My wife and I had previously cruised with P & O on a South Pacific Cruise which turned into a disaster but that is another story. It took us over 10 years after that negative experience to try another cruise and after looking at many options decided on Princess Cruises. We booked an inside room on Dawn Princess leaving Melbourne on 16th December for 13 nights on a Christmas Cruise. We flew from Adelaide to Melbourne on the morning of embarkation so did not have need for overnight hotel accommodation. We thought the cost of the air flights and transfer to ship to be too expensive and would not opt to do that another time but arrange our own air transportation from home to embarkation port. We met Princess representatives at the baggage collection point in Melbourne Airport and seemed to wait for ages before any action took place. We learnt that we were waiting for passengers from flights from Perth, Darwin, Brisbane and Sydney so considering that aspect it is understandable that we were standing around for a while. Once everyone had been rounded up it took no time at all to bus up and travel the 35 - 40 minutes from Airport to Ship. I had learnt a lot of information about "Dawn" from the Cruise Critic site and was prepared for what we were about to experience somewhat but was overwhelmed by the sheer size of "Dawn" when we arrived at Station Pier to Embark.
Embarkation was drawn out somewhat. We arrived at the Pier just after midday and did not get onboard until 2 pm. The ship was booked out for the Xmas Cruise including about 400 children so with this lot milling around the pier I dont suppose it was too bad considering we waited for 2 hours to get aboard. Our first stop when on board was the Purser's Desk where we cancelled the tipping arrangement of $10 per day per adult passenger. There was no fuss from anyone in cancelling this. If you do not wish to participate in the tipping scheme you must tell the Purser's Office as soon as you board otherwise the $10 per day is added on to your onboard account every day. We opted to tip the people we considered gave us exceptional service. Princess have to learn that tipping is not an Australian practice and most Australians do not tip. When operating out of Australia the Australian customary ways should be adopted. If Australian passengers choose to tip like we did then Princess should be happy to go along with this.
SHIP ACTIVITIES There was heaps to do on the ship and this was organised on a daily basis by the Cruise direction staff and listed in the ship's daily newspaper the Princess Patter. Activities ranged from Knitting Natter (handicrafts for ladies)to Trivia, Bingo, Specific subject lectures, Pottery and Craft lessons and it goes on and on. There is no excuse to get bored on the ship. You can choose to do absolutely nothing but sleep and eat or get involved in the activities and amenities organised for you.
SERVICE We only encountered one surly drink waiter in one of the lounges.(he did not get a tip) All of the staff from the table waiters, head waiter, cabin cleaning staff, ships officers were all friendly, cheerful and polite. Always willing to say "Good Morning" etc and always willing to have a chat. Our dining room table waiters were exceptionally good. One chap from Rumania and the girl from Poland. Nothing was too much trouble for them and we felt like one big family early into the cruise.
PORT AND SHORE EXCURSIONS We did not take any of the ship organised shore excursions as we considered them far too expensive. We got off the ship at Port Chalmers (Dunedin) Wellington, Tauranga and Auckland. The ship anchored off shore at Gisborne and tendered passengers ashore but we stayed onboard.
STATEROOM We had an inside Stateroom on Baja Deck 10 up forward. We had experienced Oceanview and Balcony staterooms on previous Cruises but decided that for the little amount of time we spend in the Stateroom it was not worth the extra cost. The stateroom was spacious and we did not feel crowded or cramped. There was ample storage space in three wardrobes and 6 large drawers which fitted all of our clothes in with ease. More than enough good wooden coat hangers were supplied. There was plenty of room under the beds for our suitcases. We initially opted for a queen size bed but when we first saw it done up in that configuration we decided that two single beds was the way to go as it created more room in the stateroom. The beds were very comfortable and the pillows also very good. A light doona type quilt was supplied for overcover and this was more than adequate. The airconditioning was very effective and had a good range of adjustment. With all the lights out it was BLACK in the inside room but by leaving the bathroom light on and closing the door enough light filtered out to create a nice night light. Three large mirrors were in the Stateroom and another large mirror in the bathroom. A small fridge was supplied along with an ice bucket which was filled everyday by the steward if requested. Only one Australian power point was fitted but we found this to be adequate as we only needed to charge batteries. One improvement that could be made would be to fit a flat screen TV in the Staterooms. Our TV was ok and a comprehensive programm was available printed in a guide for the whole cruise. Another criticism is that Australian News services are not availble on the TV. CNN and BBC world service are the only two news channels and there was no news on them from Australia. Please Princess cater to the Australian passengers especially on your Australian operated cruises. The bathroom was compact but quite adequate. I am a big bloke but could have a shower comfortably in the shower alcove and had plenty of room to use the toilet and bathroom. Soap and toiletries were supplied and replenished every day and towels replaced whenever they had been used. Pool towels were also supplied to the room. Beds were usually made up while away for breakfast and the room done in the day cabin mode. The beds were turned down for the night while we were at Dinner always with a nice chocolate on your pillow. We hardly saw Luis our cabin steward but we certainly knew when he had been around. He did an excellent job and yes, he got a tip.
DINING There were several choices for dining. The 24 hour buffet at Horizon Court on deck 14, the hamburger bar near the pool on deck 14, the pizzeria on deck 8 and the dining room dining. All food at these options were all inclusive in the fare. There were charges for the icecream parlour and the Specialty steak house which we did not try. Most of our dining was at the first sitting for dinner in the Venetian dining Room and there also for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. The dinner dining was always on the same table each night with the same people. We had a table of eight and our fellow dinner guests were all delightful people and we became firm friends by the end of the cruise. (E.mails have been flowing since we got home) Breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea seating is at the discretion of the waiters and usually it is taken with different people each time which allows for meeting a wider range of people. The food for all meals was excellent. The preparation and presentation are as good as I have seen anywhere else and the waiter service is beyond description. The variety of meals on the menus is unbelievable with a standard five courses for dinner, more than you can comfortably or should eat but what the heck!!! Princess still do the Bombe Alaska procession but do not light the Alaskas for the waiters to carry in as quite a few have been accidently burnt. (the waiters that is) We were lucky enough to have Christmas dinner on "Dawn" and it was indescribable. I have never had anything like it anywhere else. If you wanted something that wasnt on the menu the waiters bent over backwards to please you with what you wanted. One night my wife could not choose which of two deserts she wanted so the waiters brought her one of each. (unreal, imagine that in a normal restaurant) I am anable to say or heap any more praise on the dining, the food and the service. 11 out of 10 for sure.
CHILDREN'S CLUBS There were over 400 kids on board but we hardly saw any of them. Deck 12 was set aside for the kids activities and they must have been kept occupied because we didnt see them.
ENTERTAINMENT In one word....Excellent. The ship's dancers and band were superb. The guest comedians and singers also superb. The piano players, singers and bands in the various lounges throughout the ship were also excellent. There was a string quartet from Russia that played mainly in the Atrium in the late afternoon and evening that were top class. All in all the entertainment was of a very high standard.
DISEMBARKATION This turned into a personal disaster for us as our large suit case was lost. As we had ongoing flights to catch to go home our group was first off the ship in the morning and all went well until we went to collect our luggage on the pier. We collected our small case ok but the large one was nowhere to be seen. We waited for over an hour to try and locate it but we had to catch the last bus to the airport to catch our flight home which we only made by the skin of our teeth. We received a phone call from "P&O" from "Sydney" (We got on and off in Melbourne with Princess)the day after we got home informing us that "we had left our luggage behind" as if we had done that deliberately. After forcefully advising the lady that the luggage been lost and that it was never in our possession to be left behind she informed us that it had been found after everyone had gone home. At the time of writing this review we still have not got our case but hope to get it by courier sometime in the new year. This was the only sour note for the whole cruise but hopefully it will resolve itself before long.
SUMMARY An excellent cruise so much so that we are booked for October on "Dawn" for a Fiji Cruise. A few observations..... Kids are allowed to wander around the Casino. The casino in located on a thoroughfare from cabins to the Pizzeria and the Atrium so kids have to pass through the casino to get to their cabins. Poor design. Kids also have no restrictions on attending R Rated movies and "Inglorious Basterds" was shown one night in the theatre. It had very graphic violence in it and parents were taking their kids out of the theatre partway through the show because of this. They should not have been there in the first place. As I mentioned in the review, flat screen TVs in the cabins and an Australian news service would be appreciated.