Pacific Princess Cruise Review by Calvin Hobbes: Black Sea Cruising
Overall Member Rating
Black Sea Cruising
Destination: Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
Embarkation: Athens (Piraeus)
This was our fourth cruise, though the first aboard a smaller ship (680 ish passengers vs 2,500+ on the first 3 cruises with Costa and Celebrity). We are a family of 3, parents in the mid-40s with a six year old daughter.
We embarked out of Athens (Piraeus) flying in the night before. Having been to Athens previously, that removed the need to visit Athens prior to embarking. This enabled us to enjoy a nice dinner with a friend on Friday night and the hotel services (with a rooftop view of the Acropolis) as well (Athens Imperial - Eur 99 for a triple which we thought was a good deal.
Embarking - We had heard that the embarkation process on a smaller ship would be quite easy. We even arrived during the recommended time (after 2pm). However, the "check-in" and security lines were longer than expected and we did not receive the expedited service treatment we received from other lines for having a younger child. Then the power shorted out while in line to board the ship More resulting in an additional wait while that was sorted out. Other than that....
Passengers - Being a longer cruise (12 nights) visiting a non-standard area (Black Sea), the passenger make up was a bit more mature than we were used to (as the comedian joked, it gave 70s night at the lounge a whole new meaning). Median age was probably 65 or so, reduced by a large contingent from the Dominican Republic.
Crew - Overall very friendly. Helped by the small size of the ship plus what I assume is Princess's policy of allowing the crew to mingle with passengers, we got to know a few of them pretty well. Our waitstaff was quite attentive making our daughter feel like the center of attention (thanks Ronald and Jeffrey). Our cabin steward (Nat) was also quite helpful keeping track of our varied schedules.
Food - Overall, we were somewhat disappointed as the food quality was mixed. Sometimes quite good, other times quite bland. While not a huge pepper fan, I would ask for a lot to be sprinkled on to add some flavor to certain dishes. Would have liked to see more themed meals tied to our port as well, though the Mexican themed lunch was quite good.
Kids Club - As a word of warning, this ship (as well as probably other smaller ships at least in the Princess line) only has Kids Club when there are more than 20 kids on board. A number that was not reached until about our month prior to sailing (adding a bit of stress). The Kids Club also did not operate while we were in port. So she was disappointed to learn that she needed to accompany us for all port excursions definitely impacted the tours we signed up for to keep flexibility). Otherwise, our daughter loved it and cried when we left the ship because she was going to miss it so much.
Entertainment - One positive about a small ship is that the shows are a lot more intimate for the audience, a definite plus. However, we also noticed that the quality of the shows themselves were definitely mixed. The comedian and magician were pretty good, but we found ourselves leaving a couple of the other shows early. Also, alternative entertainment besides Sammy, the piano player, was either non-existent or non-attended (bearing in mind the mature nature of the passengers). Besides at times the slot machines, the casino was a very sparsely utilized area.
Activities - We were impressed with the number of activities on "At Sea" days as there always seemed like there was something to do, should one choose to do so (from bingo, port lectures, pool volleyball, dance lessons, etc.)
Other Items - Kudos to Peter the Port/Excursion guide. Very helpful, though his desk hours should be expanded. However, this was more than offset by his volunteering to stay later and did not seem to mind our interrupting multiple meals and one workout of his. He was a wealth of information, willing even to follow up for us and call our stateroom when he found out the answer to a question.
One annoyance was the Captain's announcements. On our first At Sea day (while we were planning to sleep in) he provided at least a 20 minute dissertation on the Dardanelles crossing. While I would imagine some folks who were up quite early appreciated it, this information at 8am was not welcome in our cabin. At least on other days, the announcements did not start until after 9am.
Was also somewhat disappointed by the Princess Patter. In some cases, the information was quite dated (FX rates, for example). Quality control, in terms of spell check, was also a bit lacking. On other cruises, we have been accustomed to receive daily news updates. While I realize the Pacific Princess is a smaller ship, would think that a standard news page could be generated across the fleet for distribution to passengers.
Ports - As these are not listed in the toggle boxes below....
Constanta - One of the reasons we selected this cruise was the opportunity to visit many new countries, including Romania. That said, this has to be the least interesting port of any we have been to. Not tourist friendly. Not much of anything to see in town and was dangerous to get around due to the lack of sidewalks, windy streets and somewhat maniacal drivers. The beach was okay (actually water was nice, but beach itself was hard, wet sand and pretty dirty). "Splurge" for the rickety beach chairs so you do not have to sit directly on it. While we were definitely charged tourist prices, 3 chairs and 2 umbrellas were still only 10 Eur or so. Mamaia (sp?) is supposed to be a much nicer resort beach, but requires a taxi and was wall to wall people (we were told). As for the ship excursions, we did not hear that we missed much.
Odessa - Very pretty town. Again, we did this on our own. Very walkable as long as in reasonable shape. Long,tree-lined boulevards, nice architecture and parks. Again, with our 6 year old, went to the "beach" in town (go to Arcadia, not the local beach as nothing to speak of). Otherwise, a very enjoyable day.
Yalta - Did Livadia and Alupka palaces on a ship excursion. Livadia is very worthwhile if you are interested in history. As I am, I enjoyed it. My wife, less so and our daughter, not at all. Alupka on the other hand was very worthwhile, with absolutely stunning views (could have spent the whole day here as there is a big park, with walking trails, shopping, and the requisite beach). As this was only a half day tour, I was able to spend a few hours wandering around Yalta, a very enjoyable town with a nice cathedral, lot of shopping and long promenade by the sea with all sorts of vendors, games, food, etc.
Disembarkation - Was a breeze. We showed up about 4 minutes late, were informed our group had already left, so were free to go. Walked right off the ship, immediately found our luggage and were on our way.
Overall, we enjoyed the cruise. However, we did notice the 1/2 star (vs Costa Concordia/Magica) and 1 star difference (vs Celebrity Equinox) Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Our tablemates did the Elite Istanbul tour (actually by mistake, checked the wrong box) and loved the tour (this was only one of two tours on the cruise that they had much positive to say and they took several).
Note that we also heard several complaints from people who took tours from Easy Varna to Nessebeur (sp?).
Be careful where your room is.
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