My new husband and I chose to sail with Princess because our travel agent encouraged us. We were told that this was a good choice for us - two honeymooners in our early to mid twenties. If you are in a similar situation, or of a similar age, I encourage you to read this review before making a decision. Overall, we found that Princess was not a good choice for young people - there were few other young people with whom to socialise, poor food choices, and many of the other offerings seemed gimmicky in our opinions. We were left feeling sorry for the service staff, most of whom were helpful, friendly and interesting people from all over the world. And we were left certain that we would not travel with this company again.
The Ship and The Room
We travelled onboard the Sea Princess, which I understand is a relatively middle-sized cruise vessel, with about 2000 passengers, to New Zealand. Sea Princess has a range of cabin options, from a small windowless room, to a room with a window (which we selected), through to higher-level balcony rooms and suites, which looked appealing. If we did the cruise again, knowing how much time we would spend in the room, we would probably have paid the extra money for the larger room. In terms of our cabin, the facilities were adequate, including a queen bed that was a little shorter than usual (to fit in the room), which we soon discovered was actually two single beds bound together. The shower/ bathroom is tiny. Although the website advises not to bring your own shampoo and conditioner, if you have long or coloured hair, it would be wise to bring your own anyway. The provided shampoo is combined with body wash and did nothing for my hair. The television plays and replays a very small selection of movies, so if you like watching movies all day while at sea, bring your own.
Princess seems to thrive on its older customers, with almost all of the passengers being aged over 50. It became a running joke with many of the older passengers we met that we shouldn't have been allowed onboard, since we were clearly under 50. Of course I have nothing against sharing my space with older people, and I enjoyed many of my conversations with these people, but the lack of opportunities to socialise with people of my own generation came as a shock.
Not unexpectedly under the circumstances, all of the entertainment was pitched at this older generation. For example, the nightclub (which seemed like the youthiest place to hang out) held 70s nights and 70s hour, which feels exclusionary for those of us who grew up more recently. I was surprised that we weren't informed that the ship had this feel to it before we made our decision to cruise with them, and spent a lot of time feeling out of place.
As a result, my husband and I didn't participate in many of the activities, but I can list them. There were regular shows, most of which we were told were aimed at older audiences. There were many musicians around the ship at different times, but in our opinions, most were not of a standard you would expect at your local pub. There was one notable exception to this - a great pianist, whose shows we enjoyed. Additionally to the entertainment, there were art auctions. I am no art expert but the artworks seemed relatively cheap looking, but were being sold with a starting price of $800. Also, there were lectures on various topics, but nothing that would catch the attention of the average person under 50. One that I can recall was about wearing pantyhose while swimming. I was also a bit surprised that many of the lectures seemed to be heavily promoting natural medicine, acupuncture, and Chinese medicine, with many of these techniques having little scientific basis. There was also a library (stocking books and board games of interest to an older demographic), a casino which we didn't attend, and an internet cafe.
The service staff were exceptional in their efforts to keep us satisfied. Particularly, the bar staff were entertaining and knowledgeable, and the dining staff were truly professional. I liked the staff whom I got to know on the cruise, most of whom were from diverse countries. I couldn't help but feel like they were fighting against the actual structures they were working under, in order to try and give us a good experience.
Also, be prepared to be hounded by the ship's photographers. The photo quality is below what you would expect (this is coming from two keen photographers, one professional and one serious amateur), so there isn't much point in posing for their pictures unless you didn't bring your own camera. At times, we were asked three or four times in a row to pose for photos by different staff members, which felt aggravating. The studio photography seemed better than the photographers wandering around on deck, but it's probably still more economical to just go and get your photos done at home.
We were hesitant to book the shore excursions, despite some pressure to do so, because we were wary of the prices. Having spoken to a few independent tour operators on shore, we quickly realised that it was substantially cheaper to organise your own tours (or even catch a cab around town) than it was to book through Princess.
Unfortunately, they didn't seem too keen on us doing that. We overheard a passenger being told that it would be dangerous to go ashore to New Zealand without booking the Princess excursion. We also attempted to catch the alpine train in Akaroa by ourselves, on the advice of another tour operator, who let us know the ticket prices (roughly one quarter of the price Princess was charging for the same excursion - reportedly with only the addition of a lunch), but we were held up and missed the train, while those going with Princess were preferentially escorted to the shore in time.
We had fun onshore and New Zealand is an excellent country to visit, but we did this on our own; there was no need to utilise the Princess excursions, and by doing so, we saved ourselves well over a thousand dollars by our estimation.
There was nothing much of interest to a younger demographic in terms of shopping either, and my savvy was offended by some of the big-brand imitation products that were being pushed, such as 'Isabella' bracelets that looked a lot like Pandora. The marketing tactics were pretty full-on; for example, there were coupons in our rooms and repeated three-hour sales. Again, we found this all quite unsettling. I had been interested in buying some perfume, as some other friends who have cruised let me know that this can be quite cheap onboard, but the prices seemed roughly equivalent to what you could get in a department store on land. The duty free alcohol prices were good though, as you would expect.
We felt at various points that the cruise was geared towards those who had done one before, in terms of how information was disseminated. This was immediately clear to us at embarkation. We were taken through an extremely thorough safety drill, which actually included practising putting the lifejackets on, but we were not told about the amenities or activities on board. When we initially arrived at our room after the drill, we found ourselves feeling confused about our options for activities and dinner, and much of what we learnt over the coming weeks was by accident or through conversations with more experienced cruise passengers. From what we could tell, other new passengers shared our confusion.
As relatively health-conscious people, my husband and I usually choose to eat Mediterranean style food, which includes considerable amounts of vegetables, fresh fruit, grilled meats, and the use of olive oil rather than butter. We were alarmed to find that it was very difficult on board to find food that we could stomach, with most of the food having a strongly American takeaway feel - heavy on the butter, salt and sugar, but light on spices. We initially wondered if the onboard chef and staff were a bit below average, but occasionally the restaurant food was fantastic, which led us to believe that the overall stodginess and blandness of the food may have been an executive decision. We couldn't understand why the options accommodating healthier tastes in the buffet were limited to salad and a small range of fruits and cereals, when it can be assumed statistically that many of the guests would have been vegetarian or had health conditions which would have impeded their ability to eat most of the food. We were told by other passengers that you could especially request food in the restaurants to match your requirements but, again, we were scratching our heads about why this was necessary. The desserts were fantastic overall and we found ourselves shamefully tempted to fill up on these in lieu of the inconsistent meals.
My husband and I don't have children so we didn't use these facilities, and we also didn't talk to anyone who did. We observed some unhappy looking teenagers playing cards on our first day, but it would be making assumptions to provide any comment on this.
As mentioned, my husband and I did not utilise much of the entertainment that was available onboard, because so little of it seemed appropriate to our age group. However, we did observe a variety of musicians. We noticed that most of the musicians were of a relatively low quality, less than what you would expect from a local pub, in our opinions. One of the piano players was excellent, however.
Disembarkation was pretty straightforward and seamless, and we were happy to return home, grateful that we had each other for company and laughs during this up-and-down few weeks.
Maybe if you're over 50, this might be for you, but please be savvy. If you're a young person, better to shop around. Note that my ratings apply to my opinion of how the cruise would be for an average person in their twenties, and may not reflect the experience of people from different demographics.