We just complete the Tahitian Princess June 19th Land of the Midnight Sun cruise from Dover to Dover. Ports included Stavenger, Tromso, Svalbard - cruising Magdalena Fjord and stopping in Ny Alesund, Honningsvag, Murmansk, Gravdal, Trondheim, Geiranger, Bergen. The cruise was a total of 18 days. We changed our clock a total of 3 hours forward and got the 3 hours back returning to Dover.
We are frequent cruisers and have cruised on Princess a total of 5 times, mostly on ships like the Crown and the Emerald. This was our first time on one of the Princess smaller ships. We are in our 60s and the age of passengers on this cruise skewed older than we. There were 3 children on the cruise. We had early dining at a table for 6, with amiable dinner companions.
The makeup of passengers was about 40% British, 40% American and the rest Canadian, Australian and other nationalities.
We flew to London and spent one night there. We took the train from Charing Cross right to Dover Priory. A short 7 pound taxi ride took us to the dock by 11 am. The Dover boarding area is fabulous and the people there were so friendly and accommodating. We boarded shortly after noon and went directly to our cabin, a port oceanview on deck 4.
We checked at the front desk for any upgrades available (including paid ones), but they said they were fully booked. We found the location of the cabin to be good during the high seas we experience on the way to Svalbard. Although we felt the seas, it was not much at all and would book a midship oceanview again. (We found out later that a number of passengers were upgraded, including a cruiser who was moved from an inside to a balcony, gratis).
The cabin was small but adequate. The bathroom was acceptable, but had one of those small showers with curtains that can be uncomfortable. We had filled out the cruise personalizer and also had our travel agent fax Princess asking for bathrobes, egg crate and Coke in the room. None of those items was there and when we finally found our steward just before 5 pm, we asked him to bring them. The bathrobes and egg crate did show up, the Cokes never did.
The room had adequate storage for all our clothes. We used the safe for our valuables. We did have a problem in that the bedding was very old and stained. The sheets and duvets were actually coming apart in several places. We asked the steward to replace them. The sheets were changed mid-cruise but the torn duvet stayed on the bed. Also, the carpet in the room had significant staining and our couch was very dirty with crumbs, stains and signs of wear. You could smell cigarette smoke. We were told by the steward there was nothing he could do. He did eventually put deodorizer in the room and the cigarette smell was better. We met another couple who actually refused to move into their 7th deck balcony until all the soft goods in the room, including the drapes were removed and replaced to eliminate the smell of smoke and the ripped condition of the bedding. This ship is in desperate need of drydock to replace the room furniture bedding and drapes. It is scheduled for drydock Nov. 19 and will return as the Ocean Princess. Let's hope they replace the cabin furnishings.
We went to the front desk to reports these conditions and found one of the most annoying issues on the cruise. The front desk staff's attitude was totally uncaring, non-responsive and frankly rude. Other passengers also expressed frustration with trying to deal with the front desk staff.
Captain Ravera was very outgoing and it was common to see him throughout the ship speaking with passengers and staff. He did an excellent job telling us about high sea conditions and what to expect. He obviously loves his "White Lady" and during the cruise of the fjords turned the ship 360 degrees under waterfalls and in the fjords to afford all the passengers a wonderful view of the scenery. Other ships officers were not visible.
The tour desk and Robbie the Tour Director had lots of information on the tours itself, and he was very visible and accessible. The port lecturer Hutch gave basic information on the ports, but nothing that you couldn't read in a tour book. We were a bit surprised that he kept saying, "I haven't been able to get that information," on a number of ports. It was as if he had been put on the cruise at the last minute without prior preparation. This was unfortunate, as a large number of passengers wished to do ports on their own and had little information besides the published sheet for each port.
We were blessed with wonderful weather on this trip. The sun shone and the temperature was in the 60s many days, with the exception of the Arctic circle where it was cooler, but not cold. The ports themselves were interesting and provided a great contrast of the geography in that area of the world. The mountains, waterfalls and fjords in the Geiranger area are among the most beautiful in the world. These contrasted to the stark dark mountains and snow in Svalbard. The cruise in Magdalena Fjord on Svalbard was very interesting and began in a foggy mist and ended with peaking sun. The temperature in the area hovered around 32 degrees. When we docked in Ny Alesund on Svalbard, it was snowing lightly and 32 degrees. This is a research station with about 30 people living there in the winter, and 120 in the summer months. We had to stay on the marked roads which were very close in the little village, because of the threat of polar bears. There were men armed with rifles accompanying us during our few hours on shore. We found out that less than 10% of the population of the world has visited this site and that 4 times as many people visit Antarctica as visit here. We felt very special to be able to experience this interesting place. Unfortunately, we saw no polar bears, but did see a whale and reindeer. The arctic terns were nesting and dive-bombed anyone approaching too closely. There is a small souvenir shop and a post office in Ny Alesund, both of which were mobbed by passengers looking for a memento of their visit.
Murmansk, Russia presented quite a contrast to the other areas. First of all, a Visa was required to visit the city but if you were on a ship excursion, it was included. This required a great deal of paperwork and coordination by the ship's staff, which was appreciated. However, after the ship was cleared, the return of passports to the passengers became a free-for-all, uncontrolled by the purser or anyone else. Murmansk has 16 days of sun in a year. We were fortunate to have a bright sunny day about 65 degrees. Murmansk is a gray barrack-like city which is the center of Russian submarine activity. Unfortunately, the tour guides were not allowed to speak of that aspect of the area. We toured the city museum, were supposed to go to the Cathedral but there was a funeral in progress, and saw the WWII war memorial and cemetery. There was no time for shopping or other activities. This is one city that we can say, once is enough. Been there done that.
One of our most favorite stops was Honningsvag where one can visit the North Cape, the most Northern place on the European continent. Passengers also could take a boat trip on a birding excursion which we heard was also very good, or a trip overland to a gallery and Christmas shop.
Gravdal, Lofoten Islands was probably the most beautiful place and a surprise to most everyone. This is a "don't miss' spot if you are doing the Norway cruise. The water, beautiful small fishing villages, mountains and waterfalls are awe-inspiring and picture postcard gorgeous. We truly enjoyed this port.
Bergen was also great with lots of energy and a wonderful fish market and Bryggen old town area. We did most of the ports on our own with the exception of Murmansk, and found it easy to do after reading good tour books and doing computer research.
The inconvenient part of the cruise was the timing of when we made ports. Unfortunately, Stavenger, Honningsvag and Bergen all were ports on a Sunday and most of the shops and some sites were closed.
As for the ship itself, we found we truly enjoyed the smaller sized ship and would definitely prefer to cruise this sized ship over the larger ones. It is a stable ship and handled the seas well. We found the lounge entertainment of the duos and piano player very good. The evening shows we attended were good, not great, but the singers and dancers really tried. If you like big production shows, this is not the ship for you.
To be honest, food was a real issue. The breakfast buffet was good and we have no complaints. However, lunch in the Panorama buffet was chaos. Because the weather was nice but not warm, many people wanted to sit inside. There simply is not enough space in the seating area of the Panorama to accommodate the number of passengers. There was no attempt by the staff to help people find seats and there actually were people standing up eating their meals. Also, some excursions returned after 2 pm and we found that the buffet often was shut down early with nothing to eat.
Food in the dining room was adequate, but there was a constant problem with overcooked meat. We and our tablemates had to return food a number of times because although ordered medium rare, it was well done. The three times we ordered fish, it was soggy (with the exception of the fish and chips at lunch which was excellent). This has to end up being really expensive to Princess and they must be able to come up with something better. We ended up ordering a lot of Caesar salad and fettucini alfredo, the "always available" foods. The chicken dishes were good. Our waiter did the best he could and was very pleasant. Head waiters Nello and Mauro were great also.
The real problem was the specialty restaurants. We always look forward to dinner at Sabatini's. It has been one of our favorite treats. However, we found the dinner there to be, frankly, awful. The menu is entirely different on this ship than on the big ships like the Crown and Emerald. The antipasto is ok, but the pasta course is no where near the quality of the other times we ate at Sabatini's. The main course was a disaster. Both of our entrees were terribly overcooked. They serve pizza like in the buffet for a course. The desserts were ok. The restaurant was basically empty. Service was ok.
The steakhouse was the same. The menu is not at all the one on the other ships. The appetizers are quesadillas, etc. The meat again was seriously overcooked - rib eyes. They do not have the chocolate molten cake. We were very disappointed and would not do them again with these menus. Service was ok.
Internet service actually was better than we expected. There was outage while we were deep in the fjords and in Svalbard and outside of Murmansk, but good reception otherwise. WIFI worked well in the room when service was available. Cell phones also worked well most of the time, except in the Arctic area and Murmansk. Andrea in the Internet area is absolutely super helpful and cheerful. She was a real asset to have onboard.
Disembarkation went smoothly and we were off the ship by 8:30 am and off to Heathrow by train.
Things we liked:
The club-like feeling of the Tahitian Princess
The library space
Ice cream in the buffet
The mix of nationalities onboard
Speaker Captain Wells who talked on naval issues
The Midnight Sun which made days seem longer
Things we did not like:
Soft goods in room needed cleaning
Food in the specialty restaurants
Sunday ports and short afternoon only port visits
Smell of smoke in common areas and halls
Lack of other lectures on history of area
Art auction taking up most of the Lounge and blocking views
One other point. Our cruise was June 19th to July 7th. This is about as early as one would want to do this cruise, because of the weather and the viewing of wildlife such as polar bears, seals, whales, etc. The seas were high going up to Svalbard when we went. While we had good weather, reviews and posting of earlier sailings on other cruiselines talked about rain, bad weather and higher seas. Sailings this date and beyond would seem to be optimal.