Now into our 60’s we are looking to complete as many long distance cruise locations as possible before we get too old, we chose the Tahitian Princess Honolulu to Tahiti cruise as it ticked two places which we had never visited before. It was also a very different type of ship from our recent cruises which were on Panamax size ships.
We had booked Princess air and were a bit apprehensive about the short, 75 minute, changeover at Newark. Fortunately our flight from Manchester UK arrived on time and we managed to clear immigration, customs and security with about 15 minutes to spare. We flew with Continental and, for economy, the legroom was very good, and home to Hotel was achieved in 23 hours which, for a total of 18 hours flying time in today’s security conscious world, was not too bad. The return was not so good, Princess routed us Papeete (11:30pm 29th June), LA, Heathrow and finally to Manchester (6:30pm 1st July). To add to the misery our luggage missed the Manchester flight, despite a 5 hour wait in Heathrow, and did not turn up until three days later. We had paid the £99pp extra to fly from Manchester and although happy with the outgoing flights we would have been much happier to have our return international flight terminate at Manchester; but Princess seem to enjoy routing us through the Heathrow hell hole.
Our pre-cruise 2 nighter was at the Royal Hawaiian, a luxurious haven right on the beach at Waikiki, and the following morning sitting on the terrace for breakfast with only a small fence between us and the beach made the long flight seem very worthwhile. We found Waikiki to be a delightful resort, nothing at all like the Blackpool, with tropical heat, which I had worried it might resemble. Pearl harbour and the Arizona memorial is an obvious place to visit and remind ourselves of what total World war is like, along with the National War Cemetery of the Pacific in Punchbowl crater. Dukes for dinner and then breakfast the following morning was a less sombre, and very enjoyable experience.
Boarding was at 1:00pm and with only 670 passengers it was painless and queue free. Then to our stateroom, a standard balcony, and quite a pleasant surprise since it looked bigger than I had anticipated; larger than the Coral or Island standard balcony rooms, and only slightly smaller than the Arcadia which is a HAL Vista class ship. The décor was clean and fresh looking and it was well maintained by our steward, the balcony which had looked quite tiny on some pictures was probably slightly bigger than the small one we had on Emerald deck on Coral, but half the size of the Caribe deck one we had on Island. The blue plastic matting covering the balcony floor is also much better than the gritty floor covering we had on the Celebrity Millennium, this was breaking up and had ruined the carpet around the balcony door. The bathroom is small, but again the shower was bigger than Coral & Island, and the shower curtain kept its distance except when the seas were rough. The only minor complaint resulted from our cabin having an adjoining door, which was not from our choice, but this meant that the two seater sofa was replaced by an easy chair.
The ship is beautiful, but in a rather staid and old fashioned mansion house style, and because of its bijou size it only has limited public rooms, we were able to see most of it on a quick tour after we had lunched in the buffet. The shops and casino are tiny but these are two areas I try to avoid anyway. There is only one pool, unless you count the tiny spa pool area which comes with an additional charge. The pool deck is fine for sunbathing and the jogging track above provides some shade if, like me, you burn readily. But on our sea days, where we had quite rough seas due to a strong south easterly headwind, the water poured out regularly and washed all around the deck and did not drain away at all well. The sun deck gives little shade and with the strong wind you needed to be up front where the Perspex panels afforded some shelter. As mentioned before this ship is quite small and the Pacific can produce rough seas, strong winds, and squally showers, which it did on this cruise; and we had almost 5 sea days, punctuated by a mornings call at Christmas Island. Fortunately neither of us was affected but a number of passengers did suffer from seasickness, which kept the crew busy sanitizing a number of areas around the ship. The downside of all this is that you do get quite a number of interruptions to poolside sunbathing due to showers; and the wind does tend to make some areas unusable. Additionally the balcony gets a lot of spray reducing its usefulness whilst at sea, but this was more than compensated for by the ability to have room service breakfast sitting on your balcony as the ship glides into a new South Sea Island Lagoon.
The club restaurant is very elegantly decorated, just a pity that the food did not come up to the same standard; it was perfectly adequate but the entrees always looked as though they had been on the plate too long, and the service on our table, whilst pleasant and convivial, was a bit slow. However the panorama buffet was an excellent example of what a buffet should be, good choice, hot dishes kept hot and salads cool and the food is very well prepared, especially for lunch which was our main use for it, although I did hear some criticisms of the choice for breakfast. Of the two speciality restaurants we only went to the steakhouse grill which is fine for a romantic evening, but the food quality is no better than the restaurant. We only sampled the burger bar once and it didn’t impress me enough to return, but the pizzeria offered good quality. Wine, as you would expect, is expensive and I felt that the cheapest wine ($20 pb) was fairly poor quality; we had to pay $28-35pb, plus 15% gratuity, to get quality equivalent to our supermarket plonk where we pay £3-5 pb. The quality on our Celebrity cruise in Feb 2007 was much better.
We were a little disappointed with the entertainment, there were only 3 production shows, which on a 12 night cruise seemed a bit mean, when we asked Neil Chandler the cruise director why; he felt that any more would be too tiring for the entertainment staff. It’s a good job they don’t work for Thomson cruises, where they normally provide a production show every night. The visiting entertainers were at best only adequate and well below the standard we enjoyed on Celebrity and P&O, unfortunately this has been our experience on our other Princess cruises, but we live in hope that things might improve. These criticisms definitely don’t apply to the local folklore shows, Hawaiian Hula in Hilo and the Children of Raiatea, these two shows were the only ones to fill the cabaret lounge. Unfortunately we missed the main Polynesian folklore show due to the ship tendering in Raiatea rather than berthing at the town’s main dock.
On this cruise we booked more ships shore excursions than we normally would, I generally feel that ship’s prices are too high, but when you are travelling so far and are unlikely to return you do need to explore as much as possible. The coach driver guides impressed us with their extensive knowledge of their islands, especially those in the Hawaiian Islands, and I like to think that we now have a little better understanding of these areas and their cultural heritage. I certainly was not aware that the Hawaiian alphabet only has 12 characters and the Tahitian only 13, evidence of their close Polynesian links. But how on earth did these people navigate across such a vast ocean without GPS or even charts and a sextant.
Disembarkation in Papeete is quite protracted, the flights back to LA are late in the evening so you have the run of the ship and all its facilities all day, but you need to vacate your room by 10:00am. Luggage is collected the night before as usual, so it’s important to bring a reasonable size carry on bag to cover a full days needs, this can be securely stored on board and you can have regular access if needed. Our final day coincided with Tahiti Independence Day, which is a national holiday, and just prior to our 8:15pm trip to the airport they bade us farewell with a spectacular firework display, a suitable ending to a special cruise.
Would we sail on the Tahitian Princess again or either of its sisters, probably not; it’s size means there are fewer show lounges, bars and general sitting areas than on the bigger ships, and this cruise has made us realize that we miss these features. But for those people who prefer small ships, the choice would be ideal.