There is little parking at Station Pier for Melbourne embarkation, so I was dropped off. The road leading to Station Pier was clogged and progress towards Station Pier was slow. At Station Pier one of my friends got a wheelchair and our whole group was fast tracked through the embarkation procedure. Otherwise there was a long wait, but that is to be expected with 2.000 passengers.
Two couples had balcony staterooms on Deck 9. The cabins were well appointed but a little small, because space that would otherwise on the inside is used for the little balcony. The balcony is quite small - only enough room for two chairs and a small table. Still, having room service breakfast on the balcony was wonderful.
I had an interior stateroom to myself, which cost 160% of the twin share price, but it was well worth it. I missed the natural light you get with a balcony cabin or one with a window, but there were plenty of lights to switch on. I really needed an alarm clock to wake me up, because the usual wake-up cue of daylight appearing around the curtains was missing. With good hotels you would expect a clock radio, but because there is no radio reception at sea, I figured there'd be no clock radio. My alarm clock definitely came in handy! The bathroom is small but well appointed. You get two cakes of soap and the lovely shampoo and conditioner is frequently replenished. There is only one Australian powerpoint in the cabin, and one American.
In my cabin there were twin beds. My steward showed me a cabin where the beds had been pushed together to make a queen bed, but the resultant loss of space convinced me to keep the twin beds.
There is a phone and you can call other staterooms, room service etc. Underneath the label you can just make out that it costs $9.50 per minute to phone anywhere in the world. Mobile phones don't work on the ship. Telstra prepaid mobile phones are supposed work (on shore) in NZ. My phone worked fine, but the mobile phone of one of my friends wouldn't work at all.
Before the cruise I looked at the plan of the ship and saw that there was only one small laundrette for up to 200 people per deck. So I decided I would bring light dresses that I could wash out and hang up with underwear in my bathroom each night. This worked perfectly, but I was the only one in my cabin. If there were more people it could get tricky. I don't know how a family would manage. Apparently in the laundrettes there can be fights, or you might find your stuff taken out of the dryer and dumped on the floor so someone else can put their stuff in the dryer. One of my friends asked for the laundrette hours to be extended and was told the ship would need to consult head office. Another was told that extending the hours would cause too much noise for nearby staterooms.
Before the cruise I was not able to find out definitively if it was OK to drink the water out of the tap, so I brought along my filter jug. That gave me cold water to drink whenever I wanted it. I probably needn't have bothered as the ship's water is OK, though they very strongly recommend that you drink bottled water (which you have to pay for). At dinner you get iced water if you don't want to buy wine or other drinks. The water was fine; there was just a very faint "processed" taste.
Cruise reviews I'd read said that the coffee on board the ship was not very nice. The coffee was indeed not very nice. It was the filtered and "stewed" variety. I saw in a book of cruise reviews that the coffee on almost every ship is bad. However, the coffee you pay for in the bars may well be OK. We ended up drinking tea, which was fine.
The food in the dining room was fantastic. Highlights were lobster, scallops, beef Wellington, rack of lamb and various desserts. I wasn't so impressed with the food in the Horizon Court buffet, but my friends were happy with it. In the buffet you often have to spend some time hunting for a table. In the dining room everyone gets a set table and time. Our waiter was Jack from India and junior waiter Edwin was from the Philippines. They were friendly and most attentive. They made sure two of my friends always had cushions to sit on and a couple of times they got special food for us. The service is second to none. Nothing was too much trouble. There is silver-plated cutlery and vase and special butter dishes. The tablecloth and napkins were of good quality fabric -no paper napkins ever.
The cabin stewards were wonderful too. One of my friends is disabled and his steward, Loida, was fantastic. Nothing was too much trouble for her and she was so helpful. The cabins are cleaned and tidied daily and a ship newsletter is delivered every evening.
There is plenty of entertainment on the ship - dance shows, singing, magicians, comedians, lectures and classes (which you pay for). I attended shows I wouldn't normally visit on shore, and enjoyed them immensely.
Before the cruise began I got google maps for each port. Most cities required transport to reach from the port, so I pre-reserved shore excursions. What the ship's literature doesn't tell you is that there is always a shuttle bus at each port (except Auckland where the CBD is right opposite the ship), costing $5 - $7 one way. This is considerably cheaper than the tours, which are around $79 - $99 and sometimes higher. An excursion to Rotorua organised by the ship would have cost A$229. We booked almost the same thing the day before at a tourist bureau for NZ$145. I ended up cancelling most of my ship-based excursions and exploring independently. You must cancel them 2 days before the date of the actual excursion to get a refund. The ship shore excursions are not particularly good value for money unless you are not able to walk far. However, some take you to places you couldn't reach by walking.
The shops on the ship sell expensive jewellery, some nice clothes (but not generally in small sizes), some books, liquor, Princess Cruise souvenirs and a tiny range of medicines such as pain killers and sea sickness medicine. Since there were four days at the beginning of the cruise before I could get to a chemist I brought a supply of emergency medicines with me.
I would say that 75% of the passengers were in their 60s to 80s (I'm 49). People were friendly and I got to talk to lots of different people. I admire this age group because they have paid off their mortgage, put their children and sometimes grandchildren through school and have worked jolly hard to be able to cruise. There were about 20 children from 2 to 17 and there was never any problem with their behaviour.
All in all the cruise was an excellent experience. There were little niggles but you either ignore them or come prepared to cope with them. By and large Princess do a great job with organisation and the staff are magnificent. I'd love to do another cruise with them once I've saved up again!