My OH and I travel with my cousin and her partner - we are all 50/60 years. We have done a dozen or so cruises in the past with Thomsons, Airtours, HAL and P & O but this was our first with Princess. P & O would be our cruise line of choice but we chose Princess this time for the itinerary. We booked with Jetline and flew KLM from Birmingham to Amsterdam where we picked up the connection to Singapore.
On arrival in Singapore we were met by Jetline reps and transferred to Furama Hotel for an overnight stay. The hotel was fine and as we did not have a lot of time in Singapore we did that very touristy thing and went to Raffles for a Singapore Sling - at $25 each it was a rip off but was a cross off the bucket list! Breakfast in the hotel was excellent and then we were picked up by Jetline for transfer to the ship. We had to go to the Formula One Pit Stop and by this time it was throwing it down with rain. We had to wait for about half an hour but were provided with water and biscuits - it was then a 30 minute or so coach trip to the ship. Embarkation was smooth and quick so we were soon on board and in our cabins - Caribe Deck (10) 237 and 241. We always have inside cabins as we spend very little time in them. Our first disappointment was that Princess do not provide tea/coffee making facilities in the cabin - yes there is complimentary room service and we did use this for early morning coffee but we do prefer the in cabin facility.
The ship - I found the DP to be very much like the other ships we have been on in terms of layout so it was easy to find our way around. We found our cabins to be in a very good position and had no noise etc throughout the trip. The beds are hard as mentioned by many other cruisers so we asked for mattress toppers which were provided quickly without fuss and made a tremendous difference. There is lots of storage space and the bathroom was adequate - no fancy toiletries but shampoo and conditioner was provided as was bath gel - rather bizarre since there was only a shower. The ship was full but never seemed crowded and we were always able to find a sunbed or seats in the theatre/show rooms. We did not use the spa - which is unusual for us - as it did seem pricey. The 'Movie Under the Stars' screen on the pool deck was great and we did enjoy watching the various concerts and films - although they did become repetitive by the end of the cruise. If you want peace and quiet there are plenty of sunbeds around the ship in quiet areas and even better is the Sanctuary where for $10 per half day you can enjoy nicer sunbeds and lovely surroundings. We did intend to try this but never actually found the time and on the 2 consecutive sea days we had which would have been ideal the weather was very poor. The ship does produce the Princess Patter information sheet which is left in your cabin each evening but there was no news sheet which is something we always liked to read on P & O -but then this is an American ship so why would they do a British news sheet? The biggest problem on board was if you needed to speak to someone on reception as the queues here could be very long. It was very annoying that those serving were constantly answering the phone when they were in the middle of dealing with you - I find this discourteous and feel that there should be someone tasked separately with the phone duty. There are laundry facilities on board - you need 4 x 25cents for washer and same again for the drier and reception will give you change - after a queue! Powder can be bought but we always take some liquid with us - we also took tumble drier sheets thanks to a recommendation on cruise forums! I do recommend buying the coffee card if you enjoy your coffee. This can be purchased for $33 (that includes the 15% surcharge) and you get 15 drinks. It was nice to have a good coffee at 4pm each afternoon followed by a game of cards whilst we sailed away from port. Unlike P & O Princess do not provide a summary of your account part way through the cruise but you can get this at any time by asking at reception. For entry into Vietnam a charge of $21 was applied for each person. Watch out in Princess Patter for special deals - on one day we were able to send electronic postcards via email for no charge- we did not have an internet package so this was a great bonus.
The food - always a contentious aspect of cruising I find as people do seem to have differing expectations. We did anytime dining using the Pacific Moon and never had a problem getting a table - in fact we requested a table with the same waiters every evening and were always accommodated. I am Coeliac so had advised the ship in advance of my dietary needs. Now P & O are magnificent at catering for me - I think possibly because one of the executives is Coeliac himself - and Princess did OK but only after putting in a comment card about my disappointment to start with. I was not provided with GF rolls only disgusting sliced bread and for dessert was only offered fruit or ice cream. In the Horizon buffet there was a GF dessert every day so when I asked if one of these could be taken down to the dining room for the evening for me I was told that this was against US law! Once I put my concerns in writing I received a phone call from the Officer who advised they would make every effort to improve - and they did try their best. The Head Waiter each evening became obsessed with pleasing me bless him. He had the chef trying to make bread rolls for me and it was a case of trial and error and sometimes they were edible and sometimes not. He also decided that I must have 2 desserts to try every evening so I soon became known as Mrs Two Puddings - I was worried about being Mrs Five Bellies! In general the food was OK but I do not think it was as good as P & O. We used the Horizon buffet for breakfast and lunch and we were always able to find something we liked - to be fair we do tend to stick to salads at lunch so we are not difficult to please. It can be very busy at peak times but we were always able to find a table eventually.
Entertainment - we quite like to sit in a quiet bar and play cards so we did not go to a lot of shows. We did see one of the musical shows by the ships troupe which was quite good. There were some guest entertainers on board - Bayne Bacon is an American who does some comedy, plays the piano and guitar - he was not really our cup of tea but the comedy does not always travel well across different countries. We did thoroughly enjoy David Copperfield who we remembered from his appearances in the 80's on Three of a Kind with Tracey Ullman and Lenny Henry. He was very funny and also had an amazing singing voice - he went down a storm at both shows we attended. There was also another British comedian called Andy Leach and he was OK. Other than that we enjoyed the resident group called Opus who worked very hard and played during the day on deck as well as in the evenings - everyone did seem to enjoy them. Our favourite place was Crooners Bar where Craig was the Piano Man. Crooners is really not big enough and it could be difficult getting a seat there but many people were happy to stand and listen to him. A few nights he was in some of the bigger venues. There was a bartender in Crooners who was extremely popular and every evening there would be lots of people sitting at the bar itself where she would demonstrate little tricks and puzzles to amuse people. There was plenty going on during the day but we did not participate so I cannot comment.
Excursions - we are happy to do things independently when in the Caribbean or Med but this was our first time in the Far East and we were nervous about doing things on our own so we did tend to use the ships tours - I had pre booked all of these from home. The problem with DP is that she is a big ship and so had to dock in some of the biggest container ports you will ever see. These tended to be a long way from where you wanted to be so another reason why using the ships tours was advisable - you always get back on time! It was disappointing that in so many ports it was not possible to just get off the ship and have a wander around the local area and my advice to anyone doing this part of the world would be to choose a smaller ship for this reason. My other piece of advice is to listen to what Elizabeth Moran has to say - she is the shore adviser on board and she did lectures in the Princess Theatre about each port - this is televised so you can pick it up on the TV in your cabin when it suits you - it was often our bedtime viewing. I found Elizabeth to be an absolute font of knowledge and the great thing was that she did not actually talk about the ships tours much at all - she gave lots of advice for anyone doing things independently and this was invaluable and we were able to make use of it even if we were on a ships tour. She also gives lots of background and historical information about the area which I found fascinating - she is also very funny so it is far from boring to watch. Her advice about using 'Squatty Potties' was priceless! Currency can be an issue on this trip - it was never very clear to me before we set off what currencies we would need. I did ask a couple of times on forums but didn't really get useful information. US$ are not accepted everywhere so it was useful information from Elizabeth on this point. However I do strongly feel that Princess should cover this on your pre boarding information much better. For instance the ship does not carry Yuen which you will need in China and since we were in Shanghai on a Bank Holiday this caused problems for people. Whilst most stores etc will accept US$ taxis and cafes certainly do not so you do need some small change. Please be aware of this if you take this trip. You WILL need Singapore dollars, Yuen and Bahts.
Ko Samui - we wanted some relaxing beach time here so we took a half day trip to Chaweng Beach - this was only half a day but could have done with being a full day really. I am sure you could get a taxi here for yourself quite easily. The problem here was that there was nowhere we could find on the beach to get a drink - you had to be buying food as well which we did not want. We had to leave the beach and found a McDonalds to get a soda. Be warned - they will not accept US$ here so we had to change a silly amount of currency just to get a drink. On the beach my cousin and I decided to have a massage which was fabulous. We got a full hour for $15 and really enjoyed that. There seemed to be quite a few of these little massage areas on the beach and it was cool and pleasant out of the sun.
Bangkok - this was to be one of my highlights as I have a wish to ride on an elephant on my bucket list. We did the Elephant Krall tour and thoroughly enjoyed this - despite an amazing tropical storm whilst we were there. It was a shame as this did curtail some of the expected activities but never the less I did get to ride my elephant and was not disappointed. We did not have to pay any extra for the elephant ride which surprised me but our man did ask for money in a rather furtive way which suggested they were not meant to but it was well worth a few dollars.
Ho Chi Min City - this turned out to be such an education! It was an early start for a long 2 hour drive from the port but it was interesting to see how the locals live and work by the roadside. My abiding memory though is the ridiculous sight of all the motor bikes and scooters scrabbling through the city - I have never seen anything like this - health and safely has certainly not reached this part of the world. On some bikes the driver could not be seen as they would be buried inside all sorts of stuff they were carrying. The best was seeing a guy on a scooter with a babies wooden high chair between his legs and the baby happily sitting in there - has to be seen to be believed. The trip itself was not great - we stopped to see the Reunification Palace and then for 20 minutes to look at a post office which really was wasted time - especially since every time we stopped there was always someone who was late back costing us time at later stops. It would have been better to spend this time in the Lacquer Factory which was fabulous. We were shown how the lacquer ware is made and the showroom was beautiful. We bought a lovely picture for $35 as a memento. These are sold much more cheaply in the markets but we know we have the genuine article. The market we visited was incredible - very hot and so crammed with stalls it was overpowering. We did not like it much in here as everyone seemed to be very touchy feely - they like to get hold of you and one old lady of at least 80 I should think actually slapped my cousins partner on the backside!
Nha Trang - probably the most disappointing stop for us. We had not booked a tour here and planned to visit a local hotel where you could use the facilities and beach. However the taxi drivers were real rip off merchants here and I am afraid we were just not prepared to pay what they were asking. This is a tender port and there was a pretty good market set up where we landed so we spent some time and money there and then as it was very hot and humid decided we would get back on board. As most people were off the ship we had the poolside to ourselves and actually had a lovely relaxing day.
HongKong - I had originally thought we could do this ourselves but I am so glad that we decided to book the tour. This container port is massive and no taxis are allowed anywhere near. There is a free shuttle bus - incidentally this is the case at all the ports and they are not provided by Princess but by the local tourism industry and they are very good. We booked the Victoria Peak and Tram tour for half a day. A full day tour would have been a better option here. We went to Stanley Market which was very good and very cheap but we did not have enough time here. The coach drove up to Victoria Peak which is a beautiful spot and the views over HK amazing - unfortunately the mists were pretty heavy so our view was somewhat obscured. We then took the tram back down to the coach. It would have been nice to be able to stay off ship and do a bit of your own thing but that did not seem possible so we were taken back.
Shanghai - a definite highlight for me. I don't know what I expected but it was not this beautiful city. It really is a lovely place to visit with lovely flowers and bushes trimmed into fabulous shapes everywhere - the waterfront is very pretty. We rode on the Maglev Train here which was a great experience - and despite being told SO many times by the guide that we must not get off the train at the airport as we were doing the round trip sure enough someone managed to get off and miss the ride back so we all had to sit on the coach and wait for them. We also went into the Jin Mao Tower and up the lift to the 88th floor where again the views were amazing albeit obscured somewhat by the hazy smog. Again this was only a half day trip but I was determined to get into the Fake Market here so we had quite an adventure. The tour guide very kindly offered to drop those of us who wanted to stay longer at the shuttle pick up point for the ship - we were only about 30 minutes from the ship so OH and I decided to risk it. We did not have any currency which we would need for the taxi to the market and this was a bank holiday. Fortunately the shuttle stop was a Silk Factory where we were told we would be able to exchange money. This place was lovely and I would have liked more time in here. Princess visitors are made very welcome so we went in to see the ladies working with the silk. There were lots of little white cocoons all wriggling about which was the silk worms (I have never seen this before) a lady picked one up and just teased it until she got a thread - which I certainly could not see - she then fastened this to a wooden contraption which wound it round onto a spindle. To get to the currency exchange we had to walk through the showrooms where lots a fabulous stuff was on sale. I saw quite a few people buying the silk duvets - the duvet covers were out of this world and I would have enjoyed a longer mooch in here. Now we had to get a taxi - the ship had provided us with a paper with some useful translations on so all we had to do was show the one that said 'please take me to the Science Museum' to the driver as that is where the market is. We did this but then spent a really worrying 10 minutes or so in this taxi not having a clue if the drive really knew what we wanted. Elizabeth has explained that in the taxi we would see the driver's identification and then a number of stars - this indicated how well they spoke English with the more stars the better. Of course our driver didn't have any at all! We arrived at the market safely and spent a mad hour running around there - this was a great place and I got some things I had especially wanted so was well pleased. We got back to get the shuttle safely and when we arrived back at port there was an enormous queue of coaches waiting to be admitted to the port. Our guide did a great job keeping us amused whilst we waited - she sang us songs and persuaded a Canadian passenger to also sing for us.
Busan - this was put on the itinerary because Nagasaki was taken off which was a massive disappointment for many people. We took the shuttle into the city but to be honest were not very impressed with this place - again you needed local currency so we could not even get a drink as we did not have any and did not want to change at this point. The shops and market did take US$ - it was just the cafes that would not.
Dalian - another highlight for me as we did a Family Visit here. This is quite strange as in groups of about 12 we were taken into someone's home to see how they lived and ask questions about the culture etc. It really was interesting and we learned quite a lot. After this we visited a kindergarten which was brilliant. All the kids were outside waiting for us and they were so excited. We went into the classrooms where they delighted in showing us the pictures they were drawing and then saw the littlest ones playing games which looked like Oranges and Lemons and Heads and Shoulders Knees and Toes - so cute. Some of the older ones then put on a show for us singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in English and playing local instruments. I loved this and what shows on my Camcorder is that kids are the same the world over. This is a good place to buy kites - we stopped at People's Square which is very pretty and there were lots of kite sellers there. The men did not accompany us on this trip and instead caught the free shuttle into town - the shuttle stops at the Friendship Store which is like Harrods and very expensive - they did locate a little market however by following some Americans.
Beijing - we were massively disappointed that our annual leave did not stretch far enough to allow us the extra days in Beijing so we had to go straight to the airport but I hope to do this another time. It is a long drive again from the port at 2 hours plus so we had to be off the ship at 6.30am to get our flight. The disembarkation was seamless and our rep was waiting for us with a lovely people carrier for the journey. We got through the airport with no problems but do be aware that you have to complete a departure card here - these are readily available but it was only by chance that I spotted them and so got them filled in before we presented ourselves at passport control. We flew home with Air France with a stopover in Paris. I had a new experience on this flight as there were cameras on the outside of the plane which meant that we had a pilot's eye view of take-off and landing which was amazing. During the flight the view switched to underneath the plane so we could see the view below us all the way home - it was really clear so it was brilliant.