If I had only one word to sum up our "Norwegian Interlude" cruise on the Ocean Princess, that word would be FABULOUS. We had been on 3 previous Princess ships in recent years and were getting ready to hang it up with Princess. This was mostly due to the trend of larger and larger ships and a carnival type onboard ambiance. The ambiance aboard the Ocean Princess was one of quiet elegance.
My husband and I traveled with another couple from Tampa, Florida to London. We booked our own air, as we wanted to fly non-stop on British Airways, but also because we were spending two nights prior to the cruise in Dover, then another week at the end of the cruise in London.
Arrival at Gatwick London: We opted to book private van transfers with Woodford Chauffeur Cars to Dover which would have been price prohibitive (at least for us!) for two people, but for four persons, it was doable. There is nothing like starting a trip off on the right foot. Being met and whisked away quickly for the hour and a half drive to Dover was a much more pleasant start than taking the Gatwick Express into London and the bus/train to Dover. By my calculations, it was only $15 more per person to take the private transfers.
Pre-Cruise Stay: We stayed for 2 nights at the Maison Dieu Guesthouse in Dover. Wonderful B&B, and handy for sightseeing. The first day we were pretty tired so didn't do much, but the second day, we walked to the bus stop (two blocks from our B&B) and took the local bus (number 15) to Canterbury. We walked the ancient city wall, took a tour of the Canterbury Cathedral and a punt (boat) tour with the Canterbury Punting Co. which I would highly recommend. Blessed with great weather, this was an awesome day!
As we couldn't board the ship the next day until 1PM, we visited Dover Castle. It was OK for a couple of hours, but, being August, the place was overrun with kids and families
Embarkation and Debarkation: This was the quickest and most efficient of any cruise I have taken! We arrived at 1:30PM and were on the ship by 1:45. We debarked at 8:15AM and caught an 8:44AM train to London!
The Ship: The size and the overall ambiance of the ship really made this cruise truly special and have gained Princess some future small ship cruise customers. Soft classical music was played (mostly) in the pool area. We loved the outside area on Deck 5. As it is not an entire promenade around the ship, you didn't get all the walkers and joggers going round and round which made it a delightful place for read, nap and soak up the peacefulness of the water. There was never a crowd in the hot tubs. Never a problems getting on the gym equipment. No lines. No crowds. AND THE SHIP WAS AT CAPACITY! On a low point, I can see where the laundry facilities would be inadequate, especially on cruises of longer length.
Entertainment: To be fair, we don't really go on cruises so much for the entertainment aspect, but we did really enjoy the comedian and the piano concert on the last sea day. We didn't attend the production shows because they seemed like they were going to be the same as the ones we had seen on previous Princess ships.
Cabins We liked our location on Deck 4 forward, near the stairs. The gang plank was on Deck 3, so on/off access was good. The downside was there were people gathered in the hallway and in the stairwell area waiting around until they were able to debark, but that didn't last that long. We had an outside ocean view cabin. It didn't have a huge window, but it was bigger than a porthole. It appeared that all cabins were approximately the same size and decor, (except presumably the suites, which I didn't see). The soft furnishings were perhaps a bit tired looking; but the dark wood in the cabins was lovely. I thought the lighting in the cabin was the weakest point of the cabin. There was overhead light in front of the closet area, but the light was obstructed by the closet door when it was opened! My husband thought the mattress was a bit hard. Our friends had a balcony cabin (not a mini-suite) and the balcony was much more spacious than the other, larger, Princess ships in that same category.
Dining: Food was above average to excellent. We ate dinner in both specialty venues and the personal service there was outstanding. The dining room service was also excellent, but the waiters had to look after a few more tables!
Our 7 night cruise included port stops in Stavanger, Olden, Hellesylt/Geiranger and Bergen. Norway tends to be a pricy destination and this cruise had the perfect balance of sea and port days. We took this cruise before we washed our hands of Princess in search of smaller ships, and found the Ocean Princess exceeded our expectations.