"Sun Princess " Voyage SP015-An Asian Odyssey, 30 days August 15th to September 14th 2010
We flew direct to Perth with Air New Zealand, nearly 8 hours , but a nice daytime flight with good service. We then had 4 very pleasant days in Perth before joining the ship on Sunday 15th August in Fremantle.
Embarkation; was easy and quick, and no hassles. We were in our room A 616 within half an hour of arriving at wharf. Although we had been given Elite status at the end of the previous voyage, this did not show up; we saw the Captains Circle rep. Tiago and he was very helpful and had us back to Elite within an hour with its various add-ons; not the least of which is free laundry, a huge plus ! The ship had just been "re-furbished" which, like "Dawn" seemed to consist of the Movie Under the Stars screen ; and the Sanctuary( total waste of money in our ,and many others,opinion).There was new carpeting in some general areas and corridors but not much else was obvious.
Accommodation ; cabin was the regular balcony cabin on these vessels;. perfectly acceptable, though as we know the cabins on these ships are the smallest in the fleet; a pity that "Sea Princess " is being deployed to Australia later in the year , being the 3rd of the trio ; Princess could have sent a more modern ship down for their obviously high Australian following.
Food; was initially a step up from the "Dawn Princess" in May, but settled back to "normality" later in the cruise; so nothing outstanding but OK. Food service generally very good; our table waiter Edwin in the Regency dining room, table 156 , second seating, was the best we have ever had, very pleasant and helpful, in every respect. Pity about his offsider Sebastian who was a liability and seemed generally clueless . First seating was at 5.45 and second at 8 p.m., so quite acceptable. Special Mention ,too, of David, the food and beverage supervisor in Horizon Court, always there and also most helpful and totally committed.
Entertainment ; was the usual mix of "Production" shows and solo performers, and once again a pity that such a high percentage of both were re-cycled from previous cruises on both " Sun" and "Dawn", surely something can be done to vary the same old, same old routine ! Movies were not too bad, but those on deck and in the cabin were generally tailored to first seating passengers rather than second. Cruise Director's staff were variable and not that interested with the exception of Deputy Cruise Director Simon Heath who was outstanding.; when we joined the ship we were very pleased to see Gavin Chandler was the CD, as he was on " Dawn" earlier and was easily the best we have ever struck. However, he had to leave in Singapore and was replaced by Mark Turner, whose main interest, it had to be said, was Mark Turner. A glaring example of very poor organisation was when Anne Barry, a passenger, volunteered to give a talk on her experiences as the first female firefighter in Australasia; it was highlighted in the " Patter" which mis-spelled her name as "Basey" ; when she arrived in the Princess Theatre there was nothing organised for her, no microphone etc; and no one from the Cruise staff turned up to either introduce or thank her, which everyone felt was appalling. Her talk was extremely interesting and well put together, but black mark there to cruise staff.
Itinerary; was the principal reason we chose this cruise and we were not disappointed. ,with a very good selection of ports ; only 4 tender ports which was great for us older people, though tender crews were, as always, helpful and safety conscious without fail, top marks to them. Guest "expert" Elizabeth Moran gave lectures on each port, which were partially helpful but also full of holes in other areas, she really needed to do more homework to give a proper and balanced talk on every place. OK, Princess want to sell their tours which is fair enough but there was little or no info. given on what to expect for independents at each port. I have commented before on the hand outs sent to each room the night before each port which are still extremely poor, with old photos and shocking maps of no use; please, Princess, brush up your act .
Visa Information prior to cruise was very poorly handled by Princess with all sorts of misleading info. about non -Australian or NZ passport holders needing to get visas before boarding; as we expected, all visas were issued on board and was quite seamless, not like the prior info .would have you think
Ports ; Singapore; we did our own thing and found Sentosa island was even better than ever, with a new Universal Studios and casino complex, a lovely day there; note, Universal takes bookings and being a Saturday was fully booked before we arrived, worth noting if that sort of thing interests you. Kho Samui( tender port) was the most challenging of the trips to get ashore , but all got off safely; we took the ship's tour of the Island which we found very good, lovely lunch at the BoatHouse hotel and a visit to the coconut picking monkeys being the highlights; hot and humid as were virtually all ports, but very nice. Laem Chabanga( port for Bangkok)) was next; we elected not to take the long trip into Bangkok., but instead took the ship's bus to Pattaya ( last minute addition) and had a very nice time there; it had a poor reputation some years ago but is now a very pleasant place with good hotels, resorts and shopping. Sihanoukville ,Cambodia , was an interesting call ,too, easily the poorest living conditions of all the ports, but worth seeing. We took the ship's tour and found it worth doing, especially a visit to a local school ; if you decide to go there, take a bundle of pencils, crayons etc., they are so short of that sort of material. The tour then went on to a magnificent resort complex, which was such a contrast, a really nice place ( the Sokha beach resort) and had a swim in their huge pool. Phu My, for Ho Chi Minh City; we took the ship's tour into the city as we had not been there for 10 years and found it very much bigger of course, but very interesting and a good day out. Well worth the 2 and a half hour drive if you have not been to Vietnam before. We had an excellent water puppet show there, better than the original we had seen in Hanoi on our previous visit. Nha Trang was a tender port but only a short ride in and a shuttle bus provided into town. We took that and had a wander around the city, certainly upmarket again since our last visit; in fact all of Vietnam has improved especially in roading ,but all done very nicely without losing the essential character of the country and people; a lovely overall destination still. Well kept secret; there is a cablecar which links the mainland with an island on which is the VinPearl resort; some people went over there and rated it very highly, well worth a visit. ChanMay for DaNang ,Hue and Hoi An. This port is in the middle of nowhere and if you don't take a ships tour you really are stuck. We went to DaNang and the World Heritage town of Hoi An and had a lovely day; made even better by our guide who had been a Vietnam TV presenter for 10 years and knew her business. Hoi An should not be missed . Cai Lan is the tender port for Halong Bay ( and Hanoi) We had missed the sights of Halong Bay on our previous visit due to weather but this time we had the most perfect day and it really is a lovely place with its 3000 islands ; we took a junk trip( ship organised) around the bay and enjoyed it very much. Some went into Hanoi but as it's well over 3 hours each way found it pretty hard going. Hong Kong was very murky with smog and also was the hottest day of the year there; ship over-nighted there; we took an evening tour ( from AsiaTravel) and really enjoyed that, night market, open-top bus tour and dinner on a small cruise boat, taking in the Festival of Light at 8 p.m. ( a bit overrated) The next day we had planned a day tour but cancelled that in view of the weather and just did the Harbour City Mall ( 700 shops at the foot of the Ocean terminal) We were told that Disneyland and Ocean World etc., were also well worth visiting. Brunei ( on Borneo)was next and was one of the highlights of the cruise; took the ship's "Best of " and it was excellent, with a trip up the river looking for monkeys, water village visit, and city sights, with very nice lunch at the Radisson. After being told many times both verbally , in the Patter and on our tickets that conservative dress should be worn, our "expert" Elizabeth Moran let the side down badly by wearing shorts, while 98% of tour participants were nicely dressed with long trousers etc. She had also stressed that being Ramadan and a Sunday very few shops etc would be open; as if they were going to miss out on a shipload of 2000 visitors !! Kota Kinabalu ( Sabah, Malaysian Borneo) was also a very good stop; took the ship's( last minute addition) tour to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park ,and Heritage Museum and enjoyed that very much. Last call was Bali,( Benoa ) which is quite close to Nusa Dua, Sanur beach and Kuta. We took a shuttle bus into Kuta ( not advertised although sponsored by Princess)and were pleasantly surprised how Kuta had improved in the 20 years since we were last there. All sorts of negative information the day before from the Captain about the tender operations etc., but it was very easy and only 15 minutes in the boat, not the 45 they were trying to tell us; don't be put off by such poor advice.
So back to Fremantle after a very satisfying and pleasant cruise, aided by the most perfect weather one could wish for. Home via Sydney and altogether a very happy trip, helped by the lovely people we met.
Pam and David Collman, A616 September 27th 2010