I planned my Australia and New Zealand vacation with Princess Cruises so I could see the most I could within the 24 Days I had down-under. I did this even though Princess Cruises does not have a single supplement so I paid suite passage for two people. Princess Cruises was the only cruise line that offered the land tour. Since this was my first trip to the region I wanted to see as much of Australia and New Zealand as I could. The vacation started with a tour that took me from Sydney to Uluru then to Carins and back to Sydney before boarding the Princess Cruise ship the Ruby Princess for a 12 day cruise around New Zealand. I planned to complete my trip with two days in Sydney after the cruise. Mistake number one was thinking Princess Cruises would delivery on their commitments and provide assistance and keep me informed. Princess Cruises did however meet their cruise contract terms. However, this does not mean they were at all worried about me enjoying my vacation.
I do want to say the Uluru and Cairns tour operated by a local Australian tour company was just wonderful. This might have set my expectations for the cruise. The three hotels we stayed in during the land tour was great the Hyatt Regency is in Darling Harbor and a short walking distance to the Opera House and Botanical Gardens. Just plan plenty of time if you walk (30 minutes each way) however it is easy to get around Sydney. The Airport Transfers contacted by this tour operator were handled very well with no issues. The Desert Garden Hotel in Uluru is the place to stay when traveling there. The two days were will planned the highlight was the aboriginal demonstration and program put on by a local group the Red Spaces Cultural Tours (I will do a separate review of this fantastic program). After the visit and this program, you leave Uluru with a greater appreciation of the Australian aboriginal people and importance the mountain was to their life in the outback. Off to Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef and Kuranda Rain Forest. While the tour provided a great experience in Cairns for the short two days we were there, you will want to plan more time. The rain forest has many trails you can explore and we just did not have the time. The land tour ended with a quick overview of Sydney and stop at Bondi Beach. I will do a separate review of the tour as this rating is not a reflection of that experience.
This is where a good vacation experience ended and dealing with rude and unresponsive cruise ship staff begin. The written instructions/directions that are provided mean nothing it seems the Ruby Princess is an exception as explained to me by a Guess Services staff member assigned to address my concerns.
My first encounter with a staff member at the coffee set the tone of the trip. I asked him if he could fill a souvenir cup I was provided for having the beverage package. The staff member stated yes took the cup and proceed to make the coffee. When finished instead of pouring the coffee from the paper cup into the souvenir cup he hands me both cups and states “pour it into the cup yourself and next time don't ask for coffee to be put into your cup.” By the way if you do purchase a beverage package keep a close eye on you cabin bill. Myself and a number of other passengers found improper drink charges on their accounts. Having to correct these erroneous charges takes time and Princess Cruises could correct the problem by flagging these and having the Guess Services staff research and correct them without passengers waiting in line during their vacation to identify the error. I will say a few of the staff like the bartenders at the Good Spirts worked to enjoy guess had an enjoyable experience. This was however the exception. Maybe these bartenders can provide some training to the others on how to provide a positive guess experience.
The suite book stated a suite guess should contact Guess Services to make reservations in the specialty restaurants. After trying to reach Guess Services by telephone three times with no answer and the inability to leave a message, I contacted the specialty dinning room reservations by telephone and was told there was nothing available. After this and the inability to contact my room steward via the telephone I sent an email to my travel agent that forwarded it to Princess Cruises. This is when Guess Services first contacted me. Princess might want to ensue they can cover the telephone service and not have it hang up on passenger due to no response. I was told the Ruby Princess did not have a suite concierge and the reason suite guess were told to contact specialty dinning room reservations directly. Also throughout the ship there were signs that directed guess to go to deck 16 to make reservations for the Curtis Stone specialty dinning experience. I went there twice and there was no one available to make a reservation. Appears that Princess Cruises has substituted staff and customer service for the medallion program and experience. I also found that no one seemed to want to take ownership of your issue/concern or problem. I was often referred to several different people or desk until I stop them. I heard the same issue from many other passengers as well.
My experience continued to deteriorate when Princess cancelled my disembark excursion they did not notify me and when I discovered it I was passed between Guess Services and Excursions Desk with little concern about my vacation time in Sydney. My Hotel Princess had reserved for me was less than two blocks from where the ship docked yet after they cancelled my excursion, they were going to have me wait on the ship until 09:45 to take a bus to the hotel. This would have wasted half of day of two days I had left in Sydney. I was able to get permission to leave the ship with my own transfer to the Hotel. This allowed me to get to the Hotel check my bags and book with the Hotel concierge the same excursion Princess cancelled. This was consistent with the previous assistance and responses Princess staff members. By the way Princess did not bother to try to provide me information on my transfer to the airport in two days. I will cover that next. So I successful saved the day in Sydney with little effort but no assistance or recommendations from the Princess staff.
The Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney that I will review separately was fantastic. A $5.00 Australia Dollar Uber ride got me to the Hotel around 07:00 AM. The Bellmen were very helpful checked my luggage and I checked-in and they were going to text me when the room was ready. The concierge was great they booked me on a 11 hour Blue Mountain and Zoological Park Tour that left 30 minutes after the booking from the Hotel. Great day even with the heavy rains. When I got back to the Hotel my room was ready and my luggage was already in the room. One thing missing was there no information from Princess on my airport transfer. Since I had another day I figured it might be left with the front desk or concierge the next day or Princess would have a hotel representative present for part of the day. When I checked early in the morning the front desk clerk and concierge mentioned that there would be a Princess cruise ship representative in the hotel the next day at 0800 AM. Since my flight did not leave until 2:00PM I felt comfortable waiting to get the transfer information the next day. The next day after breakfast I located two cruise representatives in the hotel but neither indicated they were there specifically for although one indicated she support Princess passengers. When I asked about the time for the airport transfer, she stated to be at the pickup location at 0930 AM. I proceeded with my morning and checked out at around 0900 AM. Up at the pickup point at 09:15 AM and shortly afterward the representative came out and stated you might want to come back inside and sit for a while. She stated she called Princess and the pickup was going to be at 10:30 AM. At this point I told her to cancel the transfer and I would take an Uber. Princess never bothered to contact me or reimburse me for the transfers they did not accomplish.
This was a 18 Day Cruise Tour that was to have four sea days. While Princess cannot control the weather, they can plan for possible alternate ports. Two of the itinerary stops could not be docked or transited due to weather and Princess just add sea days rather than trying to find another destination. While I don't want to speak for other passengers many other experienced cruisers also expressed their disappointment with the cruise and staff and stated they may take a break. Princess might want to do a critical look at the practices and polices on this cruise. I would not recommend this for a first-time cruiser. There appeared to no options when there is a weather-related issue to adjust the New Zealand itinerary where other cruises, I have always found that the cruise has planned alternative. I you want to see New Zealand for the first time don’t take a cruise if you have not cruised before. Also consider some alternate land options. I will be going back to New Zealand to see what it is really like and what I could not see with Princess.
Cabin was well appointed. The telephone service was poor at best. Guess Services said the called but I never receive a voice message.