Upon arrival at Sydney airport we promptly organised a transfer to the ship at the cost of $15 each via coach with Princess and this allowed us to put our bags on and not see them again until we were onboard the ship. Good value and great service.
Check-in was very well organised and we were onboard within 1/2 hour of arriving at the Wharf. A very busy process but they have got it so well organised.
While waiting to go on board we sat there analysing the different age groups and parties that we were going to be spending the next 13 days and Christmas with. There were alot of elderly people going aboard which I guess you can expect, especially that time of year and maybe with NZ destination. I would say that 70% of people were over the age of 60. A bit surprising to us having sailed with P&O 3 times prior and having a younger group on board. I was a bit concerned for the first 24 hours that the older group might make things a bit boring for us "not so older" groups but after the first day you started to see how many families and younger people were on board also. There were apparently up to 400 "younger cruisers" onboard, however I failed to see that many. All kids that I seen were exremely well behaved and appeared to enjoy every moment.
Once on board we were promptly met by our cabin steward Ramon, he was friendly without being too obtrusive and did a tremendous job of keeping our cabin spotless each day. My husband and I had a cabin each which I shared with our 14 year old daughter and he with our 10 year old son. We had originally tried to book a quad cabin but they were booked out and we were then surprisingly able to book two double cabins for a much cheaper price so went with this option. Rooms were a little dated but very clean and well maintained.
The ship itself was extremely well maintained. I would never have thought it was 15 years old. Far superior to P&O, however, I think P&O attract younger groups which may explain why their ships do not appear to be as well maintained.
The cruise director and his staff were a mix of UK and American/Canadian. It took me a while to warm to him but by the end of the cruise we thought they did a great job and provided a good mix of entertainment. The singers/dancers were high quality and very professional. I would have liked to see them mix more with the passengers more on Tropical night but that wasnt to be.
The food - buffet was great quality. Breakfast was a good selection each day and there was always an ample amount available. The only criticism I would have is that with supposedly 300 kids onboard they should have had a small section catering to their needs a little more. A few chicken nuggets and maybe the odd spaghetti bog wouldnt have gone astray for those smaller children onboard who didnt like eating curries or casserole dishes. However there was a grill which provided hotdogs/cheeseburgers and chips which my daughter loved. You could also visit the Pizzeria which made nice fresh pizzas with a minimal selection of toppings and the best Tiramisu for dessert. All of which was included at no additional charge. The formal dining was great quality also. We only dined twice in there as we found it easier with the kids to use the buffet. Christmas formal dinner was my favourite with all the traditional meals on the menu and Christmas crackers etc included. The first night we went formal our meals were served very promptly but on Christmas it seemed to take forever, maybe because there were more people. This made us miss out on Santa Claus arriving which could probably have been better organised so that all children could have seen him. Because our dinner sitting was at an allocated time our kids missed out - our choice I guess, but with it being Christmas we wanted to dine formally. Overall, food was great and nothing much to complain about.
Shore tours - we learnt after our first cruise never to book them on the ship. We have always done our own thing ever since - much cheaper, especially when travelling with kids.
Entertainment - My son (10) loved the kids club and was keen to go there as often as he could. The staff did their best to provide entertainment. My 14 year old daughter went to the teenage group once but not knowing anyone she decided not to go back and did her own thing after that. She eventually made friends with another younger girl and they did a lot on the last few days of cruising. As mentioned earlier, the entertainment was great quality and probably one of the best I have seen on a ship. The singers were good without overdoing it and stretching themselves more than they could. The shows were tailored to suit all age groups and I think everyone enjoyed what they saw. There were also bands and quartets playing around the ship so plenty to choose from depending on your taste. They had a magician/comedian on board also which was good. They did repeat the shows to accommodate the numbers so that everyone had a chance to see.
Drinks - Plenty of cocktails to choose from with a standard price of $10. All drinks included gratuity of 10% which we thought was fair. Beer/wine prices were average pub prices.
Gratuity - We were charged $10 per day per person over 13 as gratuity. We were also given a cabin credit of $100 per person with our booking so this really covered the gratuities and we were happy with that. The staff work incredibly hard and long hours so we dont begrudge them getting this on top of their apparently very low wages. The only staff that could sometimes be a bit lacking were in buffet - it was always a wait to try and get a drink until I worked out it was easier to go and get one myself. Overall though the staff were only too happy to do anything for you and were very polite and courteous, especially to the children.
Overall, I would highly recommend Princess as a more superior cruise line to P&O. We seen some fabulous scenery and were very impressed with our itinerary and New Zealand as a destination. However if you are looking to party party party I didnt really see much of this. Quite conservative which suited us but probably wouldnt suit the younger types unless you are travelling in a big group.
Port 1 - Bay of Islands - New Zealand
Lovely little town. We tendered into port and did our own thing catching the ferry across to Pt Russell. The weather was extremely foggy this day which added to the scenery and made for an interesting day. Sleeping fishing village sort of atmosphere. Great start.
Port 2 - Auckland - New Zealand
Excellent stop. We pre organised (online) our hop on/hop off bus tour which was a 10 minute walk from the ship. Took you around to all the top sightseeing spots and we covered a lot of ground that day including the Sky Tower, Kelly Tarltons Antarctic Discovery Centre, Mt Eden, Westfield Shopping Centre (lunch), Museum etc... quite cheap and a great way to see Auckland in a day.
Port 3 - Napier - New Zealand
Art Deco capital. We just walked around the town and did some souvenir shopping. Busy in the main shopping mall but not much else to do. Lovely town to just sit back and relax. Free shuttle bus into the town from the ship.
Port 4 - "Windy" Wellington - New Zealand
It certainly lived up to its reputation this day with 50 knot winds greeting us off the ship. Once again we pre organised a hop on hop off bus tour which we prompty found about 10 minutes walk from where the bus dropped us off. Shuttle bus cost $15 per adult return (kids were free). The hop on bus took about an hour to do the whole tour so we stayed on for the first round and decided to get off at the cable car second time round and take a ride down to the bottom. Well worthwhile and different experience. Would have done more had it not been so windy however it was still a lovely day.
Port 5 - Christchurch - New Zealand
We were here on Christmas day. It cost $15 each to travel into Christchurch on the shuttle bus return. We once again did our thing walking around to the main square and seeing the cathedral. We then visited the Botanical Gardens and had a quiet drink in a pub around lunch time before proceeding back to the ship in the afternoon. They have a lovely tram which takes you on a tour and gondola ride which we would have done if we had known about it. Cost $37 each.
Port 6 - Dunedin - New Zealand
We booked (online) the Taieri Railway Gorge trip. Far cheaper than booking through the ship however the ship does pick you up from the port and provide wining and dining. I think the cost of this tour through the ship was $239 each. We paid $90 per adult and the kids were free. Admittedly we had to catch a cab to the train station at $40 and we were on a different train but we got to see the same sights and were able to buy our own food onboard. Far cheaper option when travelling with kids and I would highly recommend it for the scenery.
Port 7 - Fjordland National Park - New Zealand
The weather wasnt the best with rain closing in and lots of low cloud and fog however our captain carried on and made the most of it for all of us. It was well worth while with the rain providing spectacular views of gushing waterfalls and magnificent scenerey that has to be seen to be believed. Certainly a highlight for us and we were glad not to be on the MS Volendam who apparently pulled the pin on this part of the cruise due to the weather.