Sun Princess Observations -- Fijian Jewels -- 11 -- 22 January, 2012
This report will deal primarily with our observations about life aboard the Sun Princess. We are not much for touring and in many cases we don't even go ashore, preferring instead to enjoy a ship with few passengers aboard. As background, we're from eastern Canada and with the exception of an Auckland -- Sydney cruise three years ago aboard the Diamond Princess, all our other cruises have been North American based.
We boarded the Sun Princess in Brisbane on 11 Jan 2012 for our thirteenth Princess cruise, nine different ships (Caribbean, Coral (2), Island, Diamond, Ruby, Emerald (4), Grand, Crown & Sun). We were hoping it wouldn't be the unlucky thirteenth. The boarding process was speedy and efficient. We've boarded in Fort Lauderdale, San Francisco and Vancouver in the past and in our opinion this was the most efficient.
Our initial impressions from our contact with the crew were that this crew and ship were up to the standards that we have come to expect from Princess. So far we like the layout and facilities of the ship. There are several small and intimate bar/lounge areas. The aft adult's only pool, spa and sun area will be our hang out for the voyage. Considering this is school holiday time and that we have several hundred children and youths aboard we hope that it stays this way. The aft deck area off of Aloha deck is a largely undiscovered area. This is only the second time we have taken an inside cabin for an extended trip. We had A729 and found it very acceptable mainly due to its proximity to the aft sun deck and adult areas that we enjoy. We found the layout and storage areas in this cabin larger and more practical than on the Grand class. In particular, the shower area is slightly larger and with the higher lip and longer curtain you don't have to spend time trying to avoid the flood. The few extra cubic inches of space helps to eliminate the shower curtain dance.
Shortly after boarding we started to discover that this was not a "North American/European Princess ship. First discovery was that this ship did not offer a "bucket of beer" promotion. Next we learned that although there had been a "power hour/happy hour" feature in the recent past this was no longer available. We knew that the ship did not offer anytime dining but after viewing the dining rooms we can't understand why one or at least part of one dining room can't be used for anytime dining. The next difference was that the wine card, available on at least some other ships was again not available here. What next, no Platinum/Elite lounge or Happy Hour! We were told by Princess (previous enquiry) that there is no venue deemed suitable but in our opinion no one looked very hard. Why not the Rendezvous bar, Atrium bar, Vista Lounge or Shooters Disco? For the first time we observed cigarettes being sold at a bar by the package. Considering that Princess ships are going almost entirely smokeless for sailings beginning Jan15 we find this unusual. We noted that unlike the other 7 Princess ships we have sailed on the Sun provides no small tables on the deck areas. We've found these useful in the past. I realize that having these tables would reduce the number of lounges that could be accommodated in any particular area.
We observed that some prices don't reflect those of the North American based ships. For example, if we recall correctly, the Fabulous Fashion Rings are sold at 2 for $35 in North America but on this ship they go for A$51.95. No doubt the booklet was printed when the Aussie dollar was weaker but current prices don't reflect current market conditions. Why is it that a bottle of Bacardi sells for about US$17 on the US based ships but it's A$25 on the Sun? The "Holiday Store at Sea" sale goes for US$10 but here on the Sun it's A$20? This is unexplainable especially in view of the high value of the A$. I believe the Aussies are being overcharged. On a strong positive note we really appreciate the fact that the posted price is the final price, no 15% to be added to bar charges.
We avoided cruising for many years because we believed we would not enjoy the "traditional" dining experience. The introduction by Princess of "Anytime" dining encouraged us to experience cruising. We've enjoyed our previous 12 Princess cruises where this feature was available. Our apprehension of "Traditional" dining was confirmed on this voyage. We will endeavour to never again have to undergo this experience. What we don't understand is why Anytime Dining is not available in one or at least part of one dining room.
The first unnecessary problem occurred on the first morning when I went to the Purser's desk to confirm our account, specifically our credits. Sure enough I had not been given the Military credit nor the Travel Agency $20 wine credit we used last night. Instead of simply verifying my Captain Circle's account to view my Military status I was asked to produce my documentation. I had an email confirmation from Head office yet this was still not good enough. I don't need this hassle. Alex, an Officer at the Purser's desk assured me he would look into the credits and get back to me. I wasn't contacted but the credits appeared on the Saturday morning check of our account.
We arrived in Noumea, New Caladonea at 2:00PM Friday. We docked at the container terminal and the ship provided a free bus shuttle out of the terminal to the main cruise ship terminal in town. We did not take any tours. We simply walked around town. There is a Casino Johnson supermarket within two blocks of this terminal. It sells everything. We don't know the laws but when we attempted to buy 6 beer for about A$10 we were not permitted. The cashier said alcohol sales were prohibited at that time (4:00PM Friday) and would not recommence until the following day.
Saturday we're at Isle of Pines. Tendering was required to go to a beach. We have the ship largely to ourselves so we've decided to stay aboard. This evening for the first time in about 130 nights aboard Princess ships I returned a main course. The beef was so tough as to be inedible.
On the plus side the ships pools and hot tubs are open until midnight. The hot tubs are also at a consistent high temperature which we have found lacking on other ships. Kelvin and Frenchie head up a great entertainment team. Generally shows were repeated over two nights and were thus easy to attend. We liked having the seminars and shore excursion information available on the TV. We found the breakfast and lunch selections in the Horizon Court to be excellent but were less impressed with the evening selections. This was really the first cruise where we have used the Horizon Court in the evening as we have always had the Anytime Dining option in the past and have rarely used the Horizon Court in the evening. We don't like Traditional dining!
Overall, although we liked the layout of the ship and the crew were of the usual Princess calibre, we would not recommend this ship to frequent North American/ European Princess cruisers. I've voiced the complaint before about the lack of consistency of services between ships and in this case I find it excessive. Cruise number thirteen was a definite disappointment. We're booked for a two day coastal from Brisbane to Sydney on March 1st but after that cruise we definitely won't be back cruising Princess "downunder". We've always enjoyed our Princess experiences but if we had to rate this cruise it would be at the bottom of the list. Consistency, consistency, consistency is as important to us as location, location, location is to a Real Estate agent!
We're looking forward to our 28 day Tahitian experience in October aboard the Sapphire out of LA.
Prior to posting this review I provided a copy to the Purser's office addressed to the Hotel General Manager on Tuesday morning. This morning at about 0930 I received a call from "Luka" the First Purser requesting a meeting. During this meeting we discussed several points but he stated all my observations were correct.