Apologies for the delay in writing this review.
We cruised as a family of 4, myself and husband, mid 40s and two children, an 11yo and 15yo.
We chose and booked this cruise about 1.5 years before sailing, as we found a fantastic deal with good OBC. It was our 2nd cruise, and first with Princess Cruises. Our first was with Royal Caribbean. We chose Princess as we just wanted to compare and they seemed to have better prices on things like drinks etc. Also, no gratuities required if departing and returning to Australia (although of course we tipped those that stood out anyway in cash) and it just seemed to work for us. So even though we've only done 2 cruises, we were all in agreement that we preferred Princess over RC, for many different reasons.
The good: The dining room. Whilst breakfast and lunch in the dining room was a bit hit and miss, the dinners were always fantastic. We chose traditional dining as we had Anytime dining before and we just wanted to see what we liked better. Traditional for us! Loved getting to know our waiters and them getting to know our preferences, we were always served promptly (it does get dull taking two hours for dinner, esp with kids who just want to get to the after dinner activities.) The food was mostly fantastic, and we are pretty fussy diners. We were very happy with the dining room.
General service was very friendly and attentive , in the bars, the buffet, pretty much everywhere. Be friendly to those that serve you and they will be friendly back. No problem.
There were lots of choices of food at different venues at all hours. A big difference to our first cruise on RC.
The public areas were beautiful and well maintained. (although sometimes there was a smell of bleach/chlorine which was noticeable...but we felt that this was good as we knew it had been cleaned)
Public restrooms were very clean and well maintained.
Drinks packages were good value and drinks were well priced in comparison to RC. The soda and more package was fantastic value...kids drank mocktails often!
The pizza was EXCELLENT. Italian style, very very good.
International Cafe was very good even at 5.30am with a great barista and nice pastries.
Kids club (shockwaves) was good, the 11yo enjoyed going most days and evenings. Staff were friendly but my only gripe was the upselling of the Junior Masterchef.
Good cultural enrichment (Maori show, Maori language and park ranger at Fiordlands) but would have liked more of it.
Princess@sea was a great little service...when it worked. We often used the messenger service but unfortunately it dropped out often. Would love them to enhance it so we get notifications when we get a message. Was good to have on a big ship when you can't find each other!
As stated above, we thought the drinks were good value. The unlimited soda and more package was very well used by the kids and was EXCELLENT value.
No gratuities are charged on cruises leaving and returning to Australia and there was no push to give them unlike our previous cruise where we had prepaid gratuities but were pressured to give even more. This didn't happen on this cruise but we still tipped some of our excellent crew. This did not affect service at all. All crew were friendly and gave great service.
The bad: No consistency in informing us about the various ports. We were actually misled at Auckland where the info given out was that you could get to the Glowworm tunnel from Auckland but when we got off the ship and we asked the local tourism people, we were informed that it was a 3hr drive, better accessed by the next day's port. Not such great/accurate info by Princess.
We missed two ports. We had pretty poor weather for about half the cruise thanks to the tail end of a cyclone that followed us to New Zealand! They were both tender ports and it was very disappointing to miss them both.
Cabins got very noisy in high seas...they creaked and groaned a LOT with the rough seas..even in moderate swells. Bring your earplugs! Loads of passengers that didn't sleep much. It really was very noisy.
Photo pricing was annoying. Small photo for $15, large $25 but the "large" photo was just larger paper. The photo itself could be smaller than the small, you just had to put up with other junk (itinerary, maps etc) That drove me insane.
Hard sell on jewellery and loads of other promotional junk (art shows etc) No interest in that junk. Would love to see a "recycling" bin so we can dispose of the millions of pieces of paper we got that were were not interested in at all!
Captain/officers not visible amongst us plebs. Rarely saw them in the common areas. I don't think I ever saw the captain. He made one announcement at midday which sounded scripted. He did brief us if the weather was going to be severe (often ,as it happened!)
Horizon court layout/setup was just confusing until you work out that they alternate the sides they open. Peak times were difficult in securing a table but we always found one outside.
Selling "wine tasting" on our first day. The wine tasting was just a bit silly, don't think they even sold those wines on board.
Odd smells on our deck (Dolphin) on the odd occasion.
Ship vibrations. Some spots were way too cold and some too shaky.
Cabin was clean but starting to show its age in carpet, some ding marks on wall and furniture and especially the sofa which I think is due for replacement.
Disembarkation day. Service was completely non existent in the buffet at breakfast. Public toilets that I tried were blocked up/overflowing, no toilet paper and absolutely filthy. Once we had to leave our rooms to disembark it was impossible to find a public toilet that was usable. We felt like we had overstayed our welcome. It was like we were no longer "valued passengers", and it left a really terrible last impression on us after a fabulous 12 days. Bad, sad and downright ugly.
Shows. We cruise to travel so were not so impressed with the entertainment. We went to a few, mostly comedy. Some fantastic, others not so much.
Not much to do on sea days (of which we got more than we expected with our poor weather!) Just trivia, bingo, art auctions and shopping. Some "activities" were just sales demos such as the GoPro lecture.
Movies not to our taste. Would have liked to have seen the Lord of the Rings movies or Whale Rider as they were filmed at the locations/ports we were visiting.
Our mini suite was a good size for a family of 4. One double for mum and dad, one pullman/bunk that came down from the ceiling and a sofa bed that came out of the sofa. Only problem was the kids fighting over the beds so you have been warned that they are different! I had to bribe one $$ to sleep in the bunk. But I was prepared for that and she got her own holiday money to spend out of failing to get the sofa bed. We asked our stateroom attendant if he could put it back so we got the lounge space during the day. We had a coffee table, a full sized 3 seater sofa (that turned into the sofa bed at night) and an armchair. Nice amount of space for 4 of us. Winner!
It was clean but there was an odd smell occasionally near the balcony for the first few days..I think maybe the carpet had gotten wet? I wasn't sure but the carpet could very easily get wet if someone leaves the door open as the balcony is completely uncovered. Not so great, but more because it's totally unusable even with a tiny bit of rain.
Otherwise it was a great room, quiet spot and no noise from anywhere above or below. There was however some vibration at times but not for long.
Well maintained by friendly room attendant.
I don't think I could go in any other room but a mini suite if travelling as a family. Well worth the extra $$.
Stepped straight off the ship and was in the middle of the city within minutes. Take a ferry to Devonport or further afield as Auckland city is just another city.
Got on a shuttle to the centre of city where we were greeted by city volunteers who helped us with information on what we wanted to do that day. We caught a bus out to the Weta Cave in the suburbs where we did a tour but you must book these in advance. (we booked while waiting for the bus!) Then back into the city, the Te Papa museum, the Cable car and this fabulous little perfumery at the top of the Cable Car. Nice day, again, poor weather.