We had cruised with Princess before (Sun Princess New Zealand 2007)and thoroughly enjoyed the ship and all it had to offer, including the wonderful attention from the staff. So we didn't hesitate to book with Princess again, on the sister ship Dawn Princess.
This cruise hooked up with the relocation cruise from Brisbane to Sydney and then set sail to Noumea, Fiji,Vanuatu and Lifou. Another family were travelling with us, but embarked from Brisbane, giving them an extra couple of days sailing. The ship had been in Dry Dock in Brisbane, being fitted out with 'Movies Under The Stars' and new 'Sanctuary' Spa. We were all very excited about the new inclusions.
The ship was scheduled to leave Brisbane at 8.00pm Saturday. I received a phone call from our friends to tell us the ship was still in Dry Dock!!! Several calls through the day & night & from our friends informed us that they finally left Brisbane @ 11.00pm - 3 hours late. No explanation given by the cruise line. This led us to beleive it would probably be late arriving in Sydney.
Well this is where the lack of communication from Princess Cruises escalated to apalling. We arrived at Darling Harbour around 10.00am & no ship. Passengers were milling around confused. No representative(s) from Princess were present to explain there was a delay. A delay is putting it mildly. The ship finally arrived at 2.30pm and we didn't depart until somewhere between 11.30pm & midnight!!! More than 6 hours late. Still no explanation or apology from the cruise line. Passengers were complaining left, right & centre & quite rightly too. All it would have taken was an explanation upon arriving at Darling Harbour, that there was a delay. Given that passengers start arriving from 9.00am, there should have been representation from the cruise line there ready to inform them. It was only that our friends had warned us of the late departure from Brisbane, that we had any indication that the ship may be late. We were the lucky ones. Other passengers were left clueless. There was rough weather coming down from Brisbane, which we assume delayed the ship further, but again, it was fellow passengers who enlightened us.
That said, once the company's staff showed up, they did a wonderful job at getting us all on board. A further delay due to passengers embarked at Brisbane, not clearing customs there, so they had to get off & go through customs at Sydney. Poor planning.
Due to the extreme late departure, we missed Noumea. We experienced rough weather the first couple of days as well. Our last port of call was Lifou and the morning we were supposed to disembark, the captain announced that we were no longer going to stop at Lifou because there was a nasty storm brewing off the coast of Tasmania & Victoria & he didn't want to take us through another episode of high seas. Another port missed.
STAFF We had a good time once we finally relaxed and got under way. I'd have to say it wasn't up to the same standard as what we had on Sun Princess. This was largely due to the staff. The majority of drinks waiters could barely speak English. They knew enough to take an order, but if you asked them anything about the cocktail list etc or God forbid, try & strike up a friendly conversation, they couldn't understand you. One waiter we dubbed 'Manual' (Fawlty Towers). Our Dining Room wait staff were marginly better. Most staff had no 'conversational' English skills. I don't know if it was because a lot of them has just signed on, but they were ordinary service providers. There also seemed to be less staff on board, compared to our NZ cruise. Hardly any on the decks during the day. We really missed the great service we had previously. I hope this isn't an indication of where Princess Cruises are heading, because good staff add value & it's all about customer service. The cruise directors did an incredible job. Especially given that they had to deal with disgruntled passengers after missing 2 ports of call. The amount of work involved in putting together a 'non port day' program at the 11th hour when we missed Lifou, must have been enormous. This also meant they didn't get as many breaks either, yet they all remained enthusiastic. A real credit to them all. Our Cabin Steward was a blessing. He looked after us so well and kept our cabin clean & neat. A real feat when you're dealing with a family of 4!! He really made our trip more enjoyable.
ENTERTAINMENT The entertainment was wonderful. Acts appealed to a large cross-section of age and interest. The Broadway shows were geared more toward Aust.audiences than the shows we saw 18mths earlier. Plenty of variety & options every night. The Movies Under the Stars was great. Unfortunately, the weather stopped this great addition from being utilised as much as it could have. But it will be great in warmer weather.
PORTS OF CALL Highlight was Dravuni Island and Port Vila. I don't why they bother still going to Suva. It was only ever really good for Duty Free shopping, but Port Vila is much better now. Suva is just a big city. Port Vila has great Duty Free Alcohol (better than the ship offers) and stores with great knock off labels, especially in handbags & wallets.
We have booked again with Princess and hope that this was just a bad experience. If the cruise line had been more pro-active and had just communicated better with the passengers, thye could have avoided a lot of disappointment. If this had been our first cruise, we may not have booked with them again. I just hope they haven't cut back on staff to cut costs, as this really put a dampener on our experience. Our friends had been on a Pacific Dawn cruise before & they were also disappointed with the lack of bar staff & the general quality of wait staff on this cruise.