We drove ourselves just over an hour to prebooked car park in Dover, courtesy bus to the ship and smooth and quick embarkation.
Firstly, we would like to say that our stateroom was better than we expected and our steward was faultless.
We were impressed with all the Singers and Dancers, who produced some splendid performances in spectacular costumes. The Cruise Director was friendly and enthusiastic; not so the Deputy Cruise Director, Paul, who was quite juvenile with his constant references to his alleged drinking at any time of the day or night.
In our opinion the entertainers were very good, with two notable exceptions. Chris Watkins the violinist was not just good, but outstanding, and all the British with whom we discussed Bobby Dennis thought he was very poor, used extremely outdated material and not at all worthy of the description "comedian". Thank goodness another comedian, Lenny Windsor, appeared later in the cruise.
There were many aspects of this cruise which detracted from our expected enjoyment, and we hope you will all take note, as Princess doesn't seem to have done!
Reception - Our very first impression after boarding at Dover was the TV monitor next to the Reception Desk showing the ship nearing The "Hauge"... (sic) - not a good start.
Princess Patter - Just some examples of the many errors in spelling, grammar and typography:-
• Ocean Pricess
• King Hakon
• Taxs (taxis)
• Proffesional (several times)
• Many superfluous apostrophes
• Decck 9 Aft
• "..your tour guide that provided superior service...." (should be WHO)
• Film with "Leonardo DiCarpio"
• Tromso street map showing wrong locations, and according to the Tromso Tourist Office is 6 years out of date.
• Murmansk Port Guide repeated items in Local Cuisine list, and continued with the climate for St. Petersburg - not very useful.
• Gravdal Port Guide failed to inform passengers of the location of the featured attraction of the Maelstrom, neither were the tourist attractions of Moskenes and Refsvikhula even mentioned. so we had no idea prior to arrival if we could visit - even the Port Lecturer had no idea on which island they were situated and advised us to ask the bus drivers on shore. This is no way to treat paying passengers who wish to make their own arrangements. The Port Guide for Gravdal continued with the irrelevant details of the climate in Oslo, several hundred miles away.
As first-time cruisers with Princess, prior to booking we consulted the website and found the following:-
1. Learn about our cruises ?
2. Onboard experience ?
3. Daytime Activities ?
4. Sports ?
5. .........Golf simulator and 9-hole putting green.........
Nowhere on this page was there any indication that these facilities are available only on the larger ships, nor was there any suggestion to look at the individual provisions on each vessel. How were we to know that no. 5 above does not apply to Ocean Princess? This was EXTREMELY annoying, as the mention of a golf simulator was one of the prime reasons for selecting this cruise.
Moreover, after publicising the golf practice facilities, the golf clubs provided are a positive disgrace. Only a few clubs of different brands & virtually none of any use to left-handers (all men's - what about the ladies?) and the steel-shafted ones were ALL rusty.
One of the Scrabble sets on board has a very torn tile-bag and an incomplete set of tiles, so is useless. Additionally, the tiles in all the sets are of an illegal design, and there is no OSW to check challenges.
The Trivia quizzes are heavily biased in favour of N. American passengers. Although this would be more understandable &/or acceptable on a ship sailing exclusively from/to the USA, to use these types of questions on a cruise from/to UK, with a very large proportion of British passengers, does detract seriously from the entertainment value. Furthermore, many answers given to the questions were WRONG; we appreciate that mistakes do happen, but in these instances there was absolutely no effort made by the staff to check and if necessary apologise and emend the scores. Although all the Trivia hosts were (allegedly) English-speaking, on many occasions their mispronunciations and obvious complete lack of understanding was shameful - we would suggest that at the very least they read & understand the questions before reading them to the assembled guests.
We were promised a live commentary (later to be available on ship's tv) during the scenic voyage through Magdalena fjord - disappointingly, this did not happen, and no reason was given for this omission. We had to wait till we got home to "Google" the names of the places/glaciers we had seen.
The first lines of the Gravdal Port Guide quoted: "You've certainly heard of the Maelstrom! Why not pay it a visit?" Indeed, why not? But where is it? On one the five major islands? Between them? Out at sea? No indication at all, and when I sought out and asked the Port Lecturer her reply was, "I've no idea."
As for Gravdal itself, the tour literature on board referred to this village, implying that we would visit it. Instead, all the shuttle busses went to Leknes in the opposite direction, so there was little alternative to visit Gravdal other than to walk, which we were able to do but which would have been impossible for the less able-bodied. We have been informed that one gentleman showed the trip arrangements to the bus driver and insisted on being taken to Gravdal (which was agreed) and when asking about times for returning was told that he would not be collected and would have to walk. Everyone to whom we spoke who had visited either place said that as it was Sunday there was little point in going as everywhere was closed - the timing of the itinerary proved to be a poor piece of planning.
Deborah Fraioli's port lectures were, without exception, awful. Every single one was disjointed, eg. commentaries did not match up with the slide/s being shown, mistakes were made re. currency used, and there were so many "I don't know how much/when/where, etc" statements it was embarrassing. In her position, she should have found out first or kept quiet. What is the point of emphasising that the annual Geiranger mountain cycle race takes place in June (the month we were cruising) but neglecting to tell us if we would be able to see it? (And she should know that "archipelago" is pronounced "arc....", NOT "arch.....")
Other cruise lines offer free warming drinks after being encouraged to be on deck in the near-freezing early hours to observe the scenery - how very penny-pinching of Princess to charge for these. Equally annoying was the $10 charge for shuttle busses - all our other cruises on various cruise lines have provided them free.
After conversations with other passengers, many agreed that intelligent & interesting lectures or lessons on board were conspicuous by their absence, so there was a lot of time with nothing much to do except read or sleep. No photography classes, no Windows classes, no travel talks, no History talks - all these and many, many others, have been offered on other cruise lines.
• Hot and cold plates in the wrong positions in the Panorama buffet - who wants a salad on a hot plate or roast pork on a cold one?
• A few people, inc. us, chose "boneless" chicken in the Bistro and all such meals contained a large bone, and when we told the waiter he just laughed and said "boneless" meant "a few little bones, madam." (We later received an apology for his attitude from the Bistro Manager.)
• Sliced brown bread was constantly running out at lunchtime, and eventually after 4 days of none being available we were advised to order 3 or 4 slices to be reserved specifically for us - this is absolutely ridiculous!
• On at least 4 occasions the breakfast marmalade ran out - why are the staff not trained to replenish food before it is exhausted instead of keeping people waiting while supplies are fetched from another location?
• Why is orange-juice free at breakfast but has to be purchased at lunchtime?
• Afternoon tea was very often a lottery for scones, jam &/or cream. Queues of people holding half-filled plates, waiting for one or more of the constituents to arrive.
• For dietary reasons butter is not acceptable to many people. For the first few days margarine was also available, but for approximately the last 2 weeks it disappeared from the Panorama buffet.
As I collect fridge magnets of places we have visited, it would have been nice to buy one on board, as I have done on all other cruises, but the only ones available were of the "Tahiti Princess" and ones with a map of the Mediterranean, hardly suitable for an Arctic cruise. We were told by the staff that delivery of appropriate magnets was expected prior to sailing but they'd never arrived.
The small area allocated for this was a shambles, and the staff had to work under extreme difficulty, with passengers crowding the tables from all 4 sides, waving tokens and shouting for what they wanted. Those not at the front could not easily see what was available; it would be far easier to display items on a long table for viewing, and then arrange a simple one-way queue.
The popular items ran out in about 5 minutes so that many, including us, were unable to get items of our choice. Surely by now the supply and demand ratio is known?
Also, why start the Redemption on Deck 4 at 4.30pm., exactly the same time as the last Trivia quiz started on Deck 10, as the winners could not possibly get to Deck 4 before everything had gone?
We sent these comments to Princess 3 days after our return - 7 weeks & 3 phone calls later we still hadn't received even an acknowledgement let alone a proper reply, then a mere acknowledgement came. Over 3 weeks more, and a "We're sorry to read about your experiences..." letter came, but still without answers to what they're actually going to do about it.
What a way to run a company!