We are a retired couple, but still pretty active. We chose this January cruise because we wanted summer weather in the middle of our US winter, and because the dates were just right for us. Australia and New Zealand were interesting, and ... Read More
We are a retired couple, but still pretty active. We chose this January cruise because we wanted summer weather in the middle of our US winter, and because the dates were just right for us. Australia and New Zealand were interesting, and we had a great time doing a lot of walking and hiking. We are not much into the excursions that involve a long bus ride, although some riding in buses is inevitable. So without trying to say what is good or bad, here are a few facts that may be relevant to you.
1. The airplane ride from the US is a long one. 15 hours from LAX Sydney. But we payed the extra $150 for extra leg room on the American flight US to Sydney. They fed us well, there are plenty of movies to choose from, and with noise cancelling headphones you can listen the movies or music without having to crank up the volume. So having set our minds to it, and planning when we would sleep, it was OK. We returned on Qantas on an Airbus A-380, the world's largest airliner.. Even in coach, the seats are wide and there is reasonable leg room.
2. We arrived in Sydney and spent two nights at the Harbour Rocks Hotel, a little boutique hotel 10 minute walk from the ship terminal, the train station (we rode the train from the airport -- easy), excellent buffet breakfast, and reasonably priced. Got opera tickets well in advance. Good opera at the iconic opera house, which is also a short walk from the hotel. Enjoyed a couple of ferry rides on our Opel Card (a good deal.) You can check out interesting things like the Botanical Gardens, a ferry ride to Manly Beach ( a little beach town catering to tourists with a mile or two of boardwalk along wide sandy beaches), Luna Park (an old fashioned amusement park with no admission fee), a walk across the bridge, the bustling central business district, etc.
3. The passenger ship terminal seems to accommodate only one ship a day, so it is easy to find your way. We were given a time to arrive for embarkation. Little or no waiting to get registered and onto the ship.
4. We were on deck 11, with a balcony, mid-ship. Stateroom was very small. Comfortable queen bed, desk with a stool, one chair, balcony with two chairs. Maintained clean, Our steward, Carmello, was always easy to find, and kept the room tidy and supplied with ice.
5. Ship's condition. Big windows in the buffet to look out, but because of the age, they are water spotted with minerals that the routine washing doesn't help. So the view out of the windows is not pristine. At one place on the promenade deck we noticed a distinct bad smell, like raw sewage. It was there the entire trip. Could also smell inside at various places sometimes. At 2,000 passengers, the Sun is one of the smaller in the Princess fleet. Expect this ship to be in the Princess fleet for one more year.
6. Passengers -- about 150 Americans, over 1,000 Australians, some British, quite a few Asians. Several families, so the swimming pools are mostly children's attractions. Don't plan to swim laps. There is an adult only pool and sunning area called Serenity, but like many things on Princess, it costs extra, and not a trivial amount. Also, don't expect to have a private breakfast table at the buffet, it is just too crowded. But everyone was nice in inviting you to share a table.
7. Extra cost for many things -- wifi, laundry, laundry soap, ice cream, hot chocolate at the buffet (free if you eat breakfast in the dining room), soda pop, and of course, the to-be-expected spa and salon services. None are cheap.
8. Photographers. Professional Princess photographers are everywhere asking to take your picture. Of course, you can find the prints to purchase at a hefty price in the photo studio. Sometimes there are with pirates, comic characters, or show girls to pose with you.
9. Entertainment -- the Princess dancers and singers are lively young people. How they change costumes so quickly between numbers is amazing. The music volume is turned up close to the threshold of pain. Some of the young women's risque costumes and provocative body movements offended some of the passengers we spoke with at our dinner table. We liked their initial performance, but grew tired of them in subsequent shows. Some of the special entertainers were excellent. We were blown away by Amber Jade, an extremely lively young lady who sang and played a wide variety of music on a saxophone and clarinet. May sound boring to you, but don't miss it. Everyone we spoke to loved her. And equally energetic, and highly skilled, was a violinist who played gypsy, bluegrass, classical, and jazz -- Ian Cooper. The musicians in the 7 piece orchestra were absolutely outstanding. They accompanied the ship's singers and dancers, and well as the special entertainers. A couple of other entertainers, a comedian and a juggler were interesting, but less memorable than the others mentioned above. There were also a couple of other singers who sang very close to their microphones with the volume very loud. Some of the jokes used by the cruise director and the entertainers were a bit suggestive, but none were dirty.
10, Weather -- although January is summer down under, bring your umbrella. We had several days of spotty rain. Still there was enough sunshine to allow for some good beach swimming. The best beach days for swimming in the surf or tanning on the white stand were at Manly Beach (Sydney) and Tauranga (Mt. Maunganui).
11. Ports of call -- (a) Bay of Islands. Tender in to a dock right next to the Treaty Grounds, best place to learn about NZ's history and culture. Admission is reasonable -- pay at the door, don't need an expensive excursion. The Maori dancers at the old meeting house on the treaty grounds were a highlight. They are very entertaining with their war dances. No extra fee. They also like to have you take pictures with them after the show, and don't ask for tips. Princess provided a free (!) short shuttle into Paihai. Plenty of places there to grab a lunch, walk along a beach made up of tiny sea shells, and swim in the surf.
(b) Auckland -- a big,busy city. It was Sunday, so we attended church and just walked around town.
(c) Tauranga, actually Mt. Maunganui. Within a short walk from the ship is the mountain with a one-hour trail to the top. The trail is steep, and includes walking through green sheep pastures that slope down into the ocean. View from on top shows that this town is like a peninsula surround on three sides by water. Very beautiful views typical of New Zealand with mountains rising up out of the ocean.
(d) Napier -- this town markets itself because of a few Art Deco streets. Interesting to walk around, or you can pay to ride in a classic old car. There is a nice hike to a bluff overlook. Not cheap, but a little shop called Opossum store and museum is maybe the best place on the itinerary to learn about and buy New Zealand's nice wool products.
(e) Picton. Beautiful cruise up the channel. Tiny town but with lots of cute shops and eateries. One hour steep hike up to a bluff overlook on a loop trail through trees. About 45 minutes to get back down, and walk through some of the towns residential areas.
(f) Akora. Only place we bought an excursion. It was to a sheep farm where we saw an impressive display of sheep dogs herding sheep, a sheep shearing demo, and scones on the patio of the farm's owner. Pleasant ride in a mini-van through lush green hillsides. The town itself is a interesting little place to explore in less than an hour. Good places to eat and to get some creamy New Zealand ice cream in a variety of flavors.
(g) Dunedin. This is a good sized city. And although it is listed in the itinerary, the ship actually docks in Port Chalmers, a small town with not a lot going on. To get into the city, you have to pay for a Princess Shuttle ($20 per person) to get into Dunedin. This is a university town and also has New Zealand's oldest botanical garden. From the bus stop in the middle of the city to the picturesque train station, through the university campus, to the botanical garden is about a 40 minute walk, with things to see all along the way. Also, free wifi in the ship terminal.
(h) Fjorland cruising -- weather did not permit us to go there. Big disappointment, but unavoidable. So we cruised back to Sydney between NZ's south and north islands. Some pretty good waves. A few people got seasick.
12. Dining --like other cruise ships, very nice food in the dining rooms served by skilled waiters, (Oliver and Jake are masters.) You can choose reserved dining -- same time and same table every night. Or you can choose the anytime dining room. But dining rooms serve the same menu and look the same. But you can't switch back and forth. If you go for anytime dining, you forfeit your spot for reserved dining. We opted for the reserved dining at 5:15. Then we had time to hit the first show at 7:30. One night we didn't make it back to the ship in time, and the anytime dining room accommodated us without jeopardizing our reserved dining.
13. Conclusion -- we had a good vacation, and nothing Princess did spoiled it. Hint: if you like to play scrabble or rumikub, bring your own. Although these games are in the library, people hoard them and must take them to their rooms. And some had missing pieces. Another hint: if you are into Manuka honey, study up before you go. Arm yourself with prices for each UMF level available on the internet, then you can decide if you want to pay the prices at the gift shops. Also pharmacies usually carry a variety of Manuka honeys in the various UMF levels. Read Less