We’re 60+ year old Australians with 17 previous cruises on different ships (and many different cruise lines) with which to compare. This was our 2nd cruise on the Sun Princess. This was a 22 night relocation cruise from Sydney to Japan. As they were having trouble filling the ship, the price for the interior cabins was very attractive.
After flying to Sydney the day before embarkation, we stayed overnight with friends who we had met on a previous cruise. As the ship left from the isolated White Bay Terminal, we were glad our friends could drive us there. 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 a group lunch in the MDR.
Built in 1995 and being the oldest in the fleet, the Sun Princess was showing its age but the recent refurbishment helped it feel modern. Public areas were nicer than we expected; except the Princess Theater is in need of a refit. There was a new Horizon Court buffet with improved layout and an International Café (very popular) included.
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 500 minutes of free internet offered to Platinum/Elite 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 there was usually a line-up for them. The gym was reasonably equipped.
When we cruised on the Sun Princess previously, we discovered our inside cabin on deck 10 was the smallest and worst designed inside cabin we have had in recent years! Problems occur when queen bed arrangement is used. The bedside drawers do not split as on other ships leaving a long unit on one side of the bed and little space on the other. Also it no longer can be used as a bed side table. One of our small suitcases had to be stood on end for that purpose. Also there is no space between the end of the bed and the wardrobe on one side and the desk on the other. The chair at the desk was the only one supplied (there was no room for any other).
After this disappointing experience, we were told to book one of the long, narrow cabins located in the cross-over corridors. These cabins are 148 square feet compared to 132 square feet for the regular cabins located in the long corridors. This combined with a better layout made a huge difference.
With a bed-head shelf supplied, the small bedside table is relocated to another location in the cabin when queen bed arrangement is used. The reduction in space beside the bed is compensated by the extra space between the wardrobe and the deck in the center of the cabin. Only 1 small chair is supplied. Lighting is good.
As usual with Princess, the bed was hard and the supplied egg-crate foam only helped a bit as it was worn thin. Also if you want a top sheet, ask for it. Our suitcases fitted under the bed.
The flat-screen TV was a generous size but awkward to watch while sitting in the chair. 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 ensuite was a reasonable size. The dreaded shower curtain on the fairly compact shower did not suck in as it was weighted. During the cruise the shower head was upgraded to the removable style.
Food & drinks:
Due to the inclusion of Japanese meals in the main dining room, there was a reduced choice of Western meals. We found the standard of food in the MDR and the buffet to be reasonable. Seafood was always available; with lobster on two formal nights. 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. There seemed to be more seats as the new buffet is now all on one level. 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 ($33.35 for 15 coffees) as the free coffee was the usual low standard.
Most days we used the buffet for breakfast & lunch, whereas all our dinners were taken in the MDR.
Staff and service on board:
Princess obviously trains their staff well as they were always friendly and polite even at reception. Organization on the ship was generally excellent. In particular, passport collection & redistribution for the various countries requirements was efficiently done from our cabin removing the need for us to line-up. The tender service was efficient.
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 Theater - these are the highlight of our evening. The singers & dancers in the 6 different production shows did a superb job. With Princess’s new Anytime Entertainment, the shows are reduced to just 30 minutes each. Since this ship doesn't have the corresponding Anytime Dinning, the shows were only put on twice a night instead of the usual 3 times. With a small theater the wait before the show was about 30 minutes to obtain a seat. Unfortunately many of the seats were uncomfortable as they are sloping downwards. The alternative venue, the Vista Lounge was used many evenings as well with guest entertainers who were generally only average. Overall we found the standard of entertainment to be not as good as Celebrity.
Two outstanding guest entertainers in the Princess Theater were: Nathan Foley who is a Logie winner singer, dancer & entertainer; and, Grant Galea who is a vocalist and an amazing impersonator. Unfortunately the cruise director, David Bradshaw (originally from UK) was below the usual standard.
As usual, Princess supplied a port lecturer, Linda Walker who was unbiased and very informative. There were the usual informative enrichment lectures with Evon & Peter Anderson.
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 explored ourselves in Darwin, Singapore, Hong Kong, Xiamen and Kochi (here the local Japanese were very helpful).
In Bali we used a pre booked driver & car which only cost a total of AU$60 (including tip) for the day. At the 2 Vietnam ports, Phu My (for Saigon) and Nha Trang; we organised private tours with other CC members. All of these were excellent day tours at a fraction of the cost of the ship’s excursions with the advantage of a small vehicle & small group. All the private tour guides impressed us with their command of the English language and their knowledge.
Passengers expressed disappointment at the cost of gaining the compulsory Chinese visa to just visit the small city of Xiamen for a few hours.
Everything went smoothly leaving the ship in Kobe, Japan where we caught a shuttle tram from the port to the train station. Here surprisingly we found the language barrier a problem as we attempted to get a train to Kyoto.
In our opinion the service is excellent, with above average food, and average 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 2 future cruises booked with Princess. As Carnival shareholders, we also receive extra onboard credits.