This was our 3rd Princess cruise. The last we took was in 2007 and a few things have changed but generally you still have a wonderful experience with Princess.
We joined the cruise at Sydney cruise terminal (The Rocks) and luckily for my husband and me, we are Platinum members with Princess Circle Club so we had priority boarding. Some people waited in line for up to a few hours but the cruise was at full capacity.
The Dawn Princess is a nice ship with great facilities but it is getting a little tired. For some reason still, Australia seems to get cruise ships which are getting on the tired side which I feel is not fair. The market is growing here at a huge rate. Anyway, the set out of the Dawn Princess is different to any other cruise ship we have been on. The main restaurants are in the centre of the ship, theatre at front (which is normal), but another theatre/lounge at the back. It took us a while to get used to it. It has a lovely central atrium where all the shops and some bars and cafes are located. Many options for pools, theatres, show, food venues etc.
Cabin - We chose this time to do an inside cabin as we were on a budget and even though it was a little small, it still had everything we needed. The bed was hard and lumpy but this was rectified by a quick request to our room steward who had a foam mattress overlay put on the bed. Some of the draws needed attention but overall it was fine. We were on the Caribe deck (9) near the back. Our room steward like always was wonderful and serviced the room twice per day. Nothing was too much trouble for him.
Food The main restaurant area was where we mainly ate. It is the best choice for us for breakfast 6.30-9am daily, lunch 12-1.30pm (when not in port), and 2 dinner sittings of 5.45pm or 7.45pm which we did. The menu was good but not great. One thing we noticed that Princess have cut back on was that steak used to be always available on the dinner menu but only on 2 occasions over the 14 nights this time. Some of the lunch menus were a little boring but I still prefer here to the buffet. Staff is excellent and always happy to make sure you enjoy your meal. Also dont be scared to ask for something else if you arent pleased and if you want to ask for what is on the mains section as an entre, they are happy to oblige.
The buffet is okay and a lot of people prefer it, but hygiene has to be my main concern after witnessing a few things. Also a lot of people commented that this ship didnt have the hand sanitisers everywhere, which I believe they need to put back in. I know I wash my hands often but you cant guarantee that others do (just my opinion). When we did eat lunch at the buffet, food was good and plentiful but seating is a little tight in the Horizon lounge.
For someone who wants a quick bite or just to watch the open movie theatre, the Grill has a good selection of burgers, pies, chips etc. Also there is the ice creamery which you can have unlimited soft serve. The do sell smoothies etc but at a cost. Also there is the pizzeria which we did one day for lunch. Good but not great (my husband is very fussy about pizza). If you have any room left, there is afternoon tea in the restaurant on sea days and also free room service.
Drinks Pricing is quite reasonable on the Dawn Princess. Beers start at $5.10 for normal Carlton Cold, XXXX etc. Wine by the glass is pretty expensive. Starts at $7.10 for a McWilliams Sem Savg Blanc but the bottle on board is $25. NZ sav blancs are a lot more expensive. If you like having a few wines, by a bottle with dinner as they are happy to store it for the next night our you can take it back to your room. I normally bought a bottle at pre dinner drinks and then took it to dinner. There are no longer any wine packs to buy (eg buy 7 get 1 free). They do have coffee cards, soft drink cards or a mixture of soft drinks with virgin cocktails (unlimited). Good value.
Shows Dawn Princess had a wide variety of shows going to suit most tastes. There were also movies playing most days, card games and also trivia etc. Something for everyone.
Pools A large selection is on offer including adults only areas (the Oasis at the back of the ship and the Sanctuary up front which you pay $10 pp for day or $20 pp for full day. The pool at the Sanctuary is very shallow). Main pool area has the large screen outdoor theatre, spas, bars etc.
Lifou (by tender) beautiful untouched island. Great swimming, snorkeling. There are tours on offer from the ship but very expensive. You can hire a driver once you arrive and negotiate for a tour. For the fit, the walk to Notre Dame Chapel on the top of the hill is worth the hike. Good views of Lifou and the ship.
Port Vila My husband and I married in Vanuatu 13 years ago and can see it changing. It is still nice but be careful of the taxi drivers. Some outer island drivers are learning very quickly how to rip people off. I would take a B bus which is a small van with B on the front of the number plate. That morning we did our own tour to a lovely waterfall with Vanuatu EcoTours (through Shortexcurions.com.au). They collect and drop you off at the port and it is the price of the ship excursions. They also do kayaking, trekking etc. Fantastic tour.
Port Denarau Fiji (by tender) Again we have been here many times and I would love to go to one of the islands for the day but I cannot justify the exorbitant prices Princess charge to do this. Again you can book cheaper land options through Shortexcursions.com.au. There is also the Bula Bus which will cost you $7 Fijian per person to do the hop on and hop off bus to all the luxury resorts on Denarau Island. Taxis drivers are also plentiful and courteous.
Suva Fiji This would be a 5th visit and so we have seen much of Suva so decided on a day at the Pearl Resort which used to be Pacific Harbour Resort. This was the only tour we booked with Princess. It was a nice day out in air conditioned coaches, great quiet resort with good food. Otherwise do another tour in Suva.
Savu Savu Fiji (by tender) Our 1st visit to the 2nd mainland of Fiji. We did our own thing here as we knew people but it is very hot and only a small community of 10,000 total on the whole island. It is untouched tropical Fiji at its best. You can hire a taxi for around $30 Fijian for 1 hour of touring.
Dravuni Island Fiji (by tender) 1st trip here and I hope not the last. There isnt a lot on Dravuni except beautiful beaches, people and great snorkeling. For the best snorkeling spot, go left up the beach for around 300 mtrs to where a rock outcrop is. Swim out past the sea grass and there is magnificent coral. You can do a boat trip for $10 Fijian around the island and massages by the local ladies. A nice beach day.
Noumea New Caledonia This is our 2nd trip here and again hopefully not our last. If you get outside the city, it is a very pretty place with great beaches, mountains, cultural places. Take my advice dont book on the ship.
As the Dawn Princess is too big to get next to the terminal, you are transferred by bus to the terminal where there is a large number of touring options you can do including Duck Island, city tours, Aquarium, Cultural Centre etc. Much cheaper to do this option than with Princess. Things are a little more expensive here as the Pacific French Franc is the currency, but at the cruise terminal they do except Aussie $s like at most of Fiji, Vanuatu.
Disembarkation Again we got to use a special lounge as we are Platinum members but the whole process was quick and efficient. You pack the night before and leave your main luggage out before going to dinner. It only took us a total of hour to disembark.
Things we loved about this cruise the staff, the people we met, itinerary and cruising with Princess again.
Things we didnt love the expensive Princess tours. (I would book a lot more with them if the decreased the prices a little). Menu was a little boring. Boat is getting a little tired.