The Sea Princess is just one of the triplets in this Princess ship series, and we were very fortunate to be able to join this cruise at the last minute. Previously we have sailed on the Sun Princess in March 2011, and the Dawn Princess in 2009. The Sea Princess is apparently the newest in this series, only by a slight margin, and looks in far better condition than both the Dawn & the Sun. It is identical in layout and fittings, and we felt very much at home for this 2 week cruise.
Because we were last minute additions to this cruise, we were allocated 2nd dinner seating, which is totally alien to what we are used to. After a short meeting with the Maitre D, and a slight mix-up, we were able to change to the 1st seating for the 2nd night thereafter. Dining was nothing short of spectacular, to say the least. The food selection was mind boggling, always arrived beautifully presented, in a timely fashion, and always hot.
Our dining staff were named Erikson and Christina, who looked after table 38 in the Raguletto Restaurant to perfection. Both were eager to serve and please, and provided us with the best choices and recommendations. 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.
All diners were looked after for Special occasions with a cake and a throng of caroling waiters and bar staff, which just made that special occasion even more memorable.
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 some of the 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.
We choose an inside cabin every time we cruise now, not only for it being cheaper, but we are hardly ever in the cabin, using it only to sleep, or change, so it is more than ideal for our needs. We are now able to spend the money we save on getting an inside cabin on extra's such as shore excursions and personal items etc. Our cabin on this cruise was on Dolphin Deck, right above the Princess Theatre. As long as you are not in your cabin for the 2nd show each night, you will not be rocked out of your bed. It is easy to see why these cabin are the last to be selected on a cruise, because the noise and vibration is really bad if you tend to be early settlers.
The two twin beds moved together remain a challenge with the ridge right up the centre. The acquisition of a foam overlay assists to a small extent, and the cabin steward finally got around to putting an overlay on our bed for the 2nd night. We took our own pillows, as previous cruises have taught us ship pillows are terrible.
Our cabin steward was a bit vague on this cruise, forgetting most things we asked for, or pretending to understand, but most times "the lights appeared to be on but no-one was home."
There was a good mix of entertainment, including shows put on by the Princess Dance team; comedians, jugglers; solo artists to name but a few. Overall, the entertainment was good, but many of the comedians were aged, as were their jokes and stories. At various ports artists got on and off, always ensuring a fresh supply of good and no-so-good entertainers.
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 always available, & passenger theme parties were scheduled several times each week. Morning & afternoon trivia sessions was a must for the brainiacs, who always played for sheep stations. Several old & new movies were played on the in-house televisions, and 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 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.
SPA & FITNESS:
We did manage to find the gymnasium several times, although not as much as we should have. The equipment was reasonable, and staff were available to help where needed. The Spa Centre did not appear to get much use this cruise, as staff were always hanging around the desk talking each time I happened to pass through. The cost for many of the treatments was quite expensive, so this might have influenced why the area was so quiet this cruise.
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.
Embarkation and disembarkation was handled extremely well. The Pursers Desk was well utilized, and the separate queue for the Elite & Suite Passengers was a source of entertainment, as other passengers disliked giving was to Elite & Suite Passengers, who are supposed to be served first.
The Future Cruise Coordinator whom we visited several times had a huge case of verbal diarrhea, speaking lots of sentences, but really said nothing. We came away from several sessions with her, and wondered what had actually transpired. If anyone could sell ice to Eskimo's, this is the person. Personally, I think her previous job was at TVSN, where presenters can talk for an hour about the attributes of a paper clip! We are still having issues with a "future cruise credit" that was not applied to our booking, and this person who was supposed to be the fixer of everything, actually did nothing to solve our problem, or make it any clearer. In fact we are more confused than ever.
The Captains Circle staff handled our needs very efficiently, despite the long queue to finally get to speak to someone.
The Cruise Director and Staff did an excellent job keeping us entertained, informed and occupied during the whole cruise.
This was the first cruise we have done since mandatory tipping was stopped on Princess Cruises, so it was interesting to see how this would affect service provision. Having cruised several times before, we felt a little uneasy about what to expect. We decided we would tip for exemplary service only, so would wait until the end of the cruise to see what transpired. As it turned out, our dining room staff were exceptional, so both waiters were rewarded for good service, but the cabin steward left a lot to be desired.
The tender service continues to be a nightmare, and this is an area that Princess needs to do a lot of work on to improve. 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. Princess definitely 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. Once on shore there were also the queues for buses, and these were just as annoying as the queues for tender boats. I am well aware that Princess receives many complaints about these problems, but NOTHING ever seems to improve. Take Note Princess...passengers DO NOT like the current arrangement.
PORTS OF CALL:
It all but seems mandatory for cruises of 2 weeks or less to have one or more ports of call cancelled due to bad weather, engine trouble, or some other excuse. Our first port of Fiordland National Park was cancelled due to bad weather. Ports visited included Dunedin, Akaroa, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga, Auckland & Bay of Islands.
Travelling in October is obviously the time of year that cruises are cheap, because the weather is prone to being horrendously bad. Despite the seas being very rough, we were wined, dined and entertained in style, and will definitely sail with Princess Cruises many times more.