Although DH and I had sailed before it was pre-children so over 15 years ago, and on the Fairstar so the Diamond Princess was quite a bit fancier.
We flew from Auckland to Sydney the day prior to embarkation, this gave us the opportunity to visit with my brother who lives in Sydney and to be fresh and in the same city as embarkation.
The hotel we stayed at was tidy and off the main street, the Rendevous Stafford was clean and fairly well maintained, it suited us as with having the kids we were able to stay in a small apartment style accomodation within walking distance to Circular Quay.
Embarkation went well, once we completed the paper work at the pier we were ushered to customs and immigration then finally to the Princess check in desk.
Being our first cruise together we did get the boarding photograph, I had budgeted for this.
I reckon from start to finish embarkation took around a half an hour, this was in the region of 3pm, boarding was to start from 1pm, so we were a while behind most of the passengers I suspect.
Luggage dribbled in over 45 minutes or thereabouts.
The Princess staff were extremely helpful in directing us to our cabin on Emerald deck where our cabin steward Hector, introduced himself. Hector, if you are reading this the kids still speak very fondly of you and miss you.
Then the kids wanted something to eat so off to the Trident Grill we went, collecting our Ultimate Kids Package stickers and cups on the way.
We quickly headed to the kids clubs to enroll both children in the programs, DS at 14 was in the teen centre and DD, aged 10, was in Shockwaves, that group is 8 to 12 year olds but was split due to the high numbers on the cruise. DD was in the younger group 8 to 10 inclusive.
The major reason I am doing a review, albeit a late one, is so families get an idea of just how fabulous the Princess kids program is.
DD was signed up for the Junior Chef At Sea experience straight away, was second on the list and our account was charged the US$10 for the privelige. The kitchen visit and cake decorating was done on a sea day about a third of the way into our cruise, lots of fun. I had read a lot about this but was disappointed the kids didn't get a keepsake, the chef hats and aprons had to be given back as we left the kitchen and there wasn't even a photo with the chef. DD enjoyed the experience nevertheless. Sadly due to some regulations we couldn't take the cake away or have it at dinner time, all the cakes were immediately delivered to Sabatinis and, at about 4pm, we had to eat the cakes! As you may imagine a three tier cream cake with kids style decorations of chocolate bits, cherries, more cream and sugar syrup, a lot was left. A bit of a waste.
Apart from that wee hiccup the kids program was fan-tas-tic, primo. Shockwaves ran from about 9am to 12pm and then from 1pm to 5pm and was meant to kick in again around 7pm but quite often the kids and their leaders were in there from 6pm to 10pm. The leaders were excellent, it escapes me how, some of the kids were rather 'spirited', but the leaders were able to engage with them and everyone was able to kick back and have fun!
NB The kids have the option of signing themselves out, as a parent / guardian you specify on your registration form if you will allow your child to do this. We chose to sign DD out rather than have her at a loose end around the ship. Also, if you want to send an older child to collect the wee one the person doing pick up must be 16 years old or more.
The teen program was really neat. DH and I set DS a curfew and basically let him go for it as he is a very sensible lad. He quickly made friends and apart from the compulsory breakfast and formal night dinners with the family, he hung out with his friends and ate at the buffet or Trident Grill. He said there was a bit of peer pressure in the teen area and there were some older kids 16 and 17 who were lording it over the younger ones but they buzzed off fairly early on so all had a great time.
If your kids are into crafts, gaming, music, parties, pizza, wildlife, movies, ice cream or ping pong then Princess will work for you.
The mini golf course was more like a putting green, maybe I am just sour as my game was so bad.
We didn't have any pagers, I understand you can get them though. You can call the kids area from any public ships telephone if you need to.
The MUTS area was well used by our family, the sound was debateable at times, losing sound completely during a couple of the movies, it came back after a short gap in the film. The movies on the in cabin televisions were up to date for the most part with some classics thrown in for good measure.
The gingerbread house competition was a hoot. DD and I teamed up with an Aussie school teacher and a 7 year old, of the four of us only one knew what to do. The funny thing is not only did we get the gingerbread house through customs in New Zealand it is still standing. Really this looks like it went through some terrible natural disaster and will fall in the next breeze. Some people came to the competition armed with chocolates, candy canes and all sorts of things, it was fun but we were so not in the running for the title.
As we were in a minisuite DD and I had the double bed while out adult sized DS was on the pull out couch, DD was on a single bunk that came down from the ceiling that our amazing Hector made up every night.
Speaking of Hector, this fellow was incredible, he knew roughly what time we would head to breakfast, when we would generally have dinner, and he was so friendly. Hector even taught DS and DD how to make towel animals.
The meals were lovely, DH and I ate most night at a table for two while the kids were in the kids programs, the pizza was way bigger and thinner than we were used too, delicious though, and the waffles and ice cream, please don't mention those to DH and DD, they can go on for hours about how they miss their afternoon snacks. I now own a waffle maker.
We found access to seating and food in Horizon Court to be amiable most of the time, lunches in the International Dining Room were lovely and there was one particular maitre de in the Savoy that totally made my DD's night by introducing her to the Volcano, basically a banana split. After that DH started ordering them.
DH signed up for the Ultimate Ship Tour, he was gone for nearly 4 hours, had a nice time, the goodies were cool too.
I attended mutiple Church services on board, yes, Christmas Eve service in a bar, Club Fusion, oi vey, Jesus was there anyway. There was also a daily Bible Study and this was noted in the Princess Patter.
Also in the Princess Patter was the cc meet and greet, we even had a lunch and a couple of afternoon teas hosted by Princess. What an incredible group we had, thank you Kiwi Pete and Margo, you rock.
The ports were lovely, we utilised public transport mostly as it was cheaper.
Didn't do any ships tours, they are more expensive and when in port the kids were keen to get back to the ship, the food, their friends, kids cubs, need I go on?
Disembarkation was a breeze, a bit of waiting around, mostly made painful by the I miss Hector, our cabin steward and the why can't we be on a back to back trip comments.
I totally recommend Princess for families. We got a nice balance of family time, free time and fun.