Review of D915: Papua New Guinea Cruise October 16 - November 3 The Ship: The 12 year old 71,000 tonne Dawn Princess can accommodate between 2050 and 2272 passengers, although on this cruise there were less than 2000, primarily Australians. Dawn Princess is well maintained, although the recent refurbishments were not obvious, apart from the outdoor movie screen (MUTS) and the new Sanctuary. There were minor signs of wear and tear, e.g. chipped laminate on our cabin's furniture and loose/broken tiles in the Riviera deck ladies amenities. Maintenance work continues on a daily basis with painting and revarnishing on the upper decks, carpet shampooing on lower decks being more noticeable. Having sailed on Dawn Princess' sister ship, the Sun Princess last year, the deck plans and general layout were pleasantly familiar, with public areas identical save a few name changes regarding restaurants and some bars. The heart of the ship is central decks 5 to 8, the elegant atrium area which is serviced by its own elevator. This area, as well as the Riviera deck with pools and large movie screen, is, in my opinion, the most photographed and eye-catching. A Sanctuary area on Deck 16 was also installed this year. It is largely shaded and boasts comfortable sun lounges, which are covered overnight. I neither saw the massage table set up nor patrons utilising the area on the few occasions I walked by. It is definitely a quiet area, has its own spa pool, but lacks privacy. There are several private areas onboard where passengers can escape to without the Sanctuary charge (approximately $20 for 4 hrs, which includes drinks and fruit refreshment.) The external promenade deck serves as an excellent walking and jogging track, though jogging is allowed only between 9am and 9pm. 3 circuit laps is roughly equivalent to a mile or 1.6 kilometres. Most entrants in the Walk for a Cure (breast cancer fundraiser) completed 9 laps or almost 5 kilometres. The Horizon Court on Lido (deck 14) was always a popular "pit stop" for hungry passengers. Along with the two downstairs restaurants, Florentine and Venetian, all are attractively fitted our and have a calming and elegant ambiance. The Accommodation: Our cabin was C506, with a inside mid-ship location, where we noted very little if any ship movement. Accustomed to balcony cabins, we found our home small, although adequate. With single beds joined, one entry side to the bed was difficult to manoeuvre. The mattress was firm but comfortable, the pillows and bedding of high quality and perfect weight for the set air temperature. Egg crate toppers are not required in my opinion. There is plenty of drawer space -a duchess with 6 drawers, a chest of 8 drawers and a large cupboard under the TV shelf. The wardrobe has 5 fitted rack shelves. Hanging space was just adequate, although as this was a 3 person cabin, I would have expected more as would anyone who likes to hang clothing. The extra bed was neatly hung vertically against a wall and did not interfere with space. I felt that the bathroom was larger and hence more comfortable in the inside cabin. There is a vanity stool and wall-fixed powerful hairdryer to complement the dressing table area. There is no need to bring your own hairdryer, even if they are allowed. There is one Australian power point. The gent's shaver point in the bathroom was not familiar, so a universal adaptor is an essential item to pack if you like the convenience of closer power points. First time Princess clients may appreciate instruction on the use of the c shower taps as the lower tap is a thermostat only and should only need to be set once. The sink plug has a hidden release which may take a few days to locate. The safes are very good and are less likely to lock you out, providing you focus on your pin and subsequent steps. There is a pin check at the end of opening and closing. You may need to wear your spectacles, as the numbers are small. All cabins are attended to and cleaned twice a day, towels and toiletries are replaced, bed turned down and chocolates left by the room steward. It does help to leave the service card in the door for the stewards when you are out for the morning or evening.
Princess Theatre, Promenade deck forward - the venue of 4 production shows as well as movies, lectures and storytelling by day. Vista Lounge, Promenade deck aft - venue for solo entertainers e.g. hypnotist William Riley, illusionist Adam Murphy, singer-songwriter Ash Puriri, comedians Maggie Scott and Ivor Richards, who were all excellent. In addition there were movies, a newlywed game show, a crew and passenger talent shows and a TV tunes trivia session. During the day trivia and bingo is popular here. Seating is at a premium for some events, so be early. The seating on final day Bingo jackpot was filled one hour before the event. The bingo caller Mark, the assistant cruise director looked like and imitated Frank Spencer. Bingo fans enjoyed his very funny and entertaining ways. Atrium Lounge, Promenade central Resident pianist John Daniels entertained here each evening and was the ideal cocktail accompaniment. Wheelhouse Bar, adjacent to Princess Theatre You could pop in here for a pre or post dinner drink to enjoy the listening and dancing pleasure of resident bands "The Lookouts" and "Cinnamoon". The former group had a repertoire of just two sets, which became tiring by day 12. They also played on some sea days on Rivieria deck or at Sailaway times. Movies under the Stars Artists in Concert e.g. Pavarotti, Tom Jones, Tina Turner as well as recent release movies were screened at 2pm, 8pm & 10pm on sea days and generally just the two evening screenings on port days. e.g. Angels and Demons, Confessions of a Shopaholic. Special maroon cotton covers are placed on the sun lounges at night, blankets are supplied and there is free popcorn and ice cream. The Casino Table games and poker machines are here for those who like a punt. All inside venues are now smoke-free. Jammers Nightclub This is the venue for disc jockey directed entertainment, including karaoke and pop star contests. Most nights it was poorly attended, due to the late time slot and demographics of the passengers. There were 3 themed nights (Country& Western, Island and Halloween) and 3 formal nights on this cruise. Dress was smart casual on non-formal nights. There was very good support for the formal nights with gents donning coats (not necessarily dinner suits and tuxedos) and the ladies their elegant finery.
The Food: The challenge here was to try something different each day as there was an overwhelming choice of dishes, especially in the horizon court buffet. Open 24-7, you will never go hungry on Dawn Princess. Breakfast is continental until 6.30am (pastries, muffins, cereals and lashings of fresh, stewed and dried fruits), after which the eggs, bacon, sausages etc. appear. There are omelets made to order and waffles. One morning we were treated to eggs benedict. A la carte breakfast as well as lunch and dinner is always available in the Florentine or Venetian restaurants, but I cannot comment regarding that. The coffee has improved and is now the same flavour as Nescafe Blend 43. We took a small jar with us this cruise and were pleasantly surprised. The lunchtime buffet consisted of several international cuisine days (Mexican, French, Italian etc.) a daily carved roast, salads, soup and dessert. It's easy to see why passengers complain of weight gains on a long cruise. We were familiar with the evening restaurant meals from our previous Princess cruises. Outstanding dishes included eye fillet, lobster, jumbo prawns, crab claws, racks of lamb and there was plenty of fish, including barramundi. On the 3rd Formal night the Bomb Alaska is presented, albeit flameless now. The Horizon court buffet appears to be gaining popularity as an alternative eatery and the Pizzeria pizzas are excellent. Passengers complained that to displayed steaks for The Stirling Steakhouse were too large. I cannot comment on the food or service there. The restaurant service, in our case, bordered on a rushed/hectic experience. Being seated by 6.50pm, we were usually finished by 6.30pm. The waitress who attended to our table was disappointingly officious and serious, so we ate many meals in alternative venues. Morning and Afternoon Tea/Snacks include sandwiches, mini-rolls and a decadent selection of tortes, cheesecakes, flans etc.
The Crew and Service: Captain Todd Mc Bain was in command. There was a change of procedures regarding the Captain's Cocktail Party on the is formal night. It is now a combined event for all passengers with the Champagne waterfall a highlight. The 4 levels of the atrium are used and there is short welcome address. This is a much better arrangement proposition. The Captain's Circle still holds two cocktail later in the cruise and all past Princess cruises are formally invited, primarily to acknowledge passenger loyalty. Service was excellent and staff eager to please. Bar staff actively sourced orders and thanked patron for their support. The only smoker's area (Riviera portside) was buzzing with drinkers and waiters on most days.
The Ports: Rabaul Vantage points on decks were filled as we approached the puffing Tavurvur volcano. The ash billowed our continuously, but we felt no tremors. Rabaul residents live where ash fallout is lower but this depends on the wind direction. Streets are blanketed in easily 15cm of ash, so maintenance crews are continually busy removing this build-up. We were on a privately organised tour that took us to the Kokopo war museum, a Japanese Barge tunnel and plane wreckages, the volcanic observatory which overlooked Rabaul and the Montevideo Maru memorial in the 'ground s zero' zone. Other passengers were on excursions that took them to a village at the foot of the volcano, but our group decided not to procced further as the pumice from the volcano was pelting the van. We were about a kilometre away from it at that point. It was an emotional experience seeing people still living so close to the volcano, but despite PNG authorites incentives to relocated the villagers, live continues on their ancestoral claim. The infrastructure in Rabaul, especially roads are well below standard. Forgotten town it may be but our bumpy 20km ride to Kokopo seemed like hours. 4WD would be the only way to travel here as heavy rains cause washouts and dumping along the coastal road. Kokopo is the new township and the war museum there is clean, maintained and artefacts are documented. Luganville: I was here in 2006, so the US war building on the wharf, copra stores and local stall holders selling the usual island treasures /consignment stock from general stores were no surprise. At this port you'll find donation boxes propped in front of singers and dancers, mainly children, although having a photo with an unusual creature is also popular e.g. Iguana- type bright green lizards. There was a 10 min walk into town, flagged by stallholders and care is need walking along and crossing the road. Downtown consists largely of numerous Chinese-owned general stores. It is not an attractive port city, but an excursion would enhance the experience for first time travellers.
Port Vila: This is a popular duty-free port. The port is now owned by Japanese investors and local labour is being sourced in the port facilities redevelopment, so you can expect a considerable disruption period. The markets are outside the port gates, extending about 200metres on both sides of the busy road. I noticed that prices were set, very few stallholders encouraged sales and appeared less friendly than 3 years ago. A taxi ride by van (which hold 8-10 people) will cost you $3 and drop you off downtown near the post office, from there it's a few minutes walk to Fung Kuei's, but take car crossing roads. We were able to get a taxi back to the chip from Fung Kuei's shop for $10. There is no shortage of taxis. Take a walk through the local fresh produce market downtown as well as the craft market adjoining it. Our Princess excursion here was the Glass bottom boat and snorkel, adjacent to Irikiri Island. I would rate this excursion as a 6/10 . Champagne Beach/Bay: It was another drizzly/cloudy day to begin, but a window of sunshine allowed passengers to swim, snorkel and capture the idyllic beach scenes on film. Stalls were set up here and there are now two bars as well as the enlarged lobster bar. Private tours will take you to the lookout and blue holes/lagoons for a negotiated price, but prefer to fill a van, so you may have to wait about. Here you can order you own lobster meal, wrapped in a banana leaf for $20-$60, depending on size. We ate ours in the rain, which cut our day in paradise too short. Snorkelling is far better on the tender side, though it's less easily accessible.
Lifou: Chilly and windy weather was not ideal for our Princess excursion to Luecila Beach, on the eastern side of Lifou, near the main village of We. It's a stunning beach but apart from a swim and snorkel, there's nothing there. We were crammed into a school bus , but at least the 20min commentated ride over the island was over bitumen road. We had 30 mins free time there and only the bravest of us went for a splash. The operators served some coconut meat and fruit before the drive to the tender. Souvenirs here were the most expensive we had seen to date, perhaps that's because we were in New Caledonia now.
Isle of Pines: This spot is breathtakingly beautiful and unique in that there is a very shady grove of trees close to the Sacred Rock swimming area. Kuto Bay, where the tender wharf is situated, has a resort with cafe, bar and shop. A beer will cost about $7 but you will need XPF( francs) from the purser to purchase at the resort shop. The few stallholders there will accept AUD. One French lady there sells great men's island shirts for $23 or 2 for $40. The water was quite chilly here on the day so a longer day swimming was not an option. Most passengers had returned by 1pm. The water temperature to the left of the sacred rock was definitely warmer, but the coral did not impress here. Noumea: Our first impression of Noumea was quickly uplifted after our Princess Petit Train excursion. I would give this a 9/10, only because we had to sit 4 adults to a train seat. The ship docks at the container wharf as she is too large for the regular wharf in town, which no doubt the smaller liners still use. We were collected at the container wharf and taken through the city to two separate lookouts for the most incredible panoramic views of Noumea and the nearby islands, then down to St Marie Bay, Anse Vata and Lemon beaches. This was our first blue-sky day since Rabaul, so the views were excellent. Our tour operators provided a commentary and served delicious local f French Pastries and drinks at the 2nd lookout stop. With the Commonwealth Games scheduled here next, there was considerable development underway. The French enjoy a much higher living standard compared to the local Kanakas, from what I saw.
The Tendering, Embarkation and Disembarkation: Princess have the tendering well organised and flowing smoothly considering the number of passengers who wish to go ashore. The Vista Lounge is the issue point for tender tickets and if you have a Princess excursion you need to meet at the Princess theatre at a certain time. We did at times feel like part of a cattle muster. There was a smooth and speedy embarkation and disembarkation. We arrived at 1.30pm and most passengers were already onboard as the process began at 12.15pm. I estimated 15 mins for our processing. Arriving on time on the final day allowed all passengers to be disembarked by 9.30am. Princess provided a shuttle to the airport ($35 pp) but there is also a private bus contractor who charges $15 to the airport, if you don't have an early flight home. There were lots of taxis there too. I trust this review has been useful. I purposely supplied as much detail as possible, specifically for out first time cruisers and those new to Princess. Please feel free to contact me should you require more information.
Happy Sailaways to you all. Anna