Auckland The equivalent of Sydney in Australia or New York in the United States, Auckland is the business capital of New Zealand. Staying at the Mercure Hotel, Auckland gave us picturesque views of Auckland Harbour, at a relatively cheap price, but more importantly the convenience of being able to walk to the dockside! The morning the ship arrived; she looked stunning as she turned heads once again. After a breaky at a cafe, we walked up to the ship and saw some passengers checking in their luggage at 10am already! After seeing this, we also decided to do so. Although the public is allowed almost an arms length away from the ship, it is only up to the bow where it says 'Star Princess', and thus is limited to such a small section. Since it is one of the longest ships to come to Auckland, I would imagine that for smaller ships, the public wouldn't even be able to reach the ship at all! I am probably being biased since I come from Sydney where at the Overseas Passenger Terminal; the public has their own observation deck higher than the gangway level, so that the public is able to see much more!
Embarkation in Auckland -- Loading a ship with 2600 passengers (the purser's desk said that we are sailing at full and there are no upgrades available) requires lots of manpower, lots of consideration, and a tonne of patience by both passengers and attendants. The stupid thing is as soon as you enter the terminal building; you are given a departure card, but not told when to give it in. You walk straight up to the line, where there are no tables or pens provided at all, and when you get to the top of the line, you need to hand in these damn cards filled in! Where were the instructions? How are we supposed to fill them in?? It wasn't as hectic as I thought it was though...just require a lot of patience!
Cabin -- Figuring that we only use the cabin for sleep and that's pretty much it, we opted for a 4 berth inside cabin on the Dolphin deck. The room was way too small for 2 adults and 2 teenagers! They should have a slightly larger room but without the window premium! It was nicely decorated, and had an adequate closet space for 4...but the amount of space between lavatory door and the closet space can only be described as enough for a dwarf! Whenever you open the door from the toilet, anyone standing in the closet space would either get a wack from the side, or would have to swerve quickly and as a result, run into something else. The in-house safe was a real benefit, though, and we used it throughout the entire cruise. Unfortunately, being an American ship, the electrical power points were only 115 volts. Unaware of this, my father brought a long his 220 volts Australian shaver, and thus sounded like a portable vacuum with about 0.0001% of battery power left. We had to purchase manual shavers at next port of call!
Television -- A great feature, especially for the inside cabin is the bow cam which shows a live picture of the front of the ship. We found it beneficial in that when we woke up, we could tell whether we were moving or not! The next channel is the ship log channel, which tells us exactly where we are in the world via GPS, the air temperature, the location in longitude and latitude, air pressure, wind direction, expected sunrise and sunset (pretty much useless information), and all that other junk. What they should have done is split up the graphic GPS image into a separate channel, so I passengers don't have to wait 10 minutes to see a 5 second long image of where we are! The television shows were pretty much all American (Friends, the Simpson's, Everybody Loves Raymond, etc.) and pretty much all American movies (Catch Me If You Can, Chicago, etc.), which is a little biased! To compensate this bias, they put on the South Pacific ABC channel, which 50% of the time was out of service 'due to our position' and when it was in range, it was like watching some random images and bits of sound every 3 seconds. They also have a live feed of CNN and CNNfn, which is good, and a news channel that just has news in text.
Cabin attendant -- Although we didn't see him much, our room attendant, Luis, kept our cabin in an immaculate condition. He would change towels and clear up the room during breakfast as well as after dinner, and made sure that anything that needed replacing was replaced! He kept shoving more and more shampoo and conditioners like it was a natural resource! Although we never used room service, it is available 24-hours everyday, and after passing crew delivering the room service food to their respective cabins, the meals looked very decent indeed! In addition to the normal towels provided for morning and evening showers, they also provide everyone with pool/gym towels to use and are refreshed (if necessary) just as often as the normal towels are, or upon request if the frequency was not enough!
Breakfast at Portofino Dining Room and Horizon Court -- Breakfast was the biggest disappointment of the entire cruise. Not only was the menu pretty much the same everyday, not only was it pretty much the same in the Portofino Sit down Breakfast as in the Horizon Court buffet, but the quality of the food was awful! The hash browns were hard and only tasted of oil, the pancakes were dry and the syrup sort of dissolved into it and it was still dry, the eggs were yuck (all 4 types of it!) and the hash brown looks like something I best not describe! The cereal selection was extremely limited (they believe we all like ONLY oats or something!?!), with no coco-pops, not even corn flakes! The only think I enjoyed was the grapefruit, which still looked like it was cut the day before and had dehydrated on the outside. The orange juice was not chilled, and I think the only decent thing to eat was the cold meat, which isn't adequate for 14 breakfasts!
Lunch at Portofino Dining Room -- Lunch in the Portofino was quite good (excellent compared to breaky!). There was a wide variety of foods, especially for the mains, where a large portion of salads to prime rib was served. The smaller courses, though, where somewhat limited and some lunches we went straight for the pasta and mains. Since we chose traditional dining for dinner, this type of meal is what I'd expect had I chosen anytime dining for dinner and I'd have to say after having experienced this anytime option, I'm glad to have chosen the fixed dining option! Some of the staff were sooooo slow, some were very lazy, while some were exciting and very helpful. I'd rather had the same good waiter for the entire trip.
Dinner in the Amalfi Dining Room -- Star Princess, like most of the other Princess ships offer both Traditional Dining Choice, and Personal Choice 'Anytime' Dining, and Princess Cruises is conveniently the only cruise line to offer both at the same time. The Traditional dining is in the Amalfi Dining room, while the anytime dining option is in the Capri and Portofino Dining rooms. All three dining rooms are supposed to be exactly the same, but I did notice that Portofino and Capri Dining rooms had much more paintwork done to them than the Amalfi. We decided to choose the Traditional fixed seating (for those of you who don't know, its where you dine every night at a fixed time at a fixed table with the same waiters). Some of you might think this is pretty stupid to choose fixed when there is anytime dining, but we liked it because we were guaranteed a table, guaranteed no waiting for it, and we have the same waiters who got to know us and gave us a better dining experience.
Anyway, the dinners onboard the Star Princess in my view was nothing short of spectacular. Even our waiter said that dinner is where everything is meant to be fabulous and perfect. On many occasions from the look on our faces after finishing a course, he offered to bring out another one (since that course was so yuck!). During the 14-night cruise, they served 2 types of caviar, 2 differently cooked lobster, king crab legs, escargot, frog legs, pretty much everything. Appetizers are followed by soup, salad, entrEe, then dessert (the entrEe is the main course size, I don't know why they call it entrEe!).
Service at Amalfi Although the food was great, I'd have to say that the main reason I enjoyed the food was because of our waiter and his assistant, who were our waiters for every dinner throughout the 14 nights. After the first 2 nights, they knew pretty much everything about us in terms of meals. This is why I liked the Traditional fixed seating. When we arrived, 2 Cokes would already be waiting for us. There are no wine glasses (since my parents don't drink on a cruise), he doesn't even ask my sister what kind of salad she wants (its always Caesar!), he knows my father, sister and myself like French fries with the entrEe, and that my mother doesn't, and that I am the only one who likes ketchup. It is this personal approach that I could never get at anytime dining (since the waiter will always change!). Also, since all food is paid for, the waiters actually recommend what actually takes good and not just the most expensive thing on the menu! Only available on a cruise ship!
Food at Horizon Court -- Apart from breakfast, the food in the Horizon Court was of a good standard. Lunch was always something to look forward to on days which the ship was at port, and I liked the fact that it is open 24-hours a day. The thing I'd hate the most without a 24-hour buffet is coming back from port at 3pm starving and finding that no food place is open! There was always lots of space to sit (apart from breakfast time), and it is good to be able to take your food anywhere in the ship, including outdoors after, or nearby the Calyso and Neptunes pool areas. There is also a water and ice dispenser (great for filling up water bottles, but be careful...some nozzles are funny and squirt water everywhere as I found out!), coffee, hot water, decaf, and even an ice tea tap. HINT: before taking any meal, if you are unsure of where the toilets are, find them! This ship has oddly placed toilets and when you need to go, it's a long way to go looking!
Service at Horizon Court -- Apart from the Bartenders, the waitpersons at the Horizon Court are awful! Their face expressions look as though they're going to fall asleep, they don't say anything to you, regardless if you say thank you or not, and some just stand there and stroll around, almost pretending to work. This is very surprising, considering that I recognised some of them as waiters from the Amalfi Dining Room, and how their attitudes and manners can change so dramatically!
Service at Bars -- The worst crew onboard had to be the bartenders, both male and female. Whichever bar you go to, be it the Calyso bar, the Promenade lounge bar, whatever, they look like their pretending to wipe down the sinks (wiping sinks is not a 24-hour job!), and when they serve you, they just give it to you and walk away. They make you wait for ages, some of them making you wait while they finish their conversation with a fellow bartender, and then frowning at your request. Absolutely unfitting to an otherwise attentive and charming fleet of crew.
Toilets -- Although a little weird, I must comment on the public toilets. The stateroom toilets can be rather small, and especially when both inside cabins and outside window cabins have no fresh air! (to put it as politely as possible). But when people usually think public toilets they think dirty, smelly, non-private area. Not on this ship! Every single toilet open to passengers with the exception of stateroom toilets are at the standard of 5 star hotels! Marble (or what looks like marble) bench tops, bright lights and proper hand wipe dispensers always filled. But the best feature is the fully enclosed cubicle, unlike normal ones where there is still gaps through the lower sides and the ceiling. A great feature!
Off Limits -- Being almost 17 years old, I was rather looking forward to going to the Off Limits area for activities with other new friends, but when I looked at the activity sheet: Scrabble, Matchmaking, Hot tubs, teens dance club, PS2? Do I really pay all that money to play PS2? Does that really interest a teenager!?! One PS@ to share between 35 teenagers? 35 people playing a game of scrabble? A dance party with 35 people!?! I only registered, looked at the space (very small if you ask me!) and pretty much never returned. Not even my sister who is nearly 13 found it amusing. So I decided to go along to an even, the battle of the sexes to try it out. When I got there, there was the attendant playing cards with someone, and one girl watching the TV. Battle of the Sexes?? So I ended up playing Scrabble with my sister before leaving and vowing never to return.
Pool Areas -- There are 4 public pools and one crew pool area opened 24-hours a day onboard Star Princess. Being a teenager, I only had access to 3 since one was an adult's only pool. They are all of reasonable size, and one of them has a retractable glass roof, making it an indoor/outdoor pool. This itinerary, however, was quite cold and the roof was never ever opened (thank god!). This was the most frequently used pool by most passengers including myself, as it was so damn cold! I did, however use the swim against the lap pool, and I must say that the pressure of the current it produced can make anyone tired! It did, however, get very windy up there and when you get out of the pool...
Princess Links -- This ship features a 9-hole putt-putt course that was rarely used by anyone! Of the 4 times I went there, we were the only ones there! Now try playing putt-putt in the middle of the ocean on a ship and you'll notice that it is not as easy as it sounds! Most of the time, in fact, people hit too hard and the ball goes flying, not to mention the frustration from the sound of the wind and the air! The ship also features a cyber golf area, where passengers can drive on some of the world's most well known golf courses, virtually. Paying $US20 for half an hour, you can select a ball and slam it into a screen where it calculated movement and all that stuff and shows you, virtually, where it has landed. A bit expensive for a half hour though!
Shopping -- Since the ship travels internationally, all shops on board are Duty and Tax free (yes, including alcohol and stuff that you smoke!). Everyday, the shops have some kind of sale on, including jewellery, watches, souvenirs, etc. Seeing it as a bargain, we picked up some Seiko watches for over 50% off! But I must ask the question, and I saw it on a previous cruise as well: why on earth do they sell gold and silver by the metre!?! I mean small bracelets and stuff I can understand but in the metre!?! Its not carpet!! And you don't go on a ship to buy this! It's quite beyond me.
Day-time Entertainment -- There is an infinite amount of organised activities to do during the day. Some include Trivia Quizzes, Bingo, Horse betting (lots of fun!), pottery making, culinary demos, aqua golf (a cheap version), battle of the sexes, etc. on top of the daily activities such as swimming, gambling, music, relaxing, listening, eating, etc. If you get bored at daytime, there must be something wrong with you!
Night-time Entertainment -- The two main show rooms are the Princess Theatre (the largest room in the ship which seats a considerable amount of people on 2 levels in a pillar less space) and the Vista Showroom (ironically, these 2 spaces are placed on opposite sides of the ship!). The Star Princess Dancers are the main group of entertainment and star in the major production shows such as Dance!, Da Beat, Music and Words, and Give My Regards, and boy do they do a great job! Although it is a little disturbing to see males dance so well as females, the majority of passengers are 60+ and I guess they aren't so concerned! Furthermore, they also had Australian and international celebrity guests (non of which I had heard of!) who did stand up comedy, impersonations, singing (this one lady...oh my god seeing such an old hag get very energetic!), and played music. All up, entertainment was good and enjoyable, and my sister got so concerned about how the dancers could change so fast! The Vista lounge, however, had some pillars in the room (its odd how a 2 storey bigger space could have no pillars and a single storey smaller space has so many!), which meant getting there early. Might I suggest about half an hour for both Princess Theatre and Vista Showroom, before it starts.
In addition to these show, they also had Karaoke just about every night (apparently very entertaining), live band, pianists, very talented string quartets and of course themed disco nights at the Skywalkers Nightclub (that thing suspended 150 feet above the ocean which makes the ship look like a shopping cart). I didn't go to any of these events as they didn't interest me (dancing with 60+ year olds to 50's music!?!), and anyway you have to be over 21 years old (alcohol).
Writing Room, Full House, Library -- These 3 rooms are situated at the bottom of the ships 3 deck high atrium, right next to each other. Since the atrium becomes a focal gathering point sometimes, it's not a very good location to put rooms that require pretty much silence, especially the writing room; the there is no wall in-between! When the piano player was playing on some evenings, I found it extremely rude that some passengers were pulling chairs out of all 3 rooms and shifting them to the atrium area! People are playing cards here!! We had them first, so go away!
Skywalkers nightclub -- It's a pity that this room isn't used as best as it could be. During the daytime, it serves as a lounge area (which most people aren't aware of). The area is very narrow, and has a dEcor which doesn't meet the crowd (a modern, sleek, metro look for 60+ grannies to dance with!?!). The windows were also very dirty, so even the view was distorted by dirty droplets of water!
Atrium -- For those of you who don't know, an atrium is like a big whole spanning a couple of deck in a ship. Picture an apple and an apple corer. This ships atrium is only 3 deck tall, which is unusual since most ships have them spanning 8 or 9 decks tall. Nevertheless, it was the place to be when the champagne fountain was poured, upon embarkation, where most people took their formal pictures at, and where most of the music was coming from. It is beautifully finished with a gigantic light/chandelier thingo from the roof and a pleasant mosaic on the floor.
Shore Excursions -- I absolutely hate the Shore Excursions the cruise lines offer. They are the biggest rip off I have ever seen. For example, a Wellington sightseeing trip took passengers to Te Papa Museum, the city Cable car and the shopping mall. Surprise, surprise, we walked to the station, caught the bus for $NZ5 each, all of the shore excursion stops were stops on the day hopper bus, the Te Papa Museum was free to enter, the shopping mall was free to enter, and the cable car only cost $NZ5 as well!! For the $US30 fee, I saved a lot and still saw more of Wellington had I chosen the shore excursion!
Wellington -- The capital city of New Zealand, and home to some of the scenes of the Lord of the Rings. All of the New Zealand ports of call are blessed with natural beauty; even right in the middle of the city, and this was no exception. But beware; the only thing I didn't like was the wind! I experience some of the strongest winds I've ever seen while walking back to the ship! Just a short walk from the ship is the Railway station, where you can buy an all day hopper pass for only $NZ5 per adult and $NZ2 per child. What a bargain! You should also go to the cable car ride to the top of the mountain for picturesque views of Wellington (one of the stops or the hopper bus).
Christchurch -- This time we needed to catch a bus to the city centre, and wow Christchurch is a very nice place to go to. It is probably the cheapest of the 3 New Zealand cities, plenty of shops and things to do. If you get the time (we didn't), visit the Antarctic Centre, as this award winning centre gives you a first hand look at the white continent (apparently so). By the way, we tried to buy some New Zealand crisps in a box here and were told the nearest supermarket was a 20-minute walk...so don't bother trying to find one!
Dunedin -- The Scottish part of New Zealand, this smaller city is home to the Worlds steepest road. You will need to catch a bus from the ship to the octagon in the city centre, and a good place to visit is the Cadbury factory, whether you are a fan of chocolate or not. There are many shops in the nearby area, and don't forget to take the 1 hour double-decker bus tour that departs from the tourism centre.
Fjordland National Park -- Star Princess arrived on the wrong day! It was raining and foggy! We couldn't see anything until about 2pm when it finally cleared! It was supposed to be very beautiful from 8am-about 4pm. Instead all we saw was white and could barely figure out mountain shapes! But when we did enter Milford sound, we were very close to the lush natural beauty, and could see mini waterfalls trickle down the cliff sides almost like liquid paper. What a shame. Apparently it is meant to be some of New Zealand's most beautiful offerings, and if it's better than Wellington, damn I missed out on a lot!
Hobart -- After a very rough 2 days at sea, most passengers were happy to just get off the ship!! But as soon as we did, immigration! Imagine trying to do 2600 in 3 hours. It was just like embarkation all over again! Anyway, Hobart was the first port since Wellington where the ship is near town. They still offered a free shuttle bus to the city centre though, and surprise, surprise it was Sunday at 9am, and everyone was closed. So what do 2600 do? I have no idea. We just waited I guess. I did try the best fresh lobster though, for only $NZ26 each!
Adelaide -- A very long train ride into the city, Adelaide was not as exciting as I thought it was. I did see a sign saying 'Remove Moles or Blackspots from $20', "Wong Kee Daily Yum Cha' and a supposed Sky City Casino at the back of a railway station?? They did, however, provide a free city hopper bus service and has good looking public buildings (such as in my opinion the best State parliament house building - have you seen the one in Sydney!?!).
Melbourne -- The second largest city in Australia, the city of Melbourne was a 25 minute tram ride away from the ship, and at $AUD5.80 for an all day tripper pass on any tram, train or bus, transport was a bargain. The city also features a 1938 to 1958 built free city circle tram (as noisy and as old as it is, it is in very good condition for a piece of machinery older than most people on the ship!), which allowed us to travel from Federation Square right round to the Telstra Dome and Queen Victoria Markets.
Disembarkation in Sydney -- As most cruise lines do, Princess Cruises disembarks passengers according to coloured baggage tags and numbers to prevent 2600 people from trying to push though and get off the ship. They don't, however, tell you the time that your colour disembarks which makes it very difficult to arrange your own transfers! You have no idea if you will disembark at 6am or 10am. You think a relative will wait up to 4 hours in a car!?! But getting through customs and quarantine was relatively painless.
- The Amalfi Dining Room is all the way aft. It's a pity that there is absolutely no toilets nearby till about 1/3 the way down the Promenade Deck one level up!
- The fixed sitting starts at 6pm and 8:15pm, which makes it difficult to stuff 6 courses down in less than 1.5 hours to watch the shows at 8pm and 10pm!
- Clean the windows more regularly at the Skywalkers Nightclub! A daytime lounge space with views through dirty is not desirable for even a teenager, let alone a 60+ year old granny with high expectations!
- Offer much better activities and bigger spaces at the teens club areas!
- Make the Neptune's Pool indoor/outdoor as well. It was rarely used in Australia/New Zealand. Imagine Alaska!
Who Goes? On this cruise, I think it was 75% Americans and 80% over 50 years old. Considering that on a ship with 2600 passengers, there were only 35 teenagers, the demography is obvious. It does have the advantage, however, of more pool space for me, and most people went to sleep at about 10pm, so no Yahooing down the corridors at 3am like on other ships I've been on!