This was our first time cruising on Princess Cruises and we were drawn initially to this particular itinerary because of the attractive option of a B2B that would have us embarking/disembarking at Fremantle with a 28-day cruise in between ... Read More
This was our first time cruising on Princess Cruises and we were drawn initially to this particular itinerary because of the attractive option of a B2B that would have us embarking/disembarking at Fremantle with a 28-day cruise in between - how many times do you hear anyone raving about the flying part of their holiday!
We have only ever cruised with Celebrity in the past, and even then, not that many times. So we are relatively new to cruising and don't have that much experience to make comparisons anyway. Anyway, we think comparing the two would be like apples and oranges anyway, with both pitched and priced at differing sectors of the market.
Embarkation at Fremantle went as smoothly as could be hoped, we think mainly because we had stuck to our pre-arranged arrival time. On and having an explore around the ship in around thirty minutes. Even without any welcome drinks, we felt there could have been a bit more enthusiasm and staff for that initial greeting, but we were soon off discovering/getting lost on our new home away from home.
We had opted for an inside cabin, up the front on Caribe deck - more details on this in the cabin review. This was already available for us from the time we got onboard. Introductions with our ninja steward Edgar (and his fellow 'shadow' steward Edgar II down the corridor) out of the way, and we were unpacked and ready for the lifeboat drills and sailaway before we knew it.
Because of a rather last-minute booking, we had no choice but to accept second sitting dining (there is no 'anytime' dining on Princess out of Australia), and as it turned out, this ended up suiting us just fine. On port days, it meant there was no rush to get back onboard, and let's face it, on sea days, if you don't think you can last until 7:45 in the evening before you can have dinner, there are many options to 'load up' around the ship to keep you going.
On the whole, we were very impressed with the standard and choices of food available for all meals, from breakfast through to dinner. One of the obvious things that can't be avoided is the fact that you are going to see the same cycle of menus come around again on a B2B, but on a positive note, that actually had us looking forward to some of the highlights from the first time through (definitely chilled fruit soup in a glass converts now!).
Other reviews have commented on the availability of seats in the buffet (not just on this ship, or indeed Princess), but there's an obvious easy answer to that. Structure your days so that you have that glorious long lay-in and then lo-and-behold, you're turning up for your meals two hours after everyone else. Whilst they are not yet sweeping up around your feet, you'll have no problems finding a table wherever your favourite spot turns out to be.
Afternoon tea was a bit of a let-down, as we thought it would have been more appropriate to have at least two or three types of tea available, and those in a pot that could have been left at the table - instead it was just tea or coffee.
Seemed to us to be a severe lack of speciality restaurants- maybe just on this class of ship. The only one with a pay-per-use, was The Steakhouse, which turned out to be a section of the buffet 'converted' after the luncheon rush in a part of the main buffet area. We didn't use this offering, so can't really comment, but feel if you are going to have a cover charge, there should be a definite unique permanent venue for those special occasions.
Cafe Corniche, the pizza venue, seemed to be much under-utilised and we weren't sure if this was because it a little bit tucked out of the way, or if people thought there was a cover charge, or what. Nevertheless, the pizzas were superb and many a day they got us through to dinner without filling us up.
Neither of us are big drinkers and after the initial onslaught of spruiking drinks or wine tasting packages, we were left to our own devices, and all of the venues had the option of pour your own water or served by the waiters. There was very little hard sell once everyone had realised we were more than happy with just having plain old water. That's not to say we didn't fall off the wagon for a drink or two occasionally, and Princess still have their two separate happy hours where the second drink is only one dollar - doesn't that cheaper one always taste that much better!
As mentioned, this was a back to back and even though we were expecting it, didn't the demographic change once the second cruise leg commenced in Singapore! On came all of the school children, not in their hoards by any means, but enough to mean your tranquil morning laps in the pool were now a thing of the past. Princess does have a children's club, but it was pretty obvious that some of the older kids had exhausted the options and were board with this after the first few days. One big dampener as a result of this, was the two main pools had to be drained on three separate occasions, which the captain and crew apologised for, but had no control over (perhaps better supervision of the pool areas after the first instance may have prevented a repeat).
Entertainment was a little bit hit and miss for both legs of the trip. Again, we were expecting the main shows to be repeated, so used our imagination there and watched them from opposite sides of the theatre on each occasion. When are cruise lines going to realise that hypnotists are not that entertaining - unless they have comedy talents too. The party band changed over at Singapore, and if we were to be brutally honest, any one of the karaoke singers could have covered for their vocal efforts, which was a shame as we would have liked to put some of the dance lessons (taught by the wonderful Jodie) into practice. Perhaps it would have sounded better if we had been drinking! Singers and comedians were well up to scratch and were usually worth a second show visit. We've heard comments about getting to the theatre early to ensure you get a seat; only relevant for the first shows, as second performances always had spare capacity (another advantage of second seating dining).
We did our own at ports of call and where we wanted to see more of the surrounding areas, had pre-arranged tours with other like-minded souls on Cruise Critic. Can't comment on ship's tours other than the usual that they appeared to be very expensive. Still can't get over the scam that is Vietnam/Cambodia visa charges (for Australians). We had done these ports previously, so were intending to just stay onboard. As many already know out there, it matters not a jot and you'll still get stung! There goes what little OBC we already had. Out of protest, went ashore anyway and re-confirmed we'll be looking for itineraries that avoid these countries until our two governments can sort something out!
With both cruise itineraries joined together, this is a fantastic way to experience a broad 'sample' of south east Asia in the one go. Grab it if you can! We made many a good friend on our shore excursions and an honorary mention to Nyoman Ariasa of BaliIslandTours wouldn't go amiss. Nothing was too much trouble for him and he provided an excellent, value for money service for our Bali stopover.
To sum up... did we have a good time and will we cruise Princess again? Yes on both counts. It was great value for money all up, and seeing as it doesn't appear to be that hard to claw your way up the loyalty ladder - up to Ruby even after just one more cruise - we'll be back for more in the future. It would be great to see a newer class of ship in Australian waters, but that might be something we'll have to wait for, or head off to Europe instead. Read Less