We're 60 year old Australians with 9 previous cruises with which to compare. As many other Australians wonder how Sun Princess compares with Americanised Princess ships and with P&O Australia, we have done this review as a 3-way comparison. This cruise on the Sun Princess was a 14 night New Zealand cruise from Brisbane and return. In February we cruised from Sydney to Beijing on the Diamond Princess for 23 nights and in September we cruised from Brisbane for 11 nights on an island adventure with Pacific Dawn. So with 3 cruises this year, we feel this comparison may assist other Australian cruisers.
As we live near Brisbane we drove and left our car at a nearby car storage. Their shuttle service was efficient. As we now have Platinum status with Princess, embarkation did not involve lining up and there was no delay boarding the ship. Embarkation with the other 2 ships also went smoothly with lines moving quickly. Once on board, we were directed to our cabin where we left our hand luggage and went for lunch.
Ranking -â€“ 1st Sun Princess (only due to our priory boarding privileges), 2nd Diamond Princess, 3rd Pacific Dawn (we had arrived early).
Built in 1995 and being the oldest in the fleet, this ship was showing its age but the recent refurbishment helped it feel modern. Public areas were nicer than we expected.
Built in 2004, the Diamond Princess is truly a beautiful; and, at 113 000 tons with approx 2600 passengers, a very large ship.
Built in 1991, the Pacific Dawn was also showing its age. As it was originally the Regal Princess there was similarities to that line. Both these ships have also just had a refurbishment.
In the interest of hygiene on all 3 ships, the public toilets had the main door open and/or paper towels supplied to open them.
Ranking -â€“ 1st Diamond Princess, 2nd Sun Princess, 3rd Pacific Dawn.
Our inside cabin was the smallest and worst designed inside cabin we have had in recent years! We thought that being on deck 10, it would be better than lower decks but apparently this is not the case (others claim even the balcony cabins are small). Problems occur when queen bed arrangement is used. The bedside drawers do not split as on other ships leaving a long unit on one side of the bed and little space on the other. Also it no longer can be used as a bed side table. One of our small suitcases had to be stood on end for that purpose. Also there is no space between the end of the bed and the wardrobe on one side and the desk on the other. The chair at the desk was the only one supplied (there was no room for any other). The shower curtain was the worst yet experienced and still sucked inwards even with extra weights (bulldog clips) on the bottom. The TV had been updated with a flat-screen one but it was the smallest we'd ever seen! As usual with Princess the bed was hard but the supplied egg-crate foam helped a bit. Also if you want a top sheet, ask for it. Our cabin steward, Jon from the Philippines was very efficient at his job and always greeted us with a lovely smile.
On the Diamond Princess our cabin with partially obstructed window was situated near the centre of the ship. Unfortunately the bed head was under the window so the view was wasted when lying down. The overall size of the cabin is not large, but sufficient for two people and our luggage. We liked the open style walk-in type robe which had generous hanging space. The shower was fairly small but the curtain was weighted down. The flat-screen TV was a reasonable size. When the weather got very cold, the a/c struggled to keep the cabin warm even on the highest setting. As expected the beds were hard.
On the Pacific Dawn our ocean-view cabin was very pleasing and surprisingly large. With the bed head on the side wall the window view was quite good. This time the bed was comfortable. This was the first time our suitcases couldn't fit under the bed but there was a space on both sides of the window behind the curtain where we could stow them. Again we liked the open style walk-in type robe which had good hanging space. The shower was a generous size. The new flat-screen TV was a bit small.
They all had a small fridge which was handy for keeping our supply of Coke & snacks cold.
Ranking -â€“ equal 1st Diamond Princess & Pacific Dawn, a distant 3rd Sun Princess.
Food & drinks:
Surprisingly we found the standard of food and the service in the main dining room and the buffet to be fine. Our MRD waiter, Gosia from Poland was extremely pleasant, efficient and very helpful. Seafood was always available with lobster on the last formal night. We were surprised there were no hand sanitizers at the main dining room whereas they were situated at the entrance to the food in Horizon Court where we had most of our other meals. The buffet setup with separate stations was easy to use and the food varied daily. The freshly made waffles for breakfast were great but it took us a week to find them. You could never go hungry as the buffet is available from 5 am to midnight. The free burgers, chips, doner kebabs, etc at the Terrace Grill were also great. Verdi's pizzeria (also free) was also popular. We did purchase a coffee card ($35 for 15 coffees) as the free coffee was below standard.
The above comments applied the Diamond Princess. They also had special kitchens outposts (especially self select Chinese soup) often set up on the deck for lunch.
On the Pacific Dawn we found the service in the main dining room to be fine but the standard of food was inferior -â€“ maybe they were hoping more people would use the extra-charge restaurants (which we didn't use). There was a noticeable lack of seafood other than fish -â€“ not even the usual prawn cocktails (as my DW is not a seafood lover she was happy with the quality). After experiencing the long lines at the buffet (CafÃ© Del Sol) the first morning, we used the MRD for breakfast every other morning. The food seemed better and the atmosphere more relaxing for breakfast. We did use the buffet for lunch but wished there were separate food stations as on other ships -â€“ trays are still supplied. Sometimes the line stretched almost out the door! There were rolls and French fries available outside on the deck. Food at the buffet is not continually available, as on Princess ships; and the times varied between sea and port days. Disappointedly burgers, prawns and ice-cream were only available for a price (except vanilla ice-cream was available in the MRD at night). The only exception was on the last day at lunch when prawns were offered at the buffet -â€“ maybe they hadn't sold enough! Coffee and tea was available 24/7 but there were no cookies at any time -â€“ except by buying them from the coffee shop! Also we missed the freshly made waffles for breakfast offered on the Princess ships. We were pleased to see hand-sanitizers at MRD and the buffet.
Wine choices and prices were similar on all 3 ships.
Ranking -â€“ equal 1st Sun & Diamond Princess, 3rd Pacific Dawn.
Staff and service on board:
Princess obviously trains their staff well as they were always friendly and polite even at reception. For example, in Horizon Court they were very attentive and offered to help carry your plate & find you somewhere to sit.
On Pacific Dawn the service was as expected for a 3 star ship, that is, not up to Princess' standard.
Having several coin operated (only AUD2) laundrettes on board was a bonus although some were out of order.
Ranking -â€“ equal 1st Sun & Diamond Princess, 3rd Pacific Dawn.
We enjoyed the shows in the Princess Theatre as we have done on other cruises. These are the highlight of our evening. The lighting and costumes in the 4 production shows were spectacular and the performers on the stage did a superb job-â€“ in particular the lead female singer was outstanding. On 2 occasions we even saw their repeated show the next night. With the shows being 50 minutes long, we didn't mind having to be there 15 minutes early to secure a seat. Since the theatre did not accommodate all the passengers with 2 shows a night, the show was repeated the next night. Although some passengers complained about this, it was not a problem for us as there was always suitable alternative entertainment with guest entertainers in the well laid-out & spacious Vista Lounge. There were the usual daytime activities including an excellent Port Lecturer, Elizabeth Moran who was unbiased and very informative. She didn't promote Princess Shore excursions or certain shops ashore as we have seen with other cruise lines. We did miss Princess' usual informative enrichment lectures (maybe there weren't enough sea days to warrant the cost of the lecturer).
On the Diamond Princess the alternative entertainment location was the Explorers Lounge which had inadequate seating. As a result it was necessary to arrive over 30 minutes early to obtain any seat. We felt the number of seats could be increased by changing the layout. On this cruise we had Dan Styne from Australia as the Cruise Director. He did an excellent job & we loved his humour. Compared with past cruises we found this one had the best program of activities from which to choose. These always started promptly, were well organised and generally were well attended.
The Pacific Dawn also had similar excellent entertainment in their theatre. Also in the atrium on 2 nights an acrobatic group from Columbia performed - they were just amazing. This was viewable from three decks with the only downsize was the lack of seating provided. The program of activities from which to choose was fine.
As we love playing cards we seek out other card players. As all 3 ships offer a venue to meet like minded passengers, we find days at sea go by quickly.
Ranking -â€“ 1st Diamond Princess, equal 2nd Sun Princess & Pacific Dawn.
Shore Excursions & Destinations:
We normally try to avoid shore excursions organised by ships as we feel that they were too expensive. Armed with maps & information collected before the cruise (supplemented with detailed free local maps picked up on land), we easily explore ourselves. Also as we had been to New Zealand before this worked extremely well. Due to bad weather, we were forced to miss calling at Napier, Dunedin and the Fiordland cruising but The Bay of Islands was included as an alternative.
Being on a large ship like the Diamond Princess has many advantages when on board such as more diverse facilities and entertainment but it has a disadvantage of not being able to dock at some normal ports instead using container ports requiring long shuttle rides. For example, we berthed in a container port some 90 minutes or so from Shanghai (this was the only port where we chose a ship's tour which surprisingly was well organised and reasonable value for money). Also when the ship tendered the deal for passengers was almost as bad, with long tendering delays. Even Princess acknowledges over 3 hours clearing the ship, and long tender rides as the ship has to anchor far from the dock. Due to the large number of passengers, we wondered if the process could be speeded up by using more tenders. On this cruise we used some CC organised private tours which worked well or we were happy to do our own thing.
On the Pacific Dawn we did our own island exploring.
Ranking -â€“ equal 1st Sun Princess & Pacific Dawn, 3rd Diamond Princess (due to its size).
Due to trouble with a generator the ship was nearly 5 hours late arriving back into Brisbane but we weren't in any rush as we only had to collect our car from storage and drive home.
Everything went smoothly leaving the Diamond Princess.
On the Pacific Dawn we were delayed way past the scheduled time of departure which was surprising as the ship was in its regular home port of Brisbane.
Ranking -â€“ equal 1st Sun & Diamond Princess, 3rd Pacific Dawn.
In our opinion on the Sun Princess the service is excellent whereas the food and entertainment are generally satisfactory. The only huge disappointment was the size & layout of our cabin! Although we know Princess aim at an older age group, we were surprised most passengers were much older than our 60 odd years. Maybe this was caused by the fact that Princess has only recently started cruising out of Brisbane. Also there were only a handful of children onboard.
Similarly on the Diamond Princess the service is excellent whereas the food and entertainment are generally satisfactory. Here the large size of the ship can cause problems at certain ports. We were told the average age on this cruise was 64 years old (maybe because this was a 23 night cruise on a Princess ship).
Princess proves that you get what you pay for. The company appeals to older passengers and seems to build loyalty by rewarding past passengers. We would highly recommend Princess Cruises.
In our opinion on the Pacific Dawn, service and entertainment are generally satisfactory but the quality of the food could have improved for seafood lovers. Also annoying was their attempt to charge for normally free food; and, the layout of their buffet causing long lines. While the P&O ships are only 3 star, the company usually tries to get the same price as Princess cruises. We believe this is achieved by offering a product that is appealing to young people and families. Being retired we could take advantage of a last-minute special for that cruise. Anyone with children would need to book early as there were 300 children on this cruise and it wasn't school holidays! We would recommend P&O at the right price.
As we intend to cruise with these companies again; while onboard we took advantage of their Future Cruise Credits scheme.
Overall ranking -â€“ 1st Diamond Princess, 2nd Sun Princess, 3rd Pacific Dawn.