I have appreciated all of the information from other members who take the time to write so I feel obligated to make comments on this which is my 4th cruise (each cruise has been with a different cruise line. I wrote a scathing review of the Holland Americas Prinsendam ship in October 2008 after a 28 day Mediterranean and Black Sea Medley cruise but I am happy to say that this experience with Sun Princess was so much better.
This cruise was for 13 days to New Zealand departing from Sydney on Dec 17 2010 thereby spending Xmas on board the Sun Princess.
Smooth with no problems.
We had a balcony cabin on Aloha deck (deck 11). Beware of cabin A410 (port side) and also any cabins near this one on the port side for 2 reasons. Firstly, it is on deck 11 which is obviously more expensive, yet this cabin was directly under the Riviera Bar and quite often you could hear very loud scraping noises from the moving of the furniture, chairs and tables whenever people were getting on and off chairs and also I assume when staff were repositioning furniture on the deck early morning and late evening. It wasn't bad enough to stop us resting or sleeping but I just thought I'd better mention it. Secondly, the port side directly underneath the cabins around A410 is a smoking area as it is adjacent to the Riviera Bar. All smokers gather in this area to smoke (I don't know if there are other areas on the ship where they can smoke) but in this area there can be 10 or more people at any one time smoking and the smoke wafts down into the cabins directly below of which A410 was one. It can be very overpowering if you are not a smoker and if you have your balcony door open which you would want to do for a lot of the time as that is why you have paid the extra money. We had to shut the door on a number of occasions, so if you have a choice of cabins then consider a cabin away from this area for the above two reasons. Also the cabin was a bit small for a balcony room. In the other cruise ships we have been on we did have a 2 seater lounge in each of the balcony rooms we have had so you don't have to watch TV on the bed all the time. The room was a bit worn as many of these older ships are, but it was still OK. The bathroom was very small but still OK. Some rust on the balcony and what looked like large salt deposits stuck to the frames of the balcony doors on the inside of the room. The sheets did not seem a crisp new white colour but more of a light beige colour but they looked clean so it was OK for us. There was also a motor starting up somewhere near our corridor or in a shaft somewhere near us resulting in a whirring engine noise in our room which we noticed seemed to come and go. It went for good eventually but if it had continued, it may have become a bit more of a problem when trying to get to sleep. We did call the pursers office and they sent a man quickly but it had gone by the time he got there and he said that he hadn't done anything to fix it and I got the impression that it was not something that could have been fixed very easily anyway if it had continued.
The Sun Princess is as we know an older ship and of course it shows but I believe that they do the best that they can with what they have. The areas were always clean and tidy and I didn't mind the ship at all. Many of the public areas are really nice and it was good enough for us. In the next 2 years we will try to cruise on some really great ships in the US but those types of ships just don't come out here so we have to take what is on offer. I had not expected it to be any better than what it was and I had actually expected it to be an awful lot worse so we were suitably pleased and happy.
The ship was decked out with what I thought were really nice, classy (not at all tacky) Xmas decorations. The atrium and other areas were beautiful. All the kids had their photos taken with Santa and were given a teddy bear each to unwrap as they completed their photo with Santa and considering each of the 300 children on board got a gift, I thought it was wonderful. We don't have children but we were quite emotional to see them with Santa as we didn't think that the ship would go to that sort of effort.
The cruise directors really did everything to make it a great Xmas. We were impressed. Snow in the atrium on two occasions and a wonderful huge gingerbread house display in the atrium. Xmas carols in the atrium surrounded by staff and guests on Xmas eve and on Xmas day and we thought that it was just very well done that's all, Very nice and very well done. A little stocking on your bed with some sweets on it and the usual turn down service with chocolates was done well and the cabin was sufficiently cleaned each day with beds made as usual etc. All the kids were only becoming a bit restless and running around and playing in the lifts on the last 2 days of the cruise. We had hardly noticed them prior to this as they must have been kept busy by the staff but I assume that by the last 2 days of the cruise the staff were not organizing as many activities for them or whatever and therefore the kids may have got bored. I appreciated the Captains warning message during the life boat drill about bad behaviour not being tolerated and about kids needing to be supervised and I think that most people took it seriously. Without the special staff to look after the kids on board I think that these cruises during school holidays could otherwise become a nightmare for those of us who are not used to lots of children.
For our small family of 3 (mother husband and wife) it was a great option for getting away at Xmas time and still having a nice Xmas with a lot of festivities so overall the ship was good.
We didn't feel the need to pay extra to attend the steak house restaurant on board as we were very happy with the food. After my last cruise on Holland America whereby the food was mostly inedible, we were grateful that we were getting what we thought to be restaurant quality meals in the dining room and quite edible food in the buffet although the buffet was usually crowded and a bit claustrophobic so we just ate our breakfast and lunch there quickly and didn't hang around at all. The hot chips in the poolside Terrace snack bar were undercooked so I only had those once and I did not try the burgers so I can't comment. The afternoon teas which we attended a lot in the dining room were nice with little savory sandwiches and biscuits and cakes all of which were quite acceptable we thought. The scones were probably the best I've ever tasted. This was the only place where the water tasted really nice so we enjoyed our tea here especially in a proper tea cup as the plastic mugs in the buffet don't appeal to us so we didn't drink tea out of those. It sounds stupid but next time I will bring my own mug as I hate the plastic mugs that much.
The coffee warrants a special mention. I wouldn't bother with the 30 dollar coffee card again as the coffee is shocking and I believe it is bad on many other cruise ships. Other people were drinking it though so it was obviously OK for some people. We talked to others who didn't like it either. I saw one woman order a double shot espresso. Well that would have killed me, I honestly don't know how she consumed it. We only used the coffee card a few times so it was wasted money. They really, really need to do something about the coffee as most people really love to sit down and relax somewhere with a nice coffee no matter how much it costs as long as its nice. In the end we asked for it very weak and with chocolate in it too as a weak mocha was all we could take and we gave that up in the end. We will take coffee sachets on board for ourselves next time and just use the hot water as even Nescafe instant coffee would taste better. But there was a high quality selection of teas available in the buffet room that no one could possibly be unhappy with.
We didn't drink a lot but the cocktails were OK at 9 or 10 AUS dollars and the wine and beer prices were OK but some of the bottles of wine at dinner were a bit expensive but we realize that this is always the case on cruises and we just curb our consumption a bit and don't spend too much even though we can afford it. We just do our little "protest" routine against any type of rip off so we don't overspend on the alcohol.
The buffet quality and selection was good. Of course it all gets a bit monotonous after 2 weeks but as long as I wasn't cooking and I could find something to eat, I didn't really care. We thought it was fine and most people ate lots and we didn't really hear any complaints except some people don't like American style crispy bacon. They did have English style bacon on some days so they made that effort too. There were waffles at breakfast and rolls and muffins and croissants as well as a hot selection. The bread rolls were really crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and were really nice. The staff who were cooking and serving did look a lot better presented than the people on the Holland America cruise we took who looked quite unkempt which made us wonder how the food was being prepared back in the kitchen. We didn't bother with the dining room for breakfast so I can't comment.
We were very, very impressed with our evening meals and our waiters. Well presented, well cooked and served meals. We had fast, efficient service from 2 very nice waiters who moved with grace and competence and who got it right for us each night. (Sunny and his assistant). Attention to detail was good and on Xmas night they had turkey or lamb as well as the other options and they had Xmas crackers on the table and everyone wore their paper hats and it was all very Christmassy and all very well done. I believe that every effort that could possibly be made by the cruise line had been made given that they were serving a couple of thousand people each night and they really did everything to make it a nice, classy dining experience each night. For us, we felt as though we were eating out at a top class restaurant each evening which was a surprise as I had no such expectations after our Holland America cruise where we sent meals back that were just plain horrible and inedible. Lots of choice for the menu and the produce was of a quality that we would eat at home. We wouldn't eat any better at home and that is the comparison I always make. I suppose it's all about what you expect and as we had no expectations we were really, really happy. Very, very happy with the restaurant.
The pizzas were edible but could have done with a bit more topping but the crust was crisp and thin, somewhat like a thin woodfired pizza so they were OK too. Did not try the pasta as that was only available in the evenings at the pizzeria and we always went to the restaurant for dinner as it was so good.
We were very, very happy with the entertainment. Everything was very good. One comedian was not so great but everyone likes different things and I just couldn't relate to his subject matter. I still appreciate anyone who can get up on a stage and do anything. The dancers were absolutely fantastic and all the singers were good too especially all the lead singers and special acts on board. Lots of people danced when in the atrium or in the bars where there was a dance floor. Everyone seemed to be having a really good time on this Xmas cruise. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves so much and therefore the atmosphere was really good and that is partly due to the cruise directors efforts.
FILMS ON TV and ONBOARD ACTIVITIES
There is no DVD player in the room as we have had on other cruises but we took a lap top with a DVD player so that we could play our own films and we took a selection of DVDs with us. We didn't use it much as there was always something to do on board. We went to the ballroom dancing lessons and the trivia and we took advantage of the good library selection. The films showing on the TV were OK but you ended up always missing the start or the finish of the film as you were going off doing other things on the ship but I guess you can watch TV anytime at home. We were happy with the amount of activities on board even though we didn't do many of them.
We found the staff to be very friendly and more "normal" than on other cruises we have been on where they either seemed "fake" or to just "get on your nerves" all the time. My husband, my mother and I are all extremely irritable and negative people but I can say that no one really got on our nerves at all on this cruise. The staff were just fine in every respect and I found them to all be very competent and seemed to know exactly the right thing to say and do at the right time from the Captain and the cruise directors through to the room attendants, pursers and waiters. They didn't over play things or go on and on about things and they didn't appear to be overbearing. You didn't get the impression that they were constantly promoting themselves in order to get extra gratuities and they didn't keep pushing you to buy things all the time but they were always there if they were needed. They seemed to be available and they seemed to work 24/7 without pushing themselves onto you all the time. The bar staff could at times be a bit pushy in their efforts to sell you drinks but then some might say that they demonstrated good service as they were always at hand if you wanted drinks and those drinks arrived very quickly. It's just that we don't drink much so we don't want to be asked if we want a drink every 5 minutes because we had to keep on saying no. The Captain and cruise directors also kept us sufficiently informed of when the main sites of interest were coming up giving everyone plenty of time to "get in position" e.g. Milford sound highlights and also with various other bits of information. I must also say that the quality and appearance of staff on board was good . There were no staff hanging around looking slovenly and unkempt or loitering about the ship doing nothing or not making a contribution as we had experienced on the Holland America cruise we were last on. All staff in the public eye were active, clean cut and well presented.
As previously mentioned the staff really tried hard and in our opinion did succeed in making it a Xmas to remember. They did everything they could have in terms of the usual festivities that a family would have at that time of year.
We did not do any as my mother can't go all that far. We just walked or took a cab or the shuttle bus to the main city adjacent to each of the Ports. Shuttle prices weren't that bad compared with Holland America. You can walk into Auckland from the ship. You can walk into Wellington from the ship but its only 1.5 kms by cab or shuttle, the same with Napier. It was only Dunedin and Christchurch where it was a 25 minute trip into the town. So it's a great cruise for getting as much out of the day in port as possible as there is not a lot of traveling time from the Port to the town so it doesn't cut into your day as much unlike some ports in Europe where you are between 1 and 3 hours drive away from the city where all the sights are. This makes for a long and expensive day trying to actually get to see anything and after a while you wonder why you bothered to cruise around Europe as it's so much more of a hassle. You have to rely on the ships tours in order to see anything but in New Zealand you can do a lot yourself with ease due to the Ports being so close to the city or town. If there are 3 or more people in your party then it's just as cheap to take a taxi as the shuttle bus.
One thing that did upset us which was nothing to do with the ship or the staff was that my mother left her favorite jacket on a chair in the buffet and someone took it and did not hand it back to the pursers office. It was only a cheap jacket but it was new and it was her favorite one. I thought that it was a horrible thing to do to as you only take a limited amount of clothing away and if someone takes your jacket you might not have brought another one with you. We did go into a store at Napier and buy another jacket for her but could not get the same one. The Pursers office staff were nice when we kept enquiring as to whether it had been handed in but there was nothing they could do and I just think that even though you are part of a little community on board a ship and you think that you are all honorable people, you need to remember that there can still be thieves on board and you really do have to be vigilant with your belongings. We also have heard friends tell stories about people stealing clothes that have been left unattended whilst in the dryer or in a basket in the laundry. It seems that some people see a top or a blouse that they like and if it's unattended then they just take it!!!!! And as most people take their really nice, new garments away with them, it seems as though it can be too much of a temptation for some people. You need to stay with your clothes even when they are in the washing machine or dryer in the laundry. It was unfortunate as I believe that about 99% of the people on that ship who could have found the jacket would have handed it back but we were unlucky enough to leave it at a time where that 1% of not so nice people came upon it. In fairness we have also heard stories of how other people have lost very valuable items and yet they were handed in so it was just unlucky for us.
GETTING OFF THE SHIP
Some lifts were closed for maintenance from time to time throughout the cruise but it did not affect us. Disembarking at each port seemed to be in a nice orderly fashion.
A very good cruise experience, excellent staff, excellent food, excellent entertainment, excellent Xmas festivities and reasonable room on a reasonably well maintained ship. A well choreographed Xmas event cruise which left us feeling happy and uplifted as one should feel after a holiday. We would definitely sail with Princess Cruises again.