The Sun Princess, while not so old in years, is becoming very tired, very rusty and sprouting many internal leaks. Unfortunately, it appears that it is falling apart quicker than it can be repaired. Mechanical malfunctions only hindered the voyage slightly, but it is all part of the deterioration process. The layout of the ship is easy to manoeuvre, but the lifts are few and far between, they break down periodically, and are slow in operation.
As of May 2011 tipping is no longer mandatory, and will be included in the cost of cruises. As tipping is un-Australian, this is an improved arrangement, whereby passengers can decide to tip staff if they receive excellent service.
It is well worth the effort to take the "Ultimate Ship's Tour" ($175 pp) which takes you behind the scenes to see the underwater world of the laundry, printing shop, control room, cold and freezer store areas, galley, backstage of Princess theatre, then up to bridge for drink and a talk by the captain.
The weather for the entire cruise was relatively good, and the seas were as smooth as a millpond, and only on one occasion did I need to break out the seasick tablets.
The Cruise Director David Bradshawe did little to endear himself to anyone, and often appeared to not know what was happening or going on around him, as evidenced frequently on the "Wake Show Live". This morning show was advertised as being live, but was actually taped each previous afternoon. David Bradshawe usually had no idea what day it was, usually having to look at the front of patter to work it out, and was most times corrected by assistant cruise director Jen, who unfortunately has little personality & a grating voice. Two letters written personally to the cruise director, and one letter to the Purser did not even get acknowledged as being received, nor did I get any response. If it wasn't for both of these identities being on the supposed "live" morning show, then most passengers would not know what they looked like, because they were hardly ever seen out and about around the ship, only opening the occasional evening show in the Princess theatre or Vista Lounge.
Assistant Cruise staff members did their best to keep us entertained, but a word of advice to Princess is to not put cruise staff in charge of Trivia sessions, especially when they have trouble speaking the language and pronouncing words.
We were assigned to the Marquis Dining Room for the 1st dinner seating which is a must if you want to stay awake long enough to see any of the evening shows. The unfortunate problem with this is that the majority of passengers requested or preferred 1st sitting, but were unable to be accommodated. Our waiters on table 89 were Rhoneil and Eugene, and they looked after our culinary needs to perfection, often going above and beyond the call for duty, and on several occasions even had special little treats for us sent to our stateroom. 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 was excellent, and we did not miss a night of dining in the Restaurant. As this was a "special birthday" cruise, a birthday cake was provided, and a throng of carolling waiters and bar staff made that special birthday occasion even more memorable. One point to note: please check with the Pursers desk prior to a special event to ensure that it is recorded on the ships computer, because this is the 2nd time for us that a special event fell off the ships computer!
The pizzeria is a reasonable alternative for a complimentary meal or snack, but the fillings on pizza's are scarce. The ice-cream parlour provides free ice-cream in cones or cups, and if you are lucky, flavouring is also available. The Patisserie on Level 5 makes the best cappuccino & latte coffee, and if you are fortunate enough to have Bar Supervisor "Lourdes" making your coffee for you, it will be an excellent cup.
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.
Purchasing a coffee card for $33 (15 cups) is a must, as coffee in dining rooms and bistro is absolutely dreadful. Apparently the ship uses a type of coffee syrup, that is poured into large jugs or urns and diluted, in dining rooms & horror zone, which tastes foul and is usually only luke warm. If you have a coffee card you are entitled to a free hot chocolate each time you want one, but if you request 2 hot chocolates on the one card, they will charge you for 1. We purchase 2 coffee cards at the beginning of the cruise, and always have access to free hot chocolate whenever we want one.
Special Coke Deal: At the beginning of the cruise, Princess try to flog these special coke deals, whereby you can get a free glass of coke each time you want one by flashing a sticker on your cruise card, Be wary of this offer, as you only get soda fountain coke, not cans, and frequently it is as flat as a tack. It is not worth the effort. For 2 people you need to get "2" offers, and it is expensive.
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 only 3 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. Alternatively, sending your clothes out to the laundry cost us excess of $150 week, and this is "all care, but no responsibility."
The inside staterooms are pretty small, however with a bit of cabin organisation, we managed extremely well. Given that we were only in our stateroom for approx 6 hours each night, and occasional time here and there to change etc, the cabin size met our needs. By choosing a smaller inside stateroom, we were able to spend more on excursions and personal presents. Our stateroom was on Aloha deck, and situated towards the middle. 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.
Our stateroom steward for this cruise did little to meet our requirements, several times needing to be reminded to replace the toiletries, provide laundry bags and forms, never wiped down benches in the stateroom, and failed to remind us of several time zone changes.
On the 2nd last night of this cruise our stateroom was partially flooded, and it took most of the next day to activate maintenance to fix the leak. The soaked carpet stunk to high heaven, and blowers in the room did little to alleviate the stench of wet carpet. Being the last night, Princess had no intention of relocating us to another stateroom, so we had to put up with the smell.
Having cruised before, we noted that the entertainment schedule had been cut back slightly. There were not as many new acts as on our previous cruise, and the times listed varied so much from night to night, that we were almost giddy at the end of the cruise. On our booking information and itinerary, it was noted that there would be 5 formal nights and 37 smart casual nights, however, another cutback left us with only 4 formal nights.
Passenger theme shows were very few and far between, especially in comparison with other Princess cruises. There was a reasonable mix of entertainment, including excellent shows put on by the Princess Dance team; comedians, jugglers & solo artists Overall, the Princess dancers and singers were very good, but many of the comedians were aged, as were their jokes and stories.
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 available in the Wheelhouse Bar or Vista lounge Morning & afternoon trivia sessions were a must for the brainiacs, who always played for sheep stations. Several old & new movies were played on the in-house televisions, and movies 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 members; but we must have had our heads in the sands because it has taken us 12 cruises before we worked out that "Dr Bob & Bill W" meetings were for Alcoholics Anonymous, and the new "GLBT" meetings are for gay & lesbian groups.
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.
Captains Circle Club:
Whether this is your 1st cruise, or if you are a "cruise a holic", make sure you are a member of the Captains Circle Club, which can be found in your princess.com "cruise personaliser site". Your level of membership is determined by the amount of days or cruises you have sailed previously with Princess or P&O. If you have sailed on either line previously, suggest you hunt up your days and make sure they are logged on to the Princess computers with your travel agent before coming on board. The rewards are fantastic, and can include free laundry, mini bar, internet, wine tasting etc..
If you are a member of the Captains Circle club, please be aware of your level of entitlements, because we found that this 6 week cruise only received the same entitlements as was allocated to us on a previous 2 week cruise. Despite this cruise being able to be booked in 2 segments, Princess only allocated entitlements for 1 segment, again another cutback???
We did manage to find the gymnasium several times, although not as much as we should have. The equipment is relatively new, but you could find it is a bit too sophisticated and computerized that no one knows how to use, including the staff, if you could find them to help you.
Cruise Critic Group:
This is a group that links up on the internet at cruisecritic.com prior to each cruise, and passengers who join the roll call of their respective cruises can link up with other passengers, chat, exchange ideas and become involved in pre organising tours etc. We are extremely grateful to Judy, David, Laurie, Sue & Kieran who (with their band of dedicated helpers) booked several of the Cruise critic tours, and provided us with an improved cheaper versions of available tours for some of the ports we visited. Our only regret was that we did not know enough about Cruise critics (& joining the roll call) prior to boarding the Sun Princess.
It is well worth becoming a Cruise Critic member before you sail, and before you order online tours with Princess, but you must remember that Princess advocate that they will wait for you at a port if you arrive back late only if you book a ships tour.
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.
Unfortunately for us, we only discovered the Cruise Critic group organised tours long after we booked the ships tours, so ended up paying heaps more for less sight seeing.
Embarkation was handled extremely well. The Pursers Desk, Future Cruise Staff and Captains Circle staff handled most of our needs very efficiently. For reasons only known to management, queues to attend customs face to face inspections, and queuing for tender services were continually mishandled. On many occasions it took several hours to get off the ship, thereby minimising the time spent in a port. In Guam especially, the queues for customs inspections and getting off the ship took over 3 hours, and to return to the ship we were stuck in another queue for over an hour to catch a 30 minute shuttle back to the ship, leaving only 3 hours at best to explore the Guam.
The tender service was a nightmare. 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 set sail on 5th March to explore the Cherry Blossoms of China & Japan, but the unfortunate catastrophe in Japan cut out 4 ports of call. While we were compensated with adding Beijing to our itinerary, our hearts & prayers were with Japan at this horrendous time.
Despite a few hiccups, we had a good cruise, visiting several new ports of call. We became involved with "Cruise Critics", and this has positively changed all our ideas about future cruising. We will certainly include Cruise Critics in all our future sailings, and it was a pleasure meeting all members while on board, and becoming involved in the luncheons and port tours. We did notice that Princess seems to have made cutbacks, such as in the number of new evening shows; the number of formal nights; the Captains Circle rewards program for 6 weeks was identical to a 2 week allocation; & a reduced number of passenger participation shows.
While tipping is being eliminated from May 2011 onwards, Princess needs to ensure that it does not cut back on any more services, if it wants to keep customers returning for future cruises.