September 2015 proved to be the ideal time to cruise the Med on the Island Princess, as the ship had been refurbished in April 2015 and the weather was perfect. Having travelled on eight of the other Princess ships, we would now rate this as one of our favourites, with excellent, friendly service and high quality food. There was a good mix of passengers on board with at least 50% from the USA, followed by Australians then Brits.
We have enjoyed excellent service from the friendly staff on all Princess ships and thought that this was amongst the best. Our cabin steward was exceptionally good.
We opted for fixed dining at 8.15 pm, which worked well. Fellow passengers who chose anytime dinning reported that they had initially waited more than an hour for a table. We used the revamped Horizon buffet a couple of times for lunch and thought it was one of the best we had found on Princess ships. There is no International Cafe on ships of this size and the La Patisserie on level 5 was a poor alternative.
The entertainment could, and should, have been better. We had seen most of the shows several times, especially The Piano Man, which Princess has kept running for far too long. We thought the Do You Wanna Dance show was so much better than the others, simply because the resident live band were not involved and the excessive background lighting was reduced. Everybody on stage worked hard but we felt they were let down by the production team, who let the band drown the artists.
Tracy Shield did a good Celine Dion tribute act, as on the Royal Princess, but probably burst a few ear-drums. The other singers were very average and we skipped the American comedian and abandoned the grim multi-instrumentalist/singer after a few minutes.
All ports visited were interesting and it was good to start in Barcelona rather than spend days getting there from Southampton. We prefer to explore independently, so have included a few tips below.
Barcelona - It is well worth spending 2 or 3 nights here before joining the cruise.
Toulon - The helpful Information desk on the port directed us to the public ferry to the town, which was 15 minutes walk and costs 2 euros (as an alternative to the Princess shuttle, costing 20 USD). At the Toulon office you can buy a day pass for 6 euros, which covers the number 40 bus to the cable car, return cable car trip and even the ferry back to the ship. The daily morning market at Toulon is well worth visiting.
Pisa - Getting the train to Florence or Pisa is rather tedious, but Princess offer a shuttle to Livorno. At the Lavorno stop you will find people selling return coach trips to Pisa and to Florence. We opted for a 3 hour trip to Pisa. The Cathedral entry is free but you need timed tickets.
Rome - Rome is easily accessible by train from Civitavecchia but, having been there recently, we explored Civitavecchia instead.
Sorrento - We used the Princess shuttle, then the number 1 tram, to the rail station, where we caught the train to Sorrento. It takes 60 minutes and costs just 4.50 euros each way, which seemed preferable to the hydrofoil. Most passengers on board chose Princess trips to Pompeii, which is en route to Sorrento. Sorrento is lovely and a great base for visiting the sites on the Amalfi coast.
Mykanos - You can buy tickets for the local shuttle bus (for 7 euros return) before leaving the ship. We were only there for half a day but this was ample time to walk around the picturesque town and see the windmills.
Ephasus - We opted for a Princess excursion because this provided a guide and was easier than the taxi alternative. It proved to be a good choice and also took us to the House of the Virgin Mary (optional) and a carpet shop (optional). Remember to take water with you.
Athens - We discovered that you can get an X80 bus from either cruise port terminal (A or B), which stops at Syntagma Square in front of the Parliament Building. It stops at the Temple of Zeus/ Acropolis and Parthenon and, amazingly costs just 4 euros for the day. Entry to ancient sights is 12 euros (6 euros if 65+) and the fantastic New Acropolis Museum cost 5 euros. It is all absolutely amazing!
Venice - Cruising into Venice is fantastic, with St Mark's Square on the Starboard side and Pavoroti etc providing the background music. St Mark's Square is quite a walk from the port, and the vaporetto (water shuttle) is much easier. We re-visited all the main sites, including the Bassilica.
We greatly appreciated the assistance of the port expert on board (Lindsey Jolley). With only two sea days, live presentations were limited but recorded talks were available on Channel 36. Unlike the newer ships, these programs are not "on demand", so you need to view at certain times.
GETTING TO VENICE AIRPORT
We had plenty of time before our flight, so we caught the Alilaguna Airport Boat, which took about 90 minutes. It is a easy 10 to 15 minute walk at each end and they are used to handling luggage.
Captain Mariano Manfuso kept a low profile, as did the long-serving Cruise Director, Richard Joseph. The international entertainment team were fun and we enjoyed several good trivia quizzes. WiFi varied from excellent to non-existent, so we gave up using it after a couple of days. Unusually, many of the passengers on board were relatively new to Princess and even the "most travelled" passenger had less than 300 days with Princess.
Overall, it was an excellent cruise with interesting ports, excellent food and great service.