For 40 years I dreamed the impossible dream of travelling eastbound across the Pacific through New Zealand, Fiji, the Samoas, French Polynesia and the Hawaiian Islands. That dream became reality when we boarded Star Princess at Circular Quay in Sydney on 24 October 2009.
PRE-CRUISE We flew into Sydney four days prior to embarkation as my wife had never been "down under" in OZ before. Flights from Los Angeles were on Air Pacific, Fiji's national airline of which QANTAS owns a good share. We found that service had deteriorated a bit since our last flight with them in 2007. Wine with dinner was nice but the availability of alcoholic beverages in flight was not highly advertised. In addition, there no longer was champagne and orange juice served with breakfast, evening meals out of Los Angeles were basically a box lunch. Air Pacific still flies the B747-400 series on many of its long haul flights as was the case on the Los Angeles/Nadi and Nadi/Sydney legs. We were in the last row in the forward economy cabin and the recline of the seats was quite comfortable. The duration of the flight necessitated a stretch break half way across the Pacific to Nadi. Arrival and transfer in Nadi was painless and the break from the seats was delightful as we pulled up in Nadi at 5:05am, twenty minutes ahead of schedule.
AIRPORT TRANSFERS While there are numerous ways to get from Kingsford-Smith airport by Botany Bay to the core of Sydney (train, taxi, shuttle etc) we pre-booked individually with KST transfer. Bruce was waiting there for us with a sign as we departed customs and immigration and a short walk led us to a large car that more than sufficed for our four suitcases and hand luggage. A wealth of information, he acted as a tour guide all the way to the hotel from the airport.
HOTEL Stayed at the Travelodge Sydney at Wentworth & Goulbourn Streets, close to Central Station and Hyde Park, three blocks from the Museum train station, four blocks from the monorail and three blocks from the Cafe on the Park where we went for breakfast. The hotel was a basic no frills economy hotel which sufficed for the four nights we were in the city. No bar or entertainment but the city was within seven blocks walking distance. Transport to Circular Quay for embarkation was by taxi. Let it be known that some taxi drivers in Sydney refused local fares in the hope that they would land a long one back to the airport.
EMBARKATION On arrival at the quay, there was immediate confusion as people were lined up without any knowledge of where they were supposed to take their luggage. Finally someone advised that passengers should take their luggage to the back of a three-ton cube van for delivery on board. After about thirty minutes in the lineup completing "Leaving OZ" forms and medical boarding forms we were shuffled through security and to the check-in counter where we showed our documentation and we were away. Having cruised on Golden previously, it was not difficult to find our way around the stateroom decks on Star.
STATEROOMS We had a mini port-side on Dolphin deck and as we entered we had a fantastic view from our balcony of the train station, ferry terminal and Sydney Opera House. The minis are your standard Princess large ship mini and this was our first. Needless to say, the two televisions, extra space and bathtub were a total delight, so much so that I am now resigned to booking minis as I have done for our forthcoming Santiago/San Francisco voyage on Star in 2011. After we had a chat with Luisito our stateroom steward, we sorted away the formalities re ice, robes and tux, and were on our way to the Horizon Court for lunch before returning ashore to make last minute purchases.
DINING We were confirmed Anytime Dining, and as such went to the Capri the first evening for dinner. As we were not overly impressed with the service, we tried the Amalfi Dining Room the second evening and were totally impressed with the service, so that's where we dined for dinner the remainder of the voyage. We had a Serbian lady by the name of Ivana who with her Mexican counterpart was superb, so much so that we kept requesting one of her tables even though we might have to wait ten minutes.
The Horizon Court seemed no different than on any other Princess vessel, and continues to be chaotic at the best of times. There is no rhyme or reason to the layout of food and passengers are criss-crossing each other to get this and that. The quality of food on a scale of 1 to 5 I would rate at 3.75, for the simple reason that over a 30 day period you see the same selections over and over again and actually get tired of eating there.
Pizza, burgers, ice cream on Lido Deck was excellent and the service great.
Bar service was excellent in all venues, especially in Skywalkers for the Elite/Platinum hors d'oeuvres from 5-7pm. Alan got to know us so well that he would ask, "the usual or the special of the day." When we were at special events (Captains welcome, farewell etc), Alan would weed us out of the crowd and bring us our tray of drinks without even asking...excellent service.
ENTERTAINMENT The CD staff under the tutelage of the maestro Richard Joseph were flawless. Julie James, Ceri Widdall, Danny, BenGee, Melissa were all superb. There were occasions they were challenged to meet the requirements of a diverse demographics on board (20s to 80s).
The entertainment was hit and miss. We were fortunate to have Matthew and Gunnar Nelson (Ricky's boys) who did a "Remember Ricky" show highlighting his tunes and the family. There was also an English comedian who thought he was the Don Rickles from the other side of the Atlantic. Well it flopped and people just plain walked out in disgust. The Broadway style shows were quite well done but because of the length of the voyage were put on too often. Julie, the Deputy CD did her own show in the Vista Lounge...great singer that Aussie gal...and then Ceri Widdal, the Asst Deputy CD, put on a show of her own one evening (great voice)in the Vista Lounge. Ceri must have done alright as she was promoted to Deputy CD on Golden before moving to her home ship.
SERVICE Whether it was Karolina and Kayleigh at the Passenger Services Desk, Alan in Skywalkers, our room steward Luisito, Richard and his CD staff, the DR crews of Valentina, Ivana and Natalia, I am convinced that the Star service far exceeded the other vessels in the fleet I have sailed on.
SHORE EXCURSIONS We did a combination of independent and ship booked excursions. Those we did with Princess were excellent with superb tour guides in Papeete, Moorea and Oahu on the selected excursions.
DISEMBARKATION Immigration by row in the Princess Theatre was conducted on arrival in Honolulu before we could go ashore on our excursions, but we did get away on time. In Los Angeles, proceeding ashore was simple as they called our colours in The Platinum Departure Lounge (read Capri DR as there were so many Elite/Platinum on board).
TRANSFERS Airport transfers to LAX went really well albeit with some trepidation as you watched from the bus window to ensure that your luggage was going with you. Drop off at LAX was short, swift and very efficient.
SUMMARY Captain Ed Perrin's crew was nothing short of magnificent when it came to service, keeping passengers apprised of rising situations and interacting with passengers. We invited Capt Perrin to our first CC get together but unfortunately he was indisposed and could not attend. Richard introduced some staff, and advised us all (100+) that Capt Perrin would schedule another get together for us, and he brought the Passenger Services Director, Staff Captain, Chief Engineering Officer and Food Services Manager.
On a scale of 1-5+, Star rates 5 and two thumbs up.