This was our seventh cruise, the second with Princess. The crew and staff were excellent. The Sea Princess seems to have very effective work teams in place functioning at a high level. It was a great cruise.
We always have an internal cabin. Our cabin on the ninth deck was quiet, well laid out and entirely adequate for our needs. As with other cruises, our stewardess kept the room in immaculate condition and became our hero for the cruise.
Food was varied and very good - it was fine dining as good as any high quality and expensive restaurant. We like to eat in the dining room rather than the buffet. It's much nicer, and avoids problems in the Horizon buffet with kids picking cherries out of the fruit salad with fingers and serving tong handles ending up in the food trays. The Corniche pizza restaurant was excellent.
Wine could be purchased by the bottle rather than glass, meaning 5 glasses for the prices of 4, but could end up with a number of unfinished bottles in different locations. The choice of non-alcoholic drinks was limited and predictable. No tip was added to drink charges, and no tip was automatically added to the account at the end of the cruise.
Prices were fair. We discovered that any tip added to drink receipts goes to the company, not to the drink waiter. Best to tip using cash at the end of the trip - we prefer to only tip our room steward and not allow ourselves to worry about tipping other staff.
One evening while in the dining restaurant talk came up about the Costa Concordia grounding. We had not watched TV in our cabin that day and so were not aware of the evolving event, but many other passengers had. Ship staff had been directed not to comment, and at no stage did crew or staff mention the Concordia, although the internal TV system was advertising Costa cruises some 5 days after the grounding - they may need plenty of advertising! On a later day when departing Tauranga, we passed within distant sight of the Rena. Staff at the main desk and in the dining room claimed ignorance of the Rena (a container ship that grounded three months ago on a reef 18 kms from Tauranga).
We did not complete a lifeboat drill; the emergency drill was limited to assembling in the theatre and practising putting on life jackets. The captain also gave a lecture over the PA. Our muster station was not listed on our key cards. The theatre was filled to overflowing, not a good environment to be trapped in during an emergency situation or to contain panic. I had a look later at the lifeboats and inflatables, and the procedures all seem to me to require an excessive level of skill and involve complex equipment, for emergency situations. Passengers are entirely in the hands of the crew. Hopefully, the Costa Concordia reviews will result in better systems for managing emergency situations and evacuations. At the very least, a full range of information should be available with the hope that a few interested passengers might make themselves aware of procedures - even voluntary lectures!
We never saw the captain (he had more important duties at the time of the 'Captain's Circle cocktail reception'). We had two, a British captain who handed over to an Italian captain in Wellington.
Sydney - efficient and fast, huge air-conditioned tent while a new terminal is built. It was fascinating to cruise under the harbour bridge.
Bay of Plenty - tender to Waitangi wharf - free shuttle to Paihaia (30 min walk), long wait in the sun when returning
Auckland - dock in the city - walk off
Tauranga - dock in the town - walk off
Napier - free shuttle, the friendliest location
Wellington - $10 shuttle for a few blocks - easy to walk (15 mins)
Akaroa - tender - nice village, but Christchurch was the aim - $45 return shuttle (1.5 hr trip each way)
Dunedin - $25 shuttle, Port Chalmers is very friendly and nice for walking
Milford Sound - wonderful sight
We saw some great movies during the cruise; the theatre was the best venue, the screen in the Vista was somewhat small and the TV in the room was fine. The idea of 'Movies under the stars' - watching movies outdoors at night - sounds great, but noise from the smoking area on one side and table tennis payers on the other was distracting, and the weather did not always cooperate - think blankets swirling in the pool, bleak skies, heavy wind and rain.
Overall, a great cruise and a credit to Princess Cruises.