Background: This was our second cruise with Princess and first time on the Sun Princess. We are a married couple in our late 20’s and this was our first time taking a cruise abroad. We booked through AAA.
Pre-Cruise: We flew out of Pittsburgh, PA on the evening of 11/19 and had a connection in LAX en route to Sydney. It was quite a long flight, but luckily our bags arrived on time. We generally like to arrive in port a day early and book our own flights to save money, however due to work scheduled we were forced to arrive on the morning of the cruise and therefore booked the more expensive flights through Princess to get the next port protection in case we were delayed. I highly recommend signing up for frequent flier miles if you plan to fly from the U.S, as we new have nearly enough combined for a round trip ticket in the U.S. with our combined miles.
Embarkation: We arrived in Sydney around 7:00 am and were through customs and immigration fairly quickly. Thanks to other Aussie cruise members on the boards, we knew prior to arrival that we were going to be delayed a few hours due to the ship hitting rough weather in the Tasman on the way back from NZ. Luckily for us, while clearing customs, we ran into another couple coming from the U.S. and informed them the ship was delayed. I say lucky for us because, after clearing customs, we set out to find the Princess rep to transfer to the pier. We expected a large sign or piles of luggage would give the location away, but after walking around the airport for 15 minutes we still could not find anyone and the information booths didn’t seem to know what we were talking about. Fortunately, we spotted the couple from the immigration line who found the cruise representative caring a small folder that had a Princess cruises sign, and we joined up with them. She informed us that we would be taken to the Park Royal hotel where they would have snacks for us until we could transfer to the pier after the previous passengers disembarked. Upon arrival at the hotel, it looked like most of the other passengers there were willing to just hang out and wait for the pier transfer. We really wanted to explore the city, especially since we only had about 6 hours before we had to board. We asked the staff if they had a map of the city and told them we would find our own way the rest of the way to the pier after we finished exploring. Our bags had already been taken to the pier, which left us free to explore. We set off on foot to walk the approx 1 mile to the Opera house and Darling Harbor. We spend some time exploring Circular Quay, the Opera house, and walked onto the Harbor Bridge. We then headed to the pier to get in line to board at approx 3:00 pm. It seemed a bit disorganized and was very crowded, but we eventually made it through all of the lines and headed on to the ship. The people from the hotel who waited for the transfer arrived to the port after we did. Once on the ship, we had a late lunch in the Horizon court, did the obligatory muster drill (it always amazes me how difficult it seems to be fore people to follow directions, which always makes the drill take longer than it would otherwise need to) then went up on deck for the sailaway and got very good pictures/video of our ship cruising under the harbor bridge and past the Opera house while listening to Derringer, the onboard Canadian band. After the sailaway, we went to dinner in the dining room, which was open seating, and sat with a British couple. Dinner consisted of Rockfish, Prime rib, and a few other choices that were very good. We went back to our room to find all of our luggage delivered, and went to bed around 10:00 pm.
At sea (Day 2): On the first sea day, we decided to sleep in a bit then went for breakfast at the Horizon court at approx 9:00 am. The Horizon court was VERY crowded on the sea days. Choices included sausage, bratwurst, grilled tomatoes, eggs, bacon, fruit, cereal, doughnuts, among other things. After breakfast, we decided to wander the ship for a bit. The Sun Princess is one of the older ships in the fleet, but recently underwent a refurbishment and Movies under the stars was added. We noticed very little wear and tear in most of the areas, which I had seen many people comment on prior to the refurbishment. After walking around and taking a nap, we headed to lunch where some of the choices included snapper lamb, stir fried chicken curry, chicken lo mein, and soups and salads. Lunch was also very crowded. This was also the day of the cruise critic meet and greet, and we had fun meeting many of the people we had spent months talking to on the forums. It was also interesting to hear many of the Aussies on board comment on our “American accent”, as it sounded to us like everyone else had the accent ? The ship was comprised of approx 85% Aussies, 10% Americans, and 3% British, and 2% from other countries. We found the Aussies to be a great group of people to cruise with as they are all very laid back and don’t take themselves too seriously. It was also fun for us to cruise on an Australian-based ship, because we were looking forward to learning about other places and cultures but knew were weren’t going to get to spend much time in Australia due to time constraints. We certainly felt by the end of the cruise that we learned a lot about many different areas of Australia and enjoyed having ample time throughout the cruise to talk to many different Aussies about their country. After the meet and greet, we were able to catch some live American Sunday night (Monday afternoon on the ship) football for a little taste of home. Still being exhausted from the previous day, we slept through our dinner seating and ended up going to the Horizon court for a late dinner prior to going to bed for the evening.
At sea (Day 3): We awoke at around 8:30 am to find that the weather was much cooler (16 C) and windier, and the Tasman much rougher than the previous day. We decided to spend most of the day in our cabin, B543, as ½ of GreeniePrincess wasn’t feeling very well due to the rough weather. We made it to the Mexican style lunch and an onboard lecture on the ports and horses, but spent most of the day sleeping and watching TV. We chose an interior cabin, which was much different than the larger balcony we had on our previous cruise. We had a small closet which was just big enough to hang most of our clothes and hide our 2 suitcases to get them out of the way. The shower was slightly larger than the one we had in our balcony room on the Coral Princess, and the bathroom was about the same size. There were also 2 small dressers and small refrigerator. We found, as we expected, that outside of napping and sleeping we spent very little time in the room. Given how windy and cool it was on the Tasman crossing and how far out to sea we went after each port, we were happy we didn’t pay the extra money for a balcony or window. We were also very happy with our cabin steward who was more than willing to get us anything we asked for and made sure to say “hi” to us every time he saw us. We enjoyed getting to know a little about him and his family, and also enjoyed getting to know our waiters who were also willing to accommodate any request. The service on the ship was as good or better than what we experienced on the newer Coral Princess. This evening was also the first of two formal nights on the ship. We sipped on complimentary champagne and mimosas while getting to know some of the onboard crew and watching the champagne waterfall. Princess tends to keep the number of announcements to a minimum, usually one in the morning and afternoon from the captain and otherwise only to announce arrival in ports when ready for disembarkation. We always enjoyed our captain’s announcements, so it was nice to have the opportunity to see him and the rest of his crew. Dinner choices consisted of beef fillet, salmon, lobster bisque, crab meat quiche, and Wellington, as well as various dessert options. We turned in early to bed after dinner to be up early for our first port day.
Bay of Islands (Day 4): As this was a tender port, we decided to take one of the Princess shore excursions in order to be one of the first off the ship and not have to wait in the long line for a tender boat. We had looked into independent shore excursions, however felt that it was worth the money to take a Princess excursion in this port to get an early tender to shore. We met in the Princess Theater for the Hole in the Rock cruise, which was full, and I would highly recommend it. We saw many dolphins on they way out to the hole and our boat was able to make it through the hole in the rock. After the tour, we were dropped off in Pahia where we browsed the shops and had some local ice cream. We walked back to the tender boats past the treaty grounds to head back to the ship. We ate a late lunch on board of fish and chips, cream of broccoli soup, pasta with mushroom sauce, seafood curry, and mashed potatoes and gravy. It was much less crowded for breakfast and lunch on port days, as we were usually at breakfast before most people were awake (usually before 7:00 am) and at lunch after most people had eaten (usually after 3:00 pm). We spent some time in the room relaxing before going to dinner with our Canadian tablemates. Choices for dinner included scallops and peppers, pea soup, various salads, watermelon and citrus in mercapone sauce, fillet pot roast, and fettuccini alfredo. We found that we were not interested in much of the evening entertainment because we preferred to go to bed early and get up early in the ports. Entertainment mostly consisted of the princess dancers, singers, and comedians among other things, and from what I understand, the shows were often quite full.
Auckland (Day 5): We were up early, around 6:30 am, to eat breakfast and were off the ship by 8:00 am in order t avoid the disembarkation line. We decided to see Auckland on our own using a hop on/hop off bus. We made a stop at Kelly Tarltons, which was interesting to see especially if you want to see penguins, but probably not worth the time waiting in line (if you take an organized tour, you can usually skip the line). We then went to Mt. Eden for some very nice views of the city and spent some time looking around. As we are avid geocachers, we spend a fair amount of time getting off the bus at various other places to grab a few geocaches around the city. We then headed back to the ship for a late lunch and made it back to our room in time to see President Obama on an international news channel pardoning a turkey, since today was Thanksgiving in the U.S. We were up on deck for the sailaway, and they announced that they planned to have a Thanksgiving “dinner” on deck for the Americans (and anyone else who was interested in going). They served pizza, meatballs, sausage in a blanket, and chicken wings, and the cruise director was there with a small cardboard turkey he named “Dorthy.” It was a cute celebration and we had fun meeting some of the other Americans on board. Finally, we went to dinner where there was lamb, prime rib, salmon, cod, orange roughy, seafood skewers, chicken soup with onions, and of course, turkey as an alternate choice. The food, as always, was excellent. Again, we went to bed instead of taking in a show.
Tauranga (Day 6): We were up early again for breakfast and off the ship by 7:30 am. We had book an excursion with Dolphin Seafaris hoping to swim with some of the local wild dolphins. Unfortunately, there were no dolphins to be found that day, probably because the water was a few degrees cooler than usual for that time of year, but the staff was very professional and courteous and was able to show us some other local wildlife including a blue shark, fairy penguins, kingfish, and gannets fishing. We headed back to the ship for lunch (and dessert), then left the ship again to walk up Mt. Maunganui. It was quite a climb, but well worth the amazing view and we could see many of the small islands that we had been close to earlier in the day while on our dolphin search. We then headed back to the ship for dinner, and choices included prawns, duck, whitefish, hot and sour soup, and salads. We decided to skip the tropical party and desserts to go to bed, as that climb up the mountain made us pretty sore and tired.
Napier (Day 7): We decided to sleep in a bit today, as we were not expected to get into port until noon. We had some fairly large swells overnight, making this one of the roughest nights we had at sea, and the weather was windy and much cooler than in the previous 3 ports. Lunch in the Horizon court seemed very crowded, as everyone was trying to eat at the same time before getting in line to get off the ship. This was the only day we had to wait in line to disembark, and it took us probably 20-30 minutes to get off the ship. Once off the ship, we had to wait approx another half hour to get the free shuttle off of the pier, as this is a working port. The ship dropped us off in town, and we spent some time walking around and geocaching. Unfortunately, we had hoped to walk to the aquarium, but ran out of time as this was a short day in port. We figured we would have time, which is why we didn’t take one of the tours, and didn’t do well with our time management today. Instead, we spent some time shopping and were back on the ship by 4:30 pm and went up on deck for the 5:30 sailaway. We continued to have large swells, and luckily we had brought enough sea sickness tablets that it wasn’t too much of a problem. We took a nap, then headed to dinner where choices included spicy prawns, veal in marsala sauce, pasta, spinach salad with bacon, eggplant parm, and smoked ham and melon proscuitto. We went to bed early again.
Wellington (Day 8): We got up early for breakfast and hopped off the boat as soon as we could to grab a geocache. We only had about an hour before we had to be back on the ship for our tour. We had again decided to take a Princess tour, Seal Coast Safari, which was one of our favorites of the trip. We hopped into 4WD vehicles and were taken up over some beautiful mountains with an amazing view of Wellington. We saw everything from brumbies to deer to ostriches on this trip. We headed down the other side of the mountains and our guide noticed over fifty dolphins in the waters below just off the coast. He informed us that they are a pretty rare sight, and we spent some time taking pictures before heading down toward the coastline. We drove from there to a rocky outcropping where we saw a few seals up close and got a better look at the dolphins, in addition to taking a fun drive along the bumpy coast. We then headed back to the ship and grabbed the free shuttle into Wellington city, where we walked around the harbor and CBD and up to the beehive. We tried the local gelato and shopped for souvenirs before heading back to the ship for a late lunch. Dinner that evening consisted of scallops, black bean and lobster soup, and rib eye steak with peppercorn sauce. We decided to take in a western show with line dancing, but didn’t stay long because ½ of GreeniePrincess was again feeling sea sick, and went to bed
Lyttleton/Christchurch (Day 9): Ate and early breakfast and got off the ship before the line formed. Decided t take the $10 pp shuttle into Christchurch, as we decided not to book a tour in advance for this port. The drive was narrated and showed us some of the earthquake-damaged buildings that were in the process of being repaired. We were dropped off in town near the cathedral, where we spent some time walking around and looking for souvenirs. As we had not seen a kiwi up to this point (which was a must do for us, since we really enjoy wildlife and it is the national bird), we headed to Southern encounter to take a quick tour. Unfortunately, their exhibit was under repair, so we went to plan B. We took the local bus system to Willowbank Wildlife preserve, where we unfortunately found that their kiwi house was also under constructions. But now worries, since they had a kiwi guarantee, they told us we could make a stop at the end of our stay to see the breeding area where they raise kiwis until they can release them into the preserve (usually costs extra, however because their exhibit was down they were letting people in for free). We spent time walking around the preserve taking in the wallabies that came so close you could nearly touch them, and many more animals. We finally stopped in the breeding program area. Unfortunately, all of the kiwis were behind glass, but we did get to see the handlers weighing the baby kiwis and the kiwi eggs (they are huge!) in the incubators. It was well worth the trip. We then headed back to the city and stopped for fish, chips, and beer at one of the local pubs. We finally took the shuttle back to the ship and then hopped on the free shuttle into Lyttleton for the last hour before our ship departed. We only spent about a half hour looking around before we realized how exhausted we were and headed back to the ship for some rest before dinner. Dinner consisted of a potato and cheddar quiche, cauliflower soup, greens with cucumber dressing, cod fillet, rosemary spring chicken with garlic, apple crumble dessert, or the signature loveboat dream. Then it was early to bed.
Port Chalmers/Dunedin (Day 10): We decided to do the Pub Crawl through Princess after giving it a lot of thought, because we felt it was somewhat overpriced, but as this was the only rainy day we had the entire trip, it worked out fairly well as we were inside most of the day. We got up early and hiked up a hill overlooking Dunedin and the ship prior to our tour, then headed back to the ship to get ready to go. The tour consisted of a tour of Speights with an open bar of a few of their beers at the end that everyone could try. We also went to 4 more local pubs, and had been given 4 tickets for free beers that we could use at any of the pubs. The very quiet bus at the end of the day got quite a but louder and more fun as the day progressed. We also had our choice of a few different lunches at one of the pubs and got to see some of the city while in transit to the different pubs. Unfortunately, as the tour lasted most of the time we were in port, there was no time left to explore the city on our own. Looking back, the tour probably was a fair price for the amount we were able to see, as we likely would have had to get a taxi to make it to the various pubs and buy our own lunch and beer. We were dropped off back at the ship and caught the free shuttle into Port Chalmers for a few minutes prior to reembarking for sailaway. Port Chalmers gave us the best send off with two bagpipers standing on the pier playing for more than a half hour until the ship was out of sight. We also saw many locals waving goodbye from the hill we had been standing on that morning. We saw the albatross colony from afar on our way out of the port, and were amazed at how shallow the channel to get into the port really is when the tide is out! There were also people driving along the coast who stopped their cars and got out to wave at us as we were steaming out of port. It was the most fun sailaway we had and a fitting end to our last day in port. We headed to dinner which consisted of scallops in citrus sauce, smoked salmon, rack of lamb, chicken kiev, chicken and leek soup, and greens with tomatoes and dressing. Again, it was early to bed to prepare for Fiordland.
Fiordland (Day 11): We were up early for breakfast so we could be on deck as we headed into the fiords. We spent approx 1 hour in Dusky wound and 1 and ½ hours in Doubtful sound. We were fortunate enough to see a small whale and a few dolphins. It was much cooler than we expected it to be, and very windy forward on the ship, but that certainly didn’t keep most of the passengers away! We headed in for lunch at the Horizon court and found there were few places to sit, as many passengers who didn’t want to brave the cold had parked themselves at the tables near the windows where they could see the views without the wind. After a quick lunch, we spent some time in our room before going back up on deck to see Milford sound. We had a narrator on board for our trip through all of the sounds, pointing out various islands and telling us about the local history of the area. We spent approx 4 hours in Milford sound, and our captain commented that it was one of the most beautiful days he had ever seen in Milford. The weather was cool and windy, but There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and there was no rain or mist in sight. We could easily see to the tops of the mountains, which were beautiful. As we were getting ready to exit the sound, we were told that a passenger had been hurt and we were going to have to wait for a medical evacuation, which took over an hour. The passenger was put on a pilot boat and taken to shore, and we exited the sound where we waited nearly another hour for the return of our medical personnel before we could embark for Sydney. Fiordland was by far the most beautiful part of our trip and we felt very fortunate to have such a beautiful day. We finally headed for dinner on red snapper, veal and pasta, and cod, before getting some ice cream. We ran into some pretty large swells, however we made it to some of the evening show featuring our cruise director singing and making jokes. Then it was off to bed.
At Sea (Day 12): We decided to sleep in and ate an early lunch before treating ourselves to ice cream (by then, the staff knew us by name and started preparing our cones as we were walking up). We spent a large amount of time napping and walking around the ship watching the people sunbathe and swim in the pools. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the fitness areas, casino, or lotus spa as we did not spend any time in them. As we are gold members of the Captain’s Circle, we were invited to the Captain’s circle party. They had complimentary drinks and we were again introduced to some of the cruise staff. We headed to our second formal night dinner which included choices of lobster, beef Wellington, and garlic soup. After dinner, we went to see the comedian who did a good job at making us laugh, then went to the “New Years Eve” party where they counted down and dropped a large number of balloons into the atrium, which became a dance floor. We spent some time watching everyone have a good time, before heading to bed.
At Sea (Day 13): Our last full day on the ship. We again slept through breakfast and decided to save room for the huge dessert bar at lunch. As the seas were a bit calmer, we headed to the Navigation at Sea lecture, which was interesting and informative. We had seen the dicey wooden horse racing listed in the Patter nearly every day, but we finally decided to make time to check it out on the “Melbourne Cup” day. We will definitely make time for this on future cruises, as we had a lot of fun laughing at the participants and other passengers, and almost felt like we were at a real horse race. We decided to finally take in a “Movie Under the Stars” before dinner and watched Prince of Persia. It was sometimes difficult to see the screen depending on the angle of the sunlight as the ship moved, but it was a fun experience and reminded me of being at a drive in movie. The crew brought around popcorn and blankets, as it was a bit windy on deck. After the movie, we headed to dinner consisting of NY strip steak, Barramundi, mussels, and guinea fowl. After dinner, we went to the International Crew Talent Show, which is always entertaining and certainly didn’t disappoint this time either. We headed to bed in order to be up early for disembarkation.
Sydney/disembarkation day (Day 14): We woke up early, around 5:00 am, as the captain had informed us on the prior day that we would be entering Sydney harbor at approx 5:30 am. We were on deck to watch our ship head back into the harbor, past the opera house, and under the Harbor bridge. It was just starting to rain as we went under the bridge, and we watched another cruise ship follow us into the harbor. We had placed our large bags outside of our room the previous night so they could be taken to the pier for us. We ate breakfast, then went to our room to finish packing and say goodbye to our cabin steward, who we knew we would miss. We headed to the casino, which was our disembarkation lounge, and impatiently waited for our number to be called. Once our number was called, disembarkation was quick and easy and very well organized. We picked up the luggage we left outside of our room last night and quickly cleared immigration and customs. We decided to take the princess transfer to the airport, which went smoothly. We boarded our flight to Cairns, where we spend 2 and ½ days holding koalas, feeding kangaroos, exploring the city, taking the skyrail to Kuranda, and trying some of the local food and beer. As we had also booked our return flight through Princess (because we didn’t realize that we could book the flight through them one way and thought we had to do round trip), we flew back through Sydney to LAX, and finally to Pittsburgh, ending our trip. We had a great time and wouldn’t change a thing we did!
- Based on everything I had read, we expected the cruise to be mostly older adults over age 60. There were a large number of older adults, however we were surprised to find many more middle aged adults (late 30’s - 60) and a fair number of people our age (late 20’s and early 30’s)
- As expected, there were few children on board (maybe a few more than we had expected), but all were very well behaved or not seen at all
- Unfortunately for us, we never thought to try the food in the main dining rooms instead of the Horizon court for lunch, but this would have probably been a good idea especially on crowded days when we ate lunch at peak times.
- All of the staff on board were excellent! We did not find any of the staff to be pushy or feel like they were trying to get tips, yet they were always willing to respond to any request quickly and with a smile. We rarely had to ask for anything on board.
1. I highly recommend some time of vacation protection/insurance, whether you do it through Princess or an independent company, particularly if you are going on a long or overseas trip
2. The Tasman sea is nothing to mess with. If you have a significant other who gets easily motion sick, take lots and lots of seasickness meds, sea bands, ginger tablets, or your sea sickness remedy of choice.
3. Unless you drink a significant amount of soda or specialty coffees, the soda cards and coffee cards are not worth the money
4. Don’t feel like you have to buy all of the pictures that are taken at the ports, formal nights, etc.; Wait until the end of the cruise and buy only your favorites, if any. Also don’t feel like you have to buy the Reflection DVD; we took a lot of our own video and didn’t feel like we missed out by not buying it.
5. We didn’t feel the need to eat in the Sterling steakhouse for an additional fee, as the food in the main dining rooms was excellent and we enjoyed the variety of choices every night.
6. If you are prone to sea sickness, middle and lower on the ship are definitely better. If you book too late to get both, being in the center on a higher deck is better than being forward or aft on a lower deck.
7. Tables for 2 are nice if you are traveling as a couple, but we always enjoy sitting at a table for 6 or 8, especially on more exotic cruises, as you meet many more people that way and it enhances the experience of being in another country.
8. As Sun Princess does not currently have restaurant style anytime dining, consider the late seating (8:00 pm) for dinner if you plan on spending a lot of time in the ports, as we did. We met a few friends who often needed to leave port early to get dressed for the early seating at dinner (5:30 pm)
9. Make sure to pack a windbreaker jacket; we often found that it wasn’t so much cold, but very windy in both the ports and on deck on the sea days and cruising the fiords. Make sure to dress in layers.
We will absolutely cruise with Princess again!