I have gained a lot of information and enjoyment from reading Cruise Critic and therefore have to give some back. Hopefully you will enjoy this review and not find it too boring. Our cruise was the Northern Explorer .. 18 days from Fremantle to Sydney.
PRE CRUISE We flew Qantas to Perth and stayed in a cabin at the Caravan Park on the beach South of Fremantle at Coogee Beach. Unfortunately the weather was not good and we could not enjoy walks along the beach.
TRAVEL INSURANCE I did a lot of looking around for Insurance and as my husband is Type 1 Diabetic it is difficult to find a travel insurance that covers him without a lot of extra cost. I found that by using QBE through the Qantas website we were covered for certain existing conditions (one of which was Diabetes Type 1) without having to gain Doctors certs. Etc. If you are using Frequent Flyers then your points are also covered. The cost is very much the same as elsewhere.
OVERALL The cruise was extremely good. First of all, my husband and I are in our early 60's and enjoy travelling. This was our second cruise in recent years, with our first being last year on Sapphire Princess NZ/Australia. Prior to that it was two cruises in the seventies. We had visited most of the ports that the ship was going to, so that shore tours were not important to us. It was more about enjoying ourselves. Also we are not swimmers, so therefore the swimming pools and snorkelling ashore did not mean anything to us.
THE SHIP...THE SUN PRINCESS The ship is now 15 years old and is beginning to look it. But saying this, we found it very comfortable and well laid out. The Sun Princess is targeted to the Australian market whereas ships like the Sapphire are targeted to the US market. This means that everything on board is in AUD and there is one Australian Power point in the cabin. As we had the mobile phone, Camera battery to recharge and the laptop it was just a matter of charging at different times. No problem at all. After a couple of days we felt very much at home.
EMBARKATION Our documentation said to arrive at 1pm at the wharf in Fremantle, but we are always anxious to get on our way and after dropping of our rental car at Avis we got a lift by some friends and arrived at the Wharf at 11 am. Dropped off our bags and went upstairs, checked in and given a boarding number and bought a bottle of water each and sat down prepared to wait. Just after 11.30 elite and platinum were called and at 11.45am our boarding number was called. We were on board in our cabin by 12 noon and saying "how good was that". We promptly went upstairs to Horizon Court and sat down to the first of many feasts for lunch.
CABIN We were on Aloha Deck 11 (starboard side which was to be the side that faced the land all cruise) near the rear lifts. We found this position on the boat to be perfect for us. In the morning it was straight out of the cabin and up 2 flights of stairs to Deck 14 for the Horizon Court. Sometimes we would walk from the buffet to the rear of the ships, down to Riviera Deck 12 and down the back steps to the balcony on Deck 11 at the rear of the ship. This was a small balcony and not much used by others, where you could lie on one of the lounges either in sun or shade and be protected from the wind. Just one word of warning, don't be like me and lie in full shade in this quiet protected spot, then fall asleep and wake up 2 hours later in full sun. Not a pretty site. After having a mini suite on Dolphin Deck on the Sapphire Princess I was apprehensive about the size of the staterooms on Sun Princess. But was pleasantly surprised. Yes, they are small, but you do not need any more room than what is there. The balconies are about 1/3rd the size of Sapphire but are much more protected and private. You could not see anyone on any other balcony. The bathroom is very small but I am a bit overweight and I found it quite adequate. The only thing I needed to do was open the bathroom door when I was towelling myself dry to give a bit more arm space. It was well fitted out with shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and soap all from the Lotus Spa. Towels can be left hanging of dropped on the floor for changing as often as you want. The hairdryer is located on the wall at the desk beside the bed, so it was easy to sit there to dry you hair. We found the bed to be firm and very comfortable, also the pillows were lovely and soft and comfortable. Our room steward, Armando, was very attentive. We requested a sharps container (for my husband's insulin needles) on our first meeting and he brought it to us immediately. We also asked to have a regular supply of ice in our cabin and he brought a fresh ice bucket morning and night. For those who are wondering why, we needed it for the scotch and also as the fridges did not get all that cold we also had some in our wine. After the first day on board he realised my husband was diabetic and the chocolates on the bed each night were 'sugar free'. A nice touch.
BRINGING ON ALCOHOL While on the subject of scotch, I will let you know our experience of bringing on alcohol. I did not hear of anyone having alcohol taken off them. Admittedly this was an Australia only cruise, so no duty free alcohol was available for purchase on board. I feel when you board the ship, if you put your alcohol in your packed luggage then I am sure it would not be questioned. I did hear on the Sapphire that they can call you down to the baggage area to open your bag if they have reason to do so, but I am sure this is more the dangerous goods rather than alcohol. They are too busy at this stage distributing the bags to cabins to worry about an extra bottle or 2 of wine. We took on board A bottle of Scotch, a 2 litre cask of wine and 2 bottles. I was not sure of the availability of alcohol in Geraldton or Exmouth and we would be in Broome on a Sunday. I needn't have worried. We bought additional alcohol on board in Broome, Darwin and Cairns in our back pack and not even the blink of an eyelid. A friend we made on board bought back 3 bottles of red and a 6 pack in Broome and was not queried. He was just ahead of us in the line to have our bags xrayed. TENDERING As with all things on board, there are choices to be made and this makes a difference to whether there is a queue or not. The same as when we arrived in Fremantle, we like to do everything early rather than late. We always went down to the tender area at roughly 8 am and were off the boat as soon as they were ready. BUT if you sleep in, take your time at breakfast, back to your cabin and then wander on down at 10am to 10.30 am then there will be a queue. On this cruise the tender ports were: Geraldton, Exmouth, Cooktown, Cairns and Townsville. We found the tendering system worked very well. In Geraldton we went down about 8.15am and were told 'no need for tender ticket yet as no one seems to be wanting to go ashore just yet. Just go on down to the tender' and we were on the tender and landing ashore by 9.30 am. Exmouth Cooktown and Cairns it also worked very well. In Geraldton, Exmouth, and Cooktown they used the ships' tender boats and these held 150 persons. It was very easy to get on and off and the staff were very helpful. It was on the 4th floor and there is a special elevator if you have any difficulties with stairs, etc. In Cairns they also had the assistance of the Big Catamarans and in Townsville you are moored 8 kilometres out, (1 kilometre east of Magnetic Island) so they used the Catamarans only. I understand that in Townsville there were a lot of problems and the Captain came over the loudspeakers that night to apologise and said that they were let down by the Catamaran people who only used 1 large cat and 2 smaller ones, instead of 3 large ones that would take about 400 persons.
MOBILE PHONES AND INTERNET My mobile is Telstra Next G and my laptop is Bigpond Wireless. In all the ports both worked well where as some passengers with Optus or Vodaphone had problems and some with older Telstra could not get a connection. We were sitting in a coffee shop (and I am not sure where) but I had just finished talking to my daughter when the lady at the next table asked what service I had. She also had Telstra but no service. When at seas the Princess mobile service takes over which comes up as MCP. I kept my mobile phone turned off at sea as I was not sure if you were paying to receive calls overseas or not. I have since found out that this is Maritime Communications Partner and they have arrangements with Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin. Charges are by your own provider. I have checked my phone bill online under 'calls yet to be billed' and have been charged for international calls and sms calls originating overseas but as they are grouped as a whole cannot work out the cost until the bill arrives at the end of the month. With the wireless laptop, The Princess wireless takes over from the Bigpond and when in port you have to disconnect from Sun Princess before your bigpond wireless works. If you wish, you can sit in your cabin on your wireless laptop and connect to Sun Princess at the same rates as the Internet cafe.
LAUNDRY Laundry is the same as anything else. If you go in the busy times there will always be a queue. For example after breakfast and mid morning it is always busy. We went down about 9.45pm after dinner and had no wait. Other than that I washed by hand in the basin and it dried overnight on the balcony, which I have previously said are totally private. Laundry rage is alive and well on Sun Princess. We were told (and I repeat...we were told..so don't know for sure if it is true or one of those shipboard rumours) that a fellow was waiting for a load to finish so he could put his washing in. He left the laundry and went back to his cabin for something and while he was gone the previous load finished so another lady who was waiting proceeded to put her load in the machine. The gent returned and went off his brain at her. Her husband arrived on the scene and things turned nasty. They eventually went their separate ways but met up again on deck when the argument started over and fisticuffs became involved. The two couples were removed from the ship in Broome.
DISEMBARKATION As this was an all Australia cruise there were no customs formalities at all. We requested early independent travellers disembarkation and were allotted the time slot of 7.10 am in the Wheelhouse lounge. We were actually off the ship by 7.05am and on our way so fast. It was unbelievable how well organised everything was. My only concern is that is said in the Princess Patter .. do not arrive early at the designated place. If you want to be early just 5 minutes .., no more. As we were the first group for the Wheelhouse Lounge it was okay, but there would have been plenty of people who did the right thing and went at 7.05 or 7.10 and what happened to them. I suppose they just went straight off.
LECTURES On board was a Reef Pilot for the whole trip, except he disembarked in Brisbane. Because Australia has so many reefs and island around it, all ships need to have on board a Reef Pilot. Each sea day morning he would give an hour long talk in Princess Theatre on that particular part of the coast, the history of shipwrecks and other interesting features and also talk about the next port of call. My husband found it very interesting. He also enjoyed the 3 talks by a fellow who worked for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and his subjects were on Train Crashes, Level Crossing crashes and Train and Truck crashes. While on board, I attended the Computer@sea talks on Photshop Element 6 and found this very interesting also. On the last sea day it was a lecture by the Navigator and was supposed to be 1 hour but ended up being 2 hours as there were so may varied and interesting questions about ships and how they work. He was an excellent speaker.
PORTS What a great selection of ports. Everyone in every port was so friendly, helpful and communicative. Geraldton was very nice. A lovely town. Markets had been set up along the waterfront and it was easy to walk to the centre of town where we had a cup of coffee. We spent the morning walking around but did not go up to the HMAS Sydney Memorial as it was up a steep hill and I knew I would not be able to make it as we had been walking for 3 hours by then. A shuttle was available from the wharf to the centre of town but unless you had difficulty walking there was absolutely no need. This shuttle was $7 Exmouth. We found Exmouth very disappointing, very small and nothing much there. We did not speak to one person who said they enjoyed Exmouth. The Town Tour took 30 minutes and one of the coaches has microphone problems, so the driver just drove around for 1 hour and that was it. Those that went to the beach to see the Turtles, just saw an empty beach. The only thing that Exmouth had going for it was Ningaloo Reef . One other thing about Exmouth was that sailing out of the harbour that evening we were given an amazing display of humpback whales and dolphins. A shuttle bus was needed to get into the centre of town as the wharf precinct was a few kilometres from town. This shuttle was free.
BROOME Here we hired a car from Avis for the day. It was $54 and we picked it up in town just near the information centre. It is generally quite hot in Broome and today was no different. It was Sunday and most of the shops were closing at 1 pm. The local Sunday markets were on and these were interesting. We spent most of the morning in and around the town of Broome. All the Liquor shops were closed but we asked one shop person, who was setting up his cafe for the day, where we could buy alcohol on a Sunday and he told us we were the 4th people to ask him in the last half hour. So later off to Roebucks Hotel we went where the drive through liquor was opening at 11 am. Broome is a fast growing town and so different from 10 years previous when we had been there. We had a sandwich in town for lunch and then went out to Cable Beach and Point Grantheaume in the afternoon. We took the car back at 3.30pm and were back on board by 4pm after getting the shuttle back to the ship. We heard various responses from different ones that had done tours. One couple we spoke with had been on the afternoon tour that did the town centre, Cable Beach, the Crocodile Farm and Point Grantheaume. They were disappointed when they got to Cable Beach and had it pointed out by the driver and were told if they wanted to get off and see it closer then they would have to catch up with the tour bus before it left the Crocodile Farm in 45 minutes. There was a free shuttle bus from the ship to the Information Centre and this was a necessity.
With the shuttle buses overall, some were free and some were $7. Trying to work out which ones were free, it seemed to me that if there was no alternative in getting to the town, then the shuttles were free. If it was within walking distance then the shuttles cost $7.
DARWIN Here the Princess Patter said that the shuttle would be $7 each way and the day sheet we got on Darwin said the shuttle would be complimentary. I took the sheet with me and as we were going on one of the first shuttles of the day and they were having everyone sign to charge it to their ship account produced the sheet showing it was complimentary and they very quickly said to the driver ' take these two bus loads for free and we will sort it out'. He also took the sheet from me. I believe after they got rid of us and our two bus loads that everyone else was charged. It was possible to walk into Darwin from the ship but it is a fair way and it was very hot. By the time we returned at mid afternoon it was 39 degrees. Darwin is a lovely town. We also hired a car here for the day and it was $58 from Avis. We spent the morning doing some shopping in Darwin, drove out to Fanny Bay and East Point where the Army museum is and then to Cullen Bay. The Esplanade in Darwin is also very nice and lovely for a stroll. We returned the car at about 3.30pm and caught a taxi back to the ship for $8.
COOKTOWN After 3 sea days it was lovely coming into Cooktown. Once again it was tenders ashore and then just a short stroll into town. Between town and the wharf there was a very popular souvenir shop and I am sure they must do their annual takings on one day when the ship is in. How they must hate it if the wind gets up and the tenders can't get in. But what a pretty town. We just walked around and ended up at the museum which is a lovely old home and the view from the balcony upstairs is unbelievable. The town itself is only small but very adequate and there is so much history which is well signed.
YORKEY'S KNOB (CAIRNS) Here once again it was free shuttle bus into Cairns and the drivers gave an excellent commentary both ways. The tenders came into the wharf beside the Yacht Club and it was very nice to come back and sit their and have a cold drink before getting the tender back to the boat. The tenders were a mixture of the ship's tenders and the catamarans. We were off the boat at 8am and in town by 9am and had no problems but I did hear of queues later in the morning. We found that if we left the boat at 8 am, had a 20 or 25 minute ride in tender and then 20 or 25 minute ride in shuttle, it was always an hour before getting into centre of town. Cairns has something for everyone, so I am not going to go into details here as we each have our own opinions on Cairns, suffice to say ... we love it. We spent the day just walking around, going to The Pier for a cup of coffee first up and then walking along The Esplanade.
TOWNSVILLE The boat is anchored about 8 miles off the coast and about 1 mile east of Magnetic Island. The local ferry company provided catamarans for the day as it would take too long for the ship tenders to travel that distance. The cats took 25 minutes whereas the ship tenders would have taken 45 minutes. My husband said it was worthwhile going ashore just to have a ride in the big cats both ways. Once ashore there were shuttle buses at $7 to the Flinders Mall area, but as we new the area after having stayed there for a week last year, we made our way along The Strand stopped at a coffee shop for mid morning coffee and came back on board for lunch. I understand this is where all the tendering process went wrong in the middle of the morning, but we were off the boat at 8.15 and back on at 1pm and did no see any problems.
BRISBANE There were shuttle buses at a fee once again. Because my husband had been to the lecturers by the Reef Pilot who was a Brisbane local, he had said to get the River Cat from the wharf just up from the ship. This we did and bought an all day pass for $2.90 each...how cheap is that. This also covered any buses or trains. Why can't Princess inform passengers of this availability instead of talking about the shuttle buses only. Whether it would cause too much chaos with hundred wanting to catch the Rivercat, I am not sure. Although while we were on the Rivercat I overhead the captain tell one of the staff, that there was chaos back there and they were bringing on extra Cats. We stayed on the River Cat and went the full distance up river which took 1 hour before coming back and getting out at Southbank and having our mid morning coffee as usual. This was a great way to do a cheap river cruise. Brisbane really turned on the weather and the city is looking so clean. We walked across the footbridge and up to the Gardens before walking along to Queens Street Mall, having lunch before heading down to the river again and catching the rivercat from Riverside back to the ship at 4pm.
DINING I have just realised I have left out the most important parts of the day. The dining. The food on board is absolutely wonderful. The variety and quality of the food is magnificent. How some passengers can say it is terrible, I do not know. Certainly sometimes you will take something you don't like from the buffet, but hey just leave it on your plate and go and get something else. By the time you get back to the table the plate will have gone. We did not have to line up once for a table. If arriving during peak times, people are always coming and going and you just grab a seat as soon as it is vacated. We had all breakfasts and lunches in the Horizon Court and then the evening meal in Regency Dining second sitting at 8pm. We did not feel that this was too late. We often looked at our watches as people were going to tea at 5.45pm for first sitting and thought, 'thank goodness we are not having tea yet'. We were on a table for 6 and had a great table.. Our 2 waiters were Sayam from Thailand and Delfino from the Phillipines. They were wonderful and highly entertaining without being obstrusive. Sayam is a terror at almost forcing you to have dessert after 3 courses. When you say no dessert, he says what would you have had..I fell for this and said I would have had some icecream and lo and behold it arrived in front of me. One of our companions said she wanted nothing and he was not going to change her mind. A plate arrived in front of her with the word "nothing" written on it in chocolate. The four courses each night being appetiser, entrEe, main and dessert had a wonderful selection and it was different every night. There was also the "always availables" being Caesar salad, fettucine alfredo, prawn cocktail, sirloin steak, roast chicken breast, etc. The portions were not huge, so if you did come in and have a main only, it may not be enough for a man. But on a couple of occasions where one of us do not know what to choose, he brought both dishes to the table and left one in the middle to share. This was the case with scallops, the crab legs and also the crockpot of vegetables and tempura battered vegetables.
We could not have asked for better.
SUMMARY The cruise director was Gavin and assistant director was Frenchie. It was Gavin's first cruise on Sun Princess and Frenchie's last. Gavin is an excellent cruise director. The captain was Andrew Froude and the navigator was John Smith. Altogether an excellent crew. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole cruise and did not have one moment where we had to reason to grizzle or moan. I know everyone looks at things differently but we found that we did not have any complaints.