 2 were fellow Aussies. The mix was phenomenal, and Maitre D Neville should be commended for his work in orchestrating these seating arrangements. Our new waiters were ''" ''"Benjamin” and ''"Nandi”, who looked after our culinary experience every night to absolute perfection.
If you want to see most of the nightly entertainment, then 1st seating dining is a must. The food selection in the dining room was mind boggling, always arrived beautifully presented, in a timely fashion, and always hot. Drink prices were expensive, but wine left over was always named, recorked and available for the next evening meal. The variation of food over the 104 days would have been a mammoth planning exercise, but we never missed a night of restaurant dining in the whole time on board.
We did notice on this cruise that the ''"World Cruise Souvenir Menu’s” were very few and far between. In fact, I only collected 3 souvenir menu’s, one of which was an evening meal at the end of the cruise, and the other 2 applied to brunch meals.
I renamed the Horizon Court buffet ''"The horror-zone” for obvious reasons, for it was terrible lining up for food, arguing with combative passengers, and searching for a vacant seat. The manners of many people left a lot to be desired, and you would think some people had never been fed before, the way they carried on around the buffet food.
The Sterling Steakhouse was a joke, situated in a partitioned off area of the Horizon Buffet each evening. While it was busy most nights, and the food reportedly great, it could not be seen as a special dining environment.
The Ice-cream Parlor outside on deck 12 under the movie screen was usually quite busy, but it’s a shame one of the staff positioned there left a bit to be desired. You would think the ice-cream was coming out of his allowance, the way he carried on about metering it out.
All diners were looked after for Special occasions with a cake and a throng of caroling waiters and bar staff, which just made that special occasion even more memorable.
Lounges & Restrooms:
We always found the restrooms clean, tidy and well stocked. The Vista lounge area exhibited a strange seating arrangement with bench lounge seats interspersed with single tables and revolving chairs. Apart from taking up a huge amount of excess room, these tables and chairs were horrendous obstacles, and difficult for the elderly or mobility compromised passengers to move around, especially after they had been dislodged by previous users. Given the difficulty accommodating large numbers of passengers in the lounge areas, seating could have been much better worked out. The Princess Theatre is as good as any other theatre, chairs comfortable, but the idea of drink waiters trying to serve drinks to passengers in the middle of a full row is stupid, and needs immediate reviewing. Surely passengers can survive the 45 minutes for a show to go without a drink, but then Princess would not make as much money on drink sales, I suppose.
Several times over the course of the 104 days there was a leak from the ceiling of the Princess Theatre, and several seats had to be portioned off as they were soaked. This intermittent leaking continued on for most of the cruise, despite numerous attempts by staff to try and fix the problem.
The Wheelhouse Bar was used many days for trivia sessions, and trying to fit upwards of 400 passengers into an area that could only house 200 at best, was nothing short of nauseating. To get a seat, most people had to arrive for trivia almost an hour early, and this caused fights amongst passengers who tried to reserve seats for other members of their trivia team. Whilst reserving seats is a known ''"No-No” what else could people do. Many disagreements ensued because of this.
The public Laundry was a nightmare, with only 2 machines and dryers on 3 of the passenger decks. Queuing was long and tedious, and those passengers who put washing in the machines and went away for hours continually aggravated fellow passengers waiting for vacant machines. Woe and behold anyone who touched anyone else’s laundry, and only remove someone else’s laundry at your own peril. The laundry proved to be a very entertaining area, with many altercations occurring daily. We found it easier to hand wash as much as possible in the cabin, and hang it on coat hangers around the room to dry. Always take a small hanging peg line to hang in the shower, and this is great to hang smalls on, which dry pretty much within a day or do in the air-conditioned atmosphere. It has to be noted that a passenger came up with a very innovative method of securing a washer and dryer, and while I would not personally do it, (or advocate that anyone else should do it either) I did chuckle at the effrontery of the action. Apparently, this person came on board with previously printed and laminated ''"OUT OF ORDER” signs; and when a machine was needed, these signs were posted on machines. Just goes to show the lengths people will go to in order to achieve their aims. As a postscript, I do believe this person was appropriately dealt with by Princess staff.
Surviving 104 nights in an inside stateroom was not a problem, given that this was our 3rd time cruising for this length of time, but organization is a must. Having a place for everything, and keeping everything in its place, is a definite necessity. On this cruise we were assigned Stateroom B326, reasonably central on Baha deck level 10. Our Stateroom steward was ''"Froilan” who looked after us to perfection for the first 4 legs of the cruise. On embarkation and meeting him for the first time, we set out requests for a foam mattress overlay; dressing gowns; an ice bucket every night; extra coat hangers, and an extra chair as the stateroom only has one. After Froilan left in Los Angeles we were allocated ''"Melville” for the last leg of our cruise, but unfortunately he was not as efficient as Froilan.
Research prior to our cruise assisted us to make the decision to give the stateroom steward 50% of our tip up front, with the proviso that if he looked after us well, there would be same amount at the end of the cruise. This was one of the best decisions we were to make, because we were looked after extremely well. The room was always left clean and tidy, towels always changed each morning, and beach towels were replaced whenever they were used, sometimes several times during the day. Shampoo, soap, skin lotion & body wash (excellent for hand washing clothes) were replaced daily.
Having cruised for 104 nights with Princess previously, we had a reasonable idea what to expect as far as entertainment was concerned. In comparing the last 3 cruises we have done of 104 days, it is easy to see that cutbacks on entertainment for this cruise were very noticeable.
2009 there were 104 different evening events and 14 Production Show
2012 there were 71 different evening events and 15 Production Shows,
but in 2013 there were only 62 different evening events and only 10 Production Shows.
Many nights on this last cruise we found there was nothing to do other than watch a movie, which I do not consider watching movies that are years old and repeated several times, as major forms of evening entertainment. The selection of movies available was antiquated, and despite many complaints, this problem did not change for the entire cruise. Several old & new movies were played on the in-house televisions, and under the stars, however, some of these were repeated with monotonous regularity.
Overall, the Production Shows were very good, but many of the comedians were aged, as were their jokes and stories. At various ports around the globe, artists got on and off, always ensuring a fresh supply of good and no-so-good entertainers.
Pre & post dinner dancing was always available, & passenger theme parties were scheduled at sparse intervals. Morning & afternoon trivia sessions were a must for the brainiacs, who always played for sheep stations. We always tried to catch up on the Port lectures, especially for all the new ports we had not been to before, as there was always some interesting bits of info to take away. Other ways to keep occupied included scholarship @ sea lectures; library; church services; dancing lessons; sports tournaments; bingo; card playing; game shows; exercise classes; movies; choir practice; culinary demonstrations; & ice carving demo’s.
Princess offered Service club meetings, which was relevant to us being Lions; but we did not avail ourselves of the Dr Bob & Bill W meetings, nor did we join in as GLBT groups, but it was entertaining to note that they cater for these groups as well.
Princess continually advocates that passengers must not save seats in the public lounges and theatres, however, despite this, seat saving continues at an alarming rate. On very popular entertainment nights, a passenger would take their life into their own hands if they needed to visit the rest room before a show started, because their seat then became fair game for whoever was waiting.
We did manage to find the gymnasium several times, although not as much as we should have. The equipment was state of the art, and reasonably well utilized, but having someone available to help you to use the computerized equipment was not always available. The only scales on the ship was located just outside the gym, and these came in handy to check out just how much weight we were putting on weekly. They probably explained why our clothes were shrinking at a great rate of knots, but on this score, I blamed the washing water for shrinking them!!!
We researched all the shore excursions before boarding, so picked the eyes out of what was available, and made sure we selected all the important places of interest to us. While it has to be noted that all of the ships excursions were expensive, there was the guarantee of knowing that if an excursion got back late, the ship would not leave us behind, as did happen to several passengers who did their own thing and returned late. All of the good excursions booked out early, so if there is something special that you really want to see or do, then booking early is a must. On this cruise we booked about 50% of our tours with the Cruise Critic group. This is a great way to meet other cruisers, cuts down the cost of excursions, and in most cases, you get to see more places of interest on the tours because the groups are smaller than the big Princess ones. One thing that needs to be pointed out, is that Princess are not happy if tour soliciting occurs whilst onboard, so if you plan on doing Cruise Critic Tours (which I definitely recommend), make sure you have these arranged and paid for before you get onboard. Also note that if you are on a private tour, and you get back late, that Princess will not guarantee they will wait for you.
Unfortunately, on this cruise, I think I developed a syndrome aptly called IPAD RAGE, because almost every 2nd elderly passenger had an IPAD which they used as a camera. Understandably, because they are easy to use, can take multiple pictures quickly, and can be filed or deleted at a later time. However, most of these IPAD’s take up a large amount of viewing space when placed up against the window of a bus whilst on tour; or worse still, if someone sitting in front of you tries to take a picture while you are in the theatre trying to see between 2 heads. Most of these IPAD’s are attached to a cover, which is left hanging underneath, thereby taking up double the viewing area. This annoying practice needs to be governed somehow & offending passengers need to be aware of how this practice affects other people around them, and be more considerate. Gone are the days of the small hand held camera’s, it now seems that IPAD’s are taking over with the ageing population.
Embarkation and disembarkation was handled extremely well. The Pursers Desk, Future Cruise Staff and Captains Circle staff handled most of our needs very efficiently. We were very fortunate to have the same stateroom steward for the first 84 nights, and this worked very well in our favor. Even though we partially tipped in advance, our cabin steward was extremely attentive, clean and thorough, & consequently got a nice tip when he left Our evening dining waiter and bar staff were also very good, although we chose not to tip in advance here, leaving it to the last night on board to slip each of our staff an envelope.
The Cruise Staff:
The Cruise Director Tim Donovan appeared to have an attitude problem, and was not very approachable, and didn’t appear to endear himself to many passengers. The Cruise Staff consisted of Matt, Kim, Brandon Mark, Martin and Mikey. Matt was the assistant Cruise Director, and took over as Cruise Director when Tim left. Matt appeared to enjoy his job, and always spoke. Martin was then promoted to Deputy Cruise Director, but this appointment left more than a lot to be desired!!
Kim was the Zumba instructor, and her classes every sea day were packed to overflowing. Other than Zumba and the occasional evening passenger show, you never saw her. Brandon was by far the most approachable, always had a smile, and seemed to care that he was there for the passengers. Mikey was patronizing, with a large attitude problem, and needs to acquire more PR skills. D.J. Mark was out of his depth on this cruise of elderly passengers. He gave the opinion that he didn’t want to be there, and for the most part, shouldn’t have been there. Martin was a complete waste of space, both as a member of the cruise director staff, and as Acting Deputy Cruise Director. Despite the differing issues with the Cruise Staff, they did manage to survive keep us entertained for the 104 days.
The tender service remains a nightmare, however, I don’t know how else you could move 2500 people on and off a ship any other way. Queuing for tender tickets, then queuing again when your number was called, tended to take the excitement off getting off the ship at each port. If you fore went queuing for tender tickets, then you had to wait until everyone else was off before you could try and find the exit, and this definitely would cut down your time on shore. Possibly Princess need to use more tender boats when this arrangement has to be implemented, because the current arrangement is annoyingly frustrating. Queue jumping was a frequent occurrence, and many an argument was had while waiting in line.
For this cruise, the only Visa’s we had to get before boarding were for India and the United States. For whatever reason known only to them, the acquisition of the Indian Visa was a nightmare. From completing the forms online, then submitting them with your passport and required fee, then waiting for it all to be completed, created many nightmares for numerous passengers. The inequality of some passengers not getting the Indian visa at all, left a lot of the passengers who did get the visa angry at Princess for the differing stories & falsehoods we had been told. This is an area that needs to be immediately investigated and rectified by Princess.
Several other countries required visa’s. but these were organized onboard by Princess and charged to our cruise a/cs. Such a pity the Indian Visa could not have been done the same way.
Apart from a few minor hiccups, we had a fantastic 104 nights, visiting many parts of the World we had only ever dreamed about seeing. With research and previous planning, we had the most enjoyable cruise ever, and have marked a lot of places off our bucket list. We were wined, dined and entertained in style, and will definitely sail with Princess Cruises again.