Embarkation was painless. We arrived at Station Pier Port Melbourne on 24th May 2015, and dragged our suitcases to the upper level where 300 or so passengers were boarding the Sea Princess in Melbourne for a 102 day World cruise. There were no directions at to where to leave our suitcases, so we had to manipulate them up an escalator to the embarkation area, where they were quickly whisked away from us and taken onboard. Only had to wait a short time before the documentation was processed and Cruise Cards issued.
Review of the Sea Princess:
In writing this critique, it has to be noted that this cruise was full, with around 2000 passengers and over 1000 crew. The ship itself is getting older, and experiencing spasmodic maintenance problems that caused engine issues, and numerous episodes of leaking pipes which flooded staterooms, hallways, and the Princess Theatre. Staff were always quick to work on reported problems, & despite the age of the ship & all its fittings, everything looked clean, polished & well cared for.
Despite having a pre boarding guarantee of “early seating” allocation for dining in the Traviata Dining Room, on embarkation that had somehow changed to late seating. When we questioned the “Maitre D” about the change, we were told that our guaranteed seating was only a “guaranteed request”. Following an elongated discussion, we were finally changed to our requested early seating by the 2nd day.
It seems pointless in filling out the Cruise Personaliser on the Princess website, when Princess themselves have no interest in reading what we request. The information we provide appears to get stuck in Princess’s Head Office, and not passed on to the ships we travel on.
The meals in the dining room remain spectacular, however a noted change was that the menu was repeated on a 10 – 14 day rotation with monotonous regularity. For long cruises like the 104 Day World Cruise, this became rather boring after a few weeks. For the first two weeks, there were only six people on our table, with another 2 joining in Freemantle. Our table of 8 became the best of friends, and apart from a few sick days, everyone fronted up each evening to enjoy the wonderful company and delicious food.
Our waiters on table 184 were Mario and Alfie, who, between them, tendered to our every culinary need. Mario was a bit temperamental, depending on his mood, but Alfie being the junior waiter excelled at his job.
Drink prices were expensive but wine left over was always named, recorked and available for the next evening meal.
I renamed the Horizon Court buffet “The horror-zone” for obvious reasons, for it was terrible lining up for food, arguing with combative passengers, and searching for a vacant seat. The manners of many people left a lot to be desired, and you would think some people had never been fed before, the way they carried on around the buffet food. The Sterling Steakhouse was a joke, situated in a partitioned off area of the Horizon Buffet each evening. While it was busy most nights, and the food reportedly great, it could not be seen as a special dining environment. The Ice-cream Parlor outside on deck 12 under the movie screen was usually quite busy, however the quality of the soft serve ice-cream varied considerably, from very creamy to well watered down. All diners were looked after for Special occasions with a cake and a throng of caroling waiters and bar staff, which just made that special occasion even more memorable.
Lounges & Restrooms:
We always found the restrooms clean, tidy and well stocked. An interesting & well accepted change was that the toilets had disposable paper seat covers.
Both the Vista Lounge and the Princess Theatre seat approx. 500 passengers each. With the decline in the number of evening entertainment options, seating for both ends of the ship could only seat 1000 passengers. For a ship holding 2000 passengers, a person would have to get to the main entertainment area (either Vista of Princess Theatre) at least an hour before the event started in order to get a seat. This created a lot of angst and friction among passengers, especially finding the entertainment areas completely filled 45 minutes before the start of each show.
Several times over the course of the 104 days there was a leak from the ceiling of the Princess Theatre, and several seats had to be partitioned off as they were soaked. This intermittent leaking continued on for most of the cruise, despite numerous attempts by staff to try and fix the problem.
The Wheelhouse Bar was used many days for trivia sessions, and trying to fit upwards of 400 passengers into an area that could only house 200 at best, was nothing short of nauseating. To get a seat, most people had to arrive for trivia almost an hour early, and this caused fights amongst passengers who tried to reserve seats for other members of their trivia team. Whilst reserving seats is a known “No-No” what else could people do. Many disagreements ensued because of this.
Princess continually advocates that passengers must not save seats in the public lounges and theatres, however, despite this, seat saving continues at an alarming rate. On very popular entertainment nights, a passenger would take their life into their own hands if they needed to visit the rest room before a show started, because their seat then became fair game for whoever was waiting.
The public Laundry was a nightmare, with only 2 machines and dryers on 3 of the passenger decks. Queuing was long and tedious, and those passengers who put washing in the machines and went away for hours continually aggravated fellow passengers waiting for vacant machines. Woe and behold anyone who touched anyone else’s laundry, and only remove someone else’s laundry at your own peril. The laundry proved to be a very entertaining area, with many altercations occurring daily. We found it easier to hand wash in the cabin, and hang it on coat hangers around the room to dry. Always take a small hanging peg line to hang in the shower, and this is great to hang smalls on, which dry pretty much within a day or do in the air-conditioned atmosphere.
Surviving 102 nights in an inside stateroom was not a problem, given that this was our 4th time cruising for this length of time, but organization is a must. Having a place for everything, and keeping everything in its place, is a definite necessity. On this cruise we were assigned Stateroom B224, towards the front of the ship on Baha deck level 10. Our Stateroom steward was “Homer” until Dubai, then “June” from Dubai onwards. Both Stewards looked after us well. On embarkation and meeting our steward for the first time, we set out requests for dressing gowns; an ice bucket every night; extra coat hangers, and an extra chair as the stateroom only has one. This cruise we purchased a foam mattress overlay that we packed and took with us, as the mattresses on the ship are either rock hard, or very worn and dip in the middle. We also take our own pillows for much the same reason, and we were very glad we did, because the pillows in our stateroom were sadly lacking in substance.
The room was always left clean and tidy, towels always changed each morning, and beach towels were replaced whenever they were used, sometimes several times during the day. Shampoo, soap, skin lotion & body wash (excellent for hand washing clothes) were replaced daily.
Laundry bags for sending dirty clothes to go to the ships laundry service were sadly lacking, many times we were having to chase the room steward to get new bags. It’s not rocket science for a room steward to replace a laundry bag when they take a full one away.
Having cruised for 104 nights with Princess previously, we had a reasonable idea what to expect as far as entertainment was concerned. In comparing the last 4 cruises we have done of 104 days, it is easy to see that cutbacks on entertainment for this cruise were very noticeable. As a comparison.......
2009 there were 104 different evening events and 14 Production Show
2012 there were 71 different evening events and 15 Production Shows,
2013 there were 62 different evening events and 10 Production Shows.
2015 there were 57 evening events and 13 production shows
The Production Shows for this cruise were changed, probably because most of the passengers were repeat World Cruisers, and had seen all the Production Shows Princess had to offer. For this cruise Princess, in their wisdom, decided to employ an outside company to produce the singers and dancers. While the quality was extremely high, and the entertainment good, all of the shows lacked all the glitz and glamour that Princess advertise for their cruises. There were no sets, & costumes were bland. However, the Sea Princess Orchestra always provided a sensational music backing for the production show team.
Many nights on this last cruise we found there was nothing to do other than watch a movie, which I do not consider watching movies that are years old and repeated several times, as major forms of evening entertainment. The selection of movies available was antiquated, and despite many complaints, this problem did not change for the entire cruise. Several old & new movies were played on the in-house televisions, and under the stars, however, some of these were repeated with monotonous regularity.
Overall, the Production Shows were good, but many of the comedians were aged, as were their jokes and stories. At various ports around the globe, artists got on and off, always ensuring a fresh supply of good and no-so-good entertainers.
Pre & post dinner dancing was always available, & passenger theme parties were scheduled at sparse intervals. Morning & afternoon trivia sessions were a must for the brainiacs, who always played for sheep stations. We always tried to catch up on the Port lectures, especially for all the new ports we had not been to before, as there was always some interesting bits of info to take away. The port lecturer “Hutch” was sensational in his port presentations, always a wealth of information, and very approachable when questioned outside of lecture time. Other ways to keep occupied included scholarship @ sea lectures; library; church services; dancing lessons; sports tournaments; bingo; card playing; game shows; exercise classes; movies; choir practice; culinary demonstrations; & ice carving demo’s.
Princess offered Service club meetings, which was relevant to us being Lions; but we did not avail ourselves of the Dr Bob & Bill W meetings, nor did we join in as GLBT groups, but it was entertaining to note that they cater for these groups as well.
We did manage to find the gymnasium several times, although not as much as we should have. The equipment was state of the art, and reasonably well utilized, but having someone available to help you to use the computerized equipment was not always available. The only scales on the ship was located inside the gym, and these came in handy to check out just how much weight we were putting on weekly. They probably explained why our clothes were shrinking at a great rate of knots, but on this score, I blamed the washing water for shrinking them!!!
We researched all the shore excursions before boarding, so picked the eyes out of what was available, and made sure we selected all the important places of interest to us. While it has to be noted that all of the ships excursions were expensive, there was the guarantee of knowing that if an excursion got back late, the ship would not leave us behind, as did happen to several passengers who did their own thing and returned late. All of the good excursions booked out early, so if there is something special that you really want to see or do, then booking early is a must. On this cruise we booked about 50% of our tours with the Cruise Critic group. This is a great way to meet other cruisers, cuts down the cost of excursions, and in most cases, you get to see more places of interest on the tours because the groups are smaller than the big Princess ones. One thing that needs to be pointed out, is that Princess are not happy if tour soliciting occurs whilst onboard, so if you plan on doing Cruise Critic Tours (which I definitely recommend), make sure you have these arranged and paid for before you get onboard. Also note that if you are on a private tour, and you get back late, that Princess will not guarantee they will wait for you.
The tender service remains a nightmare, however, I don’t know how else you could move 2500 people on and off a ship any other way. Queuing for tender tickets, then queuing again when your number was called, tended to take the excitement off getting off the ship at each port. If you fore went queuing for tender tickets, then you had to wait until everyone else was off before you could try and find the exit, and this definitely would cut down your time on shore. Possibly Princess need to use more tender boats when this arrangement has to be implemented, because the current arrangement is annoyingly frustrating. Queue jumping was a frequent occurrence, and many an argument was had while waiting in line.
Embarkation and disembarkation was handled extremely well. The Pursers Desk, Future Cruise Staff and Captains Circle staff handled most of our needs very efficiently.
The Boutiques on board sell a large variety of merchandise, however, items that sold out very quick on our cruise were cough medicine and throat lozenges. Probably due to the air-conditioning, every time we cruise we get the dreaded sore throat and cough, which seems to do the rounds of the ship. A good suggestion would be to go prepared, and ensure you have an adequate supply of an appropriate cough syrup, and throat lozenges. Toiletry items such as soap, shampoo, conditioner & body lotion are supplied in every stateroom, and balconies and suite staterooms have access to other useful toiletry items.
For all Princess Ships based in Australia, tipping is included in the price of your cruise. We always choose to provide additional tipping to our Stateroom stewards and dining room waiters, depending on the quality of service provided. All drinks purchased from the bars have 15% tipping already added to the bill. It is always a bone of contention to tip or not to tip, but if I get exemplary service, it will be rewarded.
The Cruise Staff:
For this cruise of 102 nights we had 3 Cruise Directors: Dan Falconer, Peter Tredgett & Mat Thompson. Dan never quite had his finger on the pulse; Peter was patronizing; & Matt at least seemed to enjoy his job. Matt's wife Kim (who acted as Matt's deputy for part of the cruise) was always pleasant and helpful, and took over the Zumba classes whenever she could.
The Assistant Cruise staff this cruise seemed to be the most disjointed group I have ever sailed with. They consisted of Sarah, Maddi, Kelly, Jill, Richy Rick, Sascha, Tina & Danielle. Most of them were disinterested in what they were doing, and many times they just huddled together, & avoided talking to passengers
There will always be a few minor hiccups on long cruises, however, despite the few problems outlined earlier, we had a fantastic 102 nights, visiting many parts of the World we had only ever dreamed about seeing. With research and previous planning, we had the most enjoyable cruise ever, and have marked a lot of places off our bucket list. We were wined, dined and entertained in style, and will definitely sail with Princess Cruises again. Read Less