My husband and I travelled on the Dawn Princess' 13 day round trip from Melbourne to New Zealand and had a wonderful time. This was our first experience of cruising and we really enjoyed it -- the pace is so relaxed and it's wonderful to be handy to everything you need or want to do.
Accommodation. We were very happy with our cabin. It felt small at first, and the decor was something out of the 1980s, but it was always clean and our steward worked hard to make sure we were as comfortable as possible. I think the cabin stewards were amongst the friendliest crew we interacted with and there were several near our cabin who were always ready with a smile or to chat.
Having a balcony was wonderful and I don't know if I'd want to travel without one. It was probably the most entertaining part of our life on board. We went on it first thing in the morning to check out the weather and where we were, and it provided endless entertainment in port as we watched the dock, the city, people boarding or disembarking, the tugs as we left port and the pilot leaving the ship. And that didn't include sitting on it with a glass of wine as we left port or before we left for dinner.
Food. I eat out regularly and I found the food predictable. It was mainly Western 'traditional' type food, despite the lunch time buffets like Mexican and Japanese, and the flavours seemed to be toned down to appeal to a wider audience.
Having said that it was always fresh and possible to get everything from a soup and salad for lunch through to a four course meal for dinner, and that was just the food court. What disappointed me was the amount of food wasted, and I later heard something like 42 tonnes of food is pulverised and discharged from the ship each cruise.
The ship. I loved the look and feel of the Dawn Princess. She was big enough that we didn't feel confined and on sea days I never felt as though we were sharing the ship with 2,000 other people. The only time we noticed how many people were on board was the day we arrived when everybody was getting settled, and after that not really.
Activities. I'm not sure all the shows are good enough for Broadway but Princess worked hard to make sure we were entertained day and night and I was happy with what we saw. The activities are varied enough not to feel as though you're seeing the same things over and over again, and we participated in things we wouldn't do on shore like playing shuffleboard, dominoes and bowls.
Tipping. I wasn't in favour of tipping before I left home although I understood about $10 per day each was included in our fare. I was disappointed when I heard about the low wages paid to some crew and we left generous tips for the crew we'd interacted with and we thought deserved to be tipped.
The passengers. On the whole the passengers were lovely and we met some wonderful people. But my second disappointment was the way some passengers treated the crew. I saw several examples of people 'telling' or 'ordering' crew to get something for them, or rudely telling crew that they didn't like the way something had been done. One example in the food court was a steward run off her feet looking after 15 tables being told to clear the table and lay it for a woman who'd just arrived. No acknowledgement and no please or thank you from the passenger --I'm not sure I'd like to work under those conditions especially when I saw most crew work hard for long hours.
Hidden costs. I knew before we travelled that there are lots of ways the ship makes additional money: the casino, alcohol and coffee, photos at $25 each, bingo, shore excursions and more. My husband and I are good at watching our pennies but it needs to be watched carefully or I'm sure the bill could easily have been in the thousands.
Would we do it again--we had a fabulous time and on a personal level I'd willingly do it again. But I found a moral dimension to cruising that wasn't reconciled by the tipping included in the cruise cost or by tipping on top that doesn't sit comfortably with me.