Sun Princess - Sydney to Perth, Australia
7/30/2011 to 8/16/2011
Synopsis: A wonderful trip. Take it if you have the opportunity, but be aware that there are a lot of sea days. Might not be the best first cruise of Australia.
Pros: Wonderful ports: Sydney, Brisbane, Townsville, Port Douglas (Cairns), Bali, Perth
Cons: North-western Australia is very sparsely populated, which leads to lots of sea days broken up by some fairly small ports
- The laundromat is closed from north of Brisbane to just before Darwin due to ecological concerns vis a vis the Great Barrier Reef
- Passengers were about 80% Australian, 18% New Zealand, and 2% others. There were very few Americans on board. Please note that I am an American.
- Average age on the cruise was 67. There were almost no children. Many people in their late 70's and early 80's. Lots of people with infirmities.
Be aware that the Aussie system is not like the American one. You cannot pull up and have a porter help you with your bags. Instead you must park your car and hand carry your luggage to a drop off point. Then you go into a large hall and do all the standard rigamaroll.
In Australia you cannot carry food off the cruise ship (or airplane) at any port. It is not allowed.
The Sun Princess is one of the smaller Princess ships. It was well maintained - very clean. The cabins are very small. For instance, an inside cabin on the Sun Princess was about 140 sq ft, while on the Grand Princess it is 160 sq ft. Those extra sq ft make a big difference. The layout of the ship is very confusing. Some elevators only go to certain floors. No elevator goes to the 15th deck, which makes the spa inaccessible to handicapped guests. It would be nice to have a large map of the ship at each elevator floor. Some floors/elevators do have maps but they're difficult to read. It has the usual complement of eateries, entertainment venues, spas, pools, etc. Each cabin is equipped with both a single US 110V outlet, and a single Aussie 240V outlet.
Most floors have a pay laundromat (a very nice Princess touch). These consist of 2 machines with a bottom front-loaded washing machine and a top dryer. It takes A$2 (2 Australian dollars) each for a 35 minute wash and a 40 minute dry. Clothes in the dryer come out very damp after a single cycle, but that dryer may have been defective. Laundry powder is available for another A$2. Note that the laundromats are only open from 8AM to 10PM. You probably do not want a cabin near the laundromat. Lines got very long due to the laundromat
WiFi access is available throughout most places on the ship, including the cabins. Eateries do not have WiFi. There are numerous usage plans available. Mine cost $55 (US) for 100 minutes. If you are a platinum card holder or above, you are given a credit against WiFi usage, which makes at least email access free.
There is a translational problem between Aussie names for foods and American, which makes for issues to start off. Additionally, the food is geared to an Aussie palat, not an American. Overall, I found the food to be OK, but not great, with a couple of hidden gems. Things you should know: Shrimp in Aussie is prawn. Cocktail sauce in Aussie is usually some mayonnaise-based concoction. What Americans call cocktail sauce is called American sauce here. If you order the shrimp cocktail for dinner, make sure you order it with the
sauce you want. On the standard dinner menu is something called beef medallions (or something like that.) It turns out that this is a type of Filet Mignon and is very good. Pudding in Aussie is cake (as in Yorkshire Pudding.) Jelly is Jello; Aeroplane Jelly is Jelly.
There are 2 hidden gems you should be aware of. The first is the Verdi Pizzeria. Unlike other ships, pizza (which is free) is served in a separate area in a fancy venue and is VERY good. The second thing is that there is a venue which serves hamburgers and hotdogs. They also serve something called a Donner Kebob. If you order that with the yogurt sauce, it turns out to be a very good gyro. There is a steak house which people enjoyed, but it was only half the buffet court sealed off, so there is no special atmosphere. On the other hand, people reported the food was very good and it was only a $20pp upcharge.
The regular dining room had 2 lobster nights!!!
I have never seen a ship which rolled up it's doors at about 10PM every evening, but this one does. There is a standard complement of ship-board entertainment. This includes the now mandatory production shows (which I'm not thrilled about on any cruise ship because the music is at least partially canned - you can't expect real singers to sing and dance at the same time.) Some of the other shows were geared to the Aussies, including Rock and Roll
shows which featured artists which I guess the Aussies were familiar with.
The Cruise Director staff was excellent. Special kudos go to Marvin, who is a gay Filipino and is hysterical. Halfway thru the cruise, everyone knew Marvin and Marvin knew everyone by name. Kudos also go to Mark and Jen, who are the Cruise Director and Assistant Cruise Director respectively. They did an excellent job.
There were only 3 live music acts on the ship - the house band, a duo which sang songs in some of the lounges, and a black reggae/rock group who were very good. However, in general there was no live entertainment after about 10PM (with the exception of some special programs on the pool deck on 2 at-sea nights.)
You can probably find more information on ports at various other sites, but these are my special recommendations:
Sydney - try to get to the Blue Mountains if you can. We went to Katoomba and went on Scenic World which was wonderful. In downtown Sydney, make sure you get to Paddy's Market and Darling Harbour. If you do the Rocks, try to do it on the weekend when there's a market over there. Try to eat in Chinatown and have the Yum Cha (Dim Sum). I have no idea what we ordered, but it was good and different. There is a fireworks show on Saturday evenings by Darling Harbour.
Brisbane - you can get some nice ship tours from here, but we just walked over to the River CAT (a fair walk from the ship), took it to downtown Brisbane, walked around the Queen Street Mall and over the bridge to the cultural center, and got back on the River CAT. That took up almost our entire time there and was wonderful.
Townsville - we took the cruise tour to the Billabong Animal Preserve. It's fairly small, but there are tame kangaroos and koalas there, The kangaroos come up to you waiting to be hand fed. One of the koalas lets you pet it. If you have your own camera, you can take pictures of all of this for free; if not they'll offer to take your picture for a charge. The place also has the usual complement of crocodiles, snakes, birds, etc.
Port Douglas (Cairns) - If you have not done it before, make sure you go to Karanga and do the cable car and train. They are amazing. The cable car is about a 1 hour ride high (and I mean high) above the rain forest. The train is about 1.5 hours thru twists, bridges, and waterfalls. It is somewhat similar to the White Pass railroad in Alaska. You really need to book this through the ship. The ship tour also included an Aboriginal Village tour. This consisted of two parts. The first was supposed to be an introduction to their culture,
but it was really cheesy. The second was a dance show where they got some audience participation and was WONDERFUL.
Darwin - Not all that much to do here with the limited time afforded by a cruise ship. You might try Litchfield, but it's a push given the time constraints. If you were staying here you could do Kakadu and Katherine Gorge. The ship offered a tour to a crocodile farm. If you aren't totally tired of crocodiles by the time you get here, this might be something to do.
Broome - an isolated town of about 12,000 in the middle of no place. People said you could get good prices on pearls at the Willie Creek Pearl Farm, but I don't know enough about pearls to identify a good price. People also went camel riding on Cable Beach at sunset.
Bali - people had warned me before-hand about disease, don't eat the food/drink, take toilet paper with you, etc; however it turned out to be wonderful. We took a private cab right out of the port and it took us all over for about $50 for the two of us.
Geraldton - we never got here as the ship ran into 20 foot waves. The last two days of the cruise were terrible as far as the seas were concerned. You could not stand up in the cabin.
Fremantle/Perth - Wonderful port. If you can, try to spend some time here. We went from the ship, which docked in Fremantle, to a hotel in Perth. We then wandered through Perth. The mint was wonderful. It had all the usual stuff - making gold bars, history of gold mining in Perth, etc; but at the end of the tourist stuff they had a gift shop where you could buy a custom-engraved coin. They use a computer-controlled laser system and create this on the spot. The mint also has a very nice semi-upscale gift shop. We also walked around the mall and port areas. The second day we took a cruise back down to Fremantle and walked around there. Don't miss Fisherman's Harbour. Make sure you eat at Cicerello's, which is a magnificent fish and chips restaurant on the harbour. Try to get to the maritime museum. The one in Perth is better than the one in Sydney.