During our 12-day cruise in the Mediterranean from Rome to Venice, we sailed aboard the Pacific Princess, which is a great ship for anyone who prefers a more intimate and classy cruising experience. At 30,277 tons, it's less than one-third the size of most mega-ships. And with a capacity of just 670 passengers (double occupancy), there's rarely a line-up for anything including lunch, the show lounge or going ashore.
This more intimate atmosphere aboard the Pacific Princess is no accident. The ship is one of 8 upscale vessels originally built for Renaissance Cruises in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When Renaissance went bankrupt, Princess bought 3 of the ships and renamed them the Pacific Princess (replacing the original Love Boat), the Tahitian Princess and the Royal Princess. Some of the other former Renaissance ships have ended up with luxury lines such as Azamara and Oceania.
As you would expect from a more upscale vessel, the décor aboard the Pacific Princess is refined and elegant, with the public areas decorated in Victorian style with wood paneling, brass railings, classical paintings and lots of marble and rich carpeting. The staterooms have dark wood trim, blue carpets, cream-coloured walls, and blue and gold bedspreads. This is a classy looking ship.
We had a reasonably sized balcony cabin (216 sq.ft) with twin beds converted to a queen, and a sitting area with a small sofa, coffee table and desk. The storage space was a bit spartan, particularly for a ship that does long voyages and world cruises. And we had to lift up the bed to get our suitcases underneath because it had a railing that dipped lower than the box spring.
Our stateroom had a small balcony with two chairs and table. We used it every day, especially in the late afternoon as our ship pulled out of port. It was also great to walk out there in the morning to get a sense of what the day's weather would be like as we prepared to go on an excursion.
In the public area, the sun deck is well laid out with lots of shade area around the outside, a medium-sized pool with two hot tubs, lots of sunning area around the pool, and a second level of lounge chairs on the deck above, overlooking the pool area. At one end is the pool bar, and at the other there is a small area for the band which played late each afternoon. I sat at one of the tables in the shade almost every afternoon writing my blog, listening to the music and enjoying a glass of white wine!
There are several great choices aboard the Pacific Princess for dining and entertainment.
The Club Restaurant is the main dining room, and it had two dinner sittings -- usually 6:00 and 8:15 pm. It's a cozy and elegant room with raised seating in the centre, and large windows on three sides. The food was very good, there was a good variety including vegetarian and healthy living choices, and the service was excellent.
As usual, we chose the second sitting because we hate rushing to dinner after an afternoon excursion, and we like the slower, more leisurely pace of the later service. Our wait staff were terrific, and they took the time to chat with us and entertain the girls with tricks and napkin folding demonstrations. On the Italian-themed night, they all dressed up like Gondola sailors and our two waiters -- Crispen and Mancel -- posed for photos with Sam.
The other dining choices include the Panorama Buffet, which serves buffet style dishes along with more simple options like pizza, and two alternative restaurants - Sabatini's Italian and the Sterling Steakhouse. Sabatini's serves a set multi-course Italian meal that includes a large selection of hot and cold antipasti, pizza, pasta, a choice of seafood or meat, and dessert, all for an extra charge of $20 per person. The Sterling Steakhouse serves up a choice of appetizers, various cuts of steak including porterhouse and rib eye, and dessert for an added cost of $15 per person. We dined once at each alternative restaurant, and enjoyed the steakhouse the most.
There are several bars and lounges around the ship, as well as a small casino. The Casino Bar offers live piano music before and after dinner to the rhythm of slot machines, roulette tables and black jack tables. The Club Bar, located just outside the entrance to the main dining room, serves up drinks in an intimate drawing room setting - you'll find me there before dinner! The Pacific Lounge sits on deck 10 overlooking the bow and is the place passengers meet to dance, both to live music until 11:00 pm, and then afterwards when the lounge turns into a disco.
Our favorite night spot was the Cabaret Lounge, which puts on two shows a night ranging from the ship's dancers and singers, to comedians, solo singers and illusionists. Our dance troupe from Australia was very talented and put on a three different shows, including a tribute to the "Rat Pack" and a French themed evening with Can-Can dancing called "Bonsoir Paris."
In addition to an attractive library complete with faux fireplace, the Pacific Princess has a couple of boutiques, a small gymnasium, a full service spa and an internet café. The gym is equipped with a good variety of exercise equipment, and was never busy during our trip (not altogether surprising given the number of days we spent in port). The spa offers the traditional range of massages and treatments, and has a private mineral hot tub perched over the stern with a marvelous view of the sea.
The Internet Café is another story. The instructions on how to sign up for service were confusing, there was no one available to help until the first sea day - a week into the cruise, and the connections were very unreliable. In addition, unlike the internet service on some cruise lines, there was no way to draft email text before signing on to the live connection and incurring time charges. However, while the spotty internet service was a pain for me as a heavy user, it wasn't an issue for most people.
The crew and officers aboard the Pacific Princess were terrific, which I think is a product of a smaller ship where everyone gets to know each other sooner and better. It's hard not to run into the cruise staff several times a day on this ship, and the waiters in the dining room were more friendly and relaxed than on many larger vessels we've been on. As a result, we got to know a lot of the officers and crew quite well, which added to the enjoyment of our cruise.
The downside of a medium-sized ship like the Pacific Princess is that there are fewer public areas, and less choice for entertainment and activities. For example, there are none of the new-style attractions found on the mega-ships like water slides, rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks, mini- golf courses, extensive shopping plazas, etc. And smaller, more upscale ships tend to attract an older audience with fewer kids than on the larger ships.
The bottom line is that the Pacific Princess is for people who want a more refined and intimate cruise experience than they would find on larger ships in the premium market, including on the larger Princess ships. For cruising traditionalists like my wife and me, it was great and we would love to sail on her again. However, for our 18 and 20-year old children, it was good but not as much fun as sailing on the larger ships where there's more to do and younger people to do it with.