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136 World Cruise Reviews

Cruise reviews tend to fall into 2 main categories: 1. We loved it 2. We hated it Now and then you get an 'average' rating. This review falls into category 1. We are an early-retired professional couple from Toronto. Ocean ... Read More
Cruise reviews tend to fall into 2 main categories: 1. We loved it 2. We hated it Now and then you get an 'average' rating. This review falls into category 1. We are an early-retired professional couple from Toronto. Ocean Princess is "small" (30,000 tons) and is "old" (1999). Please don't let that put you off. On the contrary, the ship was in fine fettle and reminiscent of bygone days of grand shipping lines with opulent interiors, refined service, with little nickel & diming. Princess went up in our estimation after this cruise. This is not your cookie cutter cruise. Destinations: Dover - Newcastle - Edinburgh - Faeroes - Iceland (2 locations) - Greenland (2 locations) - St. John NF - St. Pierre & Miquelon - New York. A huge East to West arc across the North Atlantic over 18 days in June/July. Confession: I'd long wanted to go to Iceland. To see what this planet was like billions of years ago. As with so many aspects of this cruise, our expectations were well-exceeded. I'd go back to Iceland at the drop of a hat. Like nothing else (including Hawaii - it's different) I've ever seen. I'm not going to bore you with ports of call, except to say we made our own plans at each one and, with the exception of St. Pierre & Miquelon (a bit of a yawn), we loved every stop. This itinerary and ship is for those who want to linger on an above-average cruise ship and experience places and things they've only read about but would like to see. It's not for beach bums. Did we get a suntan? Yep! Although en route into NY we caught some nasty sea fog, which put the damper (pun intended) on outside deck activities, but on occasion, if you were up on the top deck, you'd be in sunshine while the lower decks were shrouded in mist! Food was very good. Lots of seafood. Service at our table was perhaps a little stiff & impersonal for our tastes. A word with the head waiter and the passage of a day or 2 changed that. Onboard entertainment was poor to good and was not thrust down our throats by over-enthusiastic yet unskilled cruise director's staff. The production show (there were 3) about Motown music was very enjoyable. "Poor" related to a stand-up comic who gets a lot of his inspiration from the bathroom. The high spot (other than Iceland for me) was cruising through fjords of Greenland that took most of the day. My photographs, with no signs of habitation or trees in them to give an idea of scale, simply do not do justice to the colossal magnitude of this raw part of the planet. Full marks to the captain for firstly, making this section (many had gone before and not succeeded due to poor weather) so special. He would stop the ship and turn it 360 degrees so that everyone could get their best view of, say, a glacier. He sounded the ship's horn and, on cue, the glacier "calved" (i.e. a chunk fell off) into the water with a big splash! We made every port of call per the itinerary. If that sounds an odd statement to make, there were many on board who had taken this (or similar) cruises before and had not made all landfalls due to weather/icebergs etc. We count ourselves fortunate in that respect. For animal lovers, we did not see that much from the ship, directly (occasional porpoises, whales, the odd seal, etc). But there were several shore excursions for sea life and birds that we were told were OK. Everywhere port we went, people were friendly or curious. No problems with the "locals" that might be an issue in, say, some parts of the Caribbean basin. In conclusion: if you are at least a little adventurous and you're looking for something different from the mass cruising market, you could do a lot worse than this one. Needless to say, few cruise ships do this type of run. But if this sounds like your kind of vacation, go ahead and check it out. We are so glad we did. Oh, in case you're wondering about - small ship - sea sick? Well it did get a bit "pitchy" one night and I can't say that no-one felt queasy. But we never saw or heard any evidence of anyone being seasick the whole voyage. For the most time, we weren't aware we were on the high seas. One more point: the cruise was 18 days. Pace yourself with all that gorgeous food! Read Less
Sail Date June 2010
Crown Princess Is Better Than Queen Mary! We departed Ft. Lauderdale on May 1, 2010 on Crown Princess for a 53-day cruise to ten countries arriving Southampton, UK on June 23rd. We boarded the Queen Mary 2 on June 25th for a 6-day crossing ... Read More
Crown Princess Is Better Than Queen Mary! We departed Ft. Lauderdale on May 1, 2010 on Crown Princess for a 53-day cruise to ten countries arriving Southampton, UK on June 23rd. We boarded the Queen Mary 2 on June 25th for a 6-day crossing to New York. Crown Princess is an excellent ship with great food, service, and entertainment. Our expectations were high that the Queen Mary 2 would be even better. We discovered Crown Princess is better than QM2!! Food: QM2 food was poor to fair. The maitre D confirmed one entree was an "inedible rubber fish". Also, Venison had no flavor nor texture. Side dishes were strange, e. g. guacamole filled twice-baked potato with re-fried beans. Food was rarely served at the right temperature - entrees were often cool; ice cream arrived half-melted. The QM2 menu was very small making it difficult to find something I wanted. Buffets served "cafeteria quality food" with extremely limited choices. I tried a cookie and almost broke my teeth. Food was consistently great/excellent on the Crown Princess. The menu was very large. Food was served at the right temperature and it had great flavor and texture. Compared to QM2's puny buffets, Crown Princess has huge buffets with lots of choices of freshly-prepared, delicious food! Princess also has well-stocked areas such as the International Cafe with lite fare meals, great snacks, deserts, and an excellent choice of flavored coffees. If you like frozen coffee, Princess serves about six flavors vs. one flavor on QM2. Likewise, there are four types of cookies, freshly baked throughout the day, on Princess vs. one type of cookie (baked weekly?) on Queen Mary. The QM2 buffet has "fake ice cream" from a machine. Princess has "real ice cream" and for $ 1.50 you can buy three scoops of delicious gelato. A passenger explained, "Of course food is better on Princess, but that's an unfair comparison. Princess has Italian chefs. They're passionate about food and world-renowned as the best. The priority on Princess is food taste/quality. Chefs offer freshly cooked food when passengers want it. Guess where the chefs are from on Queen Mary? They're Indians. Who ever heard of a world famous Indian chef? On QM2, the priority is cooking schedule. All food is prepared at once and much of it is frozen and reheated with a sauce poured on top. That's why entrees don't have natural juices, just toppings." At the cooking demonstration, the head Indian chef fried a steak and asked his assistant to taste it. The assistant answered, "I don't eat meat." OMG! The chefs don't taste food as a quality control measure. That's why my venison was tasteless with no texture. Food Service: Princess food service combines great service and having fun. Waiters are friendly and outgoing. They proudly announce which county they're from, engage passengers, and we become friends sharing stories and laughing together. Waiters are extremely attentive and personally committed to anticipate and immediately respond to passenger needs at the table. Queen Mary waiters are formal and reserved, limiting their conversation to "good afternoon". Waiters are not involved nor aware of passenger needs at the table. We had to ask, multiple times, for more water, coffee, bread, etc. Food would arrive and waiters didn't know who had ordered it - lots of mistakes and confusion. Queen Mary only had a few waiters (I think three) at the pub lunch. They couldn't keep up with orders nor bus tables. Princess has the number of waiters needed for quick, efficient service and busing of tables for pub lunch at the Wheelhouse Bar. Public Area Appearance, Cleanliness, Design, & Layout: Princess is beautiful. Queen Mary is both beautiful and elegant. Both ships have attractive, clean public areas. QM2 even has an automatic wash system to clean dining room windows at sea. Really slick! Design and layout of public areas on Crown Princess are excellent - thoughtful, practical, and good for mobility-challenged passengers. Facilities are organized logically and centralized at the Piazza with entertainment, the computer center, future cruise booking, lite fare food, a bar, a great coffee shop, wine tasting, deserts, etc. Public spaces are open with lots of seating so it never seems crowded even with 3200 passengers. Designers of the Queen Mary failed interior design school. Public area design ranges from impractical to just plain stupid. There is no central hub with access to everything. Facilities are scattered all over the ship. You would think this helter-skelter layout would reduce crowding, but the Queen Mary public areas feel crowded with no place to sit even though it has 700 fewer passengers than the Crown Princess. Bad layout on QM2 is further complicated by different ceiling heights. To achieve a "luxurious feel", designers used 20-foot high ceilings (two-decks) in some areas which connect to two 10-foot ceilings/decks. When you exit the main elevator, you see two sets of stairs. One goes up/down 20-feet, the other goes ten feet. Queen Mary has manually controlled, tiny wheelchair elevators to go a single-story. They're the width of a wheelchair and deep enough for the chair and a person to push it. I pushed a wheelchair into the elevator. We went up one-story and discovered the manual door was at the other end. I couldn't reach over the person in the chair and couldn't walk beside her to reach the door. A passenger saw our predicament and opened the door. Another problem ramp-type floor to adjust from a 2-story deck to the adjacent single-story decks. I found it difficult to push a wheelchair up the carpeted ramp. Queen Mary poses a problem for all passengers trying to find their way around the ship and a special problem for mobility-challenged. Design of the Crown Princess is better because it is simple and intuitive to find your way around the ship and it's handicap-friendly. Queen Mary has two theaters; both pose problems. The Royal theater has twelve pillars about a foot and a half in diameter that block the view to the stage. Passengers see empty seats from the aisle, walk past seated passengers to the empty seats to discover they can't see anything. Then, they get up, walk past seated passengers again to the aisle. One man started to shout to passengers entering the Royal theater, "You can't see anything from these seats, that's why they're empty". By comparison, Princess has an excellent theater design with no pillars and good viewing from all seats. Acoustics are also better in the Crown Princess theater. The second theater on Queen Mary is Illusions. It's also the planetarium. A dome in the ceiling is lowered about 10 feet over 150 red color seats. The seats recline by pushing a button, but many are broken so you have to standup, push it back and jump on it quickly to keep it in the reclined position. All lights are turned off so you can watch a 23-minute video projected on the dome. There are only two, 23-minute computer generated videos using NASA images. The video is slightly blurry. If you like this kind of video, tune your TV to the History channel. They have much better and clearer videos with more information and cover more subjects. QM2 "hypes" this as the "only planetarium at sea". Other cruise companies are smarter about how they spend money. "Movies under the stars" on Crown Princess is a much better offering that QM2's planetarium. Embarkation on Queen Mary 2 in Southampton UK vs. Crown Princess in Ft. Lauderdale: Embarkation on Crown Princess ship was efficient and fast. We arrived at 2:00 PM at QM2 to avoid the early boarding crowds while comfortably in time for the 4:30 PM deadline. The terminal was very crowded and lines were NOT moving. I asked a Cunard employee how long she thought it would take for me to get onto the ship. She said, "Princess Anne was here today and that delayed everything." I said "Ma'am, Princess Anne is not in this terminal, I'm just trying to get past the six couples in front of me to the check-in lady." She said the problem is that passengers don't have all their documents ready for check-in. I said, "Ma'am, I've timed the process. It takes 15-20 seconds for a passenger to hand documents to the check-in lady and she takes 9 minutes and 45 seconds to complete the check-in. I think there's something wrong with your systems or procedures. It's not like Cunard didn't know my wife and I were coming to board this ship today." After check-in, I was told I had to wait until number 15 was called and that I should sit down in the terminal which was dirty, hot, crowded and had no air conditioning. The reason was "the gangway is full". I said, "Ma,am I can see the gangway all the way to the top at the ship entrance and there are only a couple of people on it. Why can't I just walk up the gangway to the air conditioned ship?" She said the gangway is not designed to handle a lot of people. I said, "Ma,am there are only a dozen or so people on that gangway. Princess ships load 3200 passengers and I've seen continuous lines of people on the gangway." She said, "You're in the UK now and this is the way we do it." I sat down and waited till number 15 was called. There was NO line on the gangway nor at the entrance to the ship. Later, passengers told me the delay in boarding was to give photographers more time to photograph passengers. That's amazing; Princess photographers quickly take photos so as not to inconvenience passengers. Summary - Why Crown Princess Is a Better Cruise Experience than Queen Mary 2: For Princess, it's all about the passengers. Their ships are beautiful and well-designed with all the creature comforts, services, entertainment, etc. I may want. The entertainment, food, and services are truly exceptional. Our cruise experience on Crown Princess was excellent because their culture of employee commitment involves everyone in a relentless effort to improve customer satisfaction. For Cunard, it's all about their "regal", $ 800 million ship. They don't realize the interior ship design/layout is impractical because they're pre-occupied with hull design, powerful engines, and ability of QM2 to crash through huge waves at very high speed so all passengers can throw up in a storm. Fortunately, we didn't encounter a storm. Cunard believes passengers are privileged to travel on the Queen Mary and the ship is exempt from critique. They assume I don't know what great food and service are. Rather than involve employees in a continuous improvement program, Cunard allows employees to distance themselves from customer satisfaction creating an employee culture of excuses explaining away and diminishing passenger problems rather than improving service to fix them. Read Less
Sail Date May 2010
We booked our cruise through a cruise only agency, one that we have used for several years. We are too old and too fat to fly internationally in coach, so we usually buy our coach tickets independently and upgrade to Business Class with ... Read More
We booked our cruise through a cruise only agency, one that we have used for several years. We are too old and too fat to fly internationally in coach, so we usually buy our coach tickets independently and upgrade to Business Class with miles. However on this itinerary we booked Princess air through the travel agent because it was several thousand dollars less than if we had bought two one-way tickets each from the airline. We flew United on the outbound, and a combo of South African Air and United on the return. We flew into Singapore one day early, and booked the Pan Pacific hotel through the travel agent, who had a better price than I could find on the internet. It's a great hotel, and a real steal at $135 including taxes. Because we'd been to Singapore before, we chose to spend our 1.5 days there at the Jurong Bird Park, and the Orchid Garden at the Botanical Gardens. We were glad that we'd flown in early, and enjoyed two leisurely days. We embarked around 3 PM, taking a taxi from the hotel to the pier. No crowds at that hour, so we were in our rooms within minutes. I had assumed (wrongly) that Princess would have refurbished the ship when they changed it from the Tahitian Princess to the Ocean Princess. So I was surprised to see that the cabin showed signs of wear. Nothing bothersome, just a little tired. Our cabin steward was excellent, as they almost always are. The itin originally had 13 ports of call, but the Seychelles and Myanmar were removed before departure, reducing the number to 11, on a 32 day cruise. So nearly two-thirds of the cruise was at sea. The Seychelles was dropped due to pirate activity in the West Indian ocean, and I was definitely in favor of avoiding pirates! It was unclear why Myanmar was dropped, but it was suggested that it had to do with the tides in the river, and the scheduled times of arrival and departure. I'd visited most of the ports of call on previous travels, but my husband and our friend had not. We prefer to arrange our own shore excursions when possible. However on this cruise we only did our own tours in Malaysia, Thailand, and Cape Town. I just couldn't find reliable tour operators in some of the ports that don't have high levels of tourism. Kuala Lampur is a very modern and interesting city. We took a tour with Princess because the independent tour I'd hoped to book fell apart before we left home. In Penang,Malaysia (island) we booked a full-day tour with Mr. PG Lee, at a cost of 30 Malaysian Ringgits per hour (leepg2006@gmail.com). I especially liked the tour at the spice garden and the butterfly farm. And another fresh seafood lunch! Phuket,Thailand (another island) is charming, and has recovered well from the Tsunami, at least in the areas that tourists see. We booked a full-day island tour with Daj, http://www.independenttraveler.com/ at 1800 baht for the day, including petrol. Our guide was pleasant, and we enjoyed tasty seafood lunch at a local restaurant recommended by him. In Chennai we took the Princess tour to Mahabalipuram, to see the sea temples, which are interesting. I am a big fan of India, which isn't everyone's cup of tea, as proved by the reaction of many of the ship's passengers who had never been there before. IMHO one needs to experience the countryside in India, to offset the impact of the large, teeming cities. It's a place that grows on you with the length of stay. But cruises just can't provide that option. Mumbai, with its 14 million people and terrible traffic is also shocking for most Americans. We elected to take the tour which visited three different temples. India's various religions make it a very interesting place to travel. After several days crossing the Indian Ocean, we arrived in Oman, an ultra-conservative Muslim country. Muscat was small and bright and shiny clean, after India. Female passengers are advised by the Tour Consultant onboard to cover their legs (all of them), their arms (all of them), and also their hair if they plan to visit the National Mosque. A number of ladies just couldn't believe that this applied to them, so they were refused entrance unless they could cover themselves appropriately. The National Mosque is incredible...don't miss it. At the Souk we purchased Diet Coke for $5 a six-pack. Cheaper than $1.95 each onboard! Other people brought on soft drinks and water for their cabins. We next sailed to Dubai, where we had two days, since they had extra time due to the cancellation of two ports. This was very helpful. A lot of passengers had dinner ashore the first evening and we were ready for some individually prepared food. It's a fascinating city, because everything is so new. The question of whether or not they will be able to repay the bailout money and what will happen if they cannot looms large. In the meantime, construction is at a standstill, and my husband observed that you could probably buy a cement truck pretty cheaply (and all other construction equipment). We took the Princess Desert Safari Tour, which put 4-5 passengers in new Toyota Landcruisers with a skilled driver, who drove us into the desert for some dune riding. Fun! We also visited a camel farm, and had lunch at a desert camp where camel rides were available, and a belly dancer entertained. It's a great tour, although at noon it's well over 100 degrees, which is why the tour is usually run in the early evening. Some passengers mentioned that they had booked the evening tour online, and they picked them up at the ship. However you'd have to know the ship's departure time if it isn't a two day stop. On the second day we took a Princess tour of Dubai-Old and New. It was a standard city tour. One of the highlights was a small boat transfer across the Dubai creek, where we visited the spice market and the gold souks. I bought saffron in the spice market, which actually came from Iran. The jewelry in the gold souk is absolutely overwhelming! It all begins to look the same after the first three store windows. (Drum roll). And then we had seven days at sea. That's just too many on a small ship, in my opinion. We had a terrific Cruise Director (Sammi), but the lack of space limits the number and variety of activities that can be arranged. Our previous cruise was a Holy Land itin on the Royal Princess, which is a sister ship to the Ocean Princess, and we loved the smaller ship. But it was a port intensive cruise, with only two sea days out of eleven, which we all needed after our days on shore. On this long cruise I read about eight books on my new Kindle (perfect for traveling), saw at least six movies (the selection went downhill at the cruise progressed), and attended several lectures by the onboard guest speakers. But it was challenging to find appealing activities when the Princess Patter arrived each evening. We called on the port of Nosy Be, which is on a small island off the northwest coast of Madagascar. We elected to take the Princess tour to the smaller island nearby, where we could see the lemurs for which Madagascar is famous. We did see one variety that is very small, perhaps weighing a couple of pounds. The villagers were thrilled to have visitors, which only occurs a few times a year. The children are let out of school, and they sing and dance to entertain (and request a 'local donation'). I was relieved that there were no accidents in the loading and unloading of the small boats that took us back and forth to the small island. Madagascar is a huge island. I wish Princess would try to develop another port of call somewhere on the island. Three more days at sea before we arrived in Durban, which is quite a lovely city! We did the Princess tour to 'Land of the Thousand Hills', taking us through some beautiful countryside, and ending at a Zulu tribal village where we saw a well done Zulu show, shopped in a nice (and huge) souvenir store, and toured a reptile farm (shudder). At the Durban ship terminal at least 100 vendors set up stalls, selling good quality handicrafts. The prices were much lower than found in the stores. The Zulu bead work is beautiful. In Durban about 100 passengers disembarked for an overnight at a luxury game camp. We picked them up the next day when we called on Port Elizabeth, where there is absolutely nothing to offer tourists. Someone suggested that the only reason we stopped there was to pick up the group who went to the game camp. I think that's probably correct. We took the shuttle bus ($5 each way) to the local mall, which went through downtown but didn't stop. It was a nice enough mall, but not worth the trip. Finally we arrived in Cape Town on our 31st day, and over-nighted on the ship there. Before leaving home we had purchased tickets online for Robben Island and for the Table Mountain tram for those two days. We docked right downtown, at the Victoria and Alfred (not Albert) Waterfront. What a great location! The first day was spoiled a bit by a downpour, put we visited the Slavery Museum, which was excellent, had lunch and spent the last afternoon packing. The museum included an exhibit about the life of Nelson Mandela. We were planning to stay another week in South Africa, so we bought two-day Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus tickets. The next day brought sunny skies, so we took the HOHO bus to the Kirstenbosch Gardens, which are fabulous, if you like gardens and really wonderful native sculpture. Our next stop on the bus was the Cable Car for Table Mountain, which was totally clear. Another 'don't miss' experience. We continued on the bus to Camps Bay, a sophisticated suburb on the water where we had a delightful alfresco lunch. We spent three nights at a private game reserve, Sanbona, which is about three hours East of Cape Town, in the Little Karoo area. We hired someone to ferry us back and forth since they drive on the other side of the road in S. Africa, and we didn't really need a car. It was a wonderful experience, and quite different from other game experiences in East Africa. The high points of the cruise were 1) the crew and 2) the other passengers. The crew seemed to work very well together, and were always helpful and good natured, although several of them expressed an interest in working on a larger ship, where I'm sure they make more money in tips. The other passengers were extremely well traveled, both in cruising and in land touring. It was always fun and usually educational to sit at breakfast or lunch with almost all of them. What didn't work? On the small ships there is not an option for anytime dining. One must pick first of second seating, and we had chosen second seating because we like time to shower, change and have a drink before dinner. There were 530 people on board, with a ship capacity of about 680. Apparently there were a lot of cancellations, since at one time the ship was supposed to have been fully booked. So our party of three was at a table for six, but there were no other guests at our table, and there were several partially filled or even empty tables in the dining room. I do love my husband and our friend, but dinner would have been much more fun if we had had someone with whom to discuss our day's highlights. Perhaps the moral is to choose early seating, when there are lots of sea days. The food was mediocre, although always beautifully presented. We attended a Chef's demonstration early in the cruise where he emphasized that he had 32 entirely different menus. And there were! But it's difficult to successfully duplicate a national cuisine for 530 people in two groups. For example, the Greek dishes tasted similar to Greek food in Greece or even US restaurants, but not the same and not as tasty and fresh. Maybe it's because they have to provision far in advance, and freeze a lot of the food. Maybe it's because they modify the seasonings for the audience they serve. But it generally wasn't very tasty or interesting, in the opinion of many passengers. They do a good job of getting the food to the tables while it's hot. The waiters and the kitchen staff have a well developed system that works very well. They rely on pre-packaged products. The coffee in the Horizons Buffet is nearly undrinkable. It's made from a syrup, rather than brewed. Some passengers figured out that they could use their coffee cards at the coffee counter up there for brewed coffee, and they weren't charged. Iced tea was also made from a syrup, and was so strong it was undrinkable, even after diluting it by 50% with water. One lady solved that problem by ordering a pot of hot tea and three glasses of ice with most meals! It seemed to us that Princess has cut so many corners to remain profitable that they have changed the nature of their product. It felt more like a Carnival cruise or an NCL cruise. We've sailed with Princess many times, and may sail with them again. But we were disappointed with this one. It just didn't meet our expectations. We had a nice time, but it wasn't a wonderful experience, as you want all of your vacations to be. We've booked our next cruise on Oceania, and are looking forward to comparing the two cruise lines. Read Less
Sail Date April 2010
Our 'gap year' had to wait until we were three score years and ten. Sydney to Vancouver on the Holland America line ship Volendam in April & May 2010 was a part of our 'gap year' world cruise, Southampton UK to ... Read More
Our 'gap year' had to wait until we were three score years and ten. Sydney to Vancouver on the Holland America line ship Volendam in April & May 2010 was a part of our 'gap year' world cruise, Southampton UK to Southampton UK, but it was a world tour including cruising that we researched, saved for at least three years plus, booked and enjoyed more than words can express - but I'll try. We were away from home for nearly six months and missed the worst British winter since 1947. It involved P&O, Holland America, Canadian Railways and Cunard and just one short airflight - the least we could get away with. But this section, reviewed here, was through the Pacific Ocean visiting many islands and it was the the cruising highlight of the whole trip. Why? In a word - the people. The crew and passengers. The welcome at Sydney, on arrival on board, was exceptional. My wife uses a wheeled 'walker' to assist her (she has spine problems) and on spotting this a member of staff was assigned to take us to our cabin, an unprepossessing 'ocean view' with no balcony but certainly 25% larger in length and width than similar cruise ships. We might have expected this level of service if we had been travelling in a suite but we were travelling with the hoi polloi and this extra welcoming support was greatly appreciated. The cabins on HA ships are apparently all larger than you might expect from other shipping lines and we were made to feel not just welcome but valued guests. This was our first HA ship so we knew we did not have a confidential record in the purser's office that some regular travellers have - and even unworthily boast about over dinner. Despite that, flowers decorated the cabin, chocolates snuggled up to the ice bucket to prevent them melting and a bottle or two of sparklers wrapped in Irish linen napkins begged us to open them. Our cabin attendants, one male, one female paid us a visit without any implication that we should offer them a tip. In fact they already knew that we had opted for the per diem rate and thanked us in advance for our kindness. The ship's departure was scheduled for two days hence so we had the luxurious delight of having a waterfront cabin overlooking the iconic Sydney harbour bridge and two days of refined service without any sea-movement beneath our feet. We made the most of it taking harbour trips and a visit to Sydney zoo where a baby elephant had just been born to worldwide media acclaim. Earlier we had sailed from the Panama Canal down through many pacific islands but had to miss some that had been planned due to the Captain running ahead of a tropical storm. The journey northwards to Vancouver however was less threatening and more relaxing. We have come to expect gently falling standards of service and food on long cruises as particular food items run out, some with unexpected irony. For example we ran out of oranges in Floridian waters, bananas in the Caribbean and fish in the largest ocean in the world but that's cruising for you. On the Volendam however excellence persisted throughout. We visited Noumea after 3 days at sea, a very French culture with "15 colours and creeds", we were told. We went ashore under own steam to save funds and found the protestant cathedral at the top of a hill that was well worth a visit. Next came Ils Des Pins' french Polynesian culture. We only had two hours ashore but beautiful beaches and warm seas cried out for a longer stay. Port Vila Vanuatu was interesting but the town was 5 Kms from the port and the humidity drove us back to the ship early in a taxi without air conditioning. Two days at sea and Lautaka followed. There the policemen wore national Fijian uniforms of white skirts with pointed hems - and that was only the men - oddly the women officers wore trousers. Such a friendly and colourful place with seemingly everyone smiling. We sent parcels and cards from the tiny post office and they ALL arrived safely. Dravinu Island came and went as the weather prevented safe tendering ashore and we sailed onto Suva where the greeting on everyone's lips was 'BULA' or even BULA BULA to add emphasis. Certainly a place to return to ... one day! After crossing the international date line we arrived at Apea in Samoa. We visited author Robert Louis Stevenson's house organised by HA. It cost $US59 each and was very good value. We left the ship at 8.20am in gaily decorated buses with wooden slatted seats that played havoc with less upholstered bums. Fresh coconut drinks were served and the tour guides gave thoughtful and well researched information in the house and about his many books. We returned in time for one of Volendam's finest afternoon teas. Five days at sea found us in Ohau in the Hawaiian Islands docked at the fine port of Honolulu. We have previously visited the island and the Pearl Harbor experience so we indulged in some retail therapy. The oldest inhabited island in the archipelago is Kauai and its capital Nawiliwili which produced many a snigger from those who had that turn of mind. It's a beautiful island with no high rise building and a real sense of what Hawaii must have been like when the settlers first arrived. Maui came next and the town of Lahaina, so beautiful but suffering economically as the demand for sugar cane is decreasing. A remarkably large banyan tree, the world's largest, covers the whole of the town square and free buses, with guides, transfer you to beaches and resorts. Hilo is the place to share a taxi with friends for a tour that is half the price charged by HA if you don't want to do the live volcano. It's the insurance costs that pump the price up apparently. We saw the botanical gardens, a coffee roasting plant and the Rainbow Falls - who needs to see a volcano? Another five days at sea and we landed at Vancouver. The sea days some people dread in case there's nothing to do, but on the Volendam we were spoilt for choice. Uniquely in my experience we had creative writing and daily play readings with a group of cruising thespians led by arguably the most professional and enthusiastic cruise director and entertainments manager, Anthony Choice. Inevitably he has been promoted to bigger ships in the line now. The musicians on board were excellent, particularly the dance trio whose bass player hailed from a village just a couple of miles from where we live in the British midlands. It's a small world. As with all artists the stage shows were like the proverbial curate's egg, good in parts. An English singer and impressionist er 'doing' Neil Diamond should never have left British shores and an appalling American comedian with arguably the bluest and most lavatorial repertoire deserved to be put ashore earlier than he was. But the group of touring players and dancers were wonderful. The highlight of the entertainment was, in our view, the presentations by the staff from the Philippines and Indonesia. They got and deserved their standing ovations. The Volendam is a very pretty ship and will be even prettier after its scheduled refit later this year. The crew were impressive and a particular tribute must be paid to the First Officer who hosted a question and answer session about the ship in a determined effort to improve an already excellent level of cruising service. The email systems were just as bad as the Queen Mary's but we all have an unrealistic expectation of what can be delivered mid-ocean but technology will improve but probably not fast enough for our Internet appetites. Shopping aboard was an improvement upon the British run franchises if only because there was less 'tat' on offer but perhaps this was a reflection of a well-heeled clientele. Entry into US territory has become a punishment rather than a pleasure when dealing with their immigration service. We felt sorry both for the officers themselves with their unsmiling rituals to perform and the passengers. Disembarkation is always a poignant experience but we found ourselves assisted to the gangways and the shores of Vancouver with a generosity of spirit that made us really want to return to be served by our splendid Volendam dining room stewards who seemed to work 24 hours a day every day. They even made our departing breakfast a meal to remember. Oh happy Volendam days. Read Less
Sail Date April 2010
This was our third Princess cruise, having previously visited the Baltic and Mediterranean. We looked upon it as a chance to see many Asian ports briefly and then decide to perhaps revisit one or more for a longer stay eventually. This was ... Read More
This was our third Princess cruise, having previously visited the Baltic and Mediterranean. We looked upon it as a chance to see many Asian ports briefly and then decide to perhaps revisit one or more for a longer stay eventually. This was a very good Asian sampler, especially with the addition of a Tokyo stopover on the way home. We arrived in Bangkok two days early and would really recommend another day as so many flights arrive near midnight after 20+ hours of flying. Nevertheless, we arranged a private tour through Oriental Express (highly recommended) to begin at 10 am. They picked us up at our hotel (there were 4 of us) and took us to see the Grand Palace, Jade Buddha, the Reclining Buddha, canals cruise (skip this, especially on a hot day!) and the Temple of Dawn, which is visited by boat and includes views of the other temples from the river. It's all very fascinating and beautiful. We also arranged for a "romantic" dinner cruise on the Loy Nava but I would not recommend it. It's an historic rice barge and very pretty but also not air-conditioned and the food was pretty mediocre. While in Bangkok for 2 nights we stayed at the Park Plaza, which was very nice, had free internet, a great breakfast buffet, and all at a very reasonable price. However, it was too far outside the city center. I would recommend staying some place near the river. Also, be advised that taxi drivers throughout Asia do NOT speak English! So have your hotel name printed up in the appropriate language (by the hotel) before arriving. Princess did not sell a port transfer if you were not part of their tour or were not arriving at the airport the day of the cruise, so we arranged transport through our hotel. It took about 1 1/2 hours but was on a Saturday -so allow plenty of time. As usual, we breezed through Princess check-in at approximately 1 pm. We were already pretty familiar with the Diamond after having sailed on the Ruby last year. The only major changes we noted were far fewer machines in the workout area. And, of course, price increases! Photography is so expensive ($25 for basically an enlarged snapshot) that we don't even get our picture taken if we can help it. I can't comment on the entertainment as those types of shows don't really interest me. I did hear that the acrobats were very good but we were not back at the ship in time to see them as it was a late afternoon show. The things we really enjoy onboard are the lectures before each port, high tea, reading on our balcony, and dining with our friends each evening. SINGAPORE is a great port to start with as it is very pretty, easy to navigate, and so clean with lots of green space. Since we were docked at a container port, we took the free shuttle into the city and then took a cab out to the National Orchid Garden. Taxis are VERY cheap. The Garden was interesting but not what I had envisioned. Of course it was very hot and humid so that may have made a difference. From there we headed to the Raffles Hotel for a famous Singapore Sling. The hotel was amazing and the drink was yucky and VERY expensive (I think $28 US). We split one and that was more than enough. But it's the idea - and the Long Bar was beautiful. The guys in our group had requested a ride on the Singapore Flyer, which may be the world's tallest ferris wheel. While not that excited at first, everyone loved the fantastic views from 40 stories up and I highly recommend it. This is one amazing city architecturally. HO CHI MINH CITY (Saigon) was just unbelievable! A crazy mishmash of motor scooters piled high with all kinds of unimaginable things, crazy "spaghetti" wiring everywhere, beautiful buildings next to hovels, women cooking on every sidewalk, and just so many people. It's something that you have to see once. Unfortunately the bus from the port is a 2+ hour ride so bring a book or a friend because you can only look at the scenery (amazing as it is) for so long. As someone who was around during the Vietnam War, it was incredible to see the Rex Hotel and the Reunification Palace - places that we heard about so much. We had an excellent lunch in the dining room of the Rex. Be sure to ask for the Vietnamese menu so you don't have to eat the Vietnamese version of a hamburger! I guarantee that you will be exhausted by the time you return to the ship, so build in time for a nap before dinner. NHA TRANG was really a relief after Ho Chi Minh City. It's a very pretty seaside resort area and most people enjoyed just walking around. My husband and a friend had a great day taking the cable car over to the Vinpearl Water Park. The lecturer did not discuss this as an option but they said it was easy to accomplish. You can clearly see it from the starboard side of the ship. HONG KONG was the reason my husband agreed to this trip and he loved every bit of it - as did we all. The only unfortunate part was the air quality which was partially pollution and partially the result of a terrible dust storm in China. It's still an amazingly beautiful place: 2 islands surrounded by water and with an endless shoreline of gorgeous buildings - all backed by mountains! We took an all day Princess tour which included a harbor cruise, visit to the famous Stanley Market where you can get incredible deals on silk, a trip on the funicular to the top of Victoria Peak for fantastic views - well they would have been if the air had been better. Still very pretty. Lunch was a 10 course affair on the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, a tourist trap for sure but the food was fine and it was quite a sight to see. We tended to drink beer at lunch as it gets tiring always drinking bottled water. Beer was very good in all the ports, especially 333 in Vietnam. That evening we ate an early dinner so that we would be ready for the famous harbor light show. The ship leaves the container port and sails right through Victoria Harbor during the light show. A lot of people head to the top of the ship but you could see everything very well if you had a starboard room. The lighting on the buildings is really incredible and it's a sight not to be missed. After the light show, the ship anchored in the harbor and from then on you had to take a 45 minute tender into Hong Kong Island. I think the speed limit in the harbor accounts for the time. The first tender left at about 9:30 pm and we were on it - along with all the young staff going out to party! My husband wanted to see the lights on Nathan Street on Kowloon Island so we set off to find a taxi that would take us through the tunnel to Kowloon. It was not easy (language was always a problem with taxis) but we got there and enjoyed seeing the crazy night life. The lights were fine but nothing spectacular despite what the lecturer said. The next morning we went back to Hong Kong Island just to walk around and check out all the alley markets. Start in the Queen's Road area and you will see hundreds of these tiny markets branching off down "alleyways". They are so marvelous just to look at - especially the foodstuffs. We ate at a local restaurant (we were the only foreigners) recommended by Frommers and it was wonderful - if somewhat hard to find. It's called Luk Yu Tea House. They are well known for their dim sum. I recommend eating upstairs in the more casual - and authentic - part. TAIPEI was really not a port I was looking forward to but it was very enjoyable. Once you take a 30 minute bus to get into town, it's very easy to do on your own. The bus drops you in front of the 101 Tower, the 2nd highest building in the world (depending on who you believe). Anyhow, it's a very interesting and attractive looking building (it's been described as a bunch of bamboo poles tied with ribbon every once in a while). We did not go up because of the air quality problem. We bought an all-day pass on the MRT and set off to see the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial which reminded me of Lincoln's Memorial. We were in time to see the changing of the guard which was cool, with lots of foot stomping and gun twirling. Then we headed to the Grand Hotel which is shaped like a giant pagoda. Had a wonderful lunch there in the Dragon room (not the tourist place). On the way back, we had time (barely) to stop quickly at another temple (I forget the name) before returning to the ship. A fun day but no burning desire to return. OKINAWA was our least favorite port by far. Both tours that our members took were poor. And it was not a place you could visit on your own because it was a short stop and too far away. My husband did the Pacific War tour and had expected to visit actual sites from the Battle of Okinawa. However that was not the case. He felt it was like they wanted to forget it ever happened and they stressed that they were not Japanese at the time of the war. My tour was of Shurijo Castle, which was impressive enough. But none of it is original - not even the furnishings. It was all completely rebuilt after the war. After that we were dropped off in some horrible (and vastly over-priced) shopping district for nearly 2 hours. SHANGHAI was another very new looking Asian city with a very attractive skyline. I have to say that I have never seen such beautiful new buildings in my life as I saw on this trip. No plain glass towers anywhere. We decided to take a Princess tour here since we were once again docked at a container port far from the city center. Our first stop was the Jim Mao Tower which is one of the taller buildings around at 88 stories. The observatory provided breath-taking views of the very pretty city. Our next stop was the YuYuan Garden which is very famous but unlike any garden I have been to before. Not a flower in sight! And precious few trees! It's all about the rocks - and the water to some extent. Lots of pagoda type buildings but VERY crowded with very pushy Chinese. There was a lot of interesting looking street food and we did try a deep fried crab, shell and all. Surprisingly good. After the garden it was on to the silk factory and then several hours on your own to shop or eat lunch. A so-so tour of a so-so city. BEIJING was our final destination on this 16-day odyssey. We were off the boat by 7:30 am on our Princess transfer into "center city" Beijing. Except it wasn't anywhere near the city center. We were dropped at a Holiday Inn where there were no waiting taxis and virtually everyone on the 3 buses needed taxis. We ended having to take a non-metered taxi at an exorbitant rate and were happy to get that. My advice would be to have your hotel or a touring company reserve transportation from the port. We stayed at a Park Plaza once again, not far from Tiananmen Square. That first day we visited the Forbidden City, the square, and the Temple of Heaven. It was a LOT of walking so take the subway when you can. My overall impression of Beijing was one of gloom and not just because the weather was bad. It seemed so dirty and the people not at all friendly like in the other Asian ports we visited. Plus the ever present police and cameras on the light posts were disconcerting. A very paranoid government. Nevertheless we enjoyed the monuments immensely. The next day we arranged for a private tour to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. We took the cable car up and started climbing! It was surprisingly steep in some parts and often slippery because of a light drizzle. We even had some bits of snow in parts. It was thrilling to finally set foot on the Great Wall and to imagine what it must have been like to build centuries ago. We only climbed to 3 towers as it was too foggy to get much of a view. But it was still an incredible experience. This is supposedly the less touristy part of the wall (less than Badaling) but there were still plenty of hawkers selling "I Climbed the Great Wall" tee shirts! Our guide took us to a small local Chinese restaurant about half way back to Beijing and ordered for us since he was the only one who spoke English. We loved everything about it as that is the kind of experience we are always hoping for. The 6 of us traveling together met up for a fantastic farewell dinner the last night in Beijing. I know this sounds hokey but it was at the highly recommended "Made in China" restaurant in the Grand Hyatt Hotel near The Forbidden City. You have to reserve their famous Peking duck entree ahead of time but it is an amazing experience - and taste! We let our waitress order everything else for us and we were not disappointed. A wonderful way to end a wonderful trip! Read Less
Sail Date March 2010
Background: I tend to be a small ship person so Cunard is a bit of a stretch for me. I first tried a QM2 transatlantic crossing on 2007 and my reaction was "too big and impersonal", but my behavior has not been very consistent ... Read More
Background: I tend to be a small ship person so Cunard is a bit of a stretch for me. I first tried a QM2 transatlantic crossing on 2007 and my reaction was "too big and impersonal", but my behavior has not been very consistent with that assessment. I left the ship with a booking for a crossing on the way home from a vacation I had already booked for Africa the following summer. I booked 2 more crossings as a result of needing to get across the Atlantic in conjunction with other travel plans, and by the time of my 4th crossing decided that like it or not, I was a Cunarder and might as well try a cruise that fit my plans. This voyage, across southern Asia with mostly countries I have never visited before seemed to fit the bill. The Queen Victoria World Cruise encountered a number of problems with snow and norovirus on the transatlantic segment and fog in Shanghai, but by my segment these problems were all a thing of the past. Hotel: In Bangkok I stayed at the excellent Four Seasons which was Cunard's hotel there. I found Cunard's price prohibitive, but my TA booked an attractive rate with airport transfer from the hotel, at I think about $500 below Cunard's price. I spoke with the Hospitality desk and booked a Sightseeing transfer to the ship for about $70. Ship info: The Queen Victoria entered service about 2 years ago, and at about 2000 passengers is smaller than QM2 but still larger than I prefer. Despite Cunard's slogan of "The most famous ocean liners in the world", this is a cruise ship. There is only one ocean liner in service today, and it's the right company but the wrong ship. It is nominally a multi-class ship, but it is really very open. The Queens Grill and Princess Grill passengers dine in their separate restaurants on decks 11 and 12 aft in a relatively small area. All other areas of the ship are open to everyone, there are ample lounges and deck space available to everyone, and the ship is very complete without any need to go near or around the area set aside for the grills, unlike the Grills Lounge and Restaurants on QM2 being on the Promenade deck. Not a real problem on QM2 but there is a bit of inconvenience not having doors to the inside from some sections of that deck. Staterooms: My inside stateroom was compact but more than adequate. I had only a shower but everything was well laid out. Cunard breaks it's rooms into many categories often with less than 10 rooms assigned to a category. Dining: Most passengers are assigned to the Britannia Restaurant on decks 2 and 3 aft. I thought the restaurant decor was a bit drab, but the service and food are excellent. The restaurant maintains traditional early and late dinner seatings around 6 and 8:30pm. Breakfast and lunch are also served there with open seating. Unlike the QM2 and coming Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Victoria does not have a separate Britannia Club restaurant. The Lido restaurant on deck 9 is open 24 hours daily, although the selection at odd hours is limited (I took a test walk through it about 3am and there were fruit and sandwiches but not much else). A more formal theme dinner is typically served in a section of the Lido by reservation, and another section is a typical buffet for dinner. The Lido Pool Grill immediately behind the Lido serves burgers with few side dishes but is close enough to the buffet that a burger can readily be combined with side dishes from there. Lunch is also available in the Golden Lion Pub on deck 2. The Todd English specialty restaurant on deck 2, with a cover charge of $20 lunch and $30 dinner serves superb meals in an intimate setting (No lunch on port days). Activities and entertainment: A wide variety of activities are offered. The Cunard Insights enrichment program is quite strong, with lectures on a variety of topics. At various points of my voyage we had presentations by 2 destination lecturers, a security expert, a chief detective, a hostage negotiator, and a music historian. The spa has a strong program with several fitness sessions and several seminars each day. There are classes in bridge, the arts, and computer usage, various games such as bingo, trivia, and dancing. In the evening there are several venues featuring diverse varieties of musical entertainment, and a daily presentation in the Royal Court Theater. The excellent Royal Cunard Singers and Dancers usually presents about 5 or 6 shows per voyage; on the world voyage they have only a couple of shows per segment with headline entertainers brought in every few days, often doing one show on their own and appearing in a variety show with other acts on another night. Other venues are the Golden Lion Pub and Commodore Cub with pianists, a DJ in Hemispheres, a variety of performers in the Chart Room, and dancing with the Queens Room Orchestra in the Queens Room. Children: There is a children's facility although there were few children present on the World Voyage. Ports will mostly be described at the separate page at the bottom of the review, but it looks like the review format only allows 6 so I'll deal with the first and last here: Ko Samui: This small Thai island (about 10 miles square, population 30,000) has no significant dock, and we anchored about 2 ½ miles from the harbor. My "Around the Island" tour made 4 stops. The first was a Buddhist shrine with 2 buildings, a temple containing the body of a beloved monk and a beautiful temple where new monks are ordained. Our second stop, a very short ride later was a coconut plantation where we learned that the work of harvesting coconuts is done by Macaque monkeys, and observed them in action. The shrine of the Big Buddha, on a hill overlooking the ocean on a platform elevated about 50 feet up a stairway is probably 50 feet high, and there are about 20 bells situated around the platform. Ringing all 20 bells is supposed to be good luck. Our final stop was for lunch at the Chaweng Resort Hotel. Dubai: While not a traditional "port of call" I am treating this as such since we arrived early at our destination and disembarked the following day, with shore excursions offered on the day of arrival. The United Arab Emirates is a union of 7 individual states, each ruled by an Emir. It was formerly a British Protectorate, with the states getting their independence about 1979 and forming a union a year later. It has a population of 4.8 million, 4 million "locals", foreigners admitted for permanent residence and 800,000 citizens. My tour was "Sharjah's East Coast". Sharjah is one of the 7 Emirates comprising the UAE, about a half hour drive from the port. We visited the Arabian Wildlife Center, with a variety of wildlife that can live in a mostly desert area. There are of course fish in the seas and various reptiles, amphibians, and birds near the Wadi's (Oasises), but also quite a variety of mammals. We also stopped at the Maritime museum, with exhibits on the hard life of oyster harvesters and models of a wide variety of dhows. Disembarkation: My segment closed with an overnight in Dubai, and I had a 9:30 flight there was no difficulty disembarking at 5:30am. Summary: This voyage covered an area I had always wanted to see. I am very pleased that I finally got to all these ports, but there are few if any I wish to visit again. Visitors to this area should be well prepared for hot, tropical weather. Cunard provides a refined, quality experience. Expect to be with a very diverse group of passengers representing a wide cross section of the world. On my voyage, about a third of the 1900 passengers were British, a sixth American, and at least 100 each from Germany, Australia, and Canada, and the remainder from 34 other countries. Read Less
Sail Date March 2010
Having only been on 2 cruises before (Celebrity) we can only compare to those cruises. Our first impression was not good when on embarking in Hong Kong there was total confusion as to the location for checking in. After we eventually ... Read More
Having only been on 2 cruises before (Celebrity) we can only compare to those cruises. Our first impression was not good when on embarking in Hong Kong there was total confusion as to the location for checking in. After we eventually went through the swift & efficient check in & security, we found ourselves on the ship. We then had to make our own way to our cabin. No reception of any kind. Not made to feel special at all. Despite having requested and we though confirmed reservation for early sitting in the main Brittania restaurant, we were given late sitting. We were able to change that later although we were seated in a small back room which got very dim when the lights were turned down. Why they were always turned down I don't know. Made it difficult to read the menu. I was surprised at the mature age range of fellow passengers. 70+. The acting entertainments manager did joke about on 'another cruise line' that when they had a 80's night they weren't referring to the music. I don't think it was another cruise line. The hot cocoa queue at night was very busy! The food was OK. Repetitive. Nothing to get excited about. I agree with another view that the food is prepared in bulk and in advance which did nothing for the freshness. The rumour was that Cunard had cut the catering budget. The waiters worked hard and had little time to make conversation. Wine was very expensive and others commented that a $50 bottle could have been bought onshore for $10. The 15% added to drinks was an irritant to many and certainly cut back on the amount drunk. I hated the smoking. The pub allowed smoking in the evening as did the casino. This put both off limits to my wife who is asthmatic and I. As you left the Brittania restaurant in the evenings, you were met with an awful smell of cigarette smoke,I think coming from the pub. Really these areas were just smoking rooms. The entertainment in the theatre was 3rd rate. The ships cinema got more popular as the cruise went on despite the films on offer. Ships TV was very limited and films poor. The ship lacked any buzz of excitement as we had experienced on the Celebrity cruises. Planetarium films were excellent. Only wish there were more than 4 films. The ships internet was intermittent and very expensive. Don't rely on it for business purposes. The staff at the Pursers office were aloof and unhelpful. There was a distinct lack of any management staff to talk to on board. Policy decision to keep out of the way? I witnessed an unpleasant exchange between a crew member and a passenger, so much so I tried to get the pursers office to send a manager to intervene. No luck there. I had to put it in writing, which I did. I didn't even get an acknowledgment. I also have to agree that the staff (other than our cabin steward) were going through the motions rather than enjoying their jobs. The ship certainly causes excitement when she arrives in port. Shame that her size means all too often that she is put in a container port which really spoils the occasion. Shore excursions were very expensive and you could arrange better yourself. Disembarkation was dreadful. It took 2 hours just to find our bags which were still being unloaded and then placed in the wrong colour coded area within a tent. An awful experience. Overall we enjoyed our 40 nights on board and traveled to countries we had not been to before. Met some wonderdul people and made new friends. Booked another part world cruise on the Queen Elizabeth for 2011. Real shame that the edge had been taken off the experience by the attitude of the crew and management. Read Less
Sail Date March 2010
My wife and I have done around 25 cruises. This cruise departed Sydney, circumnavigated New Zealand, returned to Sydney and then circumnavigated Australia. It lasted 48 days and was on the Holland America Volendam. We found the best ... Read More
My wife and I have done around 25 cruises. This cruise departed Sydney, circumnavigated New Zealand, returned to Sydney and then circumnavigated Australia. It lasted 48 days and was on the Holland America Volendam. We found the best airfare to Sydney was V Australia out of LAX. We didn't use any hotels in Sydney. We found internet access off the ship to be easy and a lot cheaper than on the ship. In NZ it is free at all public libraries. Otherwise there are a lot of cafes and at most it is 5$ for an hour. The ship and the room were generally good. The only complaint was that a number of the elevators did not work. Dining was good and despite the length of the cruise the menu was good. The entertainment aboard was a little disappointing but the enrichment speakers and the travel guide were excellent. Embarkation was late due to a tsunami warning and disembarkation was very easy. We did visit a large number of ports and did most on our own with private tours. We did a couple of ship tours. While onboard we were told that everyone onboard would have to get an Indonesian visa for Komodo Island. The ship tendered and you had to have one even if you did not get off the ship. It cost around 25$ pp. A couple of people had arranged with the Komodo park service directly, everyone else had to use the ships tour or you could not get off of the ship. The ship tour was fine and it was worth it to see the dragons. The other ship tour was snorkeling the barrier reef. At Cairns and Hamilton island they offer snorkeling. We tried to book private trips but none of the private operators could get us back in time. The ship tour from Cairns was more expensive but you had more time on the reef. Both trips were very similar and if you are interested in snorkeling it is a must do trip. In Tauranga we recommend Mount Classics at mctours.co.nz and driver Ian Holroyd. In Wellington we took a coast tour with Crown Chauffeur with Colin Miller. It is a lot of tour for the money. The best tour we had was Milestone tours in Auckland. It was a little expensive but we went places and saw things that no one else got to see. Finally since our departing flight from Sydney left at 8:30pm we had a whole day in Sydney. We had our luggage but wanted to see something. PJ tours was the only company that I could find who would pick us up near the ship and drop us off at the airport at the end. We went to Blue Mountain and spent a wonderful day there. Peter is a great guide and happy to work with us. We visited many ports, from big cities to cites of 800 people. Eden was a very small city but very interesting while Exmouth is also small but there is not a lot there. Overall it was a great trip. Read Less
Sail Date March 2010
The original intention of this cruise was to get us to or near Japan where we would visit with old friends. This was actually a segment of a segment of the world cruise that was meant to begin in Mumbai. When we saw a shore excursion ... Read More
The original intention of this cruise was to get us to or near Japan where we would visit with old friends. This was actually a segment of a segment of the world cruise that was meant to begin in Mumbai. When we saw a shore excursion opportunity to Angkor Wat we priced it and decided to begin the segment in Singapore instead, and spend what we would have spent on shore excursions for a three day holiday in Bangkok, three days in Siem Reap (for Angkor Wat) and three days in Singapore where we would meet the ship. The cost of those nine days in 5 star hotels and air from Bangkok to Siem Reap and Siem Reap to Singapore equalled what we would have paid for a two and a half day shore excursion offered by HAL for each of us! Such are the costs of shore excursions. The Ship The vessel is what you would expect from one of HALs flagships. It seemed to be in terrific condition. From cabins to public rooms, the ship is beautiful. I didn't see evidence of aging. Our cabin had a leak in the bathroom and there was an occasional odor of diesel fuel just outside our door, but neither interfered with our enjoyment of the ship. People are always interested in food. HAL seems to be putting the money out in the food and beverage department. The usual comfort food was available poolside, as was an assortment of pastries for a good part of the day in the Lido. Breakfasts were unremarkable which is not a bad thing. They were breakfasts and hard to fault in the Lido or DR. Lunch was a different matter. The stir fries were awful, and truly an embarrassment. The vegetable chicken stir fry had a single piece of chicken and when I asked where the vegetables were, the server found one with his tongs and added it to my dish. I would not mention it except that I saw a video of the executive chef talking about his wonderful "fresh fresh fresh" stirfries so I thought it was worth a notation. I think dinner was what you would expect for a vessel catering to North American taste. The steaks in the dining room were of generous portion. I don't think they did vegetables well and on the whole I thought dinners sort of missed. Or - it may just be that we don't eat those sorts of dinners anymore. I heard no one speak of the food in either positive or negative terms. Oddly enough, complimentary champagne flowed on two nights. As to the atmosphere of the ship, well, that was a big surprise. We were used to going on vacation cruises with other people going on vacation cruises - with all the positive energy that that implies. Cruisers are usually excited, and that rubs off on the crew. Well the majority of people on this ship had been aboard for a very long time, with a long time to go. They were "residing" on the ship as opposed to cruising on it. It seemed to be less a vehicle for a cruise than a giant apartment building with a rolling view. The atmosphere was flat. You saw it in the passengers and you saw it in the staff. I have never seen staff so ambivalent. Not nasty or lazy - they just didn't take the pains to give a darn. This was an observation confirmed to us by other cruisers who came on for a while in Singapore. "Boring" was the word that kept coming up to describe their experience. The ports themselves were interesting. Cambodia and Viet Nam were both worth the visit. though the port was quite a distance from Ho Chi Minh city. I would say I do not agree with HALs new policy of requiring no signature for beverages purchased under $20. I myself have disagreed with charges on my cruise bill on previous cruises and by producing the original signed bill, the issue was resolved. Business should be done in a business-like manner, and charges should be signed for. Bills, however small, must be signed for in the shops. When I enquired as to why, they said their experience was such that bill signing was deemed to be imperative. I agree. Also, HAL has a policy of not allowing your internet time to lapse if you are still connected with your computer. The rationale is that it is a courtesy to allow you to finish your business. But if you forget to log-out and leave your computer or ipod or device connected for an hour or so, you will be billed. I asked the administrator how that could be as it would be clear that a machine was not used over that time. He said Windows machines send message packets out periodically and that constitutes use. So Moral Hazard hit HAL. Wall Street sails the high seas. Guest Relations was surprised to hear of the new policies which are fleet wide. They sent a message to HAL about both issues. HAL sent a subsequent communication stipulating the $20 rule must be followed. I heard nothing about the internet rule. We disembarked in Singapore in what was a smooth process, and we were on our way. Would we sail HAL again - probably, but not based on their performance on this cruise. Read Less
Sail Date March 2010
Holland America's ms Volendam Circumnavigation of Australia 14 March-17 April 2010, roundtrip out of Sydney, 34 days with 18 ports of call. We sailed with about 1250 passengers, primarily from the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia. ... Read More
Holland America's ms Volendam Circumnavigation of Australia 14 March-17 April 2010, roundtrip out of Sydney, 34 days with 18 ports of call. We sailed with about 1250 passengers, primarily from the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia. Pre-cruise Travel I elected to fly United Airlines to Sydney because I have elite status with them and can enjoy Premium Economy seating and free baggage. I selected to fly via San Francisco because the airport is more compact and better organized than Los Angeles. The flights went well with only minor turbulence and we arrived just few minutes late in Sydney. I had pre-booked online with KST Airport Shuttle for transportation to my hotel. They charge 12.60 AUD (pre-pay) or 14.00 AUD (pay at time of service). There was a little bit of confusion finding my driver in the airport and he had other passengers to drop first, but I find their service reliable and easy to use. I flew into Sydney two days early in order to have time to unwind, do a little sightseeing, and more importantly to have a cushion of time in case of flights going awry. There were several people who missed the ship in Sydney and had to catch up in another port, and several others who did not have their bags arrive on time for our sailing. The ship was scheduled to sail from Darling Harbour Pier 8 which is over the hill from the more famous Circular Quay area. I wanted to find affordable lodging within walking distance of our pier and I succeeded well with Napoleon on Kent at 219 Kent St., a two-block downhill walk to the passenger terminal. The cost was 150.00 AUD per night (a quite affordable rate for Sydney) for which I got a studio apartment with full kitchenette. Shops, cafes and public transportation were all within a few blocks, although mostly uphill from my location. For pre-cruise sightseeing I had planned to take the train out to the Blue Mountains but discovered at the last minute that there would be no service that weekend due to repair works on the track. A quick email to Sydney's tourist bureau lead me to Grayline Tours which offered an all day Blue Mountains On Your Own tour for 129 AUD. The tour included return bus transport from a pick-up point a few blocks from my hotel to the terminal and on to Katoomba where I was given an all-day ticket for the Blue Mountain Explorer hop-on/hop-off bus which has 29 stops. The pamphlet they give you is very helpful identifying what is located at each stop and recommending walks between stops, of which I took full advantage. The main tourist spot in this area is Scenic World which offers both cable car and "train" access to the valley. The train is a near vertical ride based on the old line used by miners long ago—a sort of mini-thrill ride—whereas the cable car is smooth and pleasant. On the valley bottom there are several boardwalk trails with some historical displays from the mining era as well as interesting flora and wildlife. For the more athletic there is a trail on the rim leading out to the Three Sisters rock formation. Embarkation On embarkation day I walked down to the pier arriving about 10:15 am as check-out time at my hotel was 10 am. There were already quite a number of people waiting in the terminal, some of whom had disembarked and were still waiting for transport. After I dropped off my checked luggage, I was directed to wait outside the terminal where there was some seating; we were told check-in would begin about 11 am. At some point someone came around and passed out group numbers for check-in and handed out immigration forms for us to fill in, but it was closer to 11:30 before we were allowed into the terminal by which time a large group of travel agents had already appeared for a tour and luncheon on the ship. By then things were getting confused. It eventually turned out that those of us who were already Mariners and had done our documents online were suppose to check-in first (Priority Check-in) before Group #1 which meant of lot of line shuffling at the door. More confusion happened mid-day for those of us who wanted to go back into town and reboard later—which way did we go? I got sent back through the whole check-in process again in error. The problem turned out to be locals hired to help at the terminal who were not properly trained. I think there should have been more HAL supervision here. Once on board it took a while to find someone who could tell me where we could store our hand luggage; staff kept directing everyone straight to the Lido buffet. I finally found the location in a corner of the pool area but there was no one there to staff it; that took contacting several more crew members before someone appeared. Then it was off to a pleasant lunch and walk around the ship while we waiting for the "your cabins are now ready" call. While waiting, though, we heard an announcement telling us lifeboat drill would be at 4 pm even though we were not scheduled to sail until 6 pm. That had several people upset, myself included, as many of us had planned on walking around the city that afternoon. In the end the ship scheduled a second drill the next day for those who missed the first day's event. What was nice was that we did not have to bring our lifejackets nor was roll taken. Stateroom I only booked this cruise in late October 2009 and I was booking as a single hoping for the lowest single supplement so my choices were a bit limited. The only lower mid-ship cabins left were next to elevators so I went with a deck 2 inside aft cabin (#2672) which looked to be a quiet location and at a great single rate of about $176 a day. The cabin looked fine upon arrival but the smell—smoke! I immediately went down to the Front Desk to report the problem and to remind them that I had notified the Special Needs department well in advance of my allergy to smoke, but they said they had no record of that. Anyway to make a long story (already reported in detail on CC's Holland America message board) short, it took three days of deep cleaning my cabin, multiple visits to the Front Office, two phone calls to HAL's main office, and the intervention of the my travel agent for them to admit the problem could not be solved (there was a heavy smoker across the hall and the smoke was in the air system). The eventual solution worked out well as they moved me to a nicer cabin, but it should not have taken three days to get there nor should I have been denied an appointment with the Hotel Director which I requested twice. Caveat: if you are allergic to smoke you cannot be guaranteed of a smoke-free cabin on any Holland America ship, so if this is an issue for you look elsewhere. My second cabin, #1902 deck 1 outside mid-ship, was very nice and huge! There was so much storage I didn't know what to do with it all. For those needing extra storage there were two drawers hidden under the foot of the bed and a padded stool that was hollow with a removable seat. The bathroom had one of those mini-tubs of which I'm not a fan, but they provided a rubber bath mat so it was not slippery to get in and out of. The extra tub space gave me more clothes drying room so that I never needed to get in line at the self-service laundry down the hall. There were only two electrical outlets, one U.S. and one European, on the desk so it pays to bring a multiplex extension cord. I use a CPAP machine by the bed and my cord just barely reached. The bed was very comfortable and I had a small loveseat and arm chair as well. They provided this small padded stool for the desk, but I used the armchair there instead—much more comfortable especially as I had brought my laptop for use in the cabin. Even though I was only about 4 doors down from the elevators there was never any noise problem; there were no crew work areas across the hall. However, since I was on deck 1 there was some engine vibration/humming noise with an occasional tapping/chain noise from below (perhaps a repair shop?), but this never bothered me. This cabin was smoke free although by the end of our voyage there was a lingering smoke smell occasionally in the hallway. Ship Information The Volendam is a mid-sized ship with about 1,400 passengers, most of the amenities folks want and nicely decorated. With only nine decks and not a vast length, the Volendam was easy to get around. Many passengers really appreciated the full wrap-around promenade deck for walking. I heard that the ship is due to go into dry-dock spring 2011, but honestly it should have gone this year. Towards the end of our cruise there were often only one-half the passenger elevators operating. There was a small section of cabins portside on deck 1 that was flooded out twice during our cruise, and during a heavy rainfall a "waterfall" suddenly appeared in the ceiling of the Fran Hals Lounge. The crew worked diligently to keep things working as best as possible, but that damp carpet smell never quite left our hallway. Dining I happen to be a great fan of buffet dining as it's quick and you can have small amounts of several things, mixing and matching as you please. Our Lido buffet manager was the best; he was always keeping an eye on things and any problems were quickly resolved. I especially loved the beef and the staff was always willing to additionally cook my portion if there wasn't any "well-done" already available. Overall there were a lot of choices and my only complaint is that sometimes the side dishes were not as hot as one would have liked. Continental breakfast was served beginning at 6 am and hot breakfast started later. The one miss here for me was the lack of fresh whole berries for my granola or waffles in the morning. Both lunch and dinner had a wide assortment of hot and cold entrees, sometimes with theme specialty bars (e.g. Indonesian, Indian, etc.). The evening dessert buffet choices were limited, but the lunch had a wide range of pastries, puddings, cookies, etc. The ice cream bar was open from 11:30 am through dinner and that was often my choice for sweets. I do wish we had lemonade available in the afternoons in addition to ice tea; it makes a nice treat on a hot day. And milk was only readily available in the mornings; otherwise you needed to request it from the back. I only ate in the Main Dining Room a few times. I had Opening Seating which I liked as we could go into dinner right at 5:15 pm whereas First Fixed Seating was not until 5:45 pm. Service was fine and the food good. At 3 pm each day the Dining Room offered Tea, which on a few afternoons had special themes. The most popular was the Aussie Tea with local favorites such as Anzac cookies and scones. The Dining Room was also the location of the Mariner luncheons which were scheduled throughout our voyage based on star level. There was no Mariner luncheon on embarkation day because the ship hosted a large group of local travel agents that day (something they repeated in several of our ports). I ate at the specialty restaurant Pinnacle Grill ($20 charge) just once when the Cruise Critic group got together near the end of our cruise. I was not very impressed. Yes, you got very personal service and the cut of steak was just a bit better than the regular dining venues but the chocolate soufflE was tasteless, and I did not think it was worth the extra charge. We had two other small dining outlets on the ship. The Terrace Grill offered hamburgers and hot dogs as well as a small salad bar, a taco bar, and pizza. It was not a very attractive set up and there were no drinks, not even water, available so that you had to bring something from the Lido buffet or order from the bar on the opposite side of the pool. The Explorations Cafe next to the library offered specialty coffees and teas for sale and provided free pastries and appetizers. On other cruise lines I've been able to get hot milk for free at the coffee bar (I bring my own special hot chocolate mix) and I was unpleasantly surprised when the man staffing the bar turned me down, quite rudely I might add. My only option for hot milk was in the mornings in the buffet. There are, of course, several bar areas as well as a Wine Tasting Bar on board but since I don't drink I cannot say much about them. However, I did want to thank the Beverage Manager, Nigel Thomas, who helped organize several meetings for our Cruise Critic group. Activities Athletic facilities on the ship included the two pools, a fitness center, a basketball court, a small tennis court, and a short jogging track. The fitness center was well equipped and there was a small wood-floored class area that could be used for stretching and yoga. The aft Lido pool was right next to a smoking area so I never got to use that pool. The other pool had a sliding covered roof which gave it some protection during inclement weather. The most popular physical activity on board, however, seemed to be walking around the promenade deck—all ages, all physicalities were out there every day in all weather chugging their way around. The daily program listed several culinary and craft activities each day but since I never participated I cannot comment on them. Although I do want to note that one of our own Cruise Critic group members, Peter, won the cook-up contest with his special chili. The ship also offered some group games and the team trivia seemed to be the most popular. The lectures that were offered on board were quite good and on sea days we usually had three offered. From Sydney to Freemantle we had on board two biologists from the University of Tasmania who lectured on flora and fauna and environmental issues; whereas from Freemantle to Sydney we had two retired military officers who focused on military history, in particular World War II. From Darwin to Brisbane we added a special local reef pilot to guide us through the Great Barrier Reef and he provided additional lectures as well. The ship's Tour/Port Director, Chris Fisher, offered port lectures as well as a few history and wildlife lectures of his own. His background happened to be in birding so he helped organize an ad hoc birding group; we met on deck several times to look for sea birds. I did participate in the computer classes that were offered in a special classroom sponsored by Microsoft. Classes covered the new Windows 7 operating system plus the programs that come with it including web pages, movie making and photo editing. The instructor Kristan was excellent. The classroom was also open for "lab time" for passengers to work on their own photo projects. The Photography Department teamed with the instructor to offer a photo contest in several categories which was quite popular. The Volendam's library was fantastic with a large selection of both fiction and non-fiction books available for checkout. There were also a large number of travel books for help in planning for this cruise and future cruises. The very comfortable chairs and couches were often full on sea days. There was a large table for picture puzzles, another with a globe and atlases, and board games available. Combined with the library was the internet center which had about 14 computers; wireless was available throughout most of the ship. Internet packages were available from about 25-65 cents a minute. I purchased a 500 minute package thinking that would be more than enough, but discovered that their service was very slow and not always reliable. I ended up having to buy another package later. In addition to the regular daily activities, the ship occasionally organized a special event. One at-sea Sunday we had a "Market Day" by the pool. The crew decorated small carts and served special drinks and food. The on-board stores had specials flea market style including half-priced t-shirts. When we anchored for an evening in the Great Barrier Reef, they provided a whole tropical paradise setting with a giant floating fountain in the pool, palm trees, and music. That evening was capped off by the arrival of dozens of migrating birds who mistook the ship for an island; they perched all over the top of the Sun Deck. Services The Tour Director (called Port Director on most ships) provided us with lectures on every port that included a bit of history with practical information such as docking location, transportation, sights, etc. I really appreciated the fact we did not get the awful "shopping talks" you get on many ships that do nothing but point you to the nearest jewelry store. In addition to the lectures, he would have desk hours each at-sea evening and he was dockside on port days where he would answer questions (or try to). The one frustration here was that on occasion I would be told that this was a new port for them and so they were unable to answer my question. This same thing would happen with the Front Desk; one would refer you to the other, or to Shore Excursions, and back again. There were a few ports where I had more information than they did. I do not believe that a port being new to the ship should ever been an excuse for the staff not having done their homework. The Volendam had the usual spa and beauty salon offerings but I did not make use of any of them. Personally I love massages but I do not enjoy the high-pressure sales pitch for over-priced spa items that always seems to accompany any service provided so I stopped using and on-board spa years ago. The Photography Department was quite active on this cruise. They provided the usual port disembark "mug shots," but they were not pushy about it as they are on some cruise lines. The prices for individual pictures, though, were too high I thought so I never bought any. They also offered passengers a chance to create their own book combining pictures of themselves with stock cruise photos. What really appreciated was that in every port they sent photographers and videographers on shore, and from their material they created a two-disk DVD of our cruise. Since my husband had not been able to come with me on this cruise, this DVD has given him a chance to vicariously experience many of the sights I saw. There was the usual selection of shops, with emphasis on jewelry, and the art auctions. The Front Desk offered currency exchange at a reasonable rate and also sold local stamps which were convenient. There were just a few children on board and the Volendam does have a Club Hal/Oasis for them to take advantage of. Entertainment The Frans Hal Lounge offered the usual evening entertainment series, but I never attended. This was a long cruise so a variety of entertainers were rotated through from various ports plus the ship had its own traveling troupe of entertainers. I did, however, attended the two special shows we had with locals. At Hobart the Royal Tasmanian Police Band came on board for a very rousing performance accompanied by some young local Celtic dancers. And in Cairns we had a local aboriginal provide a demonstration of the didgeridoo. I did attend the movies quite often and delighted by seeing a number of quite recent films. Popcorn was provided but they always ran out. The theatre seating was all on one level so many folks came early to fight for the few seats with unobstructed views. Each cabin also had a DVD player attached to the television and DVDs were available for checkout at the Front Desk. Shore Excursions Our first day on board found our Shore Excursion manager, Kevin, running ragged as the ship had just found out we would not be able to visit our second scheduled port of Bateman's Bay due to a problem sand bar. Within 48 hours Kevin managed to completely organize all new shore excursions for the new and very small port of Eden—quite a feat. However, all was not perfect with the Shore Excursion department. Another of our planned ports was Exmouth, a very small town in western Australia, for which pre-booked shore excursions filled very rapidly online. I, happily, got the one I wanted (Glass-bottom Boat Reef Cruise) —or so I thought. Apparently there was some computer glitch along the way and some bookings, mine included, were lost. Even though I had written confirmation of my booking in hand they refused to honor it; instead I was put on a waiting list. And to top that off the staff person (not Kevin) was very rude about the situation. I eventually got another, less attractive time slot for the same tour, but that was due to the fact that they pressured the provider into adding several more trips that same day. The upshot of these additions, however, was that the trip was shortened and we did not get to venture very far from shore. Folks who just went ashore on their own found an independent tour operator who gave them a fantastic trip which was longer and for less money. Note: Individual Port and Tour information given at end of review Disembarkation Since I was flying straight home after the cruise, I had arranged in advance to use the ship's transfer to the airport as this meant I did not have to find my bags in the huge pile in the cruise terminal and then haul them to a taxi or whatever. That part worked well as I walked straight off the ship at my designated time and straight onto the bus. However, when we got to the airport our driver had no idea where our bags were located as they had been shipped earlier by truck. There really should have been a HAL representative at the drop off location at the airport to provide directions. Eventually someone found another passenger with HAL tags on his suitcase and he pointed us to the far end of the terminal. Once there we waited in line to retrieve our bags only to discover there were no bag carts available there; they were back on the outside sidewalk where we were dropped off. Again having a representative there to let us know to take a cart with us would have helped greatly. Then came the wait. Even though my flight was not until 2:30 am I had been given a disembarkation time of 8:00 am. At Sydney the check-in counters do not open until 3 or 4 hours before flight time; in my case it was due to open at 10:50 am. Fortunately I had printed out a terminal map in advance and was able to find the small food court (with Starbucks!) that was hidden away behind the check-in area. Sydney is a very large and busy airport and the lines were long. Thank goodness for my elite status as United's Premier line was much shorter than even the First/Business class line. Once through security I was able to enjoy the Air New Zealand Star Alliance Lounge which offered recliners and hot food as well as an open bar. From there it was smooth flying home via San Francisco. Just a note for future cruisers: 200 of our lucky passengers who remaining on board to continue on to Vancouver were dismayed to discover that they had to report to immigration on the afternoon of disembarkation day along with the newly arriving passengers to be cleared for the continuing voyage. Some had planned overnight trips out of Sydney and had to cancel at the last minute as this requirement was not announced until our disembarkation talk the day before arriving in Sydney. Summary Holland America is a wonderful cruise line with large comfortable cabins, good food, interesting enrichment programs, and, for the most part, a nice older, educated clientele. And this particular itinerary was fantastic! It was the best introduction to a vast country as you can imagine. To have done this itinerary by land would have entailed several plane flights and long rental car drives. That said, however, I simply can no longer tolerate HAL's outdated smoking policy which allows smoking in all the cabins and on verandahs. This policy presents both health and fire hazards for everyone on board. Because of my experience on this cruise, my husband and I cancelled our other Holland America booking for later this year. Instead we've booked a similar cruise with Oceania although, unfortunately it is costing us quite a bit more as we lost any early booking discount as well as our on board credit. If HAL ever decides to change their policy, we will be back because we really do love the cruise line. ____________________________________________________________________________ Ports of Call Newcastle, NSW: Newcastle, formerly just a coal and industrial town, is re-inventing itself as a tourist attraction. We docked at the commercial port and were tendered across the Hunter River to the town dock from where you could easily walk or take one of the shuttle buses provided by the town and staffed by wonderful local volunteers who pointed out the sights along the way to three different drop-of points. Avis provided last minute car rentals right at the dock. With a heritage walking map downloaded from the tourism website, I enjoyed the morning walking out the spit to the lighthouse and then around the fort and into the town center where I took advantage of a nice bakery cafe. Many passengers, however, headed directly for the Hunter Valley wine region either with the ship's excursion or on their own. As an extra treat as we sailed out of the harbor at sunset the old fort saluted us with three cannon shots. Eden, NSW: "The little town and could—and did!" This port was a last minute substitute for Bateman's Bay with its navigational issues. With just 48 hours notice, they provided us with several shore excursions and organized a little open market/fair on the green for us. I took the tour to Ben Boyd National Park where we had a couple of nice walks, one out to the point. We did not see as much wildlife as I hoped in the park, but first time Australia visitors got a kick out of seeing a mob of kangaroos on the golf course as we headed out of town. On the way back the driver took by past a beautiful beach with dolphins playing in the water; I elected to get off here and then just walk over the hill into town. In town the center of attraction is the Killer Whale Museum which many passengers visited before walking down a winding path back to our tender dock. Port Arthur, Tasmania: This was a half-day stop offering tender service into the historical park; passengers had to pay the park fee if going ashore or be on a shore excursion. Since I had visited the park before I elected to stay on board but I do highly recommend taking a tour as it's the best glimpse of Australia's beginnings as a penal colony available today. Hobart, Tasmania: We were docked right in town from late-afternoon one day until midnight the next. I had visited Hobart the year before so I knew right where to head first—Salamanca Square which is lined with cafes and small shops. Unfortunately we were not there on a Saturday so we missed the famous open market. Several excursions were offered and I selected the one scheduled to visit New Norfolk, Russell Falls, a winery, and Bonorong Wildlife Park—all sights I had not seen the previous year. The tour turned out to be long drives with rushed stops and an awful lunch. We never stopped in New Norfolk but went to Richmond instead; it's a beautiful historic town with wonderful shops but I had been there before. At Russell Falls we were told it was a ten-minute walk and we only had 25 minutes there. It was a beautiful location that deserved far more time and many of our passengers simply could not walk that fast. For lunch we visited a winery where there was a tasting session (but I don't drink alcohol) and that was followed by a lunch of oysters, sausage, assorted raw vegetables, and dry, tasteless brownies. Another guest next to me and I just had bread and butter—that was it. From there we went to a small wildlife park which was very nice; you could hand feed the kangaroos and get up close to Tasmanian Devils and wombats. Melbourne, Victoria: Australia's "second city" but my (and many Aussies') favorite. We docked out at Port Melbourne where you can usually catch a tram into town. However, due to a traffic accident in town the tram was down for the morning. A few last minute shuttle buses were found to take us to a drop off point at the Southbank Arts Centre in town, and by mid-afternoon the trams were working again. Melbourne offers wonderful museums, parks, shopping and food so it was easy to do this city on your own. The city provides a free City Circle Tram hitting most of the sights including the famed (and huge) Victoria Market. If you wanted to venture outside of town you needed a rental car or to take one of the shore excursions as it was Sunday and train/transit options were not that frequent. I spent the day in town visiting my favorite chocolate shops, the Sunday arts market, and a Thai Festival being held in Federation Square. Adelaide, SA: Adelaide strikes that unusual combination of a bit of Old West with multi-cultural enclave into a small city surrounded by parks, museums, and universities. You can have huge grilled stakes in a heritage saloon than walk a block for authentic Chinese food. This city also provides a free circular bus for getting around, but the port is located a good distance outside of town and on our visit the usual train out there was undergoing track work. The ship offered a paid shuttle bus for those passengers not on shore excursions. Having spent time exploring the city the year before, I selected the Hahndorf tour. Hahndorf was one of several German settlements founded in the 19th century in the hills above Adelaide. Unfortunately our visit was a bit rushed as our guide insisted we drive around the city quite a bit before heading up into the hills. I wish the port area had rental car facilities as this would have been a much better option. Esperance, WA: What a paradise, even if the weather did not quite cooperate. It's a little difficult to fully enjoy pure white sugar sand and gorgeous turquoise water with lightning bolts all around. This was another of our wonderful small town ports, but our only docking option was the commercial port where we were required to take a shuttle bus from shipside a short distance to the town beach park—no walking in the port was allowed. I had pre-reserved a rental car with Avis but had to fight the crowd of "claim jumpers "in the tiny office to get my car. Once on the road we headed out to Cape Le Grand National Park where we encountered said lightning bolts and incredible scenery. On the road in we saw wild emus and kangaroos. Since we cut the park visit short we took in the Ocean Road drive suggested by the tourism website taking us past Pink Lake and the beautiful wild coast land on the other side of town. Many passengers took advantage of the ship's cruises out to Woody Island in the RecherchE Archipelago for wildlife viewing. Albany, WA: This was a tender port and a slightly larger town than Esperance with a few small historical buildings and museums; it's an old well-known whaling port. I elected to take the Billabong Track excursion which was described as a 5 km walk along the famed track that eventually goes all the way to the west coast. I was a bit disappointed as the walk turned out to be a 2.5 roundtrip and we had those pesky non-stop talkers which meant bird watching and listening to the crashing waves was difficult. Had I known I would have rented a car and done it on my own, but I thought I'd get a longer walk if we were dropped off in one location and picked up in another. Fremantle, WA: Back to the "big city" feel. Fremantle is the port gateway to Perth, Australia's only large western city; it appears in the glimmering distance almost like the city of OZ. We were docked on the edge of town where one could easily hop on the FreeCat shuttle bus into and around Fremantle. Downtown Fremantle is filled with cafes, bars, and shops; we arrived on a Sunday evening and it was hopping. For those who wanted to head into Perth the train station was a short walk from the cruise terminal and commuter trains left at regular intervals. Also within walking distance was the ferry to Rottnest Island (or Rat Nest as named by the Dutch for the unusually large rodents living there). Being an animal nut, of course I had to go. The quokkas are, in fact, not rodents but related to the other marsupials; they are cute and exist nowhere else in the world. The Rottnest ferry docks right in the village where you can catch the paid Bayseeker bus which circles the island delivering snorkelers, surfers, and hikers to various bays and inlets. As an alternative you can take a wildlife cruise or hire a bike for exploring the island. I elected to take advantage of one of the free historical walking tours offered by volunteers from the old Salt Store. Geraldton, WA: Now we are beginning to get the "outback" feel, although Geraldton itself is a good-sized town and was an important military base during World War II. This was a tender port and the various rental car agencies in town provided shuttles, although there were far too many people to fit and it was chaotic. A bright spot at the dock was a visit by a wonderful local woman and her golden retriever for whom all pet-starved passengers made a beeline. She said she always brings him down to the dock when a cruise ship appears and he loves all the attention. Once I had my rental car and all my passengers we headed north to Oakabella Homestead only to discover the ship had a "lock" on the place for the whole morning and the owner wanted to charge us $50 a head for morning tea and a tour! Since the ship's excursion bus had not arrived yet, we asked permission to walk around for a few minutes to take pictures and then we left. From there we continued north to the small town of Northampton where we had our much cheaper "tea" at a local cafe and walked around the historic church and other buildings. Coming out of the post office I encountered a local man who asked if we were from the ship (it had been the lead story on the radio news that morning); he then told me about his life growing up in the area and actually knowing Monsignor Hawes who designed and help build the church here as well as the cathedral back in Geraldton. Had I the time I think he would have talked all day. That's what I really love about Australia—the people who are just so open and caring. After Northampton we headed south past Geraldton to the historic settlement of Greenough with its wonderfully preserved buildings. We would have gone to the Hotel for refreshment but we saw the ship's bus just headed there and didn't want to discover we were shut out again. With the heat close to 100 degrees we headed back to town and the ship. Exmouth, WA: Our smallest and most remote Australian port proved both a disappointment and a small joy. We tendered into a small marina outside of the town center; a few shuttle buses were available. This was the port where the "computer glitch" screwed up the shore excursion pre-bookings. Originally there were only a couple of glass-bottom boat cruise times for the Ningaloo Reef available and they filled quickly. However, due to passenger demand the ship pressured the company to offer several more sailings. As a result our cruise time was shortened (but not the price) so we barely moved away from our beach embarkation point and that, combined with the fact it was coral "spawning" season, meant we saw very little and photography was impossible. Some other passengers got the opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks and others went four-wheeling through the national park area. Learning about the town of Exmouth which had been created to service a massive military radar installation and an air base was quite interesting. As with Eden a few town folk brought out arts and craft tables to supplement what the few stores had to offer. But for me the highlight was a local wildlife rescue group who brought along two joeys (baby kangaroos) which we allowed to hold while they took our picture. Komodo Island, Indonesia: What an Easter morning to awaken in a small bay surrounded by palm-filled islands and pink and gold clouds sliced by a vertical rainbow! The entire island is a controlled national park and passengers were only allowed ashore if they were on a shore excursion or had made special arrangements in advance with the rangers and had written proof of that arrangement. As our tenders were being readied you could watch nearby islanders arriving in their small boats to set up shop for all the potential customers; lots of carved dragons, post cards, and jewelry would be available after our tours. We were met at the tender dock by our guides and handlers (two for each group with long sticks to "manage" any dragons that came too close). We walked a fairly level and not very long trail while our guide talked about the flora and fauna of the island. Half way along two rangers had rounded up a large dragon for us to observe and later back in the small camp area two smaller dragons made their appearance. One got a little excited about all the potential "fresh meat" around and started to charge us but was corralled by our keepers—one reason why all were counseled to never wander off. On backing up from our charging dragon we ended sheltered under a tree until one of the villagers cautioned us as there were two small snakes wound in the branches. A later shore ex group got to watch a feeding session while the independent tour members went on much longer walks to and saw much more wildlife. Darwin, NT: We arrived amid a cracking thunder storm and drenching rain; it was definitely still "The Wet" up north. We were held on the ship until it was decided if and when various shore excursions would be able to go. I was booked on the longest one, Litchfield National Park, so I was worried, but the Captain eventually agreed to stay in port longer and we left an hour late. We saw no rain the rest of the day. This shore excursion turned out to be another of those "too-long rides/too-short stop" trips and I regretted going. Although the waterfalls were beautiful, we were not allowed to swim in the pools due to seasonal issues in some and not enough time at the one open pool which was a disappointment. I wish I had either rented a car or just stayed in town which was reachable on a longish walk or by shuttle from the pier. Cairns, Queensland: The ship docked right in town. The terminal parking area was under renovation so you had to walk out to the street to get a taxi as pick-ups dockside were not allowed. I had signed up for the Kuranda Experience tour as the guidebooks said that was the best one-day trip. However, heavy rains a few weeks earlier had wiped out part of the rail tracks and the trip was cancelled. Eventually the ship put together a substitute trip using a bus but many of us elected to just go on our own. Several of us got together and took taxis up to the cable car station which cost $23 per taxi; later we learned that there was an express city bus from town that was a much cheaper option. I'm glad we went very early as by the time the cable car opened the line was huge. The cable car offers the option of two mid-way rainforest station stops on the way up to Kuranda. Each stop has displays and a short boardwalk trail. From the Kuranda station you can walk directly into town or follow both the river walk and/or jungle walks. A more challenging hike to the falls is an additional choice. I did both walks in a little over an hour and finished with a short uphill walk into town for lunch and leisurely shopping. Kuranda is designed for tourists with souvenirs, art galleries, and cafes everywhere. From Kuranda I was able to catch one of the $4 buses back to town. I was very glad to have done this trip on my own; many of the passengers who took the substitute shore ex complained they only had 45 minutes at Kuranda. Back in town it was HOT but I did a few errands and then headed back to the nice air conditioned ship. Many other passengers did reef snorkeling/diving trips at this port and they enjoyed the experience tremendously. Townsville, Queensland: Townsville has two cruise ship docking locations, one near town and the Sun Ferries pier and the other in the commercial port; we ended up in the commercial port. The ship offered a paid shuttle to town and there were taxis available dockside. I had originally planned to take the ferry to Magnetic Island for the day but got talked into going with some other CCr's to the Billabong Sanctuary. We were going to rent a car but discovered they were only available at the airport on a Sunday and there was no shuttle, so we booked private transport through a local tour company (Abacus) recommended by the Sanctuary. They were late picking us up (they also run airport shuttles) and there was no shade at the pier so we were really hot. But the park was quite nice and we had the opportunity (for money) to have our picture taken with a koala, a wombat, or a crocodile and snake—I opted for fur and the wombat photo is my favorite of the whole cruise. Even though we were late arriving we had more than enough time here and we were glad of the covered porch and snack bar to kill time until our return pick-up. Hamilton Island, Queensland: We anchored among the Whitsunday Islands and tenders were provided to Hamilton, a resort island with a small tourist town. I had pre-booked the Knuckle Reef tour and was looking forward to my first-ever snorkeling experience as I had read that this particular company handled beginners well. Unfortunately this was another tour where the ship pressured the company into taking more than the usual number and we ended up on a long, crowded boat ride without even enough seats for everyone; it was 2 ½ hours each way to the reef. One treat on the boat, however, was an onboard masseuse. For $40 I got a 20-minute wonderful back & neck massage, but it's not for the shy as this was done right in the middle on the lounge with just a towel as front cover! When all our passengers descended on the pontoon we were given the options of a free semi-submersible and/or glass-bottom boat ride in addition to snorkeling or diving. Because of the size of the crowd the boat rides were shortened (again!). Consensus among passengers seemed to be that the glass-bottom boat was the better choice. Beginning snorkelers were offered a paid class but I opted to try it on my own with mixed results. The company provided all the supplies: stinger suits, masks, fins, and float vests—I think I looked like a short colorful whale after being fully suited up. There were two roped-off areas for snorkeling and steps down to platforms for easy entry (easy that is unless you've never worn fins before). As suggested I used the rope as guideline as I was off—what a wonderful experience. There was a small rescue boat in each area in case you got into trouble as well as look-outs on the pontoon. The paid class group got to go off in a separate area and had much better sightings so I would recommend this option. Lunch was served buffet style upon arrival. The staff at the pontoon was absolutely great; I would highly recommend this tour. We only ending up having about 2 ½ hours out on the pontoon although our tour description said at least 3 hours; I imagine this was due to the greater numbers and longer load time at the ship. Brisbane, Queensland: We were docked downriver from town but within walking distance of the Brett Wharf CityCat ferry which many of us utilized for transport. Again the ship provided a paid shuttle bus service. Originally I had planned to go to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary with another CCr but she could not go so I took the ferry downtown and elected to take the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus which gave me an inexpensive narrated city tour as well as the chance to stop at the Botanic Gardens for a walk before returning to town where I found a wonderful farmers market in progress. I had planned to visit some aboriginal galleries but the addresses the guide book had provided all turned out not to be extant any more. No worries. By this time of the cruise we were all pretty tired and many of us returned mid-afternoon by ferry to the ship. Sydney, NSW: "Home" again after traveling a total amazing 8,136 nautical miles! Our itinerary gave us a full day and overnight here before disembarkation. Sydney really is a city to see on your own; there is no need for a shore excursion, especially since we docked this time right in Circular Quay at The Rocks historical district. Within a very short walking distance you have access to Sydney's ferries and the train. Sydney Explorer buses provide two different tour circuits and your all-day pass is good on either or both; there are very few sights that are not located at one of their many stops. Directly across from our dock was the famed Sydney Opera House where you can purchase a one-hour tour for $34 or check to see if tickets are available for any of the performance spaces (drama, ballet, opera, or symphony). In addition to the Opera House tour, I spent the morning doing last minute shopping, walking around the city, and visiting the Art Gallery, which was bit disappointing; I thought the museums in Melbourne and Adelaide much better. After packing that evening, I went to sleep with the lights of the harbor and Opera House framed in my cabin window. What a nice ending. Read Less
Sail Date March 2010
My honey, Edie and I boarded the Ocean Princess for a 6 segment cruise from Tokyo to New York City for our 129-day adventure. Overall, we had an excellent experience. The purpose of this review is to share our learning from the trip. ... Read More
My honey, Edie and I boarded the Ocean Princess for a 6 segment cruise from Tokyo to New York City for our 129-day adventure. Overall, we had an excellent experience. The purpose of this review is to share our learning from the trip. First, the renamed Ocean Princess is a 650+/- passenger ship that seems to attract more experienced cruisers because of the length of the segments and the exotic ports. It was surprising to me that some passengers complained that we had too many days at sea or not enough stuff to do on the ship to pass the time. Seems like they would have figured that out when they booked the itinerary. The OP does not have the amenities of the mega ships in the Princess fleet. The upside is the OP is able to get into more ports than the larger vessels. The major advantage is getting to know the passengers and crew. The OP had recently been renovated and yet the ship seemed a little dated. The service in the dining room was excellent and the food better than average. The dance team was superior and many of the entertainer were dandy. Because we were on the ship for multiple cruises we were able to see what worked and what could be done differently. A Sunday brunch was started in the main dining room that was excellent. When a new matre d' started his contract, the popular brunch stopped. The personality of the ship is driven by the matre d', head chef, and the cruise director. When they change, it is different. That can be a plus of minus, based on what we liked. Because we were on the ship so long, life slows down. We were careful what we ate, exercised every day, only went to ships events when we wanted, and stayed away from the less than kind passengers. It is also a major advantage to sail west because we had lots of 25 hour days. We liked the OP and have booked another 48 days of that ship in 2011. The Captain loves his "white lady" and is a visible leader of the crew. Overall I would give the ship 4 1/2 stars. Ronvoyage Read Less
Sail Date March 2010
This cruise was 30 days from San Diego to Lima and back to San Diego, 14 ports/7 countries were visited. Take this voyage for the wonderful ports not often visited by the masses; Guatemala, (visit Antigua); Nicaragua (visit Leon);Puerto ... Read More
This cruise was 30 days from San Diego to Lima and back to San Diego, 14 ports/7 countries were visited. Take this voyage for the wonderful ports not often visited by the masses; Guatemala, (visit Antigua); Nicaragua (visit Leon);Puerto Chiapas,(Tapachula). Make sure you do your homework and hire a private guide and visit the out-of-the-way small towns,thats how to get the real feel of a country.Visit archaeology sites and museums.Knowing a little Spanish goes a long way.Take a walk in the jungle of Costa Rica and Panama.Go to a local market and regular grocery store.Try the exotic fruits (peel them), try Pisco sour,cheech-cha (Chicha morada)and Inca cola (made by Coca Cola company).Keep a journal and take lots of photos.Have an open mind, it's their country and culture,that's what makes travel an experience. The Ship: Nice and clean until the GIS that arrived onboard while we were in Lima or before, then everything was wiped down with yucky stuff to stop the spread. We were lucky the Captain was in quick response to stop the spread. Good food, fantastic crew, the best,happiest crew, I miss them already. Music: 30 days of very,very old, slow music was the worst thing.Those are songs from the 20's ("bicycle built for two") to the Tom Jones/Frank Sinatra stuff.(they play what for 30 days??). Ship needs to have a variety and have some 1950's rock&roll (and up) music for us people who in our 50 and 60's and would like to dance. Beethoven is nice, but I fall asleep and can't dance to that. Need happy music. Enjoyed the Equator ceremony! This long cruise had older people than we were, I guess due to the length of the cruise. Needed more entertainment besides string and tenor music (snore,yawn). Liked the comedy and dance acts.Good crew acts. Forget the movies,get a DVD for your room. Summary: Would I do it again? Yes,Yes,Yes, didn't want this experience to end, wish I could do it all over again,I wouldn't change a thing except I wouldn't pack so many clothes. I had to buy luggage for our bought goodies! Read Less
Sail Date February 2010
I just returned from an exhilarating 27 day World Cruise leg from Los Angeles to Sydney on the Pacific Princess. I really enjoyed the cruise and was fascinated by the major dramas at sea. I though I would miss my favorite TV show ... Read More
I just returned from an exhilarating 27 day World Cruise leg from Los Angeles to Sydney on the Pacific Princess. I really enjoyed the cruise and was fascinated by the major dramas at sea. I though I would miss my favorite TV show "Desperate Housewives" and instead I found my own live version right on the ship. The stories I heard were unbelievable. There was a big drama on the ship—and I bet there is one every year—and you are either in the know or being made fun of. It is better to in the know than to be left out of the loop, welcome to Desperate Cruisers! This ship had just come out of dry dock and it was in good shape, all new carpeting in many rooms and only one elevator was out of service for several weeks. This is the old Renaissance #3 ship for those who are interested in this. The public rooms were beautiful. The elevator in repair was a Godsend, the food was outstanding and plentiful and I needed incentive to walk those stairs. I spent a lot of time in the Pacific Lounge, the Cabaret Lounge, and the Casino Lounge—Steven the bartender in the Casino lounge was very nice, he made a mean virgin Margarita. We had a lot of rough sea days; however once I got my sea legs nothing bothered me. For many days walking through the ship was like snow skiing, rather tiring but great exercise. I also love to walk around sideways; I am really good at it! :) I stayed in a balcony room by myself and there was plenty of storage for me alone, but sharing this space for a month with my husband might present a challenge because space is much more limited than on a traditional ship. I do need to learn to pack less things, this is the bane of my existence when I travel alone and have to schlep my own stuff around. The bed was very low and a bit hard for me; they don't have real egg crates anymore, only puffy pillow tops which are not as soft as egg crates. I got one bar set up for 27 days, not the weekly set up I though I was getting. I was a little bummed out to learn this after I had given away all my booze and stuff because I had been told the wrong info by another FCC person on another ship. Live and learn, I though it sounded too generous for Princess to do this but I did not listen to my own instinct. I got one set of shampoo and conditioner and lotion for the whole 27 days, fine by me because I don't like the stuff anyway and I always bring my own. I got a nice array of elite amenities and used them for the boat building contest. I did not get any upgraded towels or bathrobe; I don't know why they bother promising them since I have never gotten them as elite. The occasional thick towel is such a treat! I had a weird dining experience initially as I was seated with a loud and unpleasant person who was traveling solo like me. Thankfully I was also seated with a couple, Ken and Peter from Australia, who were fantastic and they totally saved an otherwise problematic situation. We got stuck with an unpleasant person who had made no friends on the first leg of the journey and demanded "young" people be seated at the table. This person treated the waiters like they were personal slaves and we all found ourselves getting more and more uncomfortable with this poor behavior. I finally spoke up in front of the group and asked this person to refrain from speaking to the waiters poorly in from of me. Then the whole table ignored this person, and we talked over this person for several days. Finally this person decided to change tables; this was the only way we could get Princess to take action. We could not get Princess to change this mean person's seat for us because nobody in the dining room wanted to sit with them. This person ultimately became a great source of humor for the remainder of the trip, suffice it to say we saw the humor in a bad situation and choose to find the joy rather than the bummers. Nancy No-friends (the name my friend Ken gave her) sat alone every night! This person terrorized a few individuals on the cruise; Princess did nothing to manage this person because they were bragging about bringing 100 people on the world cruise next year. This was a joke; this person talked a big game but had nothing to back it up with. You know the kind of person who manipulates situations to their advantage. We were all amazed that this person never got booted from the cruise; instead they continue to cause a tremendous amount of trouble for some individuals and a huge annoyance for the rest. If you are going on a segment this year you will meet this person, just don't say I didn't warn you! The food was great; I really enjoyed the variety and abundance of options available for such a small ship. We had a late dining table that seated up to 10 and we had a few empty spots that we used to invite people to join us, especially after ridding ourselves of our problem tablemate. The MDR was a little more traditional with the Head waiters preparing pasta and pineapple flambe, and the food was truly standout fare. We also loved the Bistro, they had their own menu and you could also order off the main dining room menu and you did not have to dress. A fantastic solution to no anytime dining, we loved the bistro! On port days the buffet stays open for the evening, otherwise it becomes the Bistro. We had a few loud and large dinners there and really enjoyed it. I did not want for anything during the entire cruise, there was more food around than you can possibly imagine on such an intimate ship. I learned a secret; you can order things like Lobster and Filet Mignon in the MDR if you give 24 hours notice on any night. We only had 2 formal nights in the whole 27 days and I guess this reflects a general lack of interest in dressing up when one cruises the World. I seemed to be the only one who knew about the Elite and Platinum lounge but soon lots of people were frequenting it. I regularly stopped by for nibbles, especially since I had late seating, we didn't usually get served until 9pm thanks to our poorly behaving tablemate. They had a lot of food and drink parties in the Pacific Lounge, with skewers of Pineapple and Shrimp and all sorts of fruits, kind of a happy hour thing with reduced priced drinks and stuff. Room service was great; I ordered lots of fresh fruit for those late night moments (LOL) where food is necessary. I got to know my morning coffee and toast kid well, he dutifully served me for 26 days and I miss him a lot. I got several trays of fancy strawberries and stuff sent from captain's circle, plus I got to order stuff as an elite perk. This was very nice, and boy did I get spoiled. I had brought my own coffee press and fresh ground Cubita coffee but the press broke in transit and I was not able to get it fixed and then I just got used to the syrup coffee and gave up on brewing my own. I did bring my bag of coffee down to the coffee bar and asked them to brew me a cup which they did, I though that was very nice. I had issues with some of the waiters in the dining room, one in particular was very petty and mean to me based on who was sitting at my table (mean person) and kept handing me scalding pots of hot milk for my "best friend" (mean person) who quickly became the bane of my existence! I realize that when people are mean to waiters, they can become curt and slow but imagine how it feels to be seated as a solo traveler with someone who is so nasty that their reputation becomes yours! This happens quickly on small ships and I found that I suffered the sins of this mean person, as did my other table mates, until we took control of the situation by making this person go away. Meanwhile, I do think it is dangerous to have waiters who target people, even the bad ones, because my hand got burned badly and I was not able to use it for days. I hope none of you get this waiter and if you email me I will give you his name! I did turn him in but nothing happened to him and he is still in the MDR. Be careful of him. My room steward Victor was very good, he had 16 rooms to care for and yet he took outstanding care of me. He made me feel safe and secure all the time. He was never obtrusive, always there when I needed him and kept my room clean and tidy. My laundry was handled perfectly; they never lost one single pair of the junky target undies I bought for the purpose of not caring if they lost or damaged them! Go figure... There were some very interesting lecturers on the ship including an Astronomer, a Middle East Crisis expert, a style adviser, an Academy Award winner, a nice Port Lecturer, and a WWII Historian. We had at least 2 lectures on Sea days. There was also a Water Color paint teacher who gave regular lessons in very high surf! We had Concert Violinists and other wonderful musicians and singers, and we had several dance shows done quite well on the very small stage by the excellent Princess Singers and Dancers. We had several lounge acts, all very talented. There was a wonderful fitness instructor who taught Yoga and Pilate and she had her Appendix burst while we were in Honolulu so we lost her, she is doing great back in Sydney and getting better. By the time her replacement came several weeks later, I had given up on Yoga and Pilate. Oh well, some things are not meant to be. I got much exercise righting myself on such a rocking ship for almost all of the sea days. Karaoke was very fun, we got the whole place going one night and it was very fun. My first Karaoke song ever was "Bye Bye Miss American Pie" which is the longest Karaoke in history. I loved it! Sadly there was only 2 Karaoke sessions during the whole 27 day segment and there should have been more! We had a fantastic crossing of the Equator Ceremony, it was so funny and messy and everybody had a blast. I am no longer a pollywog, now I am a shellback! Many of our sail-a-ways included Champagne although I am not a drinker so I did not have any. The ship building contest was also quite fruitful, all the ships were great and I got to donate all of my "elite amenity items" and my Obama Surfer Bobble head doll to one group who should have won but didn't. Must have been the crappy elite amenity items! I took a Princess excursion in Vanuatu to see Ekasup Cultural Center, it was nice but limited to that place only. I did not get to sit with the people I went with, this always happens when I take Princess tours. I liked the place we visited, a fake tribe who also appeared on Survivor. Survivor was filmed on this island, on the other side of the island but fairly close to Vila! The port had lots of junk to buy, mostly from China but I did manage to find me some Kava. ;) I took a Princess excursion in the Bay of Islands to see the Kauri Forest and Glow Worm Caves and that was really fun. We got to see much of the area including some artsy toilets, there was plenty of stops for postcards and junk and opportunities to hike a bit if you wanted to. It was a good excursion. I took a Princess excursion in Picton to see the area via land and sea and this was a classic bummer made so by an individual who showed up late (they waited) and then who "got lost shopping" at a 10 minute stop and caused another half hour delay, all of this amounting to a shortened excursion. This is why I hate ship excursions. I don't mind so much when we go slower because of handicapped people, but I go crazy when some selfish loon shows up late (duh) or wanders off to shop at a toilet stop! I took private excursions in all the other locations. In Honolulu we rented a car and spent the day tooling around the North shore and more. It cost 50 bucks for the whole day, plus $15 in gas. Several folks rented cars as well, one man who drove to buy flowers and to see the Diamond Head lookout point later told me he was suffering from Macular Degeneration. Be careful driving when the World Cruise is in town! In New Caledonia we took one of the petite tour "trains" around on our own and that provided for a nice overview of the Island, which is quite beautiful and civilized if expensive. We were in town late, we got to port at noon and that is when the market closed for the day so we missed that. It is an expensive place, one can hardly afford to blow ones nose at $7 a box of tissues. I did manage to find a jewelry store open and there was this Gold Tiki I could not resist... We walked on our own in Auckland and Sydney and had a blast. We took local buses and ferries and walked as much as we could. The only HOHO we took was in Sydney Harbor, a boat you could hop on and off but we did not end up using it in that way. The Botanical gardens in Sydney were outstanding, we saw tons of bats just hanging around and mating (flying foxes) and so many different birds, bugs, and butterflies it was amazing. This was a perfect place to end our stay in Sydney. We found a wonderful restaurant 14 years ago in London and were pleased to find it again in Auckland and Sydney, it's called Wagamama and it is well worth a visit. You have to try the Passion Fruit & Lychee Sorbet, with a shot of Sake. All in all it was a nice cruise, it was just the right amount of time to be away and though I did enjoy the cruise I was ready to get off the ship after so many Sea days. I am not sure I could handle being on such a small ship for such a long period of time (107 days) with the same people and the same staff. While some staff was a delight to be around, others seemed tired and battered and ready for a break. The same was true of the cruisers, many were delightful and happy, but there were the occasional grumps that got grumpier as time moved on. I was happy to leave the mean and the grumpy but very sad to leave the wonderful friends I met on the cruise. Read Less
Sail Date February 2010
We were around the Horn 11 years ago with HAL and had pretty good weather at the Cape. Not as good as we had the other day though. We were really fortunate on this trip, as the Star Princess had ran into some pretty foul stuff coming ... Read More
We were around the Horn 11 years ago with HAL and had pretty good weather at the Cape. Not as good as we had the other day though. We were really fortunate on this trip, as the Star Princess had ran into some pretty foul stuff coming around the Horn just prior to our voyage and they had to cancel the Falklands. We stayed overnight in the Intercontinental at Buenos Aires, just before we headed for the ship passengers came in that just got off of her. They were a pretty depressed bunch. One gal told me that "everything that could go wrong went wrong". Fortunately for us everything that could go right went right. I notice the recent trip comments on C. C. pretty much reflect our views too. Actually, I was a lot more impressed with the trip than I thought I was going to be. It was a super great voyage. There were a lot of folk really into spending time on deck and taking in the marine life. And the biologists Princess provided were super and spent countless hours with everybody. I know The "birders" were in all their glory. Albatross everywhere. We had to cough up $131.00 each in Buenos Aires. We found out though this is a fee for Argentina and is good for ten years. Like we will be going back again soon. Anyway, We paid out $459 dollars for port and government fees plus the $262.00 for Argentina. I'm not certain, but since we stopped in Punta Arenas maybe we had to pay that $100. each, for Chile. Anyway, those who complain about Alaska's $50.00 head charge are simply not paying attention. Thursday, (January 14th) to Seattle, Friday to Buenos Aires, Argentina via Houston on Continental. Saturday afternoon we boarded the Star Princess for 16 days. For a voyage directly to Antarctica, 4 days cruising in and around Antarctica, then back up the coast all around Cape Horn and into the Beagle Channel making stops at Ushuaia Argentina, Punta Arenas, Chile, then out the Strait of Magellan into the Atlantic cruising on out to the Falkland Islands, then north to Montevideo in Uruguay, then back to Buenos Aires and then fly home via, Santiago de Chile, Los Angeles, Seattle, then home late Feb. 4th. On the sea we traveled a total of 5503.9 statute miles. Princess Cruise line has a promotional film out for the Antarctic. It starts with something that goes like this: "Imagine a place where time ceased to exist, a place of unspoiled and unforgiving beauty. A place of quiet. Where peace is everywhere. Imagine no more. The Frozen Continent." That pretty much sums up what we witnessed down there. The Star Princess. In 2002, when new, this was the largest passenger vessel in the world. However, it is quite a ways down the list now. 109,000 gross tons, 950 ft long, 118 ft wide, max speed 23.3 knots, cruise speed 21 knots, 3100 passengers max (we had 2600) plus a crew of 1200. But I did notice that their deck layout schematic is goofed up, so is my Berlitz guide to cruising with respect to the "Star". But then, my guide is 2007. Fortunately for us, the mistakes worked in our favor, we were on the Caribe deck in a balcony cabin. Except, our balcony was twice the size of those on any other deck as far as regular cabin or mini suite cabins go. The balconies on the Caribe were twice as large as those on the Dolphin deck, and the Dolphin deck has all the mini suites. The mini suites were just like ours except they cut the balcony in half and extended the room onto the cut our portion. Most full suites were all on our deck, and all they simply involved was two regular cabins with balcony's, like ours, with the wall removed. Berlitz says you can see down onto the Caribe full suite balconies from above. Not true, half the area of those balconies have a roof. Quite a mix of nationalities on board. Us Yankees were about 45%. I like it that way, gives one exposure to what others think and do. Unfortunately, we don't all speak the same language. There were a lot of South Americans on board as well. The cruise lines have resorted to really cutting rates in order to fill the ships. Another nice thing, the crowd was much younger than we are used to. As we get longer in the tooth we tend to become more curmudgeonish. The Star was by far the largest ship we have ever been on. Almost three times the size of the Titanic. I did not think I would care for a vessel this large but I was pleasantly surprised. Orca, (Killer Whale) just like home came right down the port side of the ship and our patio was on the port side. I got a good picture. This occurred in Gerlache Strait. We had three naturalists on board. One fellow had worked in the arctic since right after world war ll, he gave a fantastic lecture on Shackleton. He had met and spoke to a number of the Shackleton crew who were on the Endurance in 1914 when it got stuck in the Weddell Sea. He wrote a book which I bought, "Antarctica from South America". The other two were biologists as well, with doctorates and had spent many years at stations in the Antarctic. They say that it is a myth to believe warm waters harbor more marine life.The opposite is true. Cold waters contain more oxygen, meaning more zooplankton and nutrients like "krill" which provide the basis for all life in the arctic regions. Hence, large mammals thrive, like whales, such as the Blue and Fins, millions of penguins, seals and birds. Nothing lives on shore though. It is all a marine life show. With humans now harvesting krill in unregulated huge fishing boats in this area, an ecological disaster might be in the making for all life in the Antarctic. About as far south as we got was 65 degrees south latitude. It was pretty cold on deck some times, mostly from the wind moving across it. Actually, we were still almost 1800 miles from the south pole. And over 3000 miles to the ocean on the other side of the continent. Antarctica is not the smallest continent. It's land mass is larger than Europe or Australia. In fact it is twice the size of Australia. It is 98% covered by ice. We were sailing in and around the Antarctic Peninsula. They say that 96% of the continent's coast is ice cliffs. But on the peninsula you can see beaches and rock outcroppings. They also say that during the Antarctic winter the size of the continent almost doubles if you include the winter sea ice. There is also thousands of square miles of permanent sea ice, like in the Weddell and Ross Seas which are not included as part of the official Antarctic Continent either. There is an east and west Antarctic. They don't know for sure yet because of the ice depth, but it is possible that if the ice melted there would be two continents instead of one as the low land between the east and west highlands would be a sea channel. On average, it is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent and has the highest elevation of all the continents. However it is the interior of the continent which is technically the largest desert in the world. The coast does get quite a bit of precipitation, however. The U.S. and Russia both have stations in the interior. The U.S. right at the pole. Russia's is higher up and colder though. They say a structure built at the pole will survive for decades with little snow around it, while a station on the coast will be covered by hundreds of feet of snow just after a few years. So, on the coast, they now build on stilts and keep adding to them as it snows in order to keep the buildings on the surface. That way they don't have to continually plow and move snow. The ships five swimming pools were covered with nets, which means "no swimming today". Even though we had one very sunny and beautiful day down there, the temperature was still around 34. That is the same latitude as Fairbanks except Fairbanks is north latitude, also in Fairbanks it would have been July 22nd. It snowed one day for a bit, I love to take hot tubs in the snow, but for some reason they closed those also when we were there. I took many shots of ice bergs. The huge tabular bergs were amazing. They break off the huge continental ice shelves and there are thousands of them around. I understand they sometimes go for over a hundred miles on top. They float around the ocean for decades. Sometimes their flat tops are over a hundred feet above the sea, and they reach down 700 feet below the surface of the water. There are also millions of smaller ice bergs. For many years they have called some of these "Bergy Bits", Britt speak. But they aren't being cute when they do so. Smaller ones than that are what they call "Growlers", hey, big surprise in Alaska, but there is a reason for this designation. The smaller bergs are what the crew is most worried about as they can't pick them up as well on radar at night and they can do considerable damage. Star Princess has a double hull. The huge ones are no problem to see and avoid. The Star Princess had an "Ice Captain" on board. He was retired Coast Guard and had captained our nation's largest ice breaker, the Polar Star, on scientific expeditions in the Antarctic for years. He spoke to us a couple of times. Right after we left and headed into Drake's Passage he said something interesting "I don't get into these "Global Warming" arguments because I am not a scientist. However, I will tell you this, my first summer here was in 1984, no way we could have taken a ship this size back then into the areas where we have just been. There was so much ice then that even a consideration of doing so would have been ridiculous." Read Less
Sail Date January 2010
There were actually eight ports of call, not six as shown (drop-down list only goes up to six). We had sailed on the QM2 before, on her Maiden Voyage in 2004, so we were looking forward to returning to the Queen of the Seas. This is our ... Read More
There were actually eight ports of call, not six as shown (drop-down list only goes up to six). We had sailed on the QM2 before, on her Maiden Voyage in 2004, so we were looking forward to returning to the Queen of the Seas. This is our 24th cruise in total, and sixth with Cunard. Embarkation at Dubai was pretty straightforward and we were shown to our stateroom on Deck 8 where our luggage arrived pretty much immediately. I was pleased to see that the ship was still her immaculate, beautifully decorated self. Our stateroom was spacious and well appointed; we had a balcony although our view was partially obscured by the lifeboats outside. We ate in the Britannia restaurant and the food and service were nothing short of excellent. A couple of evenings I did miss going up to dinner; not through any fault of the service or the cuisine but because I didn't want to put on any more weight than necessary! For breakfast and lunch we usually just ate in the King's Court buffet, although there were times when I chose the room service breakfast and ate in on our balcony in the balmy, tropical heat. One thing about the room service is that the breakfast was delivered bang on time each morning at the time requested. The entertainment was of a very high standard, with a selection of guest entertainers such as comedians, pianists, opera singers, magicians, dancers and musicians. The only act we were not keen on was a guy who billed himself as a "comedy magician" - I think "children's party entertainer" would have been more appropriate. We also enjoyed the daytime lectures given by guest speakers, who were also of a very high standard. The ship's library is one of the best at sea and I was able to get through a couple of books during the sea days. Our ports of call were: Cochin (India), Phuket (Thailand), Penang (Malaysia), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Singapore, Bangkok (Thailand), Phu My (Viet Nam) and Hong Kong. We stayed in port overnight in Hong Kong then disembarked for a night in a hotel before our long flight home. If I have to complain about anything, it is the absolutely extortionate prices on board the QM2. We have done five previous Cunard cruises, and indeed we are already booked on the new Queen Elizabeth, but we've never really thought that the prices were exorbitant until now. I'm sure they put them up because this was the World Cruise. My advice to anyone is DON'T buy the so-called bargain or sale-price items they try to tout to you, because you will find the items much, much cheaper back home or over the internet. Drinks prices were also way over the top. I will be comparing the QE prices later on, as I'm sure they are not normally this high. All in all though, we had a brilliant time on the ship and visited some very interesting ports of call. Long may the QM2 reign! Read Less
Sail Date January 2010
This was a wonderful cruise on a ship that we had been on twice before. This time we avoided the Brittania restaurant - which is good, but has two sittings and is too large - by booking a club balcony cabin, thus having the Brittania Club ... Read More
This was a wonderful cruise on a ship that we had been on twice before. This time we avoided the Brittania restaurant - which is good, but has two sittings and is too large - by booking a club balcony cabin, thus having the Brittania Club restaurant which was just the right size, open dining, and first class service. Our last cruise was in the Queen's Grill, and although excellent, the service we received in the Club restaurant was just as good. The reason for the Queen's Grill was an upgrade due to a golden wedding anniversary. The food was excellent with such a great choice. The cabin was fine with plenty of drawer and cupboard space and the cabin service was excellent. Only complaint was that although the towels are of good quality, the size of the bath towels leave a lot to be desired. The ship was spotlessly clean and all the staff very friendly and helpful, apart from the pursers office where one did not always get the best service. O.K they are the ones who take all the complaints, but they were on several occasions, not the nicest of folk to deal with and gave one the impression of being superior, and not there to serve the guests. Two good things came out of this cruise. You can now buy Gin or Vodka (certain brands)plus 6 cans of tonic for $25 for consumption in your cabin, and they also turn a blind eye to you taking spirits or wine on board. Think they had to do it as P & O were already doing this. The prices charged in the bars and restaurants are exhorbitant especially with the 15% service charge, so we did not use them very much. One only had to look at the tables in the Brittania restaurant in the evening to see that there were not many bottles of wine on the table. They did actually reduce the price of some of their wines when we were aboard, but they need to reduce them even more for us to buy one bottle a day. Other cruise lines do not charge as much. Only did one tour as there again they are much too expensive and as seasoned cruisers we know how to do them much more cheaply. All in all a wonderful cruise, and one will always have some complaints after such a long time. I sincerely hope to rejoin QM2 in Capetown next year for parts of the cruise that I did not do this time! Read Less
Sail Date January 2010
Recently back from a 6 week Grand Voyage Asia to Africa on the MV Discovery from Hong Kong to Capetown - January to March 2010 DINING: Overall the food was good; with a few deficiencies. BREAKFAST was served in the main dining room ... Read More
Recently back from a 6 week Grand Voyage Asia to Africa on the MV Discovery from Hong Kong to Capetown - January to March 2010 DINING: Overall the food was good; with a few deficiencies. BREAKFAST was served in the main dining room with very nice selections. Buffet was available on the Lido deck and early riser self-serve continental items were available in the indoor Yatch Club dining venue, as well as room service. Just about everything one would want for breakfast was available all days. Eggs cooked to order, pre-cooked, ham, bacon, hot side dishes, oatmeal, cold cereals, cold buffet meat items, yogurts, fresh fruit, granolas, excellent baked goods. No complaints at all about the variety and quality of breakfast. LUNCH: Similar set up: main dining room for multi-course selections, room service and Lido buffet. Salad bar, cold meats and salad accompaniments, hot full lunch buffet items, specialty menus on different days (pub, german, asian, etc). Good variety and good quality ingredients. Lousy hamburgers (if you are an American). Ice cream cart for sundaes and cones - pretty good. Usually 4 or so varieties available each day and changing. TEA: (4-5pm) Tea and biscuits in the Palm Court. Full buffet at the Lido with a sandwich bar and variety of desserts, specialities and scones. Unlike many cruise ships, the desserts often tasted as good as they looked. DINNER: Varied and nicely presented four courses, with meat, fish and pasta choices for entrees. A full four course vegetarian option. Sugar-free (but artificially sweetened) and gluten-free dessert options. Ice cream and sorbets always available, of differing flavors. Appetizers often quite good, sometimes average, soups universally excellent both hot and cold, entrees good except for meat quality too often lacking in flavor, tenderness and menu descriptions which were enticing but not well-executed for the initial descriptive promise. This was the single dining disappointment. Portion size was very sensible and half-size was always available by request which in fact was a even better option due to all the day's accumulated eating, as well as the basically disappointing execution of the main course. LATE BUFFET: Very enticing array of finger foods and hot appetizer items but late hour after busy days and full schedule eatings through out the day left little room for this very lovely offering of both sweets and savories. ROOM SERVICE: Major deficiency. You had to pick from the day's menu which meant you had to go view the menu first at the dining room entrance and then order from that, which did not work if you were feeling sick in your room. Only that day's menu items could be ordered and there was no "sick tummy" type menu or stock items except what were "always available" on the menus (minute steak, chicken breast, salmon, baked potato, Caesar salad). The worst part is that they would only be delivered after the start of each dining room sitting so these could not be ordered at random when the need/desire arose. However, when delivered they were nicely presented and enjoyable. 24 HOUR COFFEE/TEA/HOT CHOCOLATE SELF-SERVICE - Lido deck. DH is a critical coffee fan and claimed the MV Discovery coffee on the Lido deck was the best he ever tasted. I loved the variety of teas - good quality English teas. LONG CRUISES: There was never a feeling of repeated dinner menus though the Lido buffet items were repetitive, but there was so much variety this was not an issue. What became increasingly oppressive was the lack of a flexible, evening "light" dining option. It was the formal dining room four course or the limitations of room service, or else. Plan accordingly. Formal dining room evening dining was a delightful part of the cruise experience and would always be welcome on shorter cruises, but it did become an unwelcome daily requirement on a long cruise. Ideally on the longer cruises, for me I would have preferred taking a larger lunch and then having some lighter, less formal options for the evening. Some took to preparing a good sandwich at the 4-5pm tea for later "dinner" dining in lieu of going to the formal dining room. YATCH CLUB SPECIALTY DINING (No extra charge, but limited reservations to one per week): Some dining menus themes were more successful than others. Both the Jazz (contemporary French) and the SE Asian menus were excellent. The Asian less so and the Italian (tried twice) was downright awful. Nor did the African menu look particularly appealing which was over-booked by the time we tried to make reservations so not sure this was an unfortunate missed opportunity for us or not. The concept is nice, but the Italian menu needs to be totally reworked ..... or avoided. Overall, I would give the MV Discovery a B to a B+ for dining. ON BOARD ACTIVITIES: Usually 4 excellent lectures, including and upcoming port lecture, by distinguished enrichment speakers giving rich historical, cultural, scientific and context content talks about the areas we are visiting. Since we were travelling primarily the Indian Ocean, we had a lot of background on the British Empire trade routes. As most passengers are British and Commonwealth nation residents, the talks assumed you knew your British history and institutions so some of it was a very pleasing stretch of our American memory banks. I found them all intellectually challenging and fascinating. The natural history talks unique to the areas travelling were superb and we all left with an intimate understanding of the geologic history as well as its natural flora and fauna. Including the local industries such as fishing and their impacts on the environment. We had additional talks on health and technology with supportive help for individual technology problems (cameras, computers etc - even a successful request to reprogram a computer program in Polish). There was a volunteer choir that put on a program and had rehearsals. A very active bridge player component with experts and a separate room for playing and instruction. Craft classes changed with each segment, but a few included beading and water color (for beginners). There were Q&A sessions with segments of the staff including the kitchen. If anything, there was too much to do which left little time to just sit outside and watch the world go by, but a lot of people did that too. You could always get the lectures rebroadcast on the cabin closed-circuit TV so missing them live was not a detriment. I almost wished I had done more of that so I could have spent more time just being lazy when the sun was out. There were gaps in the schedules before dinner or before the shows where one could catch up on the televised lectures. The small but highly talented entertainment group was very good. They geared their shows to the age group of the passengers and did so very competently. All shows were very enjoyable. Our talented cruise director Don put on his own solo cabaret show and it again was an excellent offering. Since we were on for three segments we did not go to all the shows at first as there were repeats with each segment, but ultimately saw most of them over our 6 weeks. Staying up late after late dinner seating sometimes was just too much for us. Again, sometimes it would have been better to have made a nice sandwich at tea time to save for an "early dinner" and then see the earlier show on sea days. Port days usually left us ready for early bed. And the beginning and end of each segment was a three day stay in port which was wonderful to have the extra time to explore an area more in depth. We had these in Hong Kong, Singapore, Port Luis, Mauritius and Capetown on our 6 week tour. At first I thought 3 days in Port Luis, Mauritius would be a waste of time, but we ended up finding wonderful things to see and get to know and went back twice to a perfect little courtyard French restaurant "Le Vieux Consiel" that was a little obscure to find and would never have been enjoyed if we just had a day tour. We finally got our credit card bill - lunch for two, appetizer, main course, dessert and drinks were total $80 for those two days. So it paid to do some in depth homework on those three day layover ports between segments. We did dine out for lunch and often for dinner if there was a late departure and enjoyed the change of pace very much. Credit card bill for an excellent local choice in Borneo close to the port was total $ US 6 for two. Sampling local cuisines (with all due precautions) is one of my great travel joys and we were glad the schedules often offered this chance. One problem we did notice as reported and did register as a complaint was the "hogging" of deck chairs. Discovery needs to enforce their own policy more and just clear out all deck chairs that remain empty for over one half hour. And make a few more announcements about this .... on a daily basis particularly at the beginning of each new segment. This is less of a problem when shade is not such a premium as it was on this voyage crossing the equator so much. There are plenty of deck chairs, but most are fully sun exposed so when it is more fun to be in the sun in more temperate climates this is probably less of a problem. Though we never used it as we brought along our own reading material or books on ipods, the ship has a very good library and a loyal daily following who gather there. It was a very pleasant spot and I know I would have enjoyed using it but most of my free time was spent in the lectures and I would have hated to miss any of them. There is a nicely equipped gym with stunning rear ship window views as you jog, row, bike or use ellipticals. Weight machines, roomy saunas for men and women, two hot tubs which were not all that hot but pleasant for warm splashing around and enjoying also the aft deck views. There was a full fitness class program with its own instructor and a variety of group or individual activities and consultations. I got a pedicure in the salon (which sells my favorite Biolage brand of hair care products) which while pricey, was very competently delivered. There were specials from time to time particularly on port days when they were not so busy. Best to bring your own favorite nail polish color, as the choices were limited. The full range of spa services were available - massage, facials and hair. As well as product oriented informational "talks" on various skin care and beauty topics. (Never attended so don't know about these - just that they were available). Obviously, no youth programs on this ship and if anyone was under 45 it would be a surprise though I think there were a (very) few younger people traveling with an older adult relative for a few weeks, but none on the longer cruise programs. Movies in the theater were surprisingly current - we even had a non-3D version of Avatar and there was a very topical selection of older and classic movies on the closed circuit TV that ran continuously - multiple channel choices but none of them live. Daily news abstracts was delivered every day for separate British, Australian and American editions. Just a few headline stories and a lot of sports and some financial news. Just as much as we wanted while we were away from it all. They additionally ran these same stories on a close circuit TV channel. We did not use the internet center but it was in a separate room with several computers and there were wireless hot spots around the ship as well for laptops. I understand the connection was slow which is the complaint I have always heard about ship board internet use. We did not find a lot of internet cafes in port but did finally check in during our 3 day stop over in Mauritius, about more than half way through our trip at a good high speed cafe located at the port. LAYOUT OF THE SHIP: MV Discovery is a smaller, older ship serving approximately 650 passengers. There are no balcony rooms and a limited variety of room size choices. We were on Deck Three - the lowest category rooms with a port hole. The standard rooms on all decks are very small in comparison to mainline cruise ships today, but occasionally due to the configuration of the ship some of the rooms on Deck 3 can be much longer and provide very adequate space extra cabin space. Check the ship deck plan to view this possibility. We felt our choice was excellent, but we also added an extra clothes rack and drying rack and used the tiered coffee table as an additional clothes storage space. Bathroom very small and badly appointed, but with a great shower and endless hot water. Rooms are inside, port-hole or window. Deck 3 and 4 port holes have to be covered up creating a de facto "inside" cabin during rough seas and when traversing the East Indian Ocean pirate zones. Always dreaded hearing the squeak of the closing of these windows next door and loved coming back to finding them re-opened. Took us a while but we learned all activities take place primarily on Deck Six, Lido dining on Deck Nine and the red stair railing were the front of the ship and the gold ones were towards the back of the ship. We needed to orient around the red railings to get to our cabin and all the other activities we liked to attend (Lido dining and Carousel Lounge shows and lectures. Our favorite outdoor decks were the forward Deck 8 sun decks which you had to enter from the red stair cases in the front of the ship. There were no wrap around decks so you had to learn which stair case to use to get to the partial decks you like to visit. Deck 8 also provided the best viewing spots for all the docking and undocking and pilot boat activities because you could look directly down the sides of the ship to the water. The main promenade deck on Deck 7 was set back from the ships side (don't ask me how) so you did not get this direct view down to the water and the dock or the pilot's activities. There were "flying bridges" sticking out from Deck 8 where the captain would be present at dockings and undockings so you could hear and see the real operations of the ship during this time. The main forward viewing deck was on Deck 9 but you could not access it from Deck nine -- you had to go down to deck 8 forward and then take the forward outside staircase up to this forward viewing deck on Deck 9, which overlooked all the captain's docking activities. There was always a friendly gathering here and some fun chat back and forth with the captain at times. This is a ship where the passengers are very engaged in all these docking activities and quite a crowd always gathered to witness the arrival and departure of the pilot. Ship gangway exits typically took place on Deck 4, forward. (Red staircase). Once we figured out the red and gold staircases, it was a lot easier to know which way we needed to go on the ship. Signage on each floor was not as good as it should be or easy to find. Sometimes you had to know the name of the deck (Coral, Riviera, etc) or sometimes the number (3-10). And how the ship was chopped up, sometimes you could not get from forward to aft on the wrong staircase. An annoyance at first, but because it is a small ship with limited activity venues it is fairly easy to learn where and how to get where you want. Though even after 42 days we still kept taking the wrong turn out of the elevators. Which is a good thing - keeps an air of mystery to this small but complex space. The Discovery shows its age, but does not lack in tender loving care. Primarily in the build up of paint jobs and that crusty invasive rust that will in time have the final say. But she was brightly painted and and crews were keeping deck boards in good repair and always clean and orderly. There had been recent decor refurbishments in the public rooms and very successful with a very pleasing sense of traditional elegance, the main dining room particularly. The cabins got brightened up and I think the higher decks had more bathroom refurbishments than our lower Deck 3 - but it all worked. No complaints and we learned how to work around it. Our best extra purchase in Singapore was a folding clothes drying rack the sent up like a two-tiered umbrella of plastic rods and clothes pin racks. It was perfect and we wished we could have packed it up and taken it home and we would have had we not already packed to our luggage limit getting there and had to discard a lot to make room for our souvenir purchases. I donated it to the staff who were very eager to get these things so I hope it finds a happy home for a long time on this ship. We never used the ship laundry and did everything for 42 days in the sink. Because our cabin was so long, there was plenty of room to stick this in a nice corner and out of the way. Not sure how much space would be available in other cabins, but its real virtue was the extension rods folded up so it stored like a pole on its tripod legs. (Like an old home movie screen) We found it in the equivalent of a "dollar store" in the working class neighborhood department store in Singapore. We also added a lot of cheap plastic drawer organizers and baskets for storage and easy retrieval. And a great hanging shoe rack that hung in the closet facing out on velcro loop. That did make it home as it was lightweight and collapsible and unlike anything I have seen in the states. Community Manager's Note: 'This review was written when the ship sailed for Voyages of Discovery. As of February 2013, it is now sailing under the Cruises & Maritime banner" Read Less
Sail Date January 2010
My wife and I took the Cunard Queen Mary 2 World Voyage 2010 - Our trip started in Southampton January 11th and we left the Queen 91 days and 33 ports later in Ft. Lauderdale. The size of the Queen affords the passengers the luxury of ... Read More
My wife and I took the Cunard Queen Mary 2 World Voyage 2010 - Our trip started in Southampton January 11th and we left the Queen 91 days and 33 ports later in Ft. Lauderdale. The size of the Queen affords the passengers the luxury of large public rooms and lots of space to lounge around. The airiness and many large windows gives the light and view a chance to be admired by all passengers from every direction. The down size to this large vessel, is that you see all the major container ports of the world; the ship is so large (155 thousand tons) that it does not accommodate the ports well, and one docks miles from the center of passenger interest. The shuttle service takes anywhere from 45 minutes to one hour to transport the passengers to town and the lines are long; and in some ports, no cover was available to shade the passengers from the heat, and a few passengers fainted while waiting to board the ship..The lack of water at the port stations were very obvious to all. If the ship is your "destination", this ship has what you want. If you are concerned about seeing the ports in detail, and with maximum time, you will need to go on a "cruise" ship, not an ocean liner; the QM2 is a great venue for quiet elegance an the enjoyment of serenity, but you can also be busy all day long if you choose. The food quality ranges from 5 star cafeteria to excellent; the quality was not consistent from day to day. The Kings Court venue with its four no charge alternate dining restaurants are a nice touch from the main dining room. The service in the Kings Court was always above par. The food was excellent; but you were limited to two reservation per cruise segment, and when making the reservations, one had to call many days in advance as the space is extremely limited. The decor is a bit "dowdy" and needs help; the ship, built in 2004, is in desperate need of upgrading; the TV's are the old box type, not the new flat screen; there were no DVD players available; the Internet service was very slow and expensive, and was down many hours during this voyage. We also were told that it is coming back on, but it sometime did not for 24 to 36 hours. The Internet manager was helpful to a point, then he would walk away as he had no authority over the web service. In the meantime, one is paying 75 cents/minute to wait it out. The entertainment was broad in nature; the lectures covered a wide variety of subjects, some very stodgy, some down to earth; the port lectures were low in content and were more travel logs to brag about their own experience in the ports. The computer instructor ( different from the computer manager) was excellent, and was very friendly and helpful. Computer class were given several times a week and were at no charge. The movies in the theater were a mix bag; from gory murders to comedy, not all were current. The Broadway style shows were high school in quality and very repetitive. The headline acts were mostly violinist, piano players, and singers; very few comedy or other lite entertainment. Service was no winner. The dining room waiter had to be asked several times to refill the water, coffee, bread etc. This should have been routine training; we finally got the section head to monitor this function for our table as the waiter could not be bothered. The cabin was inside - 6103 - great location and very quiet. Our cabin steward was okay, not outstanding, but the cabin was always clean, and she did her best. On the subject of service, my main complaint with Cunard is the lack of caring from the management. This ship, and it may have a Cunard label, is very arrogant in the dealings with the passengers, and they act as though they know what is best for you. From the World Cruise concierge, to the social hostess, to pursers office, your needs are not met, phone calls not returned, and general destine is apparent. I could write volumes about the misinformation given at the pursers office, and the double talk from the staff, but you get the drift. So it comes down to this; I can not recommend the QM2 for a long cruise; a better choice would be the New York to Southampton crossing. Would I go again on this ship: NO ! We have taken 169 cruises, on several different branded lines and the QM2 does not hold a candle in quality and service to the other ships - what the Queen does have is a name and past glory. Its reputation is slowly being tarnished by the current management. Read Less
Sail Date January 2010
Background ========= My wife and I have cruised with Crystal Cruises for many years and have also cruised on several other cruise lines. Prior to this cruise, we had cruised on two full world cruises with Crystal in 2007 and 2008 ... Read More
Background ========= My wife and I have cruised with Crystal Cruises for many years and have also cruised on several other cruise lines. Prior to this cruise, we had cruised on two full world cruises with Crystal in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Cruise Overview ============ This review is for our combined voyage on the Crystal Serenity, which included two cruises. The first cruise was a seven-day round-trip Miami cruise, which included stops in Grand Turks, Grand Cayman and Key West along with three full days at sea. The second cruise was a 108 day World Cruise that began in Miami, Florida and concluded in London, England. This cruise included stops in North and South America, Africa, The Middle East and Europe and included 59 days in port and 49 days at sea. Combined, we spent 115 glorious days cruising on the Crystal Serenity Summary ======= We had an outstanding cruise. While this was our third world cruise it was by far the best one yet. The World Cruise provides a wonderful opportunity to really get to know fellow passengers and the wonderful crew. In many ways the cruise ship becomes a village for everyone since you share many of the same experiences and memories over the course of this cruise. While some cruise lines have cut back on the services and amenities offered to their passengers during these challenging economic times, Crystal has actually enhanced the overall cruising experience. This World Cruise included more diversity in entertainment and other offerings then ever before. Crystal continues to exceed expectations with respect to service, cuisine, evening entertainment, enrichment programs and other daytime activities and the overall cruising experience. Their customer focus is unsurpassed. The other highlight of the itinerary was the extraordinary itinerary. We visited many unique ports of call including several in the Middle East that very few ships visit. This included ports of call in the UAE including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, and ports in places such as the Ukraine which very few cruise ships visit during this time of the year. Pre-Cruise ======== We enjoyed a wonderful pre-cruise in Miami, Florida. We visited with friends and took care of some last minute purchases for some items that we could not take with us on the airplane. We were joined in Miami for three days by our daughter and son-in-law and for one day by our son and his fiancE prior to them sailing with us for the seven day voyage. We stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Downtown Miami and enjoyed the facilities at this hotel. We stayed here last before we boarded the Crystal Serenity for the 2007 World Cruise. Crystal took care of all our travel arrangements. This included sending two vehicles to our home to transfer the two of our luggage and us to the airport for our flight to Miami. Upon arrival to the Miami airport, two vehicles took us over to the Hotel and then on embarkation day we were transported over to the Miami Cruise Ship Terminal. Crystal also made our flight arrangements, as this was included in the cruise fare. Embarkation ========= Embarkation was very smooth and orderly and we were on the ship by 12:15 PM. Once on board the ship we all enjoyed a wonderful lunch in the Main Dining Room. We toasted the start of the cruise with flutes of complimentary champagne provided by Crystal. Our room was ready by 2:00 PM and when we arrived most of our luggage was already in the room. The Ship ======= The ship began service in 2003 and we have sailed on the Crystal Serenity many times. For us it is the perfect size ship for voyages of this length. The Serenity is a mid-size ship. At almost 69,000 tons it is capable of carrying as many as 1,100 passengers and a 650 passenger crew. It very rarely carries this number of passengers as it also appeals to many guests traveling solo. The ship has a total of thirteen decks, ten of which are used by passengers. As the World Cruise is comprised of seven individual voyages the number of passengers on board the ship at anyone time varied by voyage to voyage. We had almost 950 passengers on the seven-day sailing. There were 201 passengers who took the entire world cruise and the total number of passengers ranged from around 400-450 on the first two voyages to anywhere's from 500 to 650 passengers on some of the legs. Like any ship there are probably a few minor areas showing some wear and tear but these items are normally addressed in dry-dock. The crew is always taking good care of the ship. They can be seen thoroughly cleaning the ship throughout the day and evening hours and also painting outside areas of the ship on a frequent basis. Accommodations ============ Our room is called a category PH Penthouse Suite. It was a perfect size for us for this length voyage. The room was located mid-deck on Deck 10. The room has a nice desk area which could be utilized for the computer and other related items while also having a vanity makeup table with mirror. There are shelves adjacent to the desk where we could store items along with a refrigerator and storage areas for bar and glassware. There is a nice walk in closet, which comes in very handy given the amount of clothes that are needed on a world cruise. Overhead lighting in the room is fine and the size of this category room and outside verandah works very well for us. The bathroom is quite spacious with both a separate shower and whirlpool bath and the bath products are quite nice. We are able to use the wireless Internet capabilities that are available in the room and other areas of the ship. We had the same room stewardess for the entire world cruise and the same assistant stewardess for both the seven-day voyage and almost the entire world cruise. They both kept the room looking great. The PH and above categories also have butler service and we had an outstanding butler who we also had in 2008. He takes care of the snacks and beverages and also will set up breakfast, lunch or dinner. For dinner he can serve meals course by course either from the Main Dining Room or from either one of the specialty restaurants on board the ship. While our children were on board he served the six of us a beautiful breakfast and also one night we all enjoyed shrimp, lobster, caviar and other canapEs and champagne. He sets a perfect table and everything was always perfect. During the course of the World Cruise he also served us dinner from one of the Specialty Restaurants a couple of times and he also served appetizers and champagne when we had some guests meet us for a pre-dinner drink and appetizers. Dining & Cuisine ============= There are many dining choices on board the Crystal Serenity. There is the main dining room serving breakfast, lunch and dinner at either the main or late seating's. There is open seating for breakfast and lunch and assigned seating for dinner. We enjoy the assigned seating as we like to have the same wait staff that quickly becomes familiar with all of your preferences. We sit at a table for two but there are various size tables from two to ten people. While our table was for two we could fit four people there so from time to time we would invite others to join us for dinner. For breakfast in addition to the main dining room there are other dining options such as the Lido Cafe serving a buffet breakfast, or The Bristo serving a light breakfast or Tastes serving a later risers breakfast. For lunch in addition to the main dining room there is also the Lido Cafe serving a buffet lunch, the Bistro serving various luncheon items, Tastes serving a nice lunch and also the Trident Grill serving hot dogs, burgers, wraps and other items For dinner there is the Main Dining Room. There is also Prego serving Italian Cuisine, Silk Road serving Japanese Cuisine under the direction of Nobu, Tastes which is open on most evenings which serves dinner by the pool in a casual atmosphere, The Vintage Room which for an extra charge serves a nice pairing of various wines/champagne with a multi course dinner. Of course there is always room service. The service and cuisine on board the ship are just outstanding. With 24 hours you can have almost any item you can think of. The staff is very accommodating to each individual. There are also many healthy items to choose from and these are designated on the various menus. The Crew ======= The Staff is the best of any staff that we have sailed with. The crew does not know the word "no" and makes every effort to please each passenger. It is amazing how quickly many on the staff learn your name and preferences. We saw many staff that we had not seen in two years and they not only remembered us but they remembered those items that we enjoyed from the previous cruise. Sometimes I felt that they know more about us than we do. The crew retention rate by Crystal is outstanding. Many on the crew have been with Crystal for many years and many have been promoted to increasing levels of responsibility. They like their jobs and it really shows. The Passengers =========== We know many passengers from previous cruises and we met many passengers for the very first time. We have made many friends from our previous cruises and this cruise was no exception. While we dined at a table for two, its size would accommodate up to four guests. From time to time we would invite one or two other people to join us for dinner in the Main Dining Room. Other times we would get together with others at one of the specialty restaurants on board the ship. As mentioned, over the course of such a long cruise many of the passengers and the crew become like an extended family and are clearly one of the reasons we come back to Crystal again and again. Itinerary/Shore Excursions =================== This itinerary was quite unique and diverse. We began in Miami, visited a few ports in the Caribbean and then made stops in Brazil and Argentina. From South America we cruises eight days until we reached Cape Town, South Africa. We made several stops in Africa and from there sailed to the Middle East. We not only stopped in places such as Jordan, Oman, UAE, Israel and Egypt but also stopped in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Kuwait. From there we stopped in stopped in various ports of the Mediterranean and then we sailed the Black Sea before ending the cruise in London. It was a very unique itinerary. We took many shore excursions through Crystal and find that they offer a nice array of choices. They also offer several overland tours for those who want to spend additional time on land to then meet up with the ship a few days later. We stopped at various ports of call that such as Kuwait that had not been visited by other passenger cruise ships or some other ports that only on occasion are visited by passenger cruise ships. We congratulate and commend Crystal Cruises for putting together such as unique itinerary. There were some who criticized the cruise line for including the Iranian Port of Call so it would have been easier for them not to have included this port of call and a couple of the others to avoid criticism. We respect the fact that Crystal Cruises believes in providing their clientele with an extraordinary experience and providing their guest with the opportunity to explore and discover the world. In short, this itinerary surpassed our expectations. Internet ====== Internet connectivity including speed was quite good. We had less delay than I anticipated and less delay than we have had on previous cruises on board this ship. We brought our own computer on with us but there are plenty of computers located in the computer university. There are many Internet plans to choose from. Per minute pricing varies by Internet plan. Crystal also has a computer university offering help to technical computer issues and also offering a variety of computer classes from basic classes to more advanced classes. My wife and I both took classes and enjoyed them. Fitness Center ========== We used the Fitness Center throughout the cruise. It is open 24 hours a day seven days a week and has a wonderful array of machines such as treadmills, elliptical and stationary bikes and a nice variety of weight lifting equipment. There is a wide range of classes offered, especially on sea days. Enrichment Programs, Activities and Entertainment, Special World Cruise Events ===================================== This is core strength and Crystal offers what we consider to be the best enrichment and entertainment program on the high seas. There were so many great and interesting activities to choose from and on sea days there are 50+ activities offered during the daytime and afternoon hours. On the World Cruise there were many special programs in addition to the core entertainment and enrichment programs and we found that we kept very active each and everyday. We enjoyed wonderful sea days because of all of the wonderful activities. The lecture series offered on this cruise was the best ever. The world cruise is divided into seven voyages and each voyage had a diverse set of very knowledgeable lecturers. In fact, one of the seven legs had twelve lecturers. Each sea day two to three lectures were offered. There were two special shore side events for those on the full World Cruise, which were fabulous. On each leg there was usually a special world cruise cocktail reception with drinks, dancing, and a special performance. There were also two special dinners held on the ship; both of which were truly outstanding. One of the shore side events that we will remember for the rest of our lives was one that was held in Israel. It was held in a very unique location and featured wonderful food, entertainment in a breathtaking location. There were several other activities and entertainment which were fabulous. Shopping ======= On board the ship there are several stores featuring sundries, jewelry and clothing. There is also a photo studio featuring cameras and video equipment and also there are several photographers on board the ship taking pictures. Disembarkation ============ The disembarkation process was a snap. We were off the ship by around 6:40 AM and the process was perfect. We were escorted off the ship by a member of the crew who carried our carry on luggage to the area where the checked luggage was stored. All our checked luggage was not only in the assigned area but our luggage was grouped together. After we claimed our luggage we were taken to an area where luggage concierge was located as they will be sending all of our luggage back to the United States. We then proceeded outside the terminal where we were greeted by a familiar face from Crystal. The person responsible for the shore excursions' took us to the vehicle that was waiting for us. Summary/Final Thoughts =================== For us, each time we sail with Crystal we feel that we are returning home as we know many of the crewmembers and fellow passengers so very well. This was our third World Cruise with Crystal and by far the best of the three Everything was perfect and we really appreciated all of the thought and care that went into both the planning and the implementation of the World Cruise. Crystal has a very loyal customer following because of their strong desire to make each and every sailing the best it can be for each and every passenger. Success can be measure by the customer service surveys which consistently rank Crystal number one and by the number of repeat cruisers that Crystal attracts. I hope others will find this review helpful. Keith Read Less
Sail Date January 2010
Our embarkation in San Diego was uneventful and we settled into our cabin quickly. We had early fixed dining (anytime dining has proved to be more trouble than it is worth for us) and were delighted with our table mates and waiters. ... Read More
Our embarkation in San Diego was uneventful and we settled into our cabin quickly. We had early fixed dining (anytime dining has proved to be more trouble than it is worth for us) and were delighted with our table mates and waiters. The food was excellent and seemed better than previous HAL cruises we have taken. Chef Karl did a great job of overseeing a good kitchen staff. In fact,the staff was excellent overall. Much more friendly than most HAL crews. This may be reflective of the more outgoing/less reserved attitude we have notice of late on HAL. Our cabin was very nice and HAL did a very nice job on the recent refit. The only part we didn't care for was the redone theater. Holland has refitted this into a cabaret setting and it just doesn't work well. Hard to see from the tables or the balcony where many of the seats face the wrong way. It is one of those "great in theory but doesn't translate in practice ideas. They have also greatly reduced the size of the stage so those who enjoy the Production numbers of old will be disappointed. It is now set up for much smaller acts which, no doubt, save them money. Overall, the entertainment was below our expectations. The production numbers were just not up to the standards of any of the cruises we have taken in the past. The productions themselves were not very good and, with the exception of the two (that's right two)dancers who were excellent, the talent was not very talented. About half of the other acts were quite good. As I said, we were disappointed (as were most of the other guests we spoke to). The highlight of the entertainment on this cruise was Steve the Piano Man. Steve mans the piano bar from 9PM until closing and was great. His area was packed every night. There are many ports of call on this cruise with the best being on the second half when you pass through southern Chile and round the horn up to Buenos Aries and Rio. The scenery is outstanding. In Buenos Aries we had the good fortune to obtain the services of an outstanding guide, Alan of Buenos Tours (www.buenostours.com). Allan had come highly recommended, but far exceeded our expectations. His tour of Buenos Aries was one of the highlights of the trip. His company offers many tour options but he will also tailor tours to your specific needs, as he did for us. A banker from England, Alan decided to spend a summer in BA to work on his Spanish and ended up staying and founding his own company. He can be reached at: www.buenostours.com We can't recommend him enough. Rio was somewhat of a disappointment given the fact that have to get both an expensive Brazilian visa and yellow fever shot (about $400 a person) to even get off the ship there. Yes, you need them even if you are just going to the airport to return home. The setting is beautiful, but there is a high crime rate and it is quite expensive if you stay in the Copacabana area which is the only decent part of town. Aside from the beach, the only major sights are Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer. The other tours we took were disappointing. Our opinion of Brazil was not enhanced by the Health and Immigration departments keeping us on the ship for over 7 hours while the shook down Holland America for bribes before letting any passengers disembark. If you take this cruise, do yourself a favor and get off in Buenos Aries. Rio is clearly not ready for either the World Cup or the Olympics. All in all, we enjoyed this cruise very much. Holland did a very nice job and most of the port were interesting. The debacle in Rio was not their fault and they handled it very well. We would recommend this cruise to other but get off in Buenos Aries. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
After a long 14 hour flight and then 3 nights at a B & B in Sydney, we embarked on the Star Princess for our 30 day adventure back to Los Angeles. We stopped in Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand. Unfortunately we ... Read More
After a long 14 hour flight and then 3 nights at a B & B in Sydney, we embarked on the Star Princess for our 30 day adventure back to Los Angeles. We stopped in Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand. Unfortunately we missed Christchurch due to bad weather conditions in Dunedin. Our guide for the NZ ports, Des from Indigenous Trails, met us in each port to give us fantastic tours each of the 3 days. Through the tours and Des, we learned a great deal about the Maori culture and traditions and now have a true appreciation for the Moari people. New Zealand is a beautiful country and the people are SO charming and friendly.We LOVED NZ and Indigenous Trails!! In Suva, Fiji we had hired Sun Vacations. They met us at the dock and we went to the Arts Village and had a nice day seeing the fire walkers and learning the traditions of the Fijian people. Then on to Apia, Western Samoa where we went to the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum (very interesting) and then to a a beautiful beach for a BBQ lunch. Unfortunately the original beach we were supposed to see was destroyed by the recent Tsunami.Still had a nice day. Pago, Pago, American Samoa was our next port of call. We just walked around the town and sadly saw a lot of after effects of the Tsunami. After a few relaxing days at sea, we arrived in Moorea.We rented a car from Avis (they met us at the dock) and drove around the island stopping to see sights along the way. It was a great way to get around and very easy! Papeete was next. We got off the ship and hired a driver to take us around the island. He was very knowledgeable and when we stopped at various places, he walked around with us and explained everything. In Bora Bora we took a tour on an outrigger canoe with Patrick. Went out to a reef to snorkel and then to walk in the water surrounded by Sting Rays. We then went into the ocean and swam with lots of fish and black tip reef sharks. Another great day! Our next stop was Honolulu where we took a private tour in a yellow hummer. We love the TV program LOST so had signed up for a 10 LOST tour. Our guide, Jeff, was fantastic. He was so knowledgeable about the program and made the day a lot of fun! Last port was Maui...we just walked around town, shopped, drank beer and then stood in the long long to get back on the tender! The trip as a whole was wonderful! We would not hesitate to take it again in the future! Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
The final leg of the world cruise left from Dubai, where we flew to from Sydney, spending many hours in the airport waiting to embark. Embarkation was rather slow, Dubai seems to be in the process of building its new cruise terminal- ... Read More
The final leg of the world cruise left from Dubai, where we flew to from Sydney, spending many hours in the airport waiting to embark. Embarkation was rather slow, Dubai seems to be in the process of building its new cruise terminal- should be better when that is completed.The itinerary, which included 3 ports in India, 1 in Thailand, 2 in Malaysia and Singapore, before returning to Australia, was the reason we took this particular cruise. The cabin was smaller than others we have had (on Royal Caribbean and Carnival) but it was adequate- just a bit hard for more folks to fit in when we were entertaining!. Dawn Princess has obviously benefited from the recent refurbishment, public indoor spaces are attractive and comfortable, but the pool and recreation areas were small and a bit run down still. Food was OK, Horizon Court had the best choice, and the special feature days (e.g.. Italian fiesta, Indian fare)were the most interesting. The Pizza restaurant was very good. We had late sitting for dinner in the Venetian dining room every night, the menu became a bit boring, but the attention paid to my partner's food allergy was excellent, with special meals ordered the night before, and gluten-free bread made available every day. The activities each day also got a bit repetitive, but the cruise director, Sammi, and her staff were wonderful. The entertainment was patchy, some acts really excellent, others mediocre. The nightclub, Jammers, was the source of many a joke on board but we had some fun times there. The port excursions we did (Mumbai,Goa,Cochin and KL) were fantastic, with very informative tour guides, and the interesting places visited gave us a really good idea of the places we saw.( We usually avoid tours and do our own thing.) The sea days cruising through the Torres Strait and the Great Barrier Reef were enjoyable, we had a reef pilot on board who gave plenty of information to us, which enhanced the experience. Although this was not the best cruise we have done, the itinerary, great weather and smooth seas meant that overall we had a very pleasant experience. We met lots of new people,and had a gay old time. The service was faultless, which is the lasting impression we took of Dawn Princess. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
In writing this critique, it has to be noted that this cruise was full, with around 2000 passengers and over 1000 crew. DINING: Dining was nothing short of spectacular, to say the least. On our 1st evening, we were placed on a ... Read More
In writing this critique, it has to be noted that this cruise was full, with around 2000 passengers and over 1000 crew. DINING: Dining was nothing short of spectacular, to say the least. On our 1st evening, we were placed on a table for 10 in the Venetian dining Room, and we were extremely fortunate to immediately hit it off with 2 other amazing couples from Sydney. One of our fellow dining passengers was a nightmare, who gave the wait and bar staff an embarrassingly terrible time on a nightly basis. First sitting Dining is a must, and definitely non negotiable. The food selection was mind boggling, always arrived beautifully presented, in a timely fashion, and always hot. Drink prices were expensive, but wine left over was always named, recorked and available for the next evening meal. The variation of food over the 104 days would have been a mammoth planning exercise, but we never missed a night of restaurant dining in the whole time on board. As a souvenir, we collected several of the World Cruise Menu's, and have since had them laminated as place mats. 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. 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. PUBLIC ROOMS: We always found the public rooms clean, tidy and well stocked. The Vista lounge area exhibited a strange seating arrangement with bench lounge seats interspersed with single tables and revolving chairs. Apart from taking up a huge amount of excess room, these tables and chairs were horrendous obstacles, and difficult for the elderly or mobility compromised passengers to move around, especially after they had been dislodged by previous users. Given the difficulty accommodating large numbers of passengers in the lounge areas, seating could have been much better worked out. The Princess Theatre is as good as any other theatre, chairs comfortable, but the idea of drink waiters trying to serve drinks to passengers in the middle of a full row is stupendous, and needs immediate renewing. Surely passengers can survive the 90 minutes for a show to go without a drink, but then Princess would not make as much money on drink sales, I suppose. The public Laundry was a nightmare, with only 2 machines and dryers on some of the 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 as much as possible 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. CABINS: We wondered how we were going to survive 104 nights in an inside cabin, and initially were considerably apprehensive. However, with a bit of cabin organisation, we managed extremely well. Given that we were only in our cabin for approx 6 hours each night, and occasional time here and there to change etc, the cabin size met our needs. Our cabin was on Baja deck, and situated towards the front. Our 1st night was a bit of a challenge on the twin beds moved together, and the mattresses very hard. We asked our cabin steward if there was any way this could be improved, and lo and behold, an egg carton overlay arrived, which solved our problem. We took our own pillows, as previous cruises have taught us ship pillows are terrible. Research prior to our cruise assisted us to make the decision to give the cabin steward 50% of our tip up front, with the proviso that if he looked after us well, there would be same amount at the end of the cruise. This was one of the best decisions we were to make, because we were looked after extremely well. 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. Special occasions were extremely well catered for, as the cabin steward would position balloons outside the cabin on the special day, and the dining room waiters would make a special fuss at the dining room table, with a cake and a song relevant to the special occasion. ENTERTAINMENT: Having cruised before, we were interested to see how Princess were going to keep us entertained for 104 nights. There was a good mix of entertainment, including shows put on by the Princess Dance team; comedians, jugglers; solo artists & ventriloquists to name but a few. Overall, the entertainment was 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. There is no way anyone could say they were bored on this cruise, because there was always something to keep everyone busy. Pre & post dinner dancing was always available, & passenger theme parties were scheduled several times each week. Morning & afternoon trivia sessions was a must for the brainiacs, who always played for sheep stations. Several old & new movies were played on the in-house televisions, and under the stars, however, some of these were repeated with monotonous regularity. 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. Other ways to keep occupied included scholarship @ sea lectures; library; church services; dancing lessons; sports tournaments; bingo; card playing; cyber golf; 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 Friends of Dorothy, but it was entertaining to note that they cater for these groups as well. 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. GYMNASIUM: We did manage to find the gymnasium several times, although not as much as we should have. The equipment was reasonable, however it was all replaced half way through the cruise to more sophisticated and computerized equipment that no one knew how to use, including the staff, if you could find them to help you. Shore Excursions 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, we had 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. SERVICE: Embarkation and disembarkation was handled extremely well. The Pursers Desk, Future Cruise Staff and Captains Circle staff handled most of our needs very efficiently. We were very fortunate to have the same cabin steward for the 104 nights, and this worked very well in our favour. Even though we partially tipped in advance, our cabin steward was very attentive, clean and thorough. Our evening dining waiter and bar staff were also good, although we chose not to tip in advance here, leaving it to the last night on board to slip each of our staff an envelope. The Cruise Director and Staff did an excellent job keeping us entertained, informed and occupied during the whole cruise, and this would have been a massive challenge for them. TIPPING In consideration that tipping is un Australian, we are totally against Princess not paying their staff an appropriate wage, instead paying them a meager allowance and expecting them to collect tips to be placed in a pool which is then divided up. On our first night on board we lined up at the Pursers office and requested that the mandatory tipping arrangement be removed from our onboard account. Reluctantly Princess gave us a form to complete, and we had to write our reason for doing so, but they accepted the form, and removed the charges. TENDER SERVICE: The tender service was 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. IN CONCLUSION: We had a fantastic 104 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 since booked another which is now on a countdown. We were wined, dined and entertained in style, and will definately sail with Princess Cruises many times more. Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
As a shareholder of RCCL I am really appalled by my recent cruise experience on this ship. It was like drinking warm "COLA" without the fizz!   The product was subjected to savage cost cutting by RCCL and very poor ... Read More
As a shareholder of RCCL I am really appalled by my recent cruise experience on this ship. It was like drinking warm "COLA" without the fizz!   The product was subjected to savage cost cutting by RCCL and very poor management structure by RCCl which relies on "bullying " the staff to be pleasant to passengers to make up for the shortfall of quality! The ship is managed from Miami with people there who have no idea how to treat a worldwide clientele.  The management structure is top heavy and relies on the Hotel Manager and the head Maitre'D to sort out the daily mess of the incompetent heads of some departments who are there with their partners who may also be working on board who have a very "cosy life " on board. For the first time on a cruise ship we encountered many files when boarding in Singapore and in India.   These were in two areas where people ate on tables and in the food counters in the buffet line areas - especially in the salad and sandwich bars.  I spoke to the F&S manager about this and he told me that he could do nothing more than he had already done which really raised my blood pressure and I decided to speak to the Hotel Manager and he instantly responded by adding in more processes to their daily cleaning which did help but did not completely eliminate the problem throughout our cruise and we still had flies on board on getting off at Athens.   Food - we usually eat in the buffet restaurant for breakfast and although there was lots of choice if you were not worried about your cholesterol I was very disappointed with the quality of the bread (at breakfast - because at lunchtime and dinner the bread selection was much better).  I also was very disappointed that there were no mushrooms for breakfast except for two days.  At lunch we ate at the buffet again and usually it was quite good with plenty of choice.  In the evening we started off eating in the restaurant and my wife got fed up with having her fish undercooked all the time.   I could not get a decent curry for love or money.   In all fairness they did try many times and it was not for lack of effort on their part.  I am not quite sure if the Chef was up to the job really and this was an opinion expressed by many other guests.  The maitre D' did say that they did not have the correct spices on board to make a curry.   In the end we ended up eating in the buffet area most night and the stir fry counter was absolutely superb in their stir frys and nothing was too much trouble for them.   The sushi counter was also excellent.   They always had a curry and usually some sort of sort of a carvery which was for the most part very good.  One thing to note is that in the buffet area you cannot get decent coffee after breakfast as you have to use a machine which produces very chemically tasting drinks.   The tea selection was excellent which was only let down by the temperature of the water needed to make hot drinks as it could not go above 95 degrees.  The cold drinks selection was also very good (better than on most ships). Eating in the dining room we never once had a problem getting a table for two - one negative the service was always very slow - another reason for eating in the buffet section. The in room service was second to none and very prompt and efficient and the menu selection was the best we have ever seen. Entertainment - TV - films - shows - singers/entertainers - During the day we tended to take part in the quizzes going on where they give you one stamp for turning up and one stamp for winning - if you think you are going to get a better prize for having more stamps (winning all the time like we were) then you will be disappointed as most people at the end of the cruise got the same prizes (or very nearly) - still it was a nice idea to get some prizes. The questions in the quizzes tended to be repetitive and very much aimed at a very much older crowd (over 60s). It is also worth noting that passengers were encouraged to write quizzes as the cruise activities staff ran out of ideas. As for the TV - it was a complete disappointment - free movies - the same programmes on all channels were repeated throughout the day and throughout the week and all the good stuff required you to pay for the same. Very few movies on in the evening i.e. in the cinema (cabaret lounge) and those that were on were old and for kids or over 60's again). There were only two or three entertainments that came on board and they had to overcome the absolutely bad acoustics of the cabaret lounge and ended up being way too loud to enjoy - most of the entertainment was geared for the over 60s again and anyone younger felt very much left out). There were three onboard entertainers in the evening - the harpist was very good, Jim Badger (pianist/singer) was at times quite entertaining and friendly - we also enjoyed Kenny Stringer who was a guitarist/singer who did as many requests (from his list) as possible and it was enjoyable and we were able to join in and sing along. Gym - the Life Fitness equipment was superb - however the instructor was not very on the ball with regard to health and safety as there were a number of machines that needed attention, he also allowed people to use the machines in sandals and even barefoot and sometimes men came in with just their swimming trunks which really does not promote hygiene. Tours - we went on one tour in Alexandria and it was disappointing in the lady who was conducting the tour was too much focussed on getting all the people on our bus to buy jewelry in a store we would be going to at the end of the tour. An extra hour was added on to the tour for this purpose. When we got the store at the end and were told we would be there for an hour we were livid as we did not want to buy anything and a group of us just stood outside waiting to get back on the bus and get back to the ship. It was a complete waste of our time and we do not like tour operators bullying us to buy stuff. It should be mentioned in tours in future that there will be no shopping trips and that we will not be taken to various locations just to get us to buy stuff. Would we recommend Azamara to other people? This is a hard one -not if you are under 60! If you are over 60 however and would like to go to bed at 2130 hrs then this is the ship for you. We would like to praise the Captain, the head Maitre'D and the Hotel Manager who do a great job with limited resources. Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
This was a fantastic cruise as we saw so many cultures in a short span of time and learned so much. We essentially cruised for 3 two week segments, back to back. Our fellow cruisers were mainly from the English speaking world-Aussies, ... Read More
This was a fantastic cruise as we saw so many cultures in a short span of time and learned so much. We essentially cruised for 3 two week segments, back to back. Our fellow cruisers were mainly from the English speaking world-Aussies, Kiwis, from the U.K. and Americans. On the second segment from Sydney to Singapore the Australians were in the majority and many of the entertainers and lecturers were also Australian which made for lots of camaraderie and fun for all the Americans too who were the next largest group. We spent our days on board eating and talking with all the interesting people we met, going to lectures and coffee talks, using the gym, playing bridge, enjoying the cooking presentations and movies, the bars, walking on the promenade deck, and the evening varied entertainment from shows to singers, musicians, magicians, and comedians. Even our religious needs were attended to as every Friday evening we were able to attend services with wine and challah provided and a Rabbi was employed onboard to lead the Passover services.Every staff member was top notch.Our shore excursions varied from those we arranged privately for a small group through cruise critic, to those arranged by the ship. We also took advantage of the free shuttle buses provided by most of the cities and towns from the dock to the center of town or major place of interest. Our only complaint was that the captain frequently shortened the time the ship was in port-making many of the shore excursions rushed. There was so much to see and so little time in port to see it all. Our favorite port was Bali where we employed a private guide with his air-conditioned car for the day. He had worked as a waiter on Holland America so his English was very good. He only charged $60 for the car. As there were 4 of us it came to $15 a person, plus lunch at a beautiful restaurant overlooking a verdant valley. We treated him also. We saw the bat temple, the purification temple (with naked bathers) the volcano and overlook, the wood carvers and Ubud and Mas etc. What a day. If you would like his email and name please email me. I am ellen@nycap.rr.com. We also used private tours in New Zealand and Australia with fabulous days in these First world countries. Everywhere there was wonderful food, wonderful wine, gorgeous harbors, gardens blooming with flowers, and hillsides dotted with sheep. People are friendly and helpful English speakers. Trams and buses are plentiful for getting around. Unfortunately they drive on the wrong side of the road for American drivers, a learning problem if one wants to rent a car.With the unrest in much of Southeast Asia we felt that ship tours were necessary there for safety. As a whole the ship tours employed comfortable buses and knowledgeable English speaking guides who taught us much about the culture we were seeing. In many of these hot countries, the airconditioning on the buses was a welcome relief. Also the lunches and food to taste on these tours were superb. In Bangkok we lunched at the Mandarin Oriental-probably the best hotel in the city. Also don't miss Nooch Nooch Cultural Village. The elephant show is unbelievable. They have elephants playing soccer, basketball, baseball etc. and walking over people lying on the ground. Wow!!!! Puerto Princesca has Hunda Bay with the most beautiful empty islands with huge starfish and gorgeous big fish that come to be fed if you give them bread. We did the ship's Island Hopping tour. It was a trip to Paradise on little wooden boats skimming over the azure seas. The water was so warm it felt like a bathtub. We did keep our shirts and hats on in the water so as not to get sunburned.Did I mention the Antarctic Center in Christchurch NZ-with simulated frigid conditions? How about the inclined train ride down the side of the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney or the skyride across the rainforest in Cairns to the Aboriginal park with the Creation presentation. We had so many adventures-The Trip of a Lifetime. Yours, Ellen Eisenberg ellen@nycap.rr.com Read Less
Sail Date March 2009

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