We boarded the inaugural cruise at Athens (Piraeus). The bag drop and check In was a tented affair on the dock car park. The overall process was quite informal, and not quite the song and dance that we assumed would accompany such a ... Read More
We boarded the inaugural cruise at Athens (Piraeus). The bag drop and check In was a tented affair on the dock car park. The overall process was quite informal, and not quite the song and dance that we assumed would accompany such a memorable occasion. We were asked to leave our bags at the entrance to the tent, but oddly no receipts were issued. We were welcomed by a member of staff whom guided us to one of the make-shift desks where we handed over our passports and were issued with our ‘Medallion’ ID lanyards. These were the new facility on these ‘Medallion’ Class ships where you are identified and have proximity detectors all around the ship so that staff can identify you and charge everything to your account. You need to have the App, which seemed to have quite a few teething problems throughout our trip – more on that later.
Boarding was also very uneventful, and we literally strolled onboard and were left to our own devices. No champagne or cocktail welcome, nothing at all, (not even a hello from senior crew), quite an anti-climax to be honest.
We had an aft balcony room on Riviera deck (14), 107 which was quite a walk towards the back of the ship. As there were 4 of us (2 adults and 2 kids), we opted for a twin with sofa bed and drop down bunk. Overall, the room was understandably brand new with no apparent wear or tear, and had quite a nice ambience. Maybe not as big as we had expected, (around 197sq ft), but more than adequate. We had a fridge, direct dial phone, in room TV, small desk and chair, hairdryer, shower, bathroom – with good size sink, drying line, bedside desks, safe, limited drawers, but good sized open wardrobe. The ‘medallion’ opened your door as you approached and welcomed you by name on the small screen outside of your door. For those whom might like to travel incognito, there doesn’t appear to be an option to avoid your room occupant details being displayed on the door panel for all to see, along with your tier status. One of our new bags was also damaged by the porters, which oddly they asked to take away for repair. We got it back 2 days later with a very poor ‘fix’, customer services said that this was ‘standard’, which meant the case would have to be discarded at home.
Facility wise, the ship was well equipped. There we a number of small to medium pools on deck 16, with plenty of hot tubs spread around this and deck 17. Loungers were plentiful and we didn’t have any issue at an stage in getting one. Towels and waiting staff were all around, along with a complimentary hot dog/burger bar & pizza bar around the pool. There was also an ice cream and popcorn concession called ‘Swirl’, but for the entire duration of the trip there was no one cream available. This was a common theme of this maiden voyage.
There was also a well equipped gym with numerous class options. The equipment was high end and plentiful. Towels and water fountains were available.
Restaurant options follow the usual Princess formula, with a few inclusive options, and others at a supplement. After some uninspiring reports from fellow guests whom used the premium restaurants, we were advised to avoid them until they got their act together- with poor/lengthy service being the main complaint. We dined in the ‘Soleil’ restaurant most nights as part of our Anytime dining option. The food itself was of a good standard, but the biggest problem for most of the trip was the wait for tables and time for food. It was clear from day 1 that staff were finding their feet, but as a few guests commented, we could understand if the kitchen had teething issues, but service is something that should be taken as read on a Princess cruise. To be fair, they did acknowledge the issues by offering all restaurant guests a free drink at their next sitting as an apology, but unfortunately it didn’t really improve for the whole trip.
The Anytime Breakfast buffet on deck 16 was the biggest disappointment for us. In our view, the food quality and options were poor. We regularly attended empty dishes waiting for staff to refill, or a 20 minute wait for an omelette. Staff seemed to be on auto pilot, regularly walking by dirty dishes on tables, even when people were looking for places to sit. The general impression was that many had been given a ‘task’, be it getting drinks, which they followed to the letter. No deviation or common sense that a client doesn’t know what your task is, so when they ask for cutlery or a napkin, they don’t expect to be told ‘ask one of my colleagues’. They had a few pieces of high-tech equipment in the shape of touch screen automated coffee and drinks dispensers – sadly though, they were constantly out of service, some for the whole cruise. Their standard response was for us to walk about 150ft to the serving station further up..
Entertainment wise, we can say that it got better as the cruise went on. Inaugural nerves clearly affected some of the first performances, but the orchestra were excellent and the Saturday night ‘Rock Opera’ show was as good as any we have ever seen.
There was also a number of bars and cafes throughout the ship, which again were terribly slow. So for those whom buy the premium coffee packages, expect a lengthy wait unless you are an early bird. The coffee itself was actually quite nice, but having one member of staff serving a line of 12 people is ridiculous.
Similarly, the only ice cream concession on the ship proved to be nice but oddly unattractive. The actual cost of $1 per scoop was reasonable, but most people we met felt ‘nickle and dimed’ by the silly marketing display. As an unknown quantity for this new ship, the intention of ‘first scoop free’ was logical and appealing. However, when the server literally served a 5c sized ‘taster’ in a full sized bowl, most folk looked bemused. Almost universally, the comment ‘where is my free scoop’ was met with the reply, ‘that’s all we give’. Really??! Most just walked away, rather than pay the otherwise reasonable price. A definite own goal, especially when clients had no access to the defective outlet on deck 16.
Shopping on board was definitely high end. The quality and selection was good, especially in the watch and jewellery shops, where we listed over some wonderful pieces. Oddly, there was very little by way of provision for kids/teen/youth clientele, missing a trick in the process. We promised to kit out our teen onboard, but there was very little other than a small adult t-shirt available. Alcohol and perfumery was competitive, although the art auctions seemed excessive – but everyone to their own.
The Lotus Spa was well appointed, and one of the few parts of the ship which seemed to have adequate staff. However, as an example, $269 excluding the 20% service for a 55 minute massage was even more expensive than that which we paid in the 6 star Burj Al Arab in Dubai, so we passed. To be fair, they did do a discounted day at sea, which was around half the cost.
The Movies under the stars on deck 16 was a highlight for us. Being able to see a blockbuster movie on a bus sized screen behind the funnels, whilst sitting munching popcorn on a lounger by the pool was a fab way to spend the night.
As for the shore excursions, rather than listing them all here, I have reviewed them separately to ensure this review is not excessively long.
The ship itself was fine, having everything new was a novelty and appealing. Facility wise, yes, there could be more ‘fun’ items like slides or kid friendly outdoor items, but as the majority of cruisers on Princess are of an older age, it’s understandable as to why they opted for the facilities given. The kids club was clean and well provisioned, think Play stations and Xbox with some creative options, but our two wouldn’t use them as they’d prefer to be out in the sun/pool.
Overall I’m not sure we would do an ‘inaugural’ cruise again, as there was far too many teething issues on this ship, none of which seemed of concern to Princess. I appreciate that admitting things weren’t exactly going to plan may be embarrassing to them, but some form of gesture or acknowledgement of the deficiencies would have been a welcome and appropriate touch. Leaving 3 hours late due to defective engines, fire alarms sounding erroneously, catering equipment being defective for the entire trip and consistently poor service throughout would seem a good reason to review that policy.
Would we use Princess again, at the moment we haven’t decided. Whilst we have kids, our next trip is probably going to be on one of Royal Caribbeans’ established mega ships. That way we can keep them entertained and we can have a good variety of options for us.
Balcony rooms easily accommodate 2 adults and 2 kids. We did view a mini suite, but it’s almost identical, so save your money. Definitely get a drinks package for the kids if you have them, as it will work out cheaper for your cruise. The adult alcoholic option is only really of value if you drink more than 3 alcoholic drinks a day.
If you aren’t happy with your service onboard but have a number of individuals whom you’d prefer to reward on your own, don’t think twice about requesting a reduction in the standard gratuity costs. It’s one of the few options you have to record and express your disappointment, but without depriving those whom you felt served you well. Even if it’s a 50% reduction, you can make your point and give the rest in cash to your room attendant or server. Read Less