In writing this critique, it has to be noted that this cruise was full, with around 2000 passengers and over 1000 crew.
Dining was nothing short of spectacular, to say the least. On our 1st evening, we were placed on a table for 10 in the Venetian dining Room, and we were extremely fortunate to immediately hit it off with 2 other amazing couples from Sydney. One of our fellow dining passengers was a nightmare, who gave the wait and bar staff an embarrassingly terrible time on a nightly basis. First sitting Dining is a must, and definitely non negotiable. The food selection was mind boggling, always arrived beautifully presented, in a timely fashion, and always hot. Drink prices were expensive, but wine left over was always named, recorked and available for the next evening meal. The variation of food over the 104 days would have been a mammoth planning exercise, but we never missed a night of restaurant dining in the whole time on board. As a souvenir, we collected several of the World Cruise Menu's, and have since had them laminated as place mats.
I renamed the Horizon Court buffet "The horror-zone" for obvious reasons, for it was terrible lining up for food, arguing with combative passengers, and searching for a vacant seat. The manners of many people left a lot to be desired, and you would think some people had never been fed before, the way they carried on around the buffet food.
All diners were looked after for Special occasions with a cake and a throng of caroling waiters and bar staff, which just made that special occasion even more memorable.
We always found the public rooms clean, tidy and well stocked. The Vista lounge area exhibited a strange seating arrangement with bench lounge seats interspersed with single tables and revolving chairs. Apart from taking up a huge amount of excess room, these tables and chairs were horrendous obstacles, and difficult for the elderly or mobility compromised passengers to move around, especially after they had been dislodged by previous users. Given the difficulty accommodating large numbers of passengers in the lounge areas, seating could have been much better worked out. The Princess Theatre is as good as any other theatre, chairs comfortable, but the idea of drink waiters trying to serve drinks to passengers in the middle of a full row is stupendous, and needs immediate renewing. Surely passengers can survive the 90 minutes for a show to go without a drink, but then Princess would not make as much money on drink sales, I suppose.
The public Laundry was a nightmare, with only 2 machines and dryers on some of the decks. Queuing was long and tedious, and those passengers who put washing in the machines and went away for hours continually aggravated fellow passengers waiting for vacant machines. Woe and behold anyone who touched anyone else's laundry, and only remove someone else's laundry at your own peril. The laundry proved to be a very entertaining area, with many altercations occurring daily. We found it easier to hand wash as much as possible in the cabin, and hang it on coat hangers around the room to dry. Always take a small hanging peg line to hang in the shower, and this is great to hang smalls on, which dry pretty much within a day or do in the air-conditioned atmosphere.
We wondered how we were going to survive 104 nights in an inside cabin, and initially were considerably apprehensive. However, with a bit of cabin organisation, we managed extremely well. Given that we were only in our cabin for approx 6 hours each night, and occasional time here and there to change etc, the cabin size met our needs. Our cabin was on Baja deck, and situated towards the front. Our 1st night was a bit of a challenge on the twin beds moved together, and the mattresses very hard. We asked our cabin steward if there was any way this could be improved, and lo and behold, an egg carton overlay arrived, which solved our problem. We took our own pillows, as previous cruises have taught us ship pillows are terrible.
Research prior to our cruise assisted us to make the decision to give the cabin steward 50% of our tip up front, with the proviso that if he looked after us well, there would be same amount at the end of the cruise. This was one of the best decisions we were to make, because we were looked after extremely well. The room was always left clean and tidy, towels always changed each morning, and beach towels were replaced whenever they were used, sometimes several times during the day. Shampoo, soap, skin lotion & body wash (excellent for hand washing clothes) were replaced daily.
Special occasions were extremely well catered for, as the cabin steward would position balloons outside the cabin on the special day, and the dining room waiters would make a special fuss at the dining room table, with a cake and a song relevant to the special occasion.
Having cruised before, we were interested to see how Princess were going to keep us entertained for 104 nights. There was a good mix of entertainment, including shows put on by the Princess Dance team; comedians, jugglers; solo artists & ventriloquists to name but a few. Overall, the entertainment was good, but many of the comedians were aged, as were their jokes and stories. At various ports around the globe, artists got on and off, always ensuring a fresh supply of good and no-so-good entertainers.
There is no way anyone could say they were bored on this cruise, because there was always something to keep everyone busy. Pre & post dinner dancing was always available, & passenger theme parties were scheduled several times each week. Morning & afternoon trivia sessions was a must for the brainiacs, who always played for sheep stations. Several old & new movies were played on the in-house televisions, and under the stars, however, some of these were repeated with monotonous regularity.
We always tried to catch up on the Port lectures, especially for all the new ports we had not been to before, as there was always some interesting bits of info to take away. Other ways to keep occupied included scholarship @ sea lectures; library; church services; dancing lessons; sports tournaments; bingo; card playing; cyber golf; game shows; exercise classes; movies; choir practice; culinary demonstrations; & ice carving demo's.
Princess offered Service club meetings, which was relevant to us being Lions; but we did not avail ourselves of the Dr Bob & Bill W meetings, nor did we join in as Friends of Dorothy, but it was entertaining to note that they cater for these groups as well.
Princess continually advocates that passengers must not save seats in the public lounges and theatres, however, despite this, seat saving continues at an alarming rate. On very popular entertainment nights, a passenger would take their life into their own hands if they needed to visit the rest room before a show started, because their seat then became fair game for whoever was waiting.
We did manage to find the gymnasium several times, although not as much as we should have. The equipment was reasonable, however it was all replaced half way through the cruise to more sophisticated and computerized equipment that no one knew how to use, including the staff, if you could find them to help you.
We researched all the shore excursions before boarding, so picked the eyes out of what was available, and made sure we selected all the important places of interest to us. While it has to be noted that all of the ships excursions were expensive, we had the guarantee of knowing that if an excursion got back late, the ship would not leave us behind, as did happen to several passengers who did their own thing and returned late. All of the good excursions booked out early, so if there is something special that you really want to see or do, then booking early is a must.
Embarkation and disembarkation was handled extremely well. The Pursers Desk, Future Cruise Staff and Captains Circle staff handled most of our needs very efficiently. We were very fortunate to have the same cabin steward for the 104 nights, and this worked very well in our favour. Even though we partially tipped in advance, our cabin steward was very attentive, clean and thorough. Our evening dining waiter and bar staff were also good, although we chose not to tip in advance here, leaving it to the last night on board to slip each of our staff an envelope.
The Cruise Director and Staff did an excellent job keeping us entertained, informed and occupied during the whole cruise, and this would have been a massive challenge for them.
In consideration that tipping is un Australian, we are totally against Princess not paying their staff an appropriate wage, instead paying them a meager allowance and expecting them to collect tips to be placed in a pool which is then divided up. On our first night on board we lined up at the Pursers office and requested that the mandatory tipping arrangement be removed from our onboard account. Reluctantly Princess gave us a form to complete, and we had to write our reason for doing so, but they accepted the form, and removed the charges.
The tender service was a nightmare, however, I don't know how else you could move 2500 people on and off a ship any other way. Queuing for tender tickets, then queuing again when your number was called, tended to take the excitement off getting off the ship at each port. If you fore went queuing for tender tickets, then you had to wait until everyone else was off before you could try and find the exit, and this definitely would cut down your time on shore. Possibly Princess need to use more tender boats when this arrangement has to be implemented, because the current arrangement is annoyingly frustrating. Queue jumping was a frequent occurrence, and many an argument was had while waiting in line.
We had a fantastic 104 nights, visiting many parts of the World we had only ever dreamed about seeing. With research and previous planning, we had the most enjoyable cruise ever, and have since booked another which is now on a countdown. We were wined, dined and entertained in style, and will definately sail with Princess Cruises many times more.