Launched in 1995 as the world's biggest-ever cruise ship weighing in at about 77,000 tons, Sun Princess debuted with the largest number of balcony cabins and innovative features, including a 24-hour cafe. The first in the Sun Class vessels -- along with Dawn Princess and Sea Princess -- the ship paved the way for contemporary cruise travel.
Today, the Australia-deployed Sun Princess is one of the smallest ships in the Princess fleet. It still caters to 2,000 passengers, but is not as grand or contemporary as its counterparts. The impressive facilities include a theatre, Movies Under the Stars, three swimming pools, five spas, nine food and dining areas and The Sanctuary -- an adults-only retreat, certainly living up to the concept of 'big ship choice and small ship feel'.
More choices were added after a US$30 million (AU$42.67 million) dry-dock transformation in 2013, which comprised an update of the Horizon Court buffet, a refurbished Casino and Lotus Spa, two new food areas (International Cafe and Sushi Kai) and a shiny new four-level atrium. Unfortunately, the tired looking cabins missed out on the refurbishment.
The decor of light wood, brass and gold tones, traditional cruise elements such as steamer blankets and in-room fruit bowls on request, violinists near the Crooners Bar, Champagne Fountain celebrations and chocolates on pillows offer an overall atmosphere of relaxed refinement.
Bridge, bingo and themed trivia quizzes cater to the large proportion of seniors onboard. Young couples may find the Sun Princess a bit quiet, but appear happy with cocktail in hand or lounging by the adults-only aft pool.
Sun Princess is essentially a warm weather ship. It has a good supply of outdoor deck space, but if you cruise to chilly climates, none of its three swimming pools has a sliding glass roof over them. In bad weather, everyone congregates indoors and the ship feels crowded. The situation improves in the evenings, when entertainment is in full swing in the Princess Theatre and the Vista Lounge, and many people make their way to these venues.
The Sun Princess offers interesting and varied itineraries. A highlight is the Vanuatu cruise, which is the only Pacific Island cruise from Australia stopping in Luganville for the beautiful 'Blue Hole' attraction.
Where Sun Princess shines is in the service. It's all in the subtleties: deckhands remove emptied cups under sun lounges without disturbing sleeping passengers; food and beverage staff hold open the door for passers-by while simultaneously transporting crates of food; stewards greet passengers by name and with a smile; and Passenger Service staff remain calm when faced with a barrage of complaints over a port cancellation caused by bad weather. Despite the lack of bells and whistles on Sun Princess, it's a pleasure to cruise on a well-run and welcoming ship.