Fiji Jewels Cruise - May 2009. This cruise was cut short at the start due to late arrival of the ship back from its Hawaii cruise as well as the Swine flu scare. We sailed 10 hours late and missed our first port of call Noumea. As well on our return we were denied access to our last port of call Lifou and arrived back to Sydney early - 3am rather than 7am as posted. So this review only details the ports we DID see.
There were 5 eating areas that we found.
2 Major Dining Rooms - Venetian and Florentine mainly for formal eating. If you wanted you could eat all your meals here and have waiter service. Fabulous for dinner with the Captains Dinner on the second formal night a meal to die for. YOU MUST GO !
The Pizza place was good but not Pizza like we know it in Australia. These pizzas were the authentic Italian variety and I must say hummm they were nice. We ate there twice and enjoyed both meals.
The Horizon Bar upstairs on level 14 was a service yourself and also very popular. The only draw back here was that the food was out in the open with people helping themselves. Sometime the food was a little cold and we were a bit worried about hygiene although this aspect of the cruise was meticulously enforced. The desserts were a photographic extravaganza but eating them was a heavenly experience. Try a bit of them all. Worry about the extra kilos later.
If you are worried eat all your meals in the dining rooms as the food is cooked especially for you and served to your table.
The grill upstairs around the pool was also good. We would have like to have had more opportunity to try this again but the weather defeated us.
Room service was OK but there is a charge and we only had tea early in the morning served once.
The entertainment was brilliant. We watched all the shows and they were just sensational. The singers were first class and the dancers were superb. The costume changes were just fabulous and really set off the whole performance. The band was outstanding.
The comedian was also good. He started slow but really got going and finished on a high with us all laughing our sides sore.
The Lipman Harp Duo was sensational. A harp duo in itself was a difficult act to retain interest but they held the audience interest with interesting tit bits about the harp and their journey of learning. At the end of the superb performance they invited the audience up to inspect the harps and have a go. This only added to the performance by creating a relationship with the audience. Overall an unusually fabulous act for a cruise ship.
We visited this only once as it was expensive by general standards and was just OK.
We had a go at this too, and wished we had more time to really get the most out of this. Good fun.
We had a cabin with a balcony and it was terrific. The balcony added to our enjoyment especially in port. We had a good view of all the portside activities from our balcony. The room itself was more than adequate for storage space. Suitcases fitted well under the queen bed. 3 cupboards with lots of hangers also had wire draws and shelves for storage. We had heaps of room here. The dresser also had 6 drawers and an extra small bedside cupboard had a drawer and 2 shelves for more space.
The bathroom was small but adequate and replenished daily with towels, bath and beach towels + shampoo, conditioner and soap. Tissues were also a nice touch. There is a small washing line in the shower and we used this a lot for smalls. We took a bar of SARD soap and washed smalls out in the sink and they would dry overnight. See comments on laundry below.
Ice was supplied in our rooms daily with a large bottle of water and 4 cans of soft drink in the small fridge. These you had to pay for (water $4.95 each and cans of soft drink were $2.25 each).
We had a TV with lots of channels - news channels were ABC Australia breakfast and CNN. Movies were also rotated daily and they had the up-to-date ones showing. We saw Australia, the latest James Bond, Slumdog Millionaire, Mama Mia and a couple of other ones that were really good.
There is ONLY one Australian power socket per cabin but we found this adequate. They also supplied a hair dryer in the cabin it is fixed to the wall next to the dresser.
There were 2 overhead reading lamps over our queen bed with dimmer on them. Very handy if one wanted to read and the other sleep or for mood settings. Great!!
The room steward in our cabin was OK but he had poor English skills although we were able to communicate all our needs with a little patience.
The room was always clean and tidy when we returned from our daily activities. At night our bed was turned down with a nice touch of the daily newsletter and chocs on our pillows.
We looked into a room with just a window and these were also the same configuration as the balcony rooms. They had the extra space the balcony took up with a bigger dresser. The window was nice and big and had a bay type setting.
The public rooms were OK the Princess Theatre was a little small and some shows there was standing room only. So get there early and get a good seat. They have waiter service in the Theatre so you can get a drink before the show starts. Nice touch.
The Vista Lounge was nice too with ambiance in abundance with lounge type chairs with little tables and a bar at the back but they had roaming waiters for drink service.
The Grand central court with lifts and shops and dining room entrances was sensational. What a spectacle when you first see it. Good area to have a predinner drink as it has waiter service. There was also entertainment here and there always seemed to be something going on.
Generally the service on the ship was good. The waiters in the dining room were brilliant and nothing was too much trouble. Our waiters Constantine and Shaun were exceptional as nothing was too difficult and at no time did they ever get it wrong. They added to our dinner enjoyment by being understanding and generous with their time and service. Their professional approach never slipped. But they rose to the challenge of Aussie humour taking it all in their stride. OUTSTANDING !!
However, the head waiters were a bit snobby. We had initial problems with our table seating and repeated requests were ignored as they hoped we would go away. But eventually these were sorted out, but you had to be persistent.
We did not book any shore excursions with Princess as they were far too expensive and did our own thing. We found getting a taxi was the easiest in Port Denaru and Vila. NEGOTIATE a price to start and stick to it. Don't let them go over time if they give you a price per hour as they then hit you with extra costs. Make sure you know exactly how much you are up for. In Vila it should only cost you $3 Australian each in a taxi to town. Get one of the mini buses and fill them up with people it is cheaper. When you want to come home from town again take a mini bus and make sure the price is the same.
In Suva if you want to use an internet cafe there is a really good one on the same side of the road as McDonalds walking away from the boat down the road across the park to a cream building see the sign outside. It was clean and fair priced. Watch out for sleazy internet cafes up stairs and in alleys BEWARE !! If you need conveniences in Suva go to McDonalds as they are always clean. The police in Suva are all Fijian and very helpful. We had a camera stolen from a bag and this was RECOVERED for us after we approached a police man in the street and returned to the shop where it had disappeared. FABULOUS SERVICE. They are friendly as well and all speak faultless English.
In Port Denaru there is a free BROWN bus (but it is actually blue) which goes to the resorts around the Port. Good value. But a taxi is also another option again NEGOTIATE a fair price and stick to it.
Dravini Island is just like all the post cards say. Sandy beaches, cool clean water where you can see the bottom, fish with exotic colours swimming among rocks and corals. If you have a snorkel take it with you it will get used here. Also take some small denominations of Australian money and buy some of the wonderful CHEAP sarongs, and bits and pieces that the islanders sell. The sarongs are heaps cheaper here than in Port Denaru. Ladies cover up after you leave the water the islanders are offended by seeing women in skimpy bathers walking around. There is a post office on the island but no where to buy cards and stamps so if you want a card stamped from Dravini Island come prepared and post it on the island.
Vila is the place where you buy your duty free grog and cigs. Check the shops out in the main street as prices do vary. They will deliver your goods to the ship - you have no option here. They deliver the goods to your stateroom the night before you get into Sydney. Service was good here on board.
This was on the 12 Floor left side looking at the front of the ship. It has heaps of games - trivial pursuit, backgammon, scrabble, mahjong, pictionary etc etc in cupboards for your use.
We spent quite a bit of time in the casino and really had a ball. There were tournaments where they taught you the games - roulette and blackjack and we joined it and really enjoyed playing. Set yourself a limit and keep a separate wallet with your set amount, add your winnings and only use this for fun. We found we actually came out ahead but we kept to our budget.
There is a bar here with waiter service to poker machines for drinks.
The Casino has a great atmosphere.
On Board shops & shopping
We bought a few items at the onboard shop. Generally the prices were a bit more but that was to be expected. They have everything from men's and woman's clothes of all descriptions, T-shirts, hats handbags jewellery, cosmetics perfumes to those items you might have forgotten to pack. I even saw some flipper and mask/snorkel for sale.
During the cruise we had shopping opportunities for speciality items like watches, brackets and necklaces made to measure. The brackets and necklaces were sold by the centimetre and were very cheap. Rings and other jewellery were also on specials. These sales were held outside the shop area and advertised in the daily Princess Platter.
On board games
We made use of the shuttleboard and ping pong and these were really fun.
Swimming Pool and outdoor activities
Due to weather and sea conditions the swimming pools were not always open, and this was a bit of a disappointment. However, when we did use them they were great. The bigger pool is deep all the way good for swimming a few laps. When it was fine and sunny and in port the deck chairs were highly prized. Get in early if that is what you want. They also had an outside grill bar here and we tried this once and it was great. The food was cooked before you eyes on the barbeque and good variety.
This was also excellent. We had some photos developed through the machine. We took a laptop downloaded photos and then put only the ones we wanted on a stick. This we plugged into the machine and in seconds we had completed our order. Others used their camera cards and stood for hours selecting and tweaking their photos before ordering. This was the only drawback to the machine. You could collect the photos the next day and they were excellent quality.
The photos taken by the photographers were professional and of excellent quality. We bought photos of the island night as they were the best, but there are heaps of opportunities to have formal photos taken and photos were also taken at every port.
Administration staff - on and off ship
This was the disappointing part of our cruise. Our embarkation was truly a scenario of disorganisation and abandonment. The delay caused by the late arrival of the Dawn Princess from her previous cruise and subsequent quarantining was certainly NOT handled well by Princess staff. We were left in a large room with 20 chairs for 2000 passengers + joining cruise staff. Passengers were sitting on dirty floors as no chairs were provided. Elderly passengers with mobility issues were left for 12 to 14 hours without water and NO food. No informative communications were forthcoming and tempers rose. The rest rooms were stretched to capacity and health issues developed as the hours lengthened. We had grave concerns over these issues.
Princess should have a contingency plan in place for such situations whereby they could have supplied some form of refreshment to waiting passengers. When we told staff that they should provide water they pointed to a small cafe and we were told to buy it. However, later they did come around with large bottles of water and paper cups which helped.
We waited in like for 3 hours to book in as there was only 1 computer working. The other computer was reserved for Priority Booking passengers and sometimes was used to help but it made little difference to the 3 hour wait. For the many elderly passengers this was totally unacceptable.
When we eventually were allowed on the ship it was well after midnight and we were exhausted. One of our party was very sick that night and next day due to missed medications and later sea sickness. The ship eventually sailed at 2am. NOT A GOOD START TO OUR CRUISE.
Purser staff on the ship tried to help but they also were not in the communication loop being told nothing about our situation when ports were missed or skipped completely. The captain made one general announcement that we were turned away from Lifou due to flu on board but left it until the very last day only hours before we landed in Sydney to tell us that we were clear. Had we not had communications from mainland Australia on the flu situation on the boat we would have been totally in the dark about what was happening on board our ship.
This mushroom type treatment was an insult to our intelligence !!
The end of our cruise was also a disappointment as we docked in Sydney at 3am not 7am as stated. We not only missed the fabulous sight of sailing out of the heads at Sydney but missed the sail in as well.
We were VERY disappointed that we missed Noumea and more so that we missed Lifou and seeing Sydney from a ship. We would have been happy to have skipped Suva and rather seen Noumea.
Through all this disappointment we made the best of what we had and generally enjoyed our cruise.
I hope that I have covered everything to help anyone on a cruise or taking a similar cruise. Given our initial setbacks - make the most of what you have and you will enjoy the cruise. Good luck !!