We have previously cruised with Thompson (Destiny) and Royal Caribbean (Brilliance, Splendor and Independence) but this year as it was just Hubby and I traveling, we decided to change try Princess. This cruise was a big test as Hubby hates water and didn't enjoy cruising when he tried it a couple of years ago and vowed never to do it again. However, because I love cruising he decided to give it another go. His only request was that we had an inside cabin and that I didn't talk about it much in the lead up to the cruise. I took quite a bit of time choosing the deck and cabin.....I wanted a cabin mid-ship and went for Baja Deck ( deck 11) cabin number 416 which was very close to the lifts. At the time of booking I was asked if I would be interested in an upgrade if one became available which given the time I took choosing the cabin, I declined.
We decided to play safe and use Princess for our flights. This is something I would look into more closely in the future. We flew Air France from Manchester to Paris, then Air France again, from Paris to Venice. We left Manchester Airport at 9.40am and didn't get to the ship until 6pm that evening. Coming back we flew from Rome to Paris and from Paris to Manchester. We left the ship at 9.15 am and got into Manchester at 9.40pm - more about that later.
To say we were pleased to finally get to the ship was an understatement. It was dark but the ship was lit up and looked stunning in her birth in Venice. Check in was painless and done in minutes. Cruise card in hand we boarded the ship to very welcoming crew and were shown to our stateroom. We were met by our stateroom attendant Fernando who was lovely and took time to chat to us and check what we wanted with regards to ice, egg crates and so on. By the time we had been for tea our cases had already been delivered to our room.
I will say that I was a little worried about having an inside stateroom because I like a balcony or at the least a window but I shouldn't have worried. The room was very light and airy. The room had light coloured walls with huge mirrors behind the bed (the full wall above the headboard) a full wall mirror opposite to bed and above the dressing table, there was also a full length mirror in the "dressing area" and of course in the bathroom. Ladies you may want to know the hairdryer provided was powerful enough to dry my long hair quickly.
The room layout worked well. The two beds were pushed together (yes they were hard beds but we found them very comfortable)and we had bedside tables on each side with a lamp. Opposite the bed was a long dressing table with a cupboard on the left and fridge on the right. A big bottle of water was $3.95 sodas were $1.20 ( I think) There were shelves on the left next to the cupboard. On the right above the dressing table was a corner shelf with a big flat screen TV. Princess provided a channel guide booklet telling you what was on each channel during your cruise. The one thing I loved was the wardrobe.......the back of it formed the wall behind the dressing table and this gives you a dressing area with the bathroom off it. The storage area was massive - put it this way, princess had provided 56 hangers - I added a couple of my own, never have I had that much space on a ship or that many hangers!!!!!! silly I know but this sort of thing is important to some women! In addition the hanging space there is a long shelf above it which stores your life jacket but leaves plenty of space for additional storage and there is a floor to ceiling cupboard with 7 shelves , one of which holds the safe. The bathroom was small and functional and despite the shower having a shower curtain and not a screen the shower worked well. The curtain stayed in place when the shower was in use, it didn't float up and stick to you like some do. Princess provide shower gel, shampoo and body lotion.
Our original plan was to pop and get something to eat then get off the ship to explore Venice. We headed off to the Horizon Cafe and found it very quiet. We had no problem finding seats, everywhere was spotless and the waiters quick to check if we wanted drinks with our meal. The food was tasty and just what we needed to give us a much needed spurt of energy after such a long time traveling. All fueled up we headed off the ship. Princess had left 2 water taxi tickets in our staterooms and charged $15 per person to our on-board account. They could be returned for refund if unused. I decided given hubby's fear of water I wouldn't push the water taxi so we walked into Venice. It was an easy walk and we were able to explore the area around Rialto Bridge with ease. We had a lovely evening and retired to our stateroom shattered but happy.
The following day I headed up to The Sanctuary to try to book 2 places for the full cruise. Seeing as this was our first holiday without our son for 7 years we quite fancied being in the adult only area of the ship. To my disappointment despite it being only 7.45am we were told that the spaces available for the whole cruise had been fully booked. This was something I suspected would happen given our late arrival on the ship ( it was closed by the time we arrived)- something out of our control and totally within Princess' control. I wish they would allow you to pre book this space especially if you are using their flights and have no control over them. Feeling rather dejected we decided to head straight off the ship and too my shock hubby wanted to use the water taxi - you could have picked me up off the floor......before he had chance to changing his mind I almost threw him on the water taxi and before I could say "here is a sick bag" we were on our way! We were back on Terra-firma within 10 minutes and the video cam was in full use to gather proof that hubby had actually been on a water taxi. Little did I know at the time but that had been the test he had set himself to see if he would have the nerve to use the tender at Santorini. We started to take all the usual tourist snaps of the canals when the heavens opened and it started to rain.......and boy did it rain, the gondolas were doing jigs on the water, the tourists were soaked to the skin and the street sellers were doing a roaring trade in brollies printed with Venice scenes. The rain was coming down so hard it was bouncing back up off the pavements and places were flooding. We looked around the best we could then headed off back to the water taxi to get back to the ship. When we got back to the ship we were greeted by staff with big warm towels which was a lovely and welcome touch. We dried off and headed off to find somewhere to watch the sail-away and headed off up to the Sky Lounge on the top deck. Just as we started to move away from the dockside the rain started to ease and although we didn't have any sun we had a fabulous sail-away. We have sailed from Venice before in bright sunlight, somehow this sail-way was more dramatic- when we have watched it back ( we recorded it) we think it is because the sky is darker, the colours of the buildings look so different from our last sail-away.
We were on our way.
We went off to explore the ship and I will say it did take some time to find our way around it. I haven't really had problems finding my way around the ships I have been on apart from this one and the smallest ship I have been on, The Destiny. I think this is because both of them have decks which you can't right across without going up or down then across to where you want to be. I think they could do with extra ship plans around the ship. There are plans near lifts but not all lifts go to all floors. We were on first seating for our meals and were assigned to the Botticelli Dining room - we got in the lift near our stateroom and couldn't see it listed, turned out we had to walk to the end of our floor the get the lift down. We didn't find this out until the 3rd or 4th night, we just kept "going wrong" until we found it.
We had our Muster Drill that first afternoon. I did ask hubby if he had brought the video as we walked to our meeting point. He looked at me as if I was daft and asked why he would want to do that, I replied that something always happened.....and it did - he regretted not having it with him. The Muster Drill was done inside, everyone was asked not to put on their life-jacket until asked and everything went very smoothly. It was much better not having to go out on deck as I have previously. Hubby is a Union Health and Safety rep and it takes a lot to impress him when it comes to health and safety. He was so impressed with how organised this was that he spoke to the staff about it.
We always found the staff on the ship (apart from one in the photography department) very cheery and helpful. At the start of our cruise our stateroom attendant called hubby a few times when he had headed off in the wrong direction - I'm not sure how many times the first few days we heard Fernando call "hello Sir, this way"
We ate our breakfast in the Horizon Cafe each morning sometimes you had to hunt for a table but if you couldn't get a table in the Horizon Cafe area you could go into the Carribe Cafe area and you could get a table in there without any problem you could also eat outside should you want to. The tables were always cleared quickly and the staff very attentative. There was always plenty to choose from, cooked breakfasts, great selection of fruit, salmon,continental meat, cheese, cereal, pastries, muffins, soup, far eastern food, omelets, yoghurt, muffins, pancakes, toast, eggs Benedict and bacon and egg muffins. If you didn't want breakfast there you could pick up muesli, waffles, bacon and egg muffins at the ice cream / pizza place near the pool or you could pick up the same things plus pastries to die for at the International Cafe in the Piazza.
We ate lunch in either the Horizon or Carribe cafe depending which was open. There was always plenty to choose from. There was always fish, a joint of meat, meat dishes, pasta, sandwiches, soup, fruit, cheese,breads,quiche and chips and plenty of desserts including jelly and sugar free options.
Lunch is also available at the International Cafe (sandwiches, quiche and pastries), Pizza is available from.......you guessed it......the Pizza Station (where you can also get either vanilla or chocolate ice cream for free). Burgers and hotdogs with chips are available from Trident Grill up on the pool deck but it you want to get away from the pool and crowds lunch is available in the dining room.
We never had the space in our tummies to head off to the dining room for afternoon tea but that is on my list to do next time.
We had decided to eat at first sitting in the evening and were assigned to the Botticelli Dining Room. We were on a table for 8 and had great table mates. Our waiters were very good and got all our orders correct. We did confuse our waiter one night when I fancied my hubby's desert and swapped his for mine, the waiter shot back over to the table to apologise for getting the order wrong! Bless him. The food was far superior to our last RCI cruise and unlike RCI the meals were 4 courses. Whilst I like rather plain food my hubby likes spicy food and he was in his element. There was always a good selection of fish, veggie and meat in addition to a regular selection of beef,fish, pasta and so on. The veg served with the meals was always varied and well cooked ( and by that I don't mean overcooked ) Sorbets and ice cream were always on the desert menu should you fancy a light desert. There was one occasion when I didn't like my choice and the waiter noticed straight away and wanted me to order something else. To be honest I was already full from bread (always plentiful and a good selection of different breads and breadsticks) and soup so didn't bother with a main course that night. The waiter was very concerned and took some persuading that I really didn't want anything. 3 of the 4 couples were celebrating on this cruise and all got a cake and card signed by the Captain which I thought was a lovely touch . The stateroom attendants also put balloons up above the doors or those celebrating birthdays, weddings, wedding anniversaries. Although we had informed them we would be celebrating our anniversary I didn't expect theses little touches, to be honest I didn't know what they would do but I know I certainly didn't expect them to be free.
We didn't feel the need or inclination to try Sabatinis or the Crown Grill
We fell into a routine on the holiday which suited us really well. We would head off the ship very early and be back on board by lunchtime which gave us plenty of time to recharge our batteries by the pool. There are plenty of pools on the ship and despite the disappointment of not getting a place in The Sanctuary for the entire cruise I didn't want to queue at 7am every morning to try and secure a daily place. We found the Terrace Pool area at the back of the ship on the first day of the cruise. It is an Adult only area and we did observe this rule being brought to passengers attention should they venture into the area with children. The pool isn't very big and it was colder than the two main family pools but it was a lovely area to sit, especially at sail-away time We always found a nice breeze there too.. You could walk up to the decks above the terrace pool and had the choice of whirlpools or another pool. We loved this area and soon forgot the disappointment of not being able to get into The Sanctuary especially when we heard people saying that there was no breeze in The Sanctuary.
We did sit around the movies under the stars pool during the day when there was something on that we fancied watching. I will admit though that I didn't find the sound very clear and at least twice gave up on films (once during the day and one at night). The live band played around the other pool.
We attended all of the Princess Productions in the Theatre. I attend Theatre Productions quite a bit, I know what I like and what I don't like but I am able to be objective and acknowledge a good production / talent when I see it even if it isn't to my taste.
I don't really know what to say about the 3 productions on this cruise except the person who had put these shows together in LA needs to be sacked or at the very least a very strong talking to and warning from head office. There was some talent on this ship which wasn't given the opportunity to really show. One singer just didn't seem to have been given anything that suited her voice during each show we waited and waited thinking this song will be the one .....to find it wasn't - she murdered the Shirley Bassey version of "Get The part Started" . The other 3 singers were great. The dancers didn't really get chance to show their skills until their final show "Once Upon a Dream" There was no real story to this production. It starts with a girl falling asleep and having dreams which go from mad hatters tea party, to under the sea to fairies at the bottom of the garden with a few nightmares thrown in for good measure with no links between....then she wakes up to find it all a dream! If that wasn't bad enough the show was billed as a multi media extravaganza. By this they meant they projected the background onto 3 white walls on the stage. The only props uses were a bed and dressing table at the beginning and end of the show. From where we sat we could see the white walls and the "multi media extravaganza just did not happen. It was as though someone picked some songs and struggled to put a story to them. I have never seen anything so bad either on sea or land. I know we were not alone in our opinion, nobody we spoke to rated the show infact nobody at our table in the dining room or those who we spoke to at the pool rated the production shows.
We did watch some shows in the lounges with the entertainment team which were funny which is more than can be said for the comedian who was on board. He used to write for Benny Hill and having seen 5 minutes of his painful show, should have quit when Benny Hill died.
The Piazza had something going on each night and we saw some great musicians there and a couple of great acrobats. The production team sang in the piazza and the dancers danced there too. We also had a great show put on by the bar tenders making cocktails. The best production show on in the theatre which involved Princess staff was their talent show which gave us behind the scene staff singing and so on. The entertainment team finished with "if I were not upon the sea" which was very silly and funny. I went back and watched it again later and as I expected it was a little more blue. There was a really good part atmosphere in the theatre that night and everyone seemed to enjoy it. This was the first time I had experienced a female Cruise Director (Lisa) and she worked hard her assistant was Eric and he complemented Lisa really well. The captain was Tony Yeomans and had a bit of a wicked sense of humor which showed every night at sail-away, often taking the micky out of his staff.
I will that our favorite place on the ship in the evening was the Wheelhouse Bar. We loved to sit and listen to the band playing swing music whilst drinking cocktails. I wish we could dance....maybe thats an objective for the next cruise. We had a laugh one night when a group of Japanese passengers got up to dance, lets just say dancing didn't seem to come naturally ...neither did their balance, how the band kept playing I just don't know.
We also liked Crooners bar (or should I say their gin martinis) but it did get busy especially on formal night. We didn't find the drink prices too bad at all, cocktails started from $7 which more than compares to a restaurant in the UK.
As I said we tended to get off the ship early to do our own thing. We did do one trip to Pompeii which was very well organised. We found that we liked to have the ships web cam on the TV in the room as we were getting ready to start the day. We tended to find that we always got into port earlier than expected and nearly got caught out a couple of times when we wanted to film us coming into port. We found ourselves on the first tender of the day in Santorini - off the ship before 7.30am. This gave us plenty of time to explore the Town walk up and down the cliff, watch the donkeys being taken to work and see the place whilst quiet. It really was a spectacular view one that never fails to take my breath away. We sat overlooking the caldera with early morning mist clearing as the day woke. It was quite eerie watching ships come into the caldera through the mist as we drank early morning tea . The shops opened and we were able to explore them before the crowds descended on the place. Watch out for Ernesto's shop with his wooden carvings from Olive wood which are divine and Diporto which sells amazing oils and olives and herbs and other yummy stuff. By midday we had walked passed everyone still queuing to get up to the village happy that we had done it and were on our way to jump into the cool pool back on ship.
Now I will say, I don't know if this was a fluke or good planning by Princess, whatever it was it worked to our advantage. I have been to Santorini quite a few times and there have usually been 3-5 large ships in the caldera. This time we were the biggest and there were 2 other very small ships there. This seemed to be the case at very port if any other ships were in port they were small ones so the crowds weren't as bad as previously been experienced at this time of year..
I have always liked to buy a good selection of photographs on my cruises and spend quite a bit on them. I have only ever experienced 10 x 8 being one price regardless of when or where they were taken. On Princess I saw a price $19.99 and thought OK I think its more expensive than RCI last year but hey-ho, never mind - only to find that some were an extra $5. This pricing wasn't clearly displayed on the photo wall. I saw the $19.99 and was shocked when I went to get a few and found them to be $24.99 each. It seems that they add a sitting fee to formal night and dining room pictures. To add insult to injury I had to go back 3 times to try and collect a picture which I had paid for but was never ready. This included queuing for 1 hour because they were late opening up and insisted in opening all the photo wall before serving customers. They failed to apologise for late opening and both the people in front and behind me and myself were all told our pictures were not ready. We asked to have them delivered and they refused I then asked for a call to my room from them to confirm when they were ready. They failed to do this and I spent another hour the following night queuing to get it. Not the way I wanted to spend my last night on board.
That brings me onto the last night on the ship. We decided to eat in the cafe rather than dining room on our last night, mainly because we had had such a great time sunbathing by the pool and drinking cocktails and it was late by the time we left the pool. The plan was to have a late tea, pack then go to Movies under the stars. Each time we had gone to MUTS sunbeds were out and covered with thick cushions and covers, a blanket was provided, the bars were open, the ice cream and pizza place was open and popcorn machines were out. On the last night the sunbeds were out, the bar was open and that was it. The shops all closed at 9.30. I have never known anything like it. You could almost see the tumbleweed. We really felt like Princess had decided that out holiday ended at teatime. Like I say I have never experienced that before and felt cheated out of a night of my holiday. We ended up back in our room by 10pm.
Disembarkation the following day was very easy. We had to be out of our room and in the explores lounge ready to leave the ship at 9.15am. Now interestingly a few days before the end of our cruise we had a note in our stateroom stating that as our flight home wasn't until 5.20pm we had time to fit in a tour of Rome to the tune of $150 per person. Needless to say I decided I wasn't interested in a tour before we started the marathon 2 leg journey home followed by another 2 hours in the car from airport to home. How glad am I that I didn't book that trip! We were taken off the ship at 9.15am and put on a coach and given a free tour of Rome. We were taken to The Vatican City and given time there. We had a great Tour Guide throughout the whole journey and we were at the Airport for 2.15pm. If I had paid the cost Princess had asked for a few days before I would have been very angry. I do think that Princess should tell you at the time of booking if they are planning on taking you on a tour to fill time between getting off the ship and catching one of their flights.
I said earlier we put a lot of time and effort into choosing this cruise and Princess and a lot was riding on this cruise. I knew that if I didn't get it right I would be cruising alone in the future. As much effort as I put in I could only achieve so much in putting my hubby at ease at sea - something which terrifies him. The rest was down to Princess. I will say thank you Princess from the bottom of my heart although there were a couple of things that annoyed or disappointed us- you came up trumps and we will use you again. More importantly my hubby is converted and has even subscribed to the Cruise International magazine. I won't be cruising on my own in the future. It also means that if our son achieves the goals he has set himself my hubby and I will be able to watch him at work sat together as very proud parents. Thank you Princess - we will see you again next year.
If anyone wants to know how I thought Princess and RCI compare I have made some comments below.
we had breakfast in and lunch in Horizon / Carribe Cafe and equal evening meals in the Dining Room or Horizon / Carribe depending on what we had eaten earlier in the day. For anyone wanting to compare RCI and Princess , in my opinion Princess take the lead in this catagory. The quality is far greater. the courses on Princess are 4 and the quanity greater
We enjoyed the swing band in the Wheelhouse Bar and the Staff show in the Theatre following by the Entertainment team "if I were not upon the sea". We also enjoed the shows in the Piazza apart from that the shows were poor through no fault of the dancers and singers. For anyone wanting to compare RCI and princess, in my opinion RCI take the lead in this catagory
we only did one excursion to Pompeii which was for half a day and was well organised. The only thing I would say is the obligatory stop at the cameo factory was not needed - the only cameos worth looking at cost thousands. If you stop here don't waste your money.
our stateroom attendant was great and always made sure we were ok and often found hubby wandering the wrong way, bringing him back to where he needed to be. The cocktail waiters who put on the cocktail shows were great and their personalities shone. Apart from one member of staff everyone seemed happy and were helpful
this was our first holiday without teenage son so didn't seek out anything to do with activities for kids. Having said that I think our 17year old may have been a little bored on this cruise - unlike RCI last year so they have this catagory.
games were available to use most still in wrapped boxed never been opened, There were planty of activities going on each day such as port talks, art auctions ( and boy did people buy), dancing, arts and crafts, computer lessons to name a few. In my opinion it is hard to separate RCI and Princess on this.
I was dreading having an inside cabin but I was very happy with it, very clean,light and airy and spacious with plenty of storage. In my opinion this was the best inside cabin I have stayed in and nicer than an outside on Brilliance. It was kept spotless and would say Princess have it over RCI here
This cruise only slips points because of the lack of activities,level of service at things suchs as MUTS and things available such as shopping in the final night