Having read some alarming reviews before our cruise, I can honestly say that our experience on the Sun Princess was nothing short of wonderful. Flight arrangements from Brisbane to Sydney with other Princess passengers and subsequent transfer to the ship was smooth and efficient. Embarkation was quick and also efficient with the surprise of an upgrade in our balcony stateroom from Caribe deck to Aloha. The stateroom location was five in from a door to a back deck which we found very useful for getting around the ship for access to the upper decks where the pools and buffets, etc. were located. The stateroom was big enough for our needs and we thoroughly enjoyed the tiny balcony even though we probably did not make enough use of it.
Before leaving Sydney we were informed by the Captain that we were to miss Milford Sound altogether due to a deep depression in the Southern Ocean. Although this was disappointing, I for one was glad to miss the 8 metre swells and the possibility of rogue waves. We were informed that we would be travelling through the Cook Strait to reach our first port of call, Dunedin. We did however have a rolling swell as a consequence of the depression. We were both fine although I did hear that many people were ill. The cruise progressed as per itinerary without any problems whatsoever and the weather was kind to us. We only booked two tours through Princess - Speights Brewery and pub crawl in Dunedin. We had a great time with fellow passengers on this tour. The other was the Waiotapu Thermal Reserve in Rotorua. We along with about 240 other passengers enjoyed a full day travelling to Rotorua from Tauranga and first visiting the thermal reserve. Next it was on to lunch via the gondolas in Rotorua where we enjoyed a buffet and maori entertainment. Our last call was at the Rainbow Trout Springs which also was most interesting. We arrived back at the ship at 6 pm. I will also add that organisation of passengers for these tours on board the ship where we gathered in the Princess Theatre was run most efficiently.
Disembarkation at the various ports was never a problem at any time. We only had one tender port. That was in the Bay of Islands. What a job disembarking approximately 2000 people onto tenders. This was run smoothly and efficiently with a ticket system wherein you collected your ticket when you were ready to disembark. This resulted in a short wait whilst you waited for your number to be called. Upon gathering at a pier in the Bay of Islands to go back onto the tenders we had quite a long queue. But good manners means you wait your turn and good conversations were had with other passengers about our experiences. Also watching a maori canoe disembarking passengers who had gone on it was a hoot when we discovered what appeared to be an outboard motor which they were trying to disguise under a hessian bag. I will say though that you don't necessarily have to book a Princess shore tour. At most ports shuttle buses dropped you off at Tourist Information centres where you could decide what you wanted to do and go on tours from there.
My favourite port was Wellington which I found to be very trendy and cosmopolitan. The cable car up to the Botanic Gardens was well worth it. We walked through the gardens, down to the Lady Norwood Rose Garden (just beautiful) and then down through the cemetary back into the city centre. The cost to us was a healthy walk. We paid for a return ticket on the cable car but our advice is to only go one way (up) and walk back down. My husband liked Napier the most where the locals were so friendly and very proud of their town and the earthquake history. The locals also turned out at the port in their period fashions from the art deco era along with some beautifully restored cars. I also enjoyed the bagpipers who played for us prior to us leaving Dunedin.
Service on board was great. Staff were faultless. Our cabin steward was attentive and a thorough gentleman. Accolades also to our waiters in the Regency Dining Room. We especially enjoyed the late dinner sitting where we quite often were almost the last to leave. Our dinner companions were American and we enjoyed long and lively conversations about our respective countries when we dined with them. The bar boppers (I think they were called) in the Shooting Stars disco were lots of fun. There could usually be one found trying to entice you into the Disco even at 1 am in the morning ( usually when we were leaving the Casino). Natalie who conducted the bingo sessions, etc. was an absolute talent. What an asset she is to Princess. My husband won some money at Bingo and I am the proud new owner of a beautiful new Guess handbag.
All in all a great cruise. Now to complaints. The only criticism I have is the laundry facilities. We were down to one washing machine and dryer on our floor at one stage. I sat in the laundry one afternoon for nearly two hours waiting my turn in the queue. The upside of this was I enjoyed some conversations with other female passengers and we were determined to hold our place in the queue and not let anyone push in. I did hear that four people were booted off the ship in New Zealand for brawling over the laundry. It was a rumour but I could well believe it might happen. The only other complaint was the so called comedian we watched one night. I am sorry but he was terrible. People were walking out and I felt like sliding down in my seat. I could not leave as I would have felt really bad doing that but his jokes were old and very dated.
The cruise had its fair share of whingers and whiners. I also witnessed a lot of grumpy men speaking down to their wives. You are on holidays - enjoy yourselves. A cruise is what you make it - you can be as bored or as entertained as you want. IT IS UP TO YOU. We are both 50 and we had the best time.
Princess Cruises keep doing what you do - you are wonderful. We hope to travel with you again.