Background: We’re 60+ year old Australians with 16 previous cruises on different ships (and many different cruise lines) with which to compare. This cruise on the Sea Princess was an 11 night South Pacific cruise from Brisbane and return. Although we have been to most of these ports several times before, we couldn’t resist the deal offered.
As we live near Brisbane we drove and left our car at a nearby car storage. Their shuttle service was efficient. As we now have Platinum status with Princess, embarkation did not involve lining up and we were one of the first to board the ship.
Once on board, we were directed to our cabin (which was ready) where we left our hand luggage and went for an early lunch. At 4 pm we met other Cruise Critic Roll Call members at the Sunset Bar for an informal sailaway party.
The next morning we had a successful CC Meet & Greet followed by a cabin crawl & group lunch in the MDR.
Built in 1998 and being one of the oldest in the fleet, the Sea Princess was showing its age but we were pleasantly surprised at its condition; especially as it is due to be refurbished soon. Public areas were nicer than we expected.
The only criticism was finding the lifts were often fill (usual maximum was 9 or 10 passengers). This was made worse as they were slow with very slow closing doors.
We missed the 4 page daily newspaper that some other cruise lines supply. This was partly compensated by 250 minutes of free internet offered to Platinum cruisers.
In the interest of hygiene, the public toilets had the main door open and/or paper towels supplied to open them. Hand sanitizers were always used at food areas.
Having several coin operated laundrettes on board was a bonus although we did not need them for this short cruise. The gym was reasonably equipped.
Booking a guaranteed ocean-view, we were upgraded to a Premium Ocean-view cabin which was as large as their balcony cabin including the balcony (these are smaller than usual on this ship). As a result there was a generous area between the bed & the window. With the bed head on the side wall the window view was quite good. The requested bed topper (Princess brand) made the bed reasonably comfortable. Also if you want a top sheet, ask for it. Our suitcases fitted under the bed.
The furniture was in good condition with 2 comfortable chairs and a small stool. The flat-screen TV was a reasonable size but surprisingly the 2 news channels were both British (what happened to Australia?)! The small fridge was handy for keeping our supply of Coke & snacks cold. The A/C worked well even with the very warm weather outside.
The space between the wardrobes and the ensuite could have been wider as the wardrobe doors could not be open when using the ensuite – we prefer the open style walk-in type robe. The ensuite was a reasonable size. The dreaded shower curtain did not suck in but disappointedly the shower head was fixed.
Food & drinks:
We found the standard of food and the service in the main dining room and the buffet to be excellent. Seafood was always available; with lobster on the last formal night. The buffet setup with separate stations was easy to use. The freshly made waffles for breakfast were great but it took some passengers a week to find them at the rear of the buffet. Sometimes it was difficult to find somewhere to sit. Free burgers, chips, doner kebabs, etc at the Terrace Grill were also available. Verdi’s pizzeria (also free) was also popular. There was the usual free soft serve ice-cream.
Wine started at $25 which is cheaper than some other companies. We did purchase a coffee card ($35 for 15 coffees) as the free coffee was the usual low standard.
Most days we used the buffet for breakfast & lunch, whereas all the dinners were taken in the MDR. Fixed-time dining enabled us to get to know some other couples. On most port days, we had a late lunch by using room service.
Staff and service on board:
Princess obviously trains their staff well as they were always friendly and polite even at reception. For example, in Horizon Court they were very attentive and offered to help carry your plate. Our MDR waiter, Jayson & assistant, Siri were extremely pleasant, efficient and very helpful. Our cabin steward, Michael was very efficient at his job and always greeted us with a friendly welcome. Free room service was prompt and satisfying. Organization on the ship was generally excellent.
As this ship sailed from Australia, Princess has removed automatic tipping. As we felt our MDR waiters & cabin steward did an excellent job, we rewarded them accordingly in cash. We hope that other passengers did the same.
As with other cruises, we enjoyed the shows in the Princess Theatre - these are the highlight of our evening. The singers & dancers in the production shows did a superb job. Since the theatre was fairly small, the show was repeated 3 times each night. Unfortunately the shows were reduced to just over 30 minutes each. Disappointingly many of the seats were uncomfortable as they are sloping downwards (maybe this will be fixed during the refit). The alternative venue, the Vista Lounge was used many evenings as well with guest entertainers which were fine.
The pianist, David Moore (Scottish) in the Crooners Lounge was very funny with the result it was always difficult to find a seat. As a special treat one night, he did an excellent show in the Vista Lounge. Ron Steta, a classical & flamenco guitarist was also enjoyable. The cruise director, Tim Donovan (English) was efficient but not outstanding; although he was entertaining during the excellent crew show. Also the extra 2 shows he organised with the singers & dancers in the Vista Lounge were much appreciated.
As usual, Princess supplied a port lecturer who was unbiased and very informative. There were the usual informative enrichment lectures.
As we cruised with friends who also love playing cards (one of the MDRs was used for this), we find days at sea go by quickly.
Shore Excursions & Destinations:
We normally try to avoid shore excursions organised by ships as we feel that they are too expensive. Armed with maps & information collected before the cruise, we easily explore ourselves. Also as we had been to all ports except Port Denarau before; this worked extremely well.
At Noumea & Suva we explored the towns on foot. Port Denarau was the only tender port. Here it took 50 minutes from our number being called on the ship to reaching the dock. Here we took a taxi with our friends to check out the newest resort. After stocking up on duty free liquor at Vila, we negotiated a van ride to Hideaway Island where we went snorkelling.
Everything went smoothly leaving the ship in Brisbane where we only had to collect our car from storage and drive home.
In our opinion the service is excellent with above average food and entertainment.
Princess proves that you get what you pay for. The company appeals to older passengers and seems to build loyalty by rewarding past passengers. We would highly recommend Princess Cruises.
As we have done on previous cruises with Princess, while onboard we took advantage of their Future Cruise Credits scheme. We already have 4 cruises booked in the next 12 months with Princess. As Carnival shareholders, we also receive extra onboard credits.