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27 Princess Bangkok (Laem Chabang) Cruise Reviews

My husband being a Vietnam vet decided to fly from LAX to Vietnam via EVA air. We spent 4 days in DaNang Vietnam prior to flying to Thailand for this cruise. In Vietnam we stayed at the Hagl in DaNang. We did an open air jeep tour with ... Read More
My husband being a Vietnam vet decided to fly from LAX to Vietnam via EVA air. We spent 4 days in DaNang Vietnam prior to flying to Thailand for this cruise. In Vietnam we stayed at the Hagl in DaNang. We did an open air jeep tour with looking glass jeep tours & another tour up to Hue w/Ann Tours. Both tours were fantastic. We then flew to Bangkok where we were picked up by BAT (Bangkok airport transfers) for transfer to Pattaya, where we spent the night at the Amari. The next day we booked a 3 hr tour through image limo & then transfer to Laem Chabang for the cruise. Our tour consisted of going to the Siam country club, the floating market (fun tourist trap), the big Buddha & went to Sanctuary of truth, but really didn't have enough time left to tour here. We loved the itinerary of this cruise. The only drawback if I think you need to get rid of the auto tipping. The service has gone down since you started this. We didn't think our room steward was as up to par as they should be. The waiter in the dining room we really liked...even though we had done anytime dining we almost always went to the same dining room w/the same waiter because he as so good. On our 1st stop in Singapore the ship has free transportation to downtown, which was about 15 minutes away. We had already pre booked the big red bus tour & the ships transfer drops you off appox 2 blocks from the starting point. Worked out well. Really great way to see the city. Don't forget to have the Singapore slings at the raffles hotel. They cost $26 in Singapore $$$$. 2nd stop was in Saigon, Vietnam. We had pre arranged a private tour through Ann's tours (this company is great to work with). We went to the post office, Notre Dame church, reunification temple, Thanh that temple, war remnants museum, had lunch at Pho 2000, then did a little shopping at Ben thanh market. Keep in mind the ship docks appox 2 hrs from downtown Saigon & the ship doesn't have free transfers into downtown. Next stop was Nha Trang, this is a beautiful beachside community. The ships has free transportation downtown, which we took & then paid $40.00 for a tour, which consisted of going to Long Song Pagota, the catholic church & the Cham temples. I wished we would have made an additional stop at the XO embroidery. We had our cab driver drop us off at the Louisiana brewhouse, which is right on the beach w/free wifi. We were able to Skype w/friends & family back home w/no problems. This place was really close to where we had tendered in. Next stop was Hong Kong, where we again had pre arranged a big red bus tour. The ship offered free bus transportation to downtown, which was right were you could take the star ferry across to Hong Kong Island. Fun day, got to go to Stanley Market & take a Sampan ride. That night we were fortunate to sail through the bay to see the light show, right until it started raining. Very good shopping stop. Next stop was Shanghai, again we had pre booked a big red bus tour. Ship had free transportation to downtown, which was about 1 hour each way & takes you to the bund area. Make sure & do a little walking on Nanjing road, especially when it gets dark, the street lights up like Vegas. This was a really fun stop. Next stop was Nagasaki, where you can get off the ship & you are right in the city. We bought all day streetcar passes for $500.00 yen. It was very easy to navigate around the city & there was a map on the back of the pass. We were able to see a lot of the city, which if very hilly. The street signs are all have English translation. Next stop was Busan, South Korea. This was our least favorite, as you we were not in port that long. The cruise ship did have free bus transportation to down town, which was about 30 - 45 minutes due to construction. Onto Beijing & end of cruise. We had arranged to be picked up by ChinaTour.net. We were able to get off the ship by 7am, however our guide was a little late picking us up. Fortunately the traffic was not as heavy as I'd read about, so we were able to go to the great wall, temple of heaven, a jade factory, a silk factory, saw all of the Olympic sights, saw a hutong, drum tower. We toured until 6 pm & then were dropped off at the Park Plaza Wangfujing. Really nice hotel & right downtown. The following day the same co picked us & we toured forbidden city prior to being dropped off at the airport.   Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
After a wonderful night and morning at the Shangri-La Hotel, we were driven by BMW to the ship at Laem Chabang(Bangkok). We went through all the paper work fast and boarded the ship. On board we made new friends from Canada,USA,New ... Read More
After a wonderful night and morning at the Shangri-La Hotel, we were driven by BMW to the ship at Laem Chabang(Bangkok). We went through all the paper work fast and boarded the ship. On board we made new friends from Canada,USA,New Zealand and Australia and spent many nights going to shows and dinners with them. We attended the activities on board, viewed sky lined lights from Hong Kong, attended a few dances and cocktail parties, played golf, bingo and gambled on the horses. We attended lectures on every port which was fascinating and informative and the lecturer offered many suggestions on what to see and what to stay away from, there was standing room only. This was a shopping trip and we shopped for our family at most ports. Our room steward was amazing and had everything ready for us when we needed it. We had anytime dinning with our new friends from New Zealand. We enjoyed the days at sea relaxing and meeting new people. We were not active with cruise critic at the time and we missed out on meeting more people and enjoying other activities that were offered through cruise critic. Left the ship in Xingang and went to Beijing, we took a plane from China to LAX. Overall we had a great time and look forward to many more cruises and now being a part of Cruise Critic we have a lot more great times ahead of us. Missing Ports: We visited Vietnam, took a 6 passenger van to the Mekong Delta eat lunch on the river, paddled in a canoe through the jungle, sampled fruits and drink of the area. We toured Taipei and saw the changing of the guard in the rain. Great time. In Okinawa Japan we stained cloth that hang on our walls today, Okinawa is westernized and there are many US Armed Forces stationed on the Island. Last was our tour of Shanghai. We toured a silk factory and visited gardens bought coffee at Starbucks and Rolex watches for $25US and they still work today. Read Less
Sail Date April 2011
A trip to the Far East including three nights in Bangkok at the start and a further three nights in Beijing at the end. These also included day trips in these destinations. The holiday included flights with Emirates from UK via Dubai. The ... Read More
A trip to the Far East including three nights in Bangkok at the start and a further three nights in Beijing at the end. These also included day trips in these destinations. The holiday included flights with Emirates from UK via Dubai. The hotels selected were of a good standard and the Landmark in Bangkok was popular with all. The hotels included breakfasts, had internet access, business facilities and fitness centres with good gyms and pool. The travel to port for embarkation at Laem Chabang was smooth and efficient thanks to the quality of the Thai tour guides. A bus was provided from the hotel to the port. Luggage arrangements were clear and effective. There were plenty of pools. Some outdoors and one good sized indoor/ covered pool. Despite a large ship the pools were never busy. There were plenty of Jacuzzis / hot tubs which were very popular. The gym was well equipped and could have busy spells but we always found we could get on to some equipment. The running roads were the most popular. There were classes provided at a charge but these were a little expensive. There were port talks provided and these were very informative and were not a hard sell on the shore excursions. The speaker was knowledgeable and held Q & A sessions later. Her input was appreciated. The library was well stocked and had good opening hours. Much of the material suited the USA more than the UK but there were plenty of books and the daily puzzles were found here too. There was some access to computers here. There was wifi on the ship but connection was variable. The internet charges were rather high even when the packages were purchased. Dining - we chose the anytime option. Breakfast was mostly taken on Deck 14 in the buffet style restaurants. There was an egg station serving rather huge omlettes. I liked the fresh fruit, hams, cheese and bread in the buffet. A good selection of tea and coffee was available and I liked having the herbal teas. My husband liked the bacon and eggs. There was a waiter service for breakfast but we only used the facility twice. On sea days we did go for lunch on Deck 14 buffet. There were special themes set up daily around the pool - Mexican, Italian, pastry extravaganza etc. One of the traditional dining rooms held English Pub Lunches which we did not attend but they received popular reports from other guests. Our preferred lunch was pizza. There was also a burger bar serving various burgers and fries - the portions were huge. Afternoon tea was available in the Buffet on Deck 14 but as a treat we went to the Pacific Moon on Deck 6 for white glove service. This was splendid and worth visiting after a day's excursion. The scones were fresh and warm served with clotted cream and jam. There were tasty sandwiches , tiny delicious cakes and biscuits. There was a genteel ,lovely atmosphere here. The freedom of anytime dining allowed us to choose where and when to dine. We also could choose whether or not we wanted to share a table with others or have a table for two. We did not use the specialist restaurants or the buffet. We dined once in the Santa Fe but found it too dark for our liking. The Savoy was used twice but we preferred the lighter looking Pacific Moon. The staff were very good and we felt that the receptionist was pleasant and well organized and did everything she could to help. The waiters were attentive as was the Maitre d'. The food was the same in the three restaurants apart from one signature dish. (The Savoy had pork chops. ) Entertainment was variable. The permanent cruise staff were pleasant and energetic and produced some watchable and enjoyable entertainment. Sadly, the cruise was marred by some atrocious acts such as Toni Stevens and Jacques Renay. The latter was supposed to be a Tom Jones tribute who didn’t look or sound like him. The former was an embarrassment. We were saved by the appearance of Linda Gentille who styled herself as the ‘female Liberace’. Initially, this worried us given the previous act but she was good and performed to full houses. The pianist Mauritzio played nightly in the Atrium and he was very popular. The string quartet were pleasant to listen to but they were best suited to the Atrium rather than a small bar as on occasion they played in the Crooners Bar. Read Less
Sail Date March 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
We have cruised on the Sun Princess from Sydney 3 times, so didn't expect to the Diamond Princess to be much different apart from size , but was pleasantly surprised. Service was wonderful , food was outstanding , everything was so ... Read More
We have cruised on the Sun Princess from Sydney 3 times, so didn't expect to the Diamond Princess to be much different apart from size , but was pleasantly surprised. Service was wonderful , food was outstanding , everything was so much better than what we had had on the Sun Princess.We had the aft cabin on Aloha deck A749, A bit of noise from the scrapping chairs above , other than that a wonderful cabin , great location , steward was very good, as this was the first cruise that we had princess "Elite" so had all the extras that came with it , the free washing was the most appreciated , we used it and it certainly helped with me enjoying my cruise . Found the ports very interesting and we only did our tours .With great success and saved heaps of money . We had a great CC roll call , meet so many wonderful people from all around the world.Thank you for your friendship everyone!!!! The Diamond Princess is a huge ship , still was getting lost 15 days into cruise . Did the Chef's dinner and thought it was really worth it ,had thought it was expensive but it turned out to be the best value ever.Would recommend it to everyone. Can't wait to go on the Diamond Princess again ! Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
This was our fifth cruise but the other 4 were much better.We found the food in the Horizon buffet, and in the Vivaldi dining room  was not as good as on Celebrity,Royal Caribbean & Carnival. The shellfish was especially ... Read More
This was our fifth cruise but the other 4 were much better.We found the food in the Horizon buffet, and in the Vivaldi dining room  was not as good as on Celebrity,Royal Caribbean & Carnival. The shellfish was especially disappointing.  Usually these cruise ships have one enormous dining room  and have a violinist or pianist playing dinner music but on the Diamond Princess it was split into 5 smaller ones with piped music.We're used to receiving a docket or receipt with each purchase but we had to ask each time & for some staff it seemed too much trouble.(after 16 nights how can one remember how many drinks or bottles of wine were consumed); also on some cruises you can check your account on your stateroom TV but this wasn't available.The public toilets were below standard,particularly the one near the Internet room which had a urine smell detectable 30 meters away.It was mostly rectified a few days later. The gymnasium did not have enough equipment available & we gave up trying to get any in the mornings.The exercise bikes were locked in another room & were only to be used under supervision as "they were dangerous". Can't they supply safe exercise bikes like everyone else? The shore excursions were disappointing with guides who rushed us back before important activities(changing of the guard in Taiwan & a dance show in Okinawa).Actually the whole Okinawa trip & onshore tour was a waste of time. Also the bar on the 18th.Deck  was a beautiful room with lovely views which we wanted to use for our pre-dinner drinks,but it was only open at night.Such a waste! At that hour it was difficult to get a seat in the atrium.  Our ship was too large to get right into many ports & we used container terminals & had to travel more than 2 hours each way in some ports. On a positive note service was good; our cabin was good and the shows were excellent. Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
This was our fourth Princess cruise, and may be our last for a while, as we thought that standards had dropped some what and other passengers were saying the same, and had it not been for the itinerary, some would not have used Princess at ... Read More
This was our fourth Princess cruise, and may be our last for a while, as we thought that standards had dropped some what and other passengers were saying the same, and had it not been for the itinerary, some would not have used Princess at all. Even before we set off there was problems receiving information regards Chinese Visa's, luggage allowances, no trip brochure (all had to be seen on a computer - providing you had one) On board, staff seemed a little thin on the ground in places, food was not of the same high standard that we have been used to, this was both in the International restaurant and the Horizon buffet, which we used more than usual due to trip times etc. This eatery is supposed to be open through from lunch to 5 p m some days food was very low or not available mid afternoon.We tried the afternoon tea once, plenty of staff wondering round doing not alot, one member of staff only serving sandwiches to everybody, he hadn't a clue what he was serving, cakes came round first, very dis organized. This time onboard Princess wanted payment for, washing and drying machines, postcards of the ship, and $150 to go on a tour of the ship (what a joke) Yet again the photo shop was packed with hundreds and hundreds of photo's at stupid prices, will they ever sell them at sensible prices selling most of them, hope they are all re cycled, what a waste of time, paper,and ink. We have made comment on this on every cruise. The Captain's welcome onboard party and other cocktail party's were very poorly attended by members of staff, getting a drink was virtually impossible, and to top it off at the Captain's Circle evening the Captain Graham Goodway didn't even shake hands with his passengers (six of us travelled together, and found this most rude) In our stateroom, the so called waffle gowns very shabby and worn out, and the toilet tissue was of very poor quality(poor places we visited in Vietnam and China had better)The pillows were very worn and poor quality. Although some of the entertainment was good, we had alot of repeats during the cruise. I have to make compliments where due, and that was our restaurant waiter's and bedroom staff were very good. We also booked a meal in the Steak House and that was well worth the extra cover charge. Princess know they will always have new cruisers, but they should listen to and read customers comments etc, there are lots of other cruise company's. Read Less
Sail Date March 2009
We flew from Heathrow to Dubai on the new Airbus 380, a truly magnificent experience, with the plane being half empty, but were quickly brought back down to earth by the normal "heaving" plane from Dubai to Bangkok. Our hotel ... Read More
We flew from Heathrow to Dubai on the new Airbus 380, a truly magnificent experience, with the plane being half empty, but were quickly brought back down to earth by the normal "heaving" plane from Dubai to Bangkok. Our hotel stay was in The Landmark, Sirkumvit Road,the best hotel we had ever been in, Thai people were so friendly and helpful, we did the usual City & Temple tour and Bridge over the River Kwai, which was moving but also lengthy and arduous. We pre-checked in at our hotel for Diamond Princess and following our journey to the port, our transfer on board, into our cabin took only a mater of minutes. This was our 5th Princess cruise, so we knew what to expect. We always book an Inside Cabin and found this particular cabin to be more than adequate and kept spotlessly clean by our friendly Steward. On this subject of cleanliness we were impressed by the steps taken by Princess to maintain a very high standard of cleanliness in Public Areas, washing down the decks nightly etc and always providing alcohol hand gel outside Dining Areas. On Board services were good. We were on "Anytime Dining" and had a choice of 4 basic restaurants, each with a slightly different theme. We only used 3, because one was not available until following early fixed dining. We enjoyed the smaller, cozier atmosphere, the waiting staff were excellent and we had absolutely no complaints regarding the quality or quantity of our meals. We never once queued and were happy to share a table, usually with Americans, whose company we prefer for a fun shipboard experience. We used the self service Horizon Court for our breakfasts and again were very content with our experience. Staff were attentive and quickly cleared tables to ensure they were always available for use. My biggest negative comment for on-board services is concerning the price of drinks. Princess has increased the cost and compounds this by adding a 15% service charge to this cost. It was obvious when one looked round the restaurants, the bars and the Show Lounges, how few people were actually drinking and those who were always had waiters hanging around for repeat business!! How long will it take Princess and other cruise lines to recognize that halving the prices would result in a massive uptake and probably increased profits. The price of photographs was also outrageous and it seems silly to produce thousands of quality prints which are never sold!! The Ship's entertainment was generally very good but I fail to understand why their production shows are repeated 2 nights running other than to save money, they might as well use the theatre for more movies. We used the Gymnasium but, particularly on Sea Days, struggled to access the apparatus due to numbers of bodies and perhaps a re-distribution of space between the gymnasium and the often un-used studio and the addition of more equipment would be a better compromise. We found the Purser's Service to be satisfactory and the Future Cruise Consultant to be very helpful. We attended the various "drinks welcome parties" but they were rather bland and the drinks served, seemed to be "watered down". Shore Excursions, as usual, were very expensive and with a little homework via the internet we were able to fully negotiate our way round the various ports of call for less than half the price charged by Princess. The ship berthed in most ports, out of town, but free shuttle buses were provided and this was very well received by everybody. All the ports visited had their own highlights with the exception of Okinawa which was somewhat diminished by the extremely lengthy and bureaucratic immigration process which took approx 7 hours to clear all passengers for landing, more time than we actually spent in port!!!! It was a surprise to have our passports literally confiscated by Princess from our arrival on board until our arrival in China, not something I have experienced before. I would thoroughly recommend this cruise and the ports visited, particularly Shanghai. Disembarkation proceeded smoothly and we were in Beijing by lunchtime to spend 3 exhausting days visiting the sights of the city and the Great Wall. China was an amazing experience and I cannot speak too highly of our time there. We had an early morning flight back to the UK with Emirates and the journey was long and arduous. In summary, therefore, well done Princess Cruises and our travel agent Voyana, a holiday to be long remembered with affection. Read Less
Sail Date March 2009
Oh how exciting it is to read two differently rated reviews on this cruise (Clive & Sue).............I agree with you both! Yes I believe the itinerary was the main attraction for many people on this cruise but others like ourselves ... Read More
Oh how exciting it is to read two differently rated reviews on this cruise (Clive & Sue).............I agree with you both! Yes I believe the itinerary was the main attraction for many people on this cruise but others like ourselves our hardened Princess cruisers, this being our third. Embarkation was easy, I think Princess have listened to previous reviews & had laid on extra staff to deal with this situation at Bangkok. Ship is very presentable & clean, yes she is showing signs of wear & our bathroom robes (waffle gowns) & bedding had also seen better days. We were on Early Dining & enjoyed the company of two other couples from UK & a couple from Australia. Due to a late return to the ship one day we dinned at Horizons buffet ............this is a great place for Breakfast/Lunch but would not recommend this for a dinner, should have tried one of the other many dining options. I agree, the price of drinks & photographs are expensive.......Clive is right; a reduction here would only increase profits. Shore Excursions are expensive but it does take the worry away from things that can go wrong. We were on 3 privately arranged tours that worked out very well. I highly recommend Albert Tan benden@starhub.net.sg for his Taxi Tour services in Singapore & Dung Pham phamtandung2002@yahoo.com for his delightful river cruise & more in Nha Trang, Vietnam. Our Princess arranged Tour to Shurijo Castle in Okinawa, Japan was a waste of time & money. Attended two cocktail parties, & yes the drinks did seemed to be "watered down" & difficult to get. I agree neither of these seemed to be well attended by ships staff, in fact during the whole cruise we only encountered them during disembarkation & embarkation..........perhaps this is a sign of a well run cruise ship! Purser's services were satisfactory, again I think Princess have listened to previous reviews. Disembarkation went smoothly & after a well remembered 16 nights on Diamond we were about to sample the delights of Beijing. Read Less
Sail Date March 2009
We (myself, my wife and 2 friends) have had a couple of previous cruises but chose this one because of value for money and the itinerary. Prior to departure we had asked the tour operators (Readers Offers Daily Mail) if the baggage ... Read More
We (myself, my wife and 2 friends) have had a couple of previous cruises but chose this one because of value for money and the itinerary. Prior to departure we had asked the tour operators (Readers Offers Daily Mail) if the baggage allowance 0f 20kgs,on the Emirates flight could be increased as we were going to be away for 25 days, were going from a hot climate (Bangkok) to a cold one (Beijing)and we had 3 or 4 formal nights on board. Everyone had sloping shoulders and wouldn't do anything so it wa a slight but not major limitation. Flight was OK apart from the usual totally over the top security rubbish. The other lady in our party was constantly given a hard time with regard to perfume.If the authorities thought she was going to make a bomb then they should have taken her away for questioning as a would be bomber as well as her bombmaking eqipment. Hotel (Holiday Inn) in Bangkok was lovely as was the city and the people, we will be going back. The Ship, The Diamond Princess. Nice Cabin,that was about it. Balcony light not working asked for the bulb to be changed, the cabin steward said the light was a navigation hazard and could not be switched on! When we stopped laughing we pointed out that several hundred other lights were working and on and perhaps he had better take the bulbs out. After that he was most helpful. The Information/Services desk was hopeless. Huge queues, no solutions and should be renamed disinformation. They told us as we were on fixed dining that we could under no circumstances eat in any other restaraunt. A few days later we found out from all the dining rooms that we could.The food and service were adequate but not memorable. We had to forgo a desert on the evenings that we wanted to see a show: there seemed to be little coordination. This was again demonstrated when hordes of 2nd sitting diners hit the shows and there were no or few drink stewards available.They quickly disappeared when the show had finished. We tried to get coffee and brandies at 11.30pm and were told that it was impossible, we would have to go and get coffee ourselves from the greasy spoon self service cafeteria.I got the impression that the care of the crew was taking a higher priority than taking care of the passengers. To be fair, not always but I think they ought to change the claim of "a can do attitude" The entertainment with a few exceptions was poor and seem to be the sweepings of second rate Sydney nightclubs. It was at times embarrassing to see people leaving their seats after a few minutes. Disembarkation at the various ports was generally an ordeal,understadable with 3,000 passengers to get off but an ordeal nonetheless; long queues, disorganization, queue jumpers and a very little organization or control from a seeming dispirited and immature crew. And a Captain who won't shake hands! The final straw for me came when I asked at the information desk if, as there were over 800 British passengers on board if it would be possible to get the English football results. With their usual diffidence they directed me to a member of the entertainment staff. I asked her and she said no it wasn't possible, they used to do it but it was a waste of 800 sheets of paper! I said one or two sheets would be enough and to pin it up in the library. I pointed out that Royal Caribbean managed to get and print them in their daily paper 20 years ago. She said that if I wanted the results I would have to go to the internet cafe and pay and get them myself. More "can do attitude" I hope this doesn't sound as though we had a terrible trip, these were just minor gripes that spoilt it for us.I still enjoyed the holiday and would give it 8 out of 10. I'm afraid I will not be using this cruise line again and will only use smaller ships. Read Less
Sail Date March 2009
The four-year-old Diamond Princess looked as pristine and untarnished as when we sailed during her maiden voyage to Nagasaki. The ship's crew and hotel staff is doing a fantastic job keeping her in showroom quality. The hotel kept the ... Read More
The four-year-old Diamond Princess looked as pristine and untarnished as when we sailed during her maiden voyage to Nagasaki. The ship's crew and hotel staff is doing a fantastic job keeping her in showroom quality. The hotel kept the brass and glass sparkle in public areas. The CDC rated the ship with 100 points during two of her previous inspections. The ship came down with Norovirus in China, where the cruise begun but got contained by the time it reached Thailand where we set sail. Sanitizing stations and passenger joint action helped alleviate the problem. The wait staff has far exceeded themselves in friendliness, courtesy and excellence of service, much to the delight of the passengers. The conflict of theater seating and dinner times was resolved by rescheduling ship activities. The library no longer retained cruise cards from guests reading an atlas there. Internet is still 75 cents a minute. Cell phone service is now available on board. We opted for an ocean view cabin amidships at the plaza deck that measured about 182 square feet. It had a queensize bed, an old TV, a shower as large as a telephone booth and ample closet space for four suitcases. It proved very stable during rough weather and had easy access to the atrium, the library, and four restaurants. The Vivaldi, Santa Fe, Pacific Moon and the Savoy operated only for dinner and shared a common menu. The other restaurant called the International served breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Horizontal Court a 24 hour buffet for informal dining offered hot and cold dishes. Sabatini's specialized in Italian Cuisine and Sterling served steaks. Both required reservations and a cover charge. We had dinner at Vivaldi's and had the rest of our meals at the Horizontal Court. The cuisine was superb and beautifully presented. Osso bocco, salmon and shrimp cocktail were a menu standby. Eggs Benedict were regular offers at the buffet. Vivaldi's headwaiter David and his assistant Ernie from the Philippines graciously provided us with off menu items when requested. The ship was always full. Passengers cruised in segments and people were constantly embarking and disembarking. The Canadians and British topped the Americans who were normally the bulk cruisers. There were a number of Germans, and other Europeans. Some Australians, New Zealanders, Japanese, Hongkong, Taiwan and Mainland Chinese got on in Sydney, Australia bound for New Zealand. There were at least a hundred children. It was almost 2 a.m. when our 21-hour flight from Los Angeles, California landed in Bangkok, Thailand. The streets still teemed with people and most of the shops were open. We were here to meet the Diamond Princess in two days. Sailing through Asia, Australia and New Zealand had attracted us to be on board the Diamond P for a third time. After catching a couple of hours sleep in our hotel, we hired a cab with an English speaking driver to take us to one of the floating markets and the bridge over the river Quai some 50 miles from the city. (The original bridge is in Burma). We rented a small dugout canoe and navigated a shallow canal towards the market. The market was very busy and the place was a sight to see. Vendors were hawking food, souvenirs and T-shirts while paddling their small dugouts. We had lunch at a coffee shop overlooking the river Quai before returning to the city. Our next stop was Vung Tau, Vietnam. The ship had obtained a blanket Vietnamese visa charging $11 per cabin. We got our visa from Washington, DC but had to pay $65 each, long before the ship had notified us. While other passengers braved the almost three hour trip from Vung Tau to Saigon we decided to visit a small native farmer's home, a Buddhist temple and the local open market in Vung Tau. The ship docked at Kota Kinabalu in Borneo after a sea day. We visited a Dayak or Iban village in Mt. Kinabalu. The Dayaks are an indigenous native tribe once known as headhunters. One of their houses had human skulls hanging in the rafters. The villagers entertained us with their native dances and music. We were quite elated when they allowed us to photograph them in their natural costumes. Singapore was sterile and septic as when we visited several years ago. They still fine people heavily for chewing gum. The ship made its way through the Java Sea and after crossing the equator we make our next landfall in Darwin, Australia. We follow the Australian coast heading south through Cairns, then to the Great Barrier Reef. We reached Brisbane where some of the passengers left the ship. A slight drizzle meets the ship as she docks in the beautiful Sydney harbor. She couldn't get past the Sydney Harbor Bridge as her tall funnel overwhelmed the 456-foot high bridge. The Sydney Opera House was a wonderful sight to see. Melbourne has an equally superb port. The city's skyline glistened in the sunshine. They had greatly developed since our last visit. We drove to the Dandenong hills and stopped at a coffee shop next to a forest. Wild sulfur-crested cockatoos and brightly colored parrots clamber all over visitors feeding the birds. Melbourne frowns on feeding wildlife but is tolerant on approved birdseed. The Tasmanian Sea was calmer and less rough than we expected. We tried get tickets to see the Tasmanian devil in an animal sanctuary in Hobart. The ship had run out .We got tickets from the local visitor's center at half the price the ship was charging. Most of the ship's excursions are quite pricey and unreliable. We now book most of our tours from the ports of call. Tasmania Island, Australia is the only known habitat of the wild Tasmanian Devil. It is a ferocious, carnivorous, marsupial the size of a small dog. Their numbers are on the decline because of disease. The Fjordland National Park in the south island of New Zealand is quite a spectacle. Numerous mini waterfalls dotted the mist-shrouded mountainsides. Although it lacked the glaciers of South America and Scandinavia fjords, it has a unique charm of its own. Christchurch is the second largest city in the South Island in New Zealand. The Anglican cathedral is located in a beautiful square known as Church Square. Next to the cathedral is a museum that is always open and charges no entrance fee. Taurunga is a large tranquil seaport in the North Island. The ship brought a Maori dance troupe here to show native culture to the passengers. We left the ship in Auckland on the 24th of December. We spent Christmas there as our flight home to Los Angeles was scheduled for the 26th. The city shut down for the holiday, but we did manage to attend services at the Catholic cathedral celebrated by the archbishop of Auckland. Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
We booked this cruise from BKK to SYD with Princess Cruises Australia. We are 2 adults and no children. The ease of the booking was very good. Three weeks prior to sailing we requested by fax, a Bon Voyage gift to ourselves as per the ... Read More
We booked this cruise from BKK to SYD with Princess Cruises Australia. We are 2 adults and no children. The ease of the booking was very good. Three weeks prior to sailing we requested by fax, a Bon Voyage gift to ourselves as per the Princess website & cruise guide,. (champagne and canapEs A$100.00 credit card details in fax as gift had to be paid before sailing)One week prior, we telephoned and emailed Princess Cruises Australia to be told that this would be taken care of by the ship. Embarking in Laem Chebang Thailand was well organized and quick. There were lots of crew available to welcome us aboard, including crew stationed at the lifts to assist in finding our cabin. We were also given a pocket sized map of the ship which proved very handy given the size of the ship. The cabin was a mini suite on dolphin deck 9 midship, it was adequate and in good condition, ample storage room for our clothing and a bathroom with a shower over the bath. The cabin had two televisions with two remotes, which at times was a challenge, as one turned off the other turned on. The room steward had joined the ship in BKK and seemed a little overwhelmed. We asked for robes and a minibar setup as these were not in the cabin, we knew that these items were on request but it took more 2 days to receive these items. Also there was no sign of our Bon Voyage champagne or canapEs. The balcony was a good size, room for two deck chairs, two standard chairs and a small table. Privacy.. well the lack of was a issue. The cabins on all the decks above looked directly onto the balconies of all the mini suites, we were lucky in that we had very friendly people above. We actually have struck up a friendship with a couple on the deck above as a result. We chose three shore excursions during our trip Vietnam, Borneo and Darwin, all were well organized and very good. Price wise, not cheap. Other ports we did our own thing with no regrets. Half way through the cruise now.. still no sign of our Bon Voyage champagne and canapEs ! Food onboard was just ok with the exception of the Sterling Steakhouse (strange location, set up each night in the back of the buffet Horizon Court). The steaks here were absolutely sensational, well worth the $US 15 cover charge. The other stand out restaurant was the Savoy Dining Room, even though the menu was always the same as another 4 restaurants, The International Dining Room, Santa Fe, Vivaldi and Pacific Moon. The staff in Savoy were exceptional, Michael the Maitre D, Peter the waiter, were consistently efficient and professional and the two waiters serving the lemon cello were lots of fun. The buffet restaurant for breakfast was ok, mixed bag here, some staff very friendly and others very disinterested in their job but very happy to tell you that their contract was finishing soon and that they would be leaving the ship. Between the two of us we used the Lotus spa five times early in the cruise,(these visits were booked prior to sailing) treatments were good, staff extremely pushy in trying to up sell products and additional treatments and not shy in asking for a tip. We actually avoided even walking past the spa in the end in case we were harassed. The actual cruising conditions were excellent, it was as if we were sailing in a pond, we saw a sea turtle and twice saw dolphins. The Crossing the Equator ceremony was a lot of fun. Disembarkation in Sydney was busy, well organized and quick, staff at hand to thank us for choosing Princess and ground crew to assist with taxi's. Finished the cruise now.. still no sign of our Bon Voyage champagne and canapEs ! Not even as a farewell gift ! We did enquire during the cruise about our Bon Voyage gift, only to be told it had to be organized prior to boarding. There were times where we felt the ship was understaffed and the attention to detail was not there. Since arriving home we have learnt that on the previous cruise the Diamond Princess had a norovirus outbreak, we noticed that on our cruise that not a great deal of attention was given to sanitizing. There was a male toilet near the Internet Cafe that did not have any sanitizing equipment available. The buffet restaurant we observed passengers entering without sanitizing, the internet cafe sanitizing was available but almost no one used it. If you hadn't cruised before you probably wouldn't have known what to do. The internet connections were very slow and expensive, on average 30mins to login to home to check emails. Overall we did enjoy our cruise on Diamond Princess, but we felt that the cruise line or the size of the ship may not be for us, we prefer a cruise with more variety in food and better privacy. One last thing ! We never did see our own Bon Voyage champagne, but we were never charged the $100 for it either Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
We had decided to travel to Asia only months before departing and were very pleased to see some great packages on offer through our Internet agent and terrific prices for the package (including transfers, hotel etc). This was our ninth ... Read More
We had decided to travel to Asia only months before departing and were very pleased to see some great packages on offer through our Internet agent and terrific prices for the package (including transfers, hotel etc). This was our ninth cruise, our second with Princess. Like most people we met on the cruise, we added extra days in both Bangkok and Beijing. We were booked into the Banyan Tree in Bangkok - wow! The view on the 55th floor was spectacular, the suite was very spacious and tastefully decorated, the service exceptional and English was spoken by most staff. The included breakfast was very good, with a lovely view to the Banyan courtyard and pond adding a special touch. I would recommend this hotel, though be prepared to travel across town to the sights and shopping (taxi or skytrain are easy to use). Out two hour transfer to Laem Chabang went smoothly and we found ourselves aboard the grand Diamond Princess. Clean lines, bold white and standing high above the port terminus, we were set for our Orient Express tour. Note that the downside of being aboard such a large, majestic boat was that we had to dock in commercial terminals, resulting in lengthy shuttle transfers in almost all destinations (although free, this ate into the time ashore). We booked an inside stateroom (we are rarely in our cabin, so why pay more). We relied on the telephone for a wake-up alarm, as you cannot otherwise tell the time (day or night is the same). The room was small, but functional, clean and was well maintained by our friendly cabin steward throughout the cruise. Being on the Lido deck was great - easy access to the pools, spas and the like, as well as the buffet (or as our Brit friends called it, the 'trough'). The food on board was good, though nothing to rave about. The five dining rooms all offered the same menu (though each had its own separate 'speciality' offering - so try them all). We preferred the Sante Fe, and the staff were very friendly and service was of a high standard. We had anytime dining and ate at different times throughout without any delays. We also booked a great night at Sabatini's (recommend skipping lunch that day). The passenger load was quite varied, though probably a third spoke no English or English as a second language with many Russian and Portuguese speaking folk. The age profile was as we had expected, with mostly recently retired folk (60-65). Almost no children. There were plenty of shipboard activities, and the Art auctions were fun. A couple of artists were aboard and some really serious investors aboard. Artworks included paintings on pieces of the original Hollywood sign - very special. The productions (six in all) were very good and not to be missed. Other performances were also good, as were the comics, magician and hypnotist. There was also a once-off acrobatic show in Shanghai put on by a local troupe that we missed, though this was broadcast on the TV. However, our primary purpose for travelling on this cruise was to see as much of Asia that we could pack in. We avoided Ship Tours. Yes, they were expensive (no, really expensive). However, they just don't get enough in. So we used the tour information, internet details and local tourist maps and did our own thing using trains, taxis, busses, monorails, tuk tusk and ultimately, our own two feet. We are in our mid-40's and fairly fit, but most importantly, we had a degree of confidence to negotiate the public transport systems (most of which in the ports we visited are terrific). The ports we visited included Singapore (great), Phu My and Nha Trang (Vietnam - needs more time to develop), Hong Kong (stayed overnight - was a blast), Taipei, Okinawa, and Shanghai and Beijing (China). Best port was Hong Kong (went everywhere including the Peak, Travelators to mid-town, Stanley markets, Aberdeen, Temple St night market, Pho Monastery on Lantau Island and also took in a spectacular light show over Victoria Harbour - oh yes, and we did lots of shopping down side streets). A special mention for Beijing - although our stay was shortened due to clearances in China, we hooked up with a group that had made private tour arrangements and packed in a full day/evening, including the Yu Gardens, Jade Buddha temple, visit to the Bund, drive through old Shanghai, travelled to the 88th floor of the Jin Mao building for night views (we also did Taipei 101 in Taiwan) and finally did the return trip on the Maglev train (431 kmh, covering the 35 km trip one way in 7 minutes). Disembarkation was late, though ran very smoothly. Although we were Platinum Captains Circle members with a separate lounge provided, we spent the waiting time with friends we met on board (and caught up with some in Beijing later). Beijing was terrific. We were booked at the Beijing Swissotel (5 star, though nothing compared to the Banyan Tree, and English was a challenge for many staff). Must do places to go were the Forbidden city, Imperial Palace, Tiananmen Square, Wangfujing Street and Yu Show Markets for shopping, the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs, and the Olympic village is open for tours of the facilities. Dining can be a lot of fun when English is not spoken well, though I would definitely avoid the live scorpion skewers on offer. There was an outbreak of a 48 hour gastric illness on board the ship, which affected (reportedly) up to a quarter of passengers. Perhaps not surprising when you see so many passengers with such poor bathroom and buffet hygiene practices (really take care, and you are unlikely to be affected). The illness problems delayed our entry into Shanghai and Beijing, but otherwise did not present too much of a drama (though you had to constantly ignore the acrimonious complaints - sorry, but I have to say mainly from British passengers). Overall, we had a full, and fast paced, holiday and saw many of the sights. Would love to spend more time in many of these places (except Vietnam). Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
Princess Cruises: Leam Chebang Thailand to Sydney Australia 20th December 2007 to 9th January 2008 This is the first time I have attempted to write a cruise review and whilst it may sound a little harsh at times I have tried to be as ... Read More
Princess Cruises: Leam Chebang Thailand to Sydney Australia 20th December 2007 to 9th January 2008 This is the first time I have attempted to write a cruise review and whilst it may sound a little harsh at times I have tried to be as honest and truthful as I can be. I am 51 year old male from the UK and travelled with my wife and 2 sons age 18 & 20 in 2 separate inside cabins on deck 10. This is approximately my tenth cruise, it was however my first cruise with Princess cruises. Embarkation We had flown to Hong Kong were we stayed for a couple of enjoyable nights at the excellent Langhams before flying on to Bangkok Thailand for a further three enjoyable nights at the wonderful Bangkok Hilton Millennium, booking our hotels independently from our cruise and flight itinerary. The first gripe I have is the luggage weight allowance, Princess Cruises book these flights in the knowledge that you are embarking on a 20+ day cruise including more than half a dozen formal and informal nights requiring suitable clothes to conform to their dress codes, my two suits and hard bodied suitcase weighed in at 15 kilos, that leaves me a further 5 kilos allowance to pack enough clothes etc to keep me suitably attired for the remaining 4 weeks. This is quite simply impossible and subsequently we had to pay several hundred additional dollars on both legs for excess luggage. Princess has the ability to increase the luggage allowance at the time of booking with the airline, however they chose not to, despite the fact it would appear that non UK passengers don't seem to have this problem, yet UK passengers are paying up to 45% more than other non UK passengers (More of that later) and Princess are happy to supply flights to passengers not fit for purpose. We took a 3 hour taxi ride from Bangkok to Leam Chebang to embark the Sapphire Princess, the process was smooth and well organized and our excessive weighing baggage was at our cabin before we got there. We had been unable to book a better grade of cabin than inside and had been waitlisted since March 07, despite further inquires at the customer services desk we were told the ship was full and we would have to stay in the cabins we had been allocated. The ship left that evening a little late due to a medical emergency. The Cabin Or stateroom as they like to call it, what can you say about an inside cabin? It was small but comfortable, the shower was extremely small and we were unable to shower properly due to the curtain constantly sticking to you during the process, the toilets in both cabins smelt of stale urine for the entire length of the cruise and despite several attempts by staff they never managed to cure it. We had no tea or coffee making facilities unlike most ships we had travelled on previously and the TV programming was the worst I have encountered, around six channels of constant Princess Cruise infomercials, CNN out of sync for the whole cruise, BBC world and a few very old movies and poor quality programmes repeated constantly. Whilst I appreciate one doesn't go on a cruise to watch TV there are occasions when due to illness bad weather etc that there is little else left to do. Our cabin steward was called Marvin; I think we got off to a bad start as he seemed to take it as a personal insult when we pointed out the toilet smell problem. For the entire length of the cruise he was unhelpful, huffed and puffed whenever we were in the cabin and he wanted to enter it to clean and never ever greeted us with a good morning/afternoon unlike every other cabin steward onboard, perhaps it was the time of year (Christmas & New year) and he was missing his family I must say however despite his persistent rudeness he did a very good job cleaning the cabin. Dining We chose the anytime dining option as we didn't want to be tied down to a specific times, now in theory this sounds like a great concept, you turn up to any one of the four designated restaurants anytime before 10pm, get shown to your table and enjoy your dinner. However this was not our experience on most occasions, I'm not sure if this was because the ship was full but on at least 6 or 7 occasions we visited all 4 restaurants to be told there was nothing available from between 30mins to an hour, at this point you are given a bleeper which goes off when a table is available, whilst this doesn't sound like a big deal you have to queue at each of the four restaurants before you are told there are no tables available, so in total the wait for the table on some evenings took up to 2 hours before we sat down to eat. And what was the solution to this problem that was suggested by the very helpful maitre de? Book a table at a specific time each evening to ensure you get seated! Well surely this defeats the whole concept of anytime dining and you may as well go back to set dinner sittings, the idea is great but seriously flawed. The quality of the food and service was ok, the variety of the menu we felt was average, the best way I can describe this is when on a recent P&O cruise after looking at the menu there was nearly always more than one dish we fancied, however on many occasions there was nothing we fancied on the menu. Not the best I have had and not a patch on P&O, also the lack of a traditional Christmas dinner on Christmas day was unforgivable, this ship caters exclusively for US passengers and despite the bulk of passengers on this cruise being Australian, British and Canadian they were simply not catered for. The service we received in the four restaurants was varied depending quite simply on who served you, our general experience was the Philippine & Thai waiters were pleasant, helpful and efficient; however the eastern bloc waiters were in general quite surly and a gloom seemed to descend over the table during service. One in particular took 25mins to acknowledge we had sat down, whilst I realize it is unfair to generalize, this was our experience. We had the occasional breakfast in the buffet however after the outbreak of norovirus during week one the buffet was no longer self service and the staff had to serve you with everything including the coffee and tea, this led to long queues and we stopped eating there. Room service was poor, the stateroom booklet suggests you should have to wait approx 20mins for the food to be delivered, on more than one occasion we waited longer than 20mins just for them to answer the phone, when they eventually did their understanding of the English language was limited and ultimately they got the order wrong. The quality of the food was poor and the waiters who delivered were generally rude if you did not tip them, on one occasion my wife ask the waiter to take a tray away with some used plates on it, he snatched the tray and left, half an hour later we left our cabin to find he had dumped the tray outside the cabin next door. Entertainment I have to say that with a few exceptions the entertainment was very poor especially as this was Christmas/New Year and 20 long days so you would think that Princess would make an effort (Push the boat out) so to speak. I have to admit that I don't like dancing & singing costume type shows or should I say miming shows (Backstage tour guy said they don't even sing) and therefore can't offer an opinion on these. The exceptions were Deep Blue a 5 piece band from Trinidad who played in club fusion most nights and were very good, also The Sapphire Princess Orchestra were outstanding together with the exceptional string quartet whose name escapes me, the pianist was ok together with Allan & Lodonna. Bernhard Reid the comedy magician was amusing and the Checkerboard Guy was good, however most of the rest were quite simply appalling. Masquerade a four piece band from Las Vegas were the worst band I have ever had the misfortune to listen to, they quite simply could not sing or play their instruments properly, one day whilst playing by the pool I witness them stop and restart the same song 3 times, the female singer forgot the words regularly and the guitarist regularly played the wrong notes and would stop playing mid song. Ventriloquist Kenny Byrd was strictly for kids but was billed as suitable for adults, the two American comedian were past there sell by dates and fluffed there lines regularly, the hypnotist took 30mins to explain his very average show and 15mins to perform it, there were other who were instantly forgettable. The daytime activities were nonexistent unless you include the following: Trivia Challenge, Card & Games Get Together, Pictionary & not forgetting the unforgettable Afternoon Trivia Challenge. On a sea day it could become quite tedious and boring and this would force you to attend thing like the overpriced art auction or bingo just to pass the day especially if the weather was not good. I went to the library once which is quite simply not big enough and only contained a very poor selection of a few hundred books when I looked. Just a note on the bingo, I have to say this does not appear to be good value for money, they would regularly take receipts on ticket sales of several thousand dollars per bingo session yet with the exception of the final day would only give a few hundred dollars in prize money, and this should be looked into. I found the cruise director Sami likeable, approachable and professional in her job, unfortunately the same could not be said for her English female colleagues, they didn't seem to grasp the concept of the microphone and would regularly wail and shout into the mouthpiece with their high pitched shrill and patronizing verbal diarrhea, this had to be endured on a daily basis. My final word on the entertainment is regarding New Year Eve, the main event was the atrium, not an ideal place to find a seat or get a drink yet this was deemed suitable for a New Years eve party, the other option was the indoor Pool on deck 14, the heat was incredible 90deg + and everyone in their formal dress, the problem with a pool party is the pool is in the way and there are very few chairs, no dance floor & it's too hot! however there was a great venue on the ship to have a new years eve party, Club Fusion, lots of seats, great bar, fantastic stage and lights, big dance floor, air conditioned. So what's the problem? They thought it would be a good idea to show a film there on New Year! Why? I was really fed up at the pool party but ended up in the skywalkers disco which was not very busy at all until about 1am and ended up having a fantastic night despite my moaning. Destinations This was the main reason we picked this particular cruise was the great ports it visited, one thing we learnt early on is that organized tours are very poor value for money and we always make our own way independently. Our first port was Ko samui, this was by tender and very time consuming, a complete contrast to Bangkok and a nice place, however we had a bad tender experience returning to the ship after queuing for a long time to return we boarded a local boat that was being used along with the Sapphire tenders, after reaching the ship we floated around in the sea a few hundred yards from the ship for about an hour for no apparent reason, when we eventually boarded the ship I asked the security guy why we had been bobbing about for over an hour on the sea, he said he was unable to tell me as the Thai crew spoke no English and no Princess crew were on board, surely this must be a serious safety issue? I have to say that because of the size of Sapphire Princess we had to tender the majority of ports, this was both time consuming and tedious, taking away almost half of your allotted time ashore on some occasions, also when you did arrive ashore there would inevitably be a 45min shuttle bus ride to the nearest town and these would finish an hour before the last tender, reducing your time ashore even further, call me cynical but when you are ashore you are not spending on the ship and that doesn't bode well with Princess. Singapore was great as was Vietnam and Malaysia different and interesting. We had a further 7 sea days separated by our first stop in Darwin Australia on New Year's Day. Now I don't know about you but I don't think this was the best bit of planning I have ever seen, I feel sure with a bit of thought we could have managed a sea day on the first hangover of the year and just to add insult to injury a late start was out of the question as you had to be back onboard by 3pm, Darwin for all intents and purposes was closed. A further two great Australian ports before we sailed majestically into Sydney harbour at 5.30am, we managed to get a great spec above the bridge and it is an occasion that I won't ever forget, bringing this cruise to a memorable and fitting conclusion. Conclusion Despite what you may think we had a really great time on this cruise, however we could have had an even better time given a few changes by Princess. There is no doubt that this is a magnificent ship, however I do feel that Princess have gone too far to get more and more dollars out of you, in addition I have never queued so much in my life for almost everything, I think it's disgraceful that they charge your onboard account with a "Discretionary" $11 dollars per day per person (almost an additional $1000 with 2 kids in tow) You should cancel this as soon as you board and tip as you see fit and not allow this to be used as a subsidy to Princess disgraceful pay structure, together with the additional charges to get a decent meal, charges for coffee, and ice cream, constant cameras in your face revenue raising, a further 15% on drinks, the outrageous charges made by the spa & the grossly inefficient and overpriced internet connections. But the thing that annoys me the most is the grossly unfair practice that dependant on your country of origin will depend on how much you pay, we paid $25,000 for 2 inside cabins and flights, no hotels, we came across Australians, Canadians and Americans who paid on average 40% less than we did, this cannot be right and leaves a bad taste in the mouth and smacks of sharp practice, this should be stopped. Finally the 21 rule, this ship is registered in Hamilton and flies under the British Ensign, Princess target the British market were we can drink alcohol at 18, it does not sail from the USA and is not required by law to have an age 21 rule, so why? P&O and Cunard both have an 18 rule, why am I bothered? Because this rule is unnecessary and unreasonable, surely if the Americans don't want their children to drink alcohol then they can stop them, don't enforce it on others who can drink sensibly, this stupid rule effectively ruined my 20 year olds son holiday. Read Less
Sail Date January 2008
This was our tenth cruise and our second one on the Sapphire Princess. We sailed on this ship when it was new in 2004 and enjoyed it very much so we were interested in doing this longer cruise over the Christmas and New Year holidays. My ... Read More
This was our tenth cruise and our second one on the Sapphire Princess. We sailed on this ship when it was new in 2004 and enjoyed it very much so we were interested in doing this longer cruise over the Christmas and New Year holidays. My husband and I are in our sixties and live on the Gold Coast in Queensland Australia. We usually have long flights to join cruises in Europe and the US but this time it was only a seven and a half hour flight to Singapore where we stayed overnight in order to see the Christmas Lights. The next morning we took a short one and a half hour flight to Bangkok for our operational overnight stay that we had booked with Princess. This turned out well because our transfers went smoothly and the Menam Riverside hotel in Bangkok was a pleasant place to stay. We had the advantage of being able to check in with Princess at the hotel so that embarkation was a breeze the following day. It took about 3 hours to get to the port but this took longer than usual because of road works. Once on board we found our cabin on Caribe deck and were happy to see that we had a large balcony with nice blue mesh chairs and flooring. The cabin was nicely laid out with good storage space and plenty of coat hangers. The shower was quite small but manageable. We met Marvin, our cabin steward, who looked after us very well for the duration of the cruise. We unpacked our suitcases before muster and then joined our Cruise Critic friends in the Oasis bar. We had already met some of them at the hotel but now we were able to match more names to faces. We were all excited to be at the sailaway together and were looking forward to our 20 day cruise! The ship is large and beautiful. It's one of the Grand Class ships and carries 2800 passengers. The dEcor is classy and elegant with lovely artwork and a pleasing color scheme throughout. I won't go into too many details as a full ship's review can be found elsewhere on this website. It takes a while to explore the ship fully and find your way around but we had been on this ship before so it was easier for us this time! We had opted for anytime dining rather than the traditional dining and I'm glad we did because it was fun eating in the various restaurants and also convenient to eat at different times. We usually booked ahead when we had figured out our plans for the day but sometimes we changed times and it was no problem. Sometimes we ate with friends or on our own and at other times we joined a big table where we met some interesting people from all over the world and from all walks of life. We rotated between the Pacific Moon, Savoy, Vivaldi and Santa Fe restaurants in the evening. In the morning we sometimes had breakfast in the International dining room and at other times we ate buffet-style in Horizon Court. On port days we ordered breakfast in our cabin and ate on the balcony. The restaurant and the room service was consistently good. On occasion we enjoyed afternoon tea in the International dining room. One time when we were at afternoon tea a passenger was being rude to one of the waiters. He told the waiter he was stupid and this irked me because the waiters are often trying so hard to give good service. I loved it when my husband defended the waiter and told the passenger that he would be more likely to get good service if he wasn't so rude! The food was very good everywhere on board and there were only a couple of meals we didn't like. We usually had a drink on our balcony at sailaway and then ordered wine at the dinner table. We occasionally ordered drinks at the bar or in the lounges. The entertainers were not as good as on our last Sapphire Princess cruise but the production shows with the talented singers and dancers were very good. Lenny Windsor, the comedian, was quite amusing and we also enjoyed the dynamic singer Caron Kate Blackwell and her husband, comedian Marty Allen. The best band of all was Deep Blue who managed to get everyone dancing and having fun. What a talented group! They usually played in Club Fusion or around the pool deck. The captain was Attilio Guerini. The cruise director was Sammi Baker who was quite a live spark around the ship. Her assistant Sam was a wonderful teacher for the dance classes together with Tom who also organized the virtual golf team competition on some of the sea days. We went once to the bingo and also to the wooden horse races on a sea day and it was good fun. After attending one of Brad Coates rather uninspiring lectures on Achieving Personal & Financial Freedom in mid-life we decided to free ourselves of him before the next lecture! Christmas Day Santa arrived in the Atrium on Christmas Day. We listened to the announcement that he would be arriving by helicopter to give the children their presents! There were Christmas carols in the Atrium on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day. It was fun joining in and watching the children receive their gifts from Santa. The snow machine was an excellent idea and really helped to get everyone into the spirit of things. New Year's Eve A fun time for everyone! We had dinner with friends and then got changed out of our formal dress to attend the pool deck party where Deep Blue was playing. We danced the night away and brought in the New Year with our friends and other passengers. Now to the ports and what we did there. Koh Samui We joined four of our Cruise Critic friends on a private tour, Mr.Ung's Magical Safari,in Koh Samui. We travelled in a jeep which was a bit bumpy but made for some good fun rides! We visited the elephant, crocodile and monkey shows before going on an elephant ride along a winding path through the forest. We managed to get some great photos of us on the ride. We went to a waterfall and gardens before having a delicious Thai lunch at a scenic viewpoint high up in the mountains. We all enjoyed the day and had a lot of laughs together! Singapore We had been to Singapore before so we decided to explore the Tanglin Rd area and the Botanic Gardens, which are lovely and have some beautiful orchids as well as other tropical plants. On the way there we were invited into the newly opened St. Regis hotel and had an interesting conversation with the assistant manager. She introduced us to the butler who took us around the hotel and showed us the bedrooms. They were absolutely lovely and the bathrooms had a plasma TV on the mirror next to the bath - quite an innovative idea! It was a hot day so on the way back from the gardens we called into one of the shopping centers and had a cool drink before catching the shuttle back to the ship. Vietnam We had booked the Ho Chi Minh City on your own tour with Princess. We drove through little villages with run-down shops and houses. It was interesting to watch the people in cone shaped hats riding bicycles and mopeds and going about their daily business. In about two hours we arrived in HCM. I've never seen so many motorcycles on the road all hurrying to get to their destination without stopping to let anyone across the road. We managed to survive by just crossing over and letting them go around us otherwise we would never have got to the other side! Shopping was fun at the markets! We bought shirts, pants, sunglasses and hats at absolutely ridiculous prices! Finally we went up to the rooftop lounge of the famous Rex Hotel for a well- deserved drink! The buffet up there was quite cheap and the food looked good but we weren't hungry enough so we decided to wait until we got back on board. Kota Kinabalu Another private tour booked on the internet with KK tours by one of our friends. Henry was our guide and he spoke good English. First he took us to the water village which was situated in a sea of mud with rubbish everywhere! The houses were on stilts and living conditions were poor and far from sanitary! I thought of my own very comfortable home and was thankful I didn't live there! It was an interesting experience! The next stop was a Chinese temple where we took photos. Then we arrived at the Monsopiad Cultural Village to see the headhunter's house of skulls and the traditional cultural show. It was all very interesting and I would recommend this tour to anyone else. Darwin It was a very hot and humid day so we just went into the city for a look around. We took a taxi to Mindil beach and walked along the sands( no one swimming here because of the deadly box jellyfish!) It was New Year's Day so there wasn't too much happening. We were glad to get out of the heat and back into the ship's air conditioning! Cairns We live in Queensland so we had been here before. We decided to go to the little tourist town of Port Douglas with the Princess tour bus. It was another very hot day so we walked along the main street to Four Mile beach for an hour or so and back to the Old Court House hotel where we sat upstairs on the verandah and had a light lunch and a cool beer. The pretty coastal drive was about 40 minutes each way and we were back on the ship by 3.00pm. Airlie Beach We were lucky with the weather again! After a quick shower at the start it turned out to be a beautiful day. We decided to visit the markets first and then we explored the town. It had changed for the better since the last time we were there. A lagoon area and a boardwalk had been added as well as more sand on the little beach. Luckily we missed the floods that came just after our visit! Brisbane We stayed on the ship as we live just a one hour drive from here. We had the ship to ourselves for the day apart from a few others who probably lived there too. We sat around the pool, read our books and had a nice lunch. It was a very relaxing day! Sydney We were lucky to get a late disembarkation time as our flight from Sydney to the Gold Coast didn't leave until 1.30pm. It was very well organized and on time but we had to wait almost an hour for a taxi as there were two other ships docked in Sydney that day. But that was fine as we had plenty of time before our flight home. Summary On this ship you can really " Escape Completely" as they say in the Princess ads! There were many sea days when you could either do your own thing or join in the many activities provided. We had a fabulous time but we didn't feel as though we had to join in everything. We used our balcony a lot and enjoyed watching the sailaways before dinner. Meeting up with new friends from Cruise Critic really enhanced our cruise and we hope to meet some of them again soon. We met some people who were rude to the staff and complained about everything but you will always get those unhappy people on cruises or anywhere you travel - just move away from them! We met some lovely people on board and all were enjoying the cruise as much as we were. We saw some parents who let their children run around unsupervised on the ship at night but we also met some very polite children who were well controlled by their parents. I wish Princess would stop young children from running around in the bars and lounges late at night. It annoys other passengers and it's also dangerous when drinks are being served. We are looking forward to our next cruise on the Sapphire Princess when she sails from Sydney to Los Angeles in April. Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
Booked the cruise in September 06, three months before flight schedules came out in January 07 - despite asking for World Traveller Plus seating on BA direct flights, were given Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong (as were quite a number of early ... Read More
Booked the cruise in September 06, three months before flight schedules came out in January 07 - despite asking for World Traveller Plus seating on BA direct flights, were given Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong (as were quite a number of early booking passengers we talked to). Would this have something to do with it being cheaper to fly indirect? The Sapphire Princess is a very large and beautiful ship but in our opinion, it is being mismanaged through incompetent staff, not to mention the cost cutting exercises - Captain's Champagne party where the captain did not attend, not was champagne served; instead we were given a very cheap sparkling wine. We didn't dare ask for red or white wine having sampled that once before (couldn't even drink that!). We booked for quite a number of shore excursions (mainly because they told us there wasn't going to be any taxis at the container ports where we were due to dock). They were overpriced; badly organized and were without exception late in taking off - however they always returned on time! The food in the dining room was mediocre at best - not what we have come to expect from this class of cruising. The dress code was ignored completely - a fellow diner in the International Restaurant wore denim jeans, T-shirt and baseball cap throughout his meal. Since the Maitre 'D was laughing and joking with him, he obviously thought it acceptable dress. The entertainment again was not up to the standard expected; the production shows were quite good but the hypnotist, comedian and juggler were very poor - we, like quite a number of others, left after ten minutes. They were more suitable for a pantomine. The group who sang in Club Fusion most nights were very good (I think they were called Deep Blue) but we felt the other group shouted rather than sang. We only attended the final Bingo session but personally witnessed an 85 year old man being deprived of half of the $5000 jackpot caused through the incompetence of the entertainment staff, i.e. David. Twice they agreed to half the winnings and twice reversed the decision - how ridiculous. We were one of the first ones to embark the ship and went straight to the library to get some books as we had quite number of days at sea - what a disappointment. The shelves were fairly empty. We visited the gymnasium on a number of occasions - plenty of equipment but absolutely no-one to show us how to use the machines. Tried to make enquiries to get some tuition but without any success. Surely there should have been someone there if only for safety reasons. Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
Sapphire Princess Bangkok to Auckland December 20/07 - January 21/08 For my wife and I, this was our 28th cruise together, our fifth and sixth with this line. Truly, it was an outstanding itinerary. The first 20 days, from Bangkok to ... Read More
Sapphire Princess Bangkok to Auckland December 20/07 - January 21/08 For my wife and I, this was our 28th cruise together, our fifth and sixth with this line. Truly, it was an outstanding itinerary. The first 20 days, from Bangkok to Sydney, visited exotic Asian ports before cruising along Australia's northeast coast. It's a long way from home so we opted to continue on for 12 more days to six more ports, ending in Auckland. Embarkation was reasonably quick but our pre-registry both on-line at during our pre-cruise hotel stay failed to avoid a line-up. The ship was late leaving because of a medical emergency. If the captain had maintained a speed two knots faster, he'd have made our first port, Koh Samui, on time; as it was, the late arrival threw shore-tour arrangements into disarray. Tendering ashore, we discovered, is not a Princess strong suit. The Sapphire is too big to moor at some cruise terminals, so we'd be bused in from a container dock. The tour office insisted on assembling us in groups on board before anyone could proceed ashore; a bus-number sticker was required before assembly. This rampant bureaucracy delayed every tour but one of all those we took in our 14 ports. I saw no evidence whatsoever that anyone in the shore excursion office had ever taken any of the tours they sold. The ports, however, were fascinating, none more so than Vung Tau, the (far-away) gateway to Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City), which is a teeming place of seven million people and three million motorbikes. They're officially communists in Vietnam, though no one seems too worked up about it. At our next stop came an incident which illustrated how the people who ran the ship dealt with the passengers. After leaving Kota Kinabalu, we anchored offshore and a fuel barge came alongside for much longer than seemed normal. A rumor swept the ship: we'd run aground and had fuel offloaded, then reloaded after floating free! The cruise director denied the tale and pooh-poohed any notion that we should be told what actually happened, so the rumor fed itself. Many days later, we found out the truth: bunkering was not allowed at the dock in that port, so the fuel barge came alongside; its flow rate - 50 liters per minute instead of the expected 300 - kept it in place for many more hours than had been planned. But tell us? Nope. Communication about arrival times from Bridge to passengers was generally non-existent. And the daily Princess Patter might as well have been written in Los Angeles for all the help it was. Still free of charge, though. A daily newspaper, absent one written on board, cost from $3.75 to $15. The pattern continued: interesting ports on shore, myriad minor annoyances on board. And oh yes, the nickel-and-diming. Princess has turned squeezing every last dollar out of every last passenger into an art form. All the big lines do it to some degree; this one is by far the most egregious. Pay $3 for pizza delivered to your room, pay $5 for a rose, pay $25 for an 8x10 picture, pay 75 cents a minute for the Internet (plus another dollar for coffee in the Internet cafe), pay $3.50 a day for a soda card, pay up to 30 per cent more than the market rate for on-board currency exchange, pay for soft ice cream and freshly-squeezed orange juice on the Lido Deck. Never mind sky-high spa prices, very pricey shore tours and pushing sales of bottled water when we got it for free on every tour but one; one takes all that for granted, at least on this ship. There were some strong positives. The Princess Theatre is, in my view, the best showroom afloat: technically first-class, great sight-lines, great chairs. But at 700 seats, it's small for a ship carrying 2,700 and more passengers. The Brian Harding Orchestra was the best we've heard on a cruise, and all but one of the lounge bands were excellent; also the string quartet. The guest entertainers - comedians, jugglers, magicians, singers and the like - were pleasant but second-rank. Not one lifted the audience from the seats. The Princess singer/dancers were very good (particularly, after I met her on a back-stage tour, the nice blonde one from South Africa). We found the ship very clean, the cabin storage space very good, the service at the front desk pleasant and efficient. Disabled access is excellent in public areas: we saw several passengers happily moving about in electric scooters. Once we got our room steward working on our schedule and not his, he did a fine job. Breakfast room service was very punctual. The extra-cost Sterling Steakhouse was fine, though you paid $15 each for a meal that used to be served in the main dining room. The safety briefing and lifeboat drill was far and away the best we've been through: serious, informative and very thorough. And the line's website was easy to navigate and use. Now the negatives, nickel-and-diming apart. The lounges were well-designed for selling and serving alcoholic drinks, but not well set up for daytime events. I don't drink alcohol and I got very tired of Diet Coke, there being no mocktail of the day or lemonade available. The only forward-facing view lounge is Skywalkers, the late-night disco all the way aft. It was barely used during the day, but made a very quiet spot to put your feet up and read. Standard cabins, despite excellent storage space and quiet cooling fans, had the smallest shower stall I've experienced at sea, with inadequate hand-holds. The Horizon Court buffet on Deck 14 has too few seats and a very confused system of food selection which forces passengers to squeeze past each other to move through it. The food variety was poor and the quality mediocre. Bar service on this deck (and others as well) was slower than should be the case. We opted for the second sitting of 'Traditional Dining;' Despite excellent wait-staff at our table, we had trouble getting to the 10:15 shows on time in the first 20-day segment. Our second segment, 12 days to Auckland, began in Sydney, the pier a medium walk from the opera house, a work of genius from any angle. What a joy it was to experience the port as 2,500 people rushed to get off and an equal number rushed to get on. The mood changed. It was as if someone had read the Riot Act to the crew about the quality of service. The new cruise director, a solid pro, was a vast improvement on his predecessor. We always got to the shows on time. The shore-tour desk was no better organized, but the ports were interesting and the weather had cooled to a pleasant level. On January 21, we docked in Auckland and Princess got us off the ship efficiently. We got home to find that readers of a distinguished travel magazine had ranked Sapphire Princess last among big ships; not exactly a surprise to us. Were I a shareholder I would be both pleased with the impressive generation of on-board revenue and concerned that the number of passengers turned off by nickel-and-diming will outnumber those attracted by even deeper fare discounts. We had a wonderful cruise, have planned another on a much smaller Princess ship, but won't recommend this line without very compelling reasons which trump the problems we encountered. Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
Please enter your review. I have to agree with the review by Victor Meldrew. I am Canadian and travelled on this same cruise with my husband. We stayed precruise(booked through Princess) in Bangkok at the ShangriLa, where we have ... Read More
Please enter your review. I have to agree with the review by Victor Meldrew. I am Canadian and travelled on this same cruise with my husband. We stayed precruise(booked through Princess) in Bangkok at the ShangriLa, where we have previously stayed. Our stay was marred by the horrific flight we had courtesy of Princess with a 7 hour layover in Hong Kong having flown approx. 18 hours from Toronto -totally unacceptable in my book. Needless to say we were both exhausted on arrival which I have to say was executed perfectly.On arrival at the hotel we were greeted with a welcome drink but were shown to a city view room-this was quickly changed and we had the riverview as expected. We were too tired to do much sightseeing-fortunately we have been to Bangkok twice before so had seen the major sights. We had a precruise check-in at the hotel which was well done but the transfer could have been better as the driver and the guide got us lost and we ended up in Pattaya!! However we got on the ship in record time and found our cabin easily and were greeted warmly by our cabin steward,Robert. We proceeded to the Horizon Court buffet.The selection of food was always good but its arrangement a little confusing at times, e.g. bread in one area and butter in a totally different area! We didn't eat here often as found it to be very crowded most of the time, inspite of its size. I agree with Victor Meldrew regarding the restaurant arrangements-we too opted for anytime dining after the first night but on more than one occasion we were unable to be seated at the restaurant of our choice and were usually accommodated at another but not without a wait time of some sort. One M'D that was outstanding and always accommodating to us was Robert at Pacific Moon-a favorite of ours. The food was acceptable but not outstanding. I agree that the Eastern European waiters were surly and not welcoming at all. The Thai, Indian and Filipino waiters were always pleasant but you can't choose when you're on anytime dining. One outstanding night was New Year's Eve when we had booked a table for 10 at Pacific Moon- I have to say Princess went overboard on that evening with super party hats and tiaras for the ladies and supplied the necessary noisemakers, balloons etc. that go with New Year's. Some of our party proceeded to the atrium which was very crowded in anticipation of the midnight hour but it was a magical atmosphere, especially at midnight with the balloon drop.We ended the evening at the Skywalker's Disco and had a terrific time till the small hours. This of course was marred by our port day at Darwin the next day, when everyone was somewhat fragile and to find Darwin essentially closed for New Year's Day! Princess could surely arrange their itinerary so that after 4 sea days we weren't in port on New Year's day!! The entertainment was very poor on such a large ship, especially as this was a Christmas/New Year's cruise and we found ourselves and our new found friends making our own entertainment most of the time!! We had a very nice balcony cabin on Aloha Deck but were amazed to find ourselves overlooking the balcony and mini-suite cabins below us-surely a serious flaw of this particular ship.We had early breakfast,actually just coffee and juice,in our cabin most days and it was delivered promptly and politely each day, while we drank it overlooking our fellow-cruisers down below! Although the ship is beautiful with plenty of space, it is not without its problems once in port.On most occasions we had to dock in horrible container ports because of our size and were shuttled into the various cities(at Princess'expense-otherwise there would have been mutiny!) This cut down on the time in port and we found we always had to rush to get the bus back to the ship. Princess should also be reprimanded for not being honest about facilities for independent travellers in ports.As I realize this is taking away from their vast profits on their shore excursions, they could at least be honest about what is available.We are not lovers of the Princess tour excursions in any event and we always find our own way around with new found friends and have a lot more fun. Some of the tour prices were prohibitive for many and some of the obscene prices were outrageous! Overall, we enjoyed the cruise and Princess went over and above with the Christmas and New Year's festivities. Our total Princess experience was good apart from our inbound flight. Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
Boarded at Bangkok, absolute chaos, we were lucky as, after boarding priority passengers, they opened a gate adjacent to our place in "queue" and we boarded easily after that. Ship sailed late because of boarding problems. ... Read More
Boarded at Bangkok, absolute chaos, we were lucky as, after boarding priority passengers, they opened a gate adjacent to our place in "queue" and we boarded easily after that. Ship sailed late because of boarding problems. Company advice to avoid delays by coming after 1300 was rubbish. Once aboard cabin was excellent clean and equipped as expected. Luggage delivered smartly - it beat us. Boat drill not outside as we have had with other cruise lines so was it effective? Meals in dining room were excellent but service was erratic, often slow. The buffet area meals were reasonable but the layout and service appalling, it was changed along the way, going from terrible to just bad, best avoided. The entertainment, after a shaky start with a team replaced after first port was outstanding, the resident dance and band team excellent. The various ports visited, Singapore, Vietnam(2) Hong Kong, Okinawa, Shanghai, Nagasaki were all fascinating and well organized for tours or by courtesy bus to the port town. Taipei was not so interesting. However because of the ships size it tended to berth or anchor some distance away from the port`s center, although bussing was arranged taking time out of the visit. The highlight was the evening departure sail between Hong Kong and Kowloon when all the buildings were illuminated and the ship`s music was playing, memorable. Disembarkation was reasonable given the number of passengers. Overall an excellent holiday cruise with Sapphire Princess but not up to the standard we have enjoyed before in our many cruises with Celebrity. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
PreCruise: Fabulous stay at the Bangkok Intercontinental - newly refurbished, lovely room on the club floor, wonderful included breakfasts, snacks, afternoon cocktail hour, concierge services. We booked with Oriental Escape for 'door ... Read More
PreCruise: Fabulous stay at the Bangkok Intercontinental - newly refurbished, lovely room on the club floor, wonderful included breakfasts, snacks, afternoon cocktail hour, concierge services. We booked with Oriental Escape for 'door to door' service - airport pickup, tours, drop off at the port, pickup on our return and drop off at the Novotel, another very pleasant hotel with excellent service. Must sees in Bangkok are the Grand Palace, Wat Po, the Golden, Jade, and Reclining Buddhas, a long tail boat ride and, if you can manage it, the morning floating market. Tailor made clothing is high quality and relatively inexpensive - DH had a wonderful dinner jacket and tuxedo trousers, dress shirt made to order in a mere three days and fit and finish were exquisite, from Rajawongse Tailors adjacent to the Landmark Hotel. Embarkation: Not as bad as some, but a long drive out from Bangkok, and roads are not the best, and crowds were pretty heavy, even though we arrived later in the day. Not much going on in the way of 'expedited' boarding for Platinum and Elite passengers. Luggage arrived promptly, once we were on board. Cabin: We booked one of the fabled aft corner cabins on Caribe deck - C748. Cabin size is typical of a BB balcony cabin, balcony size is somewhat larger, views from the balcony were nice, but the cabin had significant vibration during certain maneuvers and some engine noise as well. Bottom line - not sure what the fuss is all about and we won't be trying that hard to get another aft balcony cabin - it is a long long way from everything! Passenger Mix: Far fewer North American/US passengers than is usual with Princess. Large groups from France, Germany, and Russia, less than 45% US/Canadian. Relatively fewer Platinum/Elite than might be expected on such a long and exotic itinerary. Mostly 40ish and up, not many children or family groups. Labeling in the buffet given in English, German, and Russian. Announcements were given in English, sometimes but not always repeated in German. Entertainment: A few newer shows - a couple we hadn't seen, including Ports of Call, and the older Piano Man, which we had somehow missed on prior cruises. Usual mix of magicians, jugglers, hypnotists, singers, with the additional attraction of a children's acrobatic troupe in Shanghai and a group of entertainers that included a wide range of talents representing the various cultures in Singapore (?) - from a plate spinning Chinese acrobat to an Indian snake charmer. Local shows were by far the most entertaining and interesting. Daily activities: The usual mix of bridge, bingo, arts and crafts, lectures, port talks, trivia - mostly too cool for pool games, etc. Library is a bit small and under-supplied for a ship this size, but the passenger exchange section had quite a range of selections in multiple languages. Evenings included the usual round of tv game-show look alikes, talent shows, and lounge acts. Other offerings: The Hong Kong tailors came on board mid-cruise and were there doing measurements and fabric selections for delivery in Hong Kong or by mail. Hyping on the in-room tv and by announcement did get a bit tedious, though, and prices were significantly higher than those in Bangkok for similar quality. Shore Excursions: The excursions desk was somewhat more helpful to independent travelers than is sometimes the case, and port talks were generally good to excellent, with good availability of the port lecturers for questions at regular intervals at the excursions desk. Internet: The internet cafe redesign is a marvelous improvement and service was, for the most part, good. Charges for internet for Platinum and Elite passengers seems to have reduced the crowding and we very rarely saw a line for terminals. General Notes on Sapphire Princess made during the cruise: Incongruous in an otherwise largely Asian 'look' or theme ship is the 'cowboy' carpet at the aft elevators on Deck 7 and the western themed Club Fusion, which has replaced the Vista Lounge. Updated in look and feel, with multiple screens rather than unobstructed stage views that characterized the old Vista Lounge. Club Fusion serves as the bingo venue during the day and a range of entertainment in the evening from the contests such as Princess Idol to combos and lounge acts, Country and Western Night. The oddly positioned Wake View Bar is reached by spiral staircase more or less behind the stage/dance floor and is arguably the best kept secret on the ship. Cozy and leather bound, but also western themed, this small bar is a cozy hide away even during very busy evenings in Club Fusion above. Club Fusion entertainment is shown in the bar on closed circuit TV screens. Sabatini's - well worth the extra charge, Sabatini's - a signature Princess venue is located near the photo gallery and adjacent to the much improved, expanded Internet cafe. Particularly noteworthy are the excellent tomato and seafood soup, perfectly prepared crisp and tender calamari, and heavenly coffee flavored crème brulee. Service is extraordinary, attentive without being oppressive, and the entire menu is delightful. Excellent entrEe choices include the veal chop and the lobster tail. Try for a table by the window for a people watching opportunity along the outside Promenade deck. Sterling Steakhouse - so so - set up evenings out of part of the Horizon Court - surprisingly effective as it looks good, but the steaks aren't as good as I remember them from other ships - filet is pretty good, but DH's rib eye was virtually inedible. We did get that meal comp, so no harm done, but it should be better Pacific Moon, Savoy Grill, Sante Fe - personal choice dining rooms. The new design has cut up the large dining rooms into smaller, more intimate and restaurant like rooms, with more small tables - twos and fours and much lower noise levels. Service seems to have also improved in the new settings, perhaps due to the smaller table sizes or other changes in the patterns of staffing. Specialty restaurants - originally conceived as having totally separate menus, have been reduced to a specialty dish, verbally announced, in keeping with the restaurant theme, with the balance of the menu continuing to be the 'standard' Princess offerings. Pacific Moon's specialty is a seafood noodle stir-fry, Santa Fe's is a chicken, beef, or combo fajita, and Savoy's is a grilled pork chop. A new fund raising effort is the offering of bottled sparkling or still water in lieu of 'regular' water. It is not always announced that these choices carry and extra charge, and this can be an unpleasant surprise at the close of the meal. Coffee specialties such as espressos and lattes, previously offered for free in the dining rooms, are now also at extra charge, but this is listed on the menu. The International Dining Room is the traditional fixed seating venue, and Vivaldi's is a 'split' between early seating, as a fixed seating venue, and open personal choice after 8:15 PM. Horizon Court - during the day, both sides offer buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner, later in the evening, one section converts to the steakhouse - Sterling, an extra cost venue, offering grilled beef, chicken and seafood, but generally this has been a high quality beef lovers venue, with traditional sides like baked potatoes. The use of curtaining and table linens makes the conversion surprisingly successful, and the look and feel of the Sterling Steakhouse is quite nice. The tenderloin filet in two sizes is one of the better choices, and a steak ordered rare is more likely to come cooked that way than in the dining rooms. The Wheelhouse Bar, a Princess staple, has been relocated to a position formerly occupied by the Sterling Steakhouse restaurants and the Internet cafes on most of the Grand class ships. The look and feel is the same, warm dark woods and leather, nautical prints and artifacts. The Princess Theater access is on the starboard side of the Wheelhouse, and there is no hallway along the port side. This tends to make the Wheelhouse a thoroughfare during the exits from shows. The small Writing Room, adjacent to the Future Cruise Desk and the Library on the other side, it is open to the atrium area on deck 5, and not particularly quiet. There are games and puzzles available at the writing room, the library, and Wheelhouse Bar. There is no card room on the Sapphire. Bridge lectures are held in one of the specialty dining rooms, and card players find locations throughout the ship - principally the Wheelhouse, the tables around the Calypso Pool and in some of the other lounges. The Library is a bit small and restricted for the size of the ship. Typical sea day activities include morning and afternoon trivia and bingo, two or more 'Scholarship at Sea' lectures and activities, a port talk, a movie, paddle tennis, shuffleboard, or other competitions, as well as line and ball room dance classes, food and beverage department demonstrations of everything from cocktail mixing to sushi making to ice carving. Staple evening entertainment include passenger participation takes on popular television shows - Princess Pop Star, Ballroom Blitz, Peer Factor, Crazy Cases - a take off on Deal or No Deal - and Princess "Jep-R-Dee, 'Scarey-oke' and the usual Passenger Talent Show. In the absence of the Vista Lounge, movies for both afternoon and evening are shown in the Explorer's Lounge, open to the light and traffic passing by. Princess Theater is the venue for the production shows, as well as most of the headliner acts, with the Wheelhouse, Explorer's, and Club Fusion hosting some of the individual performers, the dance combos, games, competitions, and musical variety acts. Churchill's is a smoking lounge; Skywalker's is the disco as well as a nice place to get away to during the day. Crooner's Lounge is the piano bar. Featured "nights" include Country and Western, the usual Island Night, and special holiday events should one occur on a given cruise. Typical ones would include Halloween trick or treating and costume contests, Easter Egg hunts, and the like and the Food and Beverage Department goes all out for decorations as well. Other offerings include one or two extra cost wine tastings, longer cruises may also feature a special 'higher end' tasting with more expensive wines and food pairings. Culinary demonstrations are also offered throughout the cruise. Standard to all cruises is the culinary competition - typically a comic presentation - followed by the galley tour. The ever-present art auctions are held either in the gallery itself, or in the Explorers Lounge Production shows - newer shows "Do you wanna dance," "Ports of Call," are less dependent on props and scenery changes than the older "Words and Music". Piano Man was also shown during this cruise. Pleasant and lower key, with good singing and dancing. Sophisticated lighting and simplified stage props, together with costume changes are emphasized instead. 'Do you wanna dance' is very high energy, with many types of dance featured from fifties rock and roll to waltzes and other ball room dances, to a 'Riverdance' tribute, good dancing and singing and gorgeous costuming. Wheelhouse Bar - something is 'off' as far as the sound system or acoustics, as the music always seems to be too loud for the size and style of the room. Live and piped in music are both too loud to allow for comfortable conversational levels. However, dance enthusiasts seem to enjoy the floor and the live music. Daytime uses include trivia and other game activities, as well as 'special interest' meetings some of which connect passenger professionals with their on board equivalents-one example being a meeting of engineers which featured some of the ship's engineering professionals who generously answered technical questions about the functioning of the ship in several areas. Combos in Club Fusion do not always attract the audience they deserve. Recently the excellent Jamaican vocalist/combo Deep Blue played to nearly empty rooms, perhaps because the venue is hard to figure out. Participation in the games is also lower as it is hard to engage people in a setting that seems more designed to facilitate conversation at round or semicircular table/sofa/chair sections many of which face away from the stage area. Theoretically, they can follow the action via the many television screens, but this doesn't seem to work very well. We were on back to back so didn't disembark in Beijing, although we did have quite the adventure. We were the only in transit passengers on board, and had arranged our own excursion to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall through Beijing Service - great tour, wonderful guide (Cindy) and all was going well until the return trip when we encountered a traffic accident. We did have the contact information for the port agent and wonderful Cindy immediately got in contact with them to let them know what was going on, and the immigration folks waited a few extra minutes for us to return. We made it back, as it turned out, with time to spare as far as the ship's departure time, but without Cindy and the ship's agents assistance, we would not have been able to clear immigration and would have been left on the dock - as happened to an artist who was joining the ship, and who didn't catch up with us until Shanghai. Disembarkation in Bangkok at Laem Chabang was pretty quick, but we did have an issue with the tour we had booked, and ended up not doing it, as our guide never did show up. Our driver was there on time, though, and took us to the airport Novotel hotel, which was a nice stay with a shuttle in the morning to the adjacent terminal. Ports and Tours Singapore: The ship docks in a container port about 40 or so minutes by bus from downtown. A free shuttle takes you to the DFS Center on Scotts Street, but shuttles don't begin running right away, so if you are planning a private tour, you might want to schedule it for about an hour and a half after the listed arrival time, to be safe. It didn't appear that local tours or taxis were being allowed at the pier, and our driver met and dropped us at the DFS shopping center shuttle stop both times. While we had the same actual hours in port, functionally, the first stop was longer, as the ship departed at 6:00 PM. Whereas the second stop, departure time was at 5:00 PM, and, since the effective start times, once the shuttles started and we were able to meet our guide, were pretty much the same, we ended up with an extra hour. Singapore is a beautiful, clean, modern city with well thought out green spaces, gardens, and outdoor attractions such as the Botanical Gardens, the Orchid Gardens, the famed Singapore Zoo, the Jurong Bird Park and some reasonably well preserved historic ethnic districts such as Chinatown and Little India, as well as venerable historic districts and hotels such as Raffles. Our tours here were both with 2006 Singapore Tourism Authority Taxi-Tour Host of the Year, Albert Tan (Contact: benden@starhub.net.sg). The price is based on an hourly rate, and we shared with another couple. The cab was tight for a total of 5 people, but transits between attractions were relatively short, so it wasn't too bad and we took turns with the middle of the back seat. Hourly rates are set by regulation, and for a taxi tour host are $45/hour Singapore dollars, with a three-hour minimum. We found Albert to be resourceful, informative, and an excellent driver, with good suggestions and ideas about the areas we wanted to explore. He was also a nice companion throughout our tours, handling the financial transactions, even bargaining in the markets for us. I highly recommend Albert, and he was also very good about finding colleagues to provide a tour for others in our touring group. Our first tour, for which we had a longer time in port, featured the Jurong Bird Park, Little India and the Sri Marimamman Temple, Chinatown and a fascinating museum of Chinatown life, the old wharf area, which is reminiscent of Copenhagen, and got a Singapore Sling at Raffles Long Bar. Unfortunately the day started rainy and we ended up in the mostly outdoor Jurong Bird Park in a pouring thunderstorm. We did the available indoor attractions, including the nocturnal bird exhibit and the penguins, then moved on, but the Park is probably a wonderful excursion on a nice day. The rest of our tour was in and out of drizzle and downpour, but we particularly enjoyed the Chinatown Museum and the wharf area, and our travel companions were thrilled with a very pink, and very pricey Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at Raffles. On stop two, with a shorter time ashore, we visited the deservedly famous Zoo and the Botanical Gardens and world-renown Orchid Garden. At the zoo, we were able to catch two of the shows, featuring sea lions and elephants, both interesting and educational, and to see many of the open exhibits with exotic animals like the white tigers, pygmy hippos, a large baboon troop, and various other primates. Then it was time to move on to the Botanical Gardens and the large orchid collection. Like the zoo, the botanical gardens are considered among the best in the world and the displays are breathtaking, especially the orchids some of which are shown in very naturalistic settings, as well as in some structured and beautiful displays. On both tours, Albert took us to food courts mostly patronized by local residents for our lunch stops, giving us the chance to sample some delicious, inexpensive local meals. Vung Tau: Vung Tau is a tender port, with the ship anchoring off the PTSC pier - a petroleum depot. In other years, the ship has anchored off or sometimes docked at the flour dock. In this case, tendering was accomplished with the assistance of a local hydrofoil, which was much faster and smoother than the ship tenders. The hydrofoils also provide roughly hourly service to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), but may not be completely reliable, according to some reports. People on our cruises did take the hydrofoils into Saigon, reducing the trip to approximately an hour and half, from the two and half to three hours required for the road trip. The hydrofoil leaves from somewhere in Vung Tau, however, not near the pier where the tenders dock, so those wishing to do this trip (cost around $10 US) would first have to take the free shuttle into Vung Tau and then locate the dock. On the first stop, we toured Vung Tau and the surrounding area, which is interesting in its own right. After a bit of confusion and a fairly long delay in connecting with our guide due to a failure of communications between the home office and the tour guide and driver, we had a good day touring the Vung Tau vicinity, including the summer home of the last king Bao Dai, and the usual temples and local market. We were lucky enough to run into a colorful local wedding at one of the temple, and, also, we were welcomed by the temple's resident monk. Much shopping and a good lunch at a water front restaurant were also part of the program, part of a two day program booked through Asia King Travel, contact Mr. Ha, contact information: ASIA KING TRAVEL.,CO.,LTD. 85 Truc Bach, str.,Hanoi, Vietnam Tel: ++84 4 7151639 Fax: ++84 4 7151675 Hotline : ++84 989291913 E-mail : ha@asiakingtravel.com Backup email : viewvietnam@fpt.vn Web Site: www.asiakingtravel.com for a total of $95 US per person for the two days, Vung Tau and Nha Trang. Our second tour from Vung Tau was a trip to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We had a bit of difficulty with Princess in terms of getting an early tender, after they changed the general tender availability from 7:00 AM, which it had been on our first stop, to 8:45 AM, but a request to Passenger Services for our group of 14 resulted in our being included in the disembarkation with the other groups on board. This may have been a result of having registered with Group Services initially, for the roll call group, although it wasn't clear to me exactly why we were allowed to get an early tender. In any event we were grateful, and started out bright and early for our long trip to Saigon. We heard of some folks who took the $8 US one and half hour trip by hydrofoil, but having heard some stories about the reliability of these craft, we opted for the longer bus trip. It was about 2.5 hours into Ho Chi Minh City, and we toured the Reunification Palace, saw the Water Puppet show, which was an indoor theatrical production, arranged specially for us by our tour provider Thi Hoang of Smile Travel (contact information). We did photo stops at Notre Dame, the Post Office, and the Rex Hotel, had a good and inexpensive (not included in the price) lunch at the "President's Noodle Shop" - so called following a visit by Bill Clinton in 2004 - and, of course, the obligatory market place shopping stop. This tour was notable principally for the Water Puppet Show at the Golden Dragon theatre. Perhaps it was because it was one of the last tours on this itinerary, but Ho Chi Minh City was not one of our favorite stops, and the two and half hour plus bus ride through fairly uninteresting terrain each way did not help. In addition, the group that has the 'concession' for port activities for the cruise ship is essentially extorting small operators for a $20/person "license fee" to come onto the pier to pick up their passengers. This brought the price of our day long tour from $47 per person to $67, which was still significantly less than an equivalent Princess tour, or even the "HCMC on your own" which was essentially a bus ride into town, and was priced at $79. On both of our stops in Vung Tau, we left somewhere around 9:00 PM, waiting for Princess tours to return from Ho Chi Minh City. Our guide for this tour was Tu, and the tour was arranged with Thi Hoang, contact information: SMILE TOURS SERVICE Int. Co. Ltd Add: 483A, Laïc Long Quan, P. 5, Q. 11, TP.HCM, Vietnam Tel: (84 8) 2654401 Fax: (84 8) 2654402 Website: www.smiletourvn.com Email: info@ smiletourvn.com thi_travel@ yahoo.com Thi was terrific to work with and went beyond the call to arrange for the special water puppet show at the Golden Dragon. She also recommended Mr. Dung at Nha Trang River Tours for our Nha Trang tour. The hydrofoil 'tender' continued to run until well after 9:00 PM on our second stop. If your objective is to have maximum time in Ho Chi Minh City, it might be best to sign up for a ship's tour. Otherwise you might want to consider the charms of Vung Tau. Nha Trang: The other tender port on this itinerary, Nha Trang's anchorage is about a 20 minute tender ride from the pier which is adjacent to the Oceanographic Institute - a small facility with some tanks and aquaria and a few exhibits. Unfortunately, there is no hydrofoil to help out on this tender run, but it is pretty smooth. The gate is clearly visible from the tender pier, perhaps a minute or two walking. However, we understood from our second tour provider that the concessionaire was also trying to drive independent tour providers from the immediate area around the gate, and we were hustled quickly through the grounds of the Oceanographic Institute to where the bus was parked on the other side of the building. Local vendors will set up a mini-version of the Dam Market in town, just in case you forget to get something while you are in town! The local politics aside, Nha Trang was perhaps the 'surprise' port of the trip. We enjoyed both of our tours here, which were surprisingly different given that it is a small place. Our tour with Mr. Ha was oriented to the 'traditional' attractions, and it seemed that he had less trouble than Mr. Dung of the Nha Trang River Tours. We toured the Oceanographic Institute, the Ponagar Cham Tower, Hon Chong Promontory, Long Son Pagoda, and the embroidery workshop. A nice lunch at a seaside restaurant was included, as was the obligatory stop at the marketplace. This was included in the price for two days of touring at $95 per person, bundled with Vung Tau. The majority of our tour was taken in a drizzle, occasionally strengthening to a downpour which made footing a little difficult particularly at the Ponagar Cham Tower, but most of our party ended up purchasing the $1.00 plastic ponchos that were hawked at each of our stops, and everyone ended up with something from the embroidery workshop. On our second tour, through Nha Trang River Tours, we had a completely different experience, with only the embroidery workshop and the marketplace repeated. This tour allowed us some insight into the daily lives of average Vietnamese people and was among the most interesting and enjoyable tours of our back-to-back voyages. We visited craftspeople in their home based work areas and saw and participated in the making of woven mats, the production of rice papers, used in the making of spring rolls, and visiting a back yard bakery making marvelous French bread. As we were a bit late, we missed the conical hat manufactory, and the making of the clay ovens that are used in most Vietnamese households, but these are regularly included in the tours offered by Nha Trang River Tours ( Contact Information: Mr. Dung Pham, www.nhatrangrivertour.com , nhatrangrivertour@yahoo.com ) The embroidery workshop, which was included on both our tours, is an amazing display of artistry in embroidery, a traditional art form in Southeast Asia. The prices are absurdly low for the quality of the workmanship and articles of clothing, linens, and art pieces ranging from traditional florals and scenics to haunting portraiture are made and sold here. Art pieces can be purchased framed or unframed, with discounts for unframed pieces. There is similar work available in China, but it tends to be more standardized looking and the prices are significantly higher. We felt that the workmanship, creativity and quality were better in Vietnam, and certainly the prices were much less. This day, in contrast to our first stop, was sunny and warm and the $1.00 purchase of choice were post cards and conical hats. Hong Kong: Back in the container ports again, but at least docking in an area where private tour providers were allowed, Hong Kong was an easier port than those in Singapore and Vietnam. On our first stop, we took the ship's tour to Macau, which started with a shuttle ride to the ferry, and about an hour's ride on the high speed ferry, followed by a tour of the historic sites including the single standing wall of the cathedral from the period of Portugal's domination: an ancient temple, dedicated to the goddess of the sea; and a quite good multi-ethnic buffet lunch at Cafe 360 at the Macau Tower. While not scintillatingly exciting, this was a pleasant enough tour, considering that we were scheduled to do a 'traditional' city tour on our return visit. We enjoyed the trip back and forth on the ferry, and particularly enjoyed the Macau Tower and the lunch, but would have liked the chance to at least see one of the famous casinos. However, time is very limited for the Macau tour, in part because of the extensive time it takes to go through the customs and immigration formalities coming and going, if you don't carry a Hong Kong, Macau, or mainland Chinese passport. Because of these formalities, unless you are familiar with the area, just taking the ferry over by yourself might be daunting. Our guide was kept busy shepherding folks into the right lines, and making certain everyone had and filled out the proper forms. A huge highlight of the Hong Kong stops was the after dark Sail Away, through Victoria Harbor. This is not always possible so it is not an "advertised" element of the itinerary, but it was magical, starting with a brief description of the various notable buildings, followed by a well selected musical track, piped out over the P.A. system on the open deck, as we slowly made our way from the container piers past all the lighted skyscrapers along the harbor. It seemed that most of the passengers and quite a few of the crew were at the rails on the open decks, alternately taking it in and snapping pictures or video as we moved among the dinner cruise boats and other harbor traffic past the beautifully lighted buildings along the Harbor. We were really blessed to have this experience twice. On our second Hong Kong stop, we had a traditional city tour, with the requisite temple tours, trip to the top of Victoria Peak and tram ride down, visit to Stanley Market, a sampan ride through the floating city of the Aberdeen fishermen, and lunch at the Jumbo Floating Restaurant. This tour was arranged through Polly at China Highlights, contact information: Polly Asia Travel - Hong Kong Office Room A, 7/F., No. 6 Knutsford Terrace, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, HONG KONG Tel: (852) 2736-0922 Fax: (852) 2405-0922 Office hours (HK time):09:30-18:00hrs (Mon to Fri); 09:30-13:00hrs (Sat) Close on Sundays and public holidays (http://asiatravel.net/hongkong/holiday.html) Website: http://www.asiatravel.com/hongkong.html Email: polly@asiatravel.com and cost $76/person, prepaid by credit card for a group of 14. Our guide had a good sense of the group and balanced 'tour' with free time very well, although one of our number went missing when the rest of us did the sampan ride, and didn't catch up until the middle of our group lunch, giving our guide no amount of extra anxiety. Still, she remained cool and handled the situation well. This was an excellent tour and China Highlights did a very professional job handling the administrative details. Keelung: The ship docks in a downtown location, albeit in Keelung, when most of the passengers want to tour Taipei, which is about 40 minutes or so away. The train station is within easy walking distance of the dock and trains run regularly, although schedules may not be accurate, on which more later. Taxis are readily available, and private tour providers are allowed on the pier with no problem. On both stops, we used Alido Travel, contact Michael Yau Contact information: Michael Yau ALIDO Travel, Taiwan phone: 886-2-25683829 mobile: 886-953-721480 www.alido.com.tw On the first stop, we toured the area around Keelung, in what is titled the North Coast tour, going to the Yehilu Ecopark, which features unique and beautiful rock formations such as the Queen's Head, in a seashore setting, and to the picturesque and interesting Gold Rush town of Chiufen for a walking tour of the old sections of town and the marketplace, and a visit to a beautiful Taoist temple. Our guide Jeff was, on this tour, pleasantly informative, giving us lots of time on our own. An apprentice guide, Angela, accompanied us. She was delightful, speaking excellent English, and having a good command of the tour informational content as well. She will be a real treasure when she completes her training, which should be in 2008. On our return to the pier, the tourism bureau had arranged for a dragon dance troupe, which was a great treat, very colorful and fun to watch. This was also the port where some people were left on the pier, having misjudged their return time on the local train, which was running later than advertised. Be aware that this is not uncommon, and if you take the train into Taipei, make sure you allow ample time for the return. The people who arrived 15 or so minutes late at the dock were able to catch the pilot boat to the ship, and then had to ascend via a pretty scary looking rope ladder, but we also heard that the pilot boats are less and less an option for passengers who miss their ship, due to liability concerns. As our Cruise Director Sammi Baker said repeatedly, know your M.O.E. - Margin of Error - and plan accordingly! Our second tour was a standard city tour, including the Chaing Kai Shek Memorial, the beautiful and impressive National Museum, the Martyrs Memorial Shrine for the changing of the guard, a Confucian and a Taoist temple, and Taipei 101, currently the tallest building in the world. Of the two tours, we found the first more interesting. Jeff was again our guide, but on this tour was much more controlling and seemed to have a need to provide more information than the group was interested in having, and the pacing of the tour, particularly in the National Museum, left much to be desired. The Taipei tour was pretty much the same as that offered by Princess and very standard. Museum enthusiasts would do better to spend more time in the National Museum and less in the other venues. Those with less interest in museums might want to consider alternatives such as the North Coast tour, or some of the other options offered such as the aboriginal village tour. Okinawa: The ship docks, as usual, out in the container ports, about a thirty-minute bus ride from the center of town. Private tours and taxis are allowed on the pier. On our first stop, we just took the free shuttle into town, walked around the shopping street, and returned to the ship, but on our second stop, we had a wonderful private tour with Yukari Marsh, a lovely lady who also teaches English. Contact information: Marsh Communication Network Yukari Marsh e-mail: yukari.marsh@nifty.com URL: http://www.marshcnet.com We took in the huge limestone caves and the craft demonstrations at Okinawa World. The Eisa Dance was colorful and entertaining and the craft demonstrations also had an interactive component, allowing those who wanted to, to participate in pot throwing, glass blowing, weaving, and papermaking. Gift shop goods were above average in quality and there is also an exhibit dedicated to the unique Okinawan poisonous Habu snake, which is also featured in a local specialty sake, which has a preserved snake bottled with or in it. It is know as "Okinawan Viagra" and samples are offered. While sometimes characterized as 'touristy' we found Okinawa World both entertaining and educational and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Shanghai: The ship docks at a container port, at a pier usually used by automobile carrier ships. It is a solid two-hour bus ride into Shanghai, more when the traffic is heaviest. Tour buses and licensed private tour providers are allowed on the pier, but taxis are not. Tour number one was a ship's tour to Zhujiajiao, a town once known as the Venice of the East. The vast majority of tourists both here and elsewhere in China are mainland Chinese, able for the first time in a generation to afford travel in their own country, and, after the suppression of the Cultural Revolution, clearly fascinated with their own past. People watching was, frankly, more interesting than the rather pedestrian exhibits in the Post Office and the Rice Museum. Our guide was intent on making sure we covered the required elements of the tour, and did not allow much time for just wandering and taking in the atmosphere. The town itself is attractive with white washed buildings with black tile roofs and numerous bridges over winding canals. The tour includes a brief ride in a gondola like craft, and an obligatory lunch visit to a government owned and operated silk factory. Lunch was fair, but the silk factory visit was very interesting, showing the spinning of silk from the cocoons, the creation of silk comforters, and featuring a large selection of silk goods from linens and bedding to traditional and contemporary clothing items. We returned to the ship following the silk factory stop, but, as there were two buses on this tour, and some of the passengers wanted to stay in Shanghai and take the shuttle back, the tours were 'shuffled' with one group returning to the dock, and the other going to the shuttle stop at the Julong Silk Factory in the downtown area. On our second voyage, there was a medical emergency on board requiring a revision of the itinerary, skipping Nagasaki and including an overnight stay in Shanghai. This allowed us to take the shuttle into the city in the afternoon, visit the silk factory, and walk along Nanjing Road. It took about two hours in horrible traffic to get into town and nearly two and half to get back. The next day, we had our tour of Shanghai, arranged through Beijing Service, and visiting the Pearl tower for amazing views of Shanghai, the Bund, the French Concession, the Jade Buddha Temple, the Yu Gardens and the market. Our guide hit a nice balance of tour and free time and was sensitive to the groups' interests and pace. Contact information: www.Beijingservice.com Email: tansy@beijingservice.com, Tansy@chinatravelkey.com ? Tel: 008610-87630208/ 51667026, Fax: 008610-87638057/ 51667036? Emergency call: 0086 13661092071? Address: No.46, Puhuangyu Road, Beijing, China. Post code: 100078 On both stops, Cruise Director Sammi Baker arranged for an on board show in the evenings (two showings at 6 and 8 PM) from a local school of acrobatics. These talented young people perform amazing feats of flexibility and balance, although not on the same scale as the professional show that is featured in Shanghai. If you wish to see that show, it is easier to do so through the ship's tour office, as the end of the show and the last shuttle back to the ship do not necessarily co-ordinate well and taxis are not allowed past the security gates into the port facility. The walk from the gate to the ship is between three quarters and a mile, assuming the ship anchors at the same location, although it is well lit and there are sidewalks. Nagasaki: One of a very few places where the ship docks down town, and also the home of Mitsubishi Shipyards, the builders of the Sapphire Princess. As a result, the Sapphire is greeted as a family member arriving home and there are usually ceremonies for the ship involving gifts and plaques, and some kind of community recognition such as bon dancers or taiko drummers when the ship departs. On our first - and as it turned out - our only - visit, we expected that we'd be coming back and planned to do the walking tour of the town, the Glover Gardens, and so forth. We decided that, as the first call was the longer one, we would take the ship's tour to the Shimabara Peninsula to visit the castle, and its adjacent preserved Samurai Village which has exhibits showing the lifestyles of the various classes of samurai warrior, and the village that was inundated by an ash flow from the local volcano. We enjoyed the tour, and wish we had had the opportunity of a second visit as had been planned. By all reports and based on the look around we did have on the way in and out, Nagasaki is an easily navigated port with much of interest in easy walking distance. Beijing: The ship anchors in Xingang, which isn't close to much of anything, and a solid 2 to 3 hour (depending on the insane traffic) ride from Beijing. Friends took the train from Beijing to the area of the port with some success, but allow plenty of time to get from the train station to the terminal in the port - at least an hour to allow for traffic. Our guide informed us that the train is scheduled to be extended to the port area in the next year or so, so this merits checking, as the train is faster and doesn't have to contend with the road conditions or traffic. Driving in Beijing is like nothing we've seen anywhere else and not for the faint of heart. Drivers lean on their horns, mostly, it seems, to warn other drivers that they are coming up alongside, frequently from the shoulder, which is used as an extra lane or half a lane. Weaving in and out is the norm, and there doesn't seem to be much enforcement of any of the posted regulations. Many of the signs are in English, presumably in preparation for the Olympics, although wording is sometimes quite odd, but it doesn't matter, because the drivers ignore them anyway. We decided to try and see both the Forbidden City and the Great Wall in our one-day. As the ONLY transiting passengers on the ship, there were no ship's tours offered, but we were allowed to get off quite early - and at 7:30 AM we were escorted off the gangway, at first, with no passports, as we'd been told that as transiting passengers we didn't' need to go through immigration. Thankfully, we were met by what appeared to be an official of some kind who asked if we had our passports with us. When we said no, he said we would, in fact, have to go through customs on our return. The security officer with us then called back to the purser's desk and our passports were delivered to us at the gangway, and off we went for our Beijing adventure. We had to wait about half an hour for our tour guide and driver from Beijing Service to arrive, which should have alerted us to things to come, but off we went. The drive into Beijing wasn't bad, as it seemed we were more or less in the 'counter flow' direction, and it took about 2.5 hours to arrive into the city, and our first stop at Tiananmen Square. This was much larger than I had expected, and was surprisingly uncrowded. Our guide, Cindy, had given us a general briefing during the drive to Beijing about the history, the buildings we would see in the Forbidden City, and about life in contemporary China. Cindy is a charming young woman from the northern provinces and was quite a delightful and informative guide whose only flaw was a tendency to get ahead of us in the large crowds that we shortly encountered in our walk through the Forbidden City. We were able to see quite a bit, in spite of the scaffolding around some sections of the compound and were able to see some 'before and after' contrasts in the buildings that were undergoing significant upgrades and refurbishment for the upcoming Olympics. After a couple of hours in this magnificent and enormous area, we had to leave to get on with our tour to the Great Wall. There was also an 'obligatory' lunch stop at a state owned and run factory store - we had encountered this previously with the silk factory in Shanghai - this time lunch was in a jade factory, but Cindy had clearly informed everyone that we were on a tight time schedule, so this stop was quite brief, and lunch was quick, but adequate. On the road again, we passed by a section of the Great Wall that had been newly refurbished, and I would suggest that anyone else who tries to pack in this much stop here for their Great Wall experience. We bypassed this, however, as Cindy said it was 'Just for the western tourists' and went on to the Badaling section. As Cindy indicated, there were huge numbers of Chinese tourists and we joined them in walking a section of the Wall. It was overcast, and very cold and windy, and, checking our time, we decided to give ourselves an extra few minutes towards our return trip and wrapped up our Great Wall tour with a couple of small purchases at the Olympics gift shop and a stop at the ATM and started back for the ship at around 2:45. All aboard was scheduled for 6:30, and we had been told that we needed around 3 hours to drive back, so we had a cushion of around 45 minutes. We started out in pretty good form, although traffic moving downhill from Badaling was pretty heavy, and we made it back through Beijing in good time, although the driving style was pretty harrowing, we'd at least sort of gotten used to it and our driver had made it so far with no mishaps. About an hour out of Beijing, toward Xingang and still a good ninety minutes away, traffic suddenly stopped dead, with no movement visible ahead of us. After about ten minutes, our driver got out and walked up ahead to see what he could find out, and returned to tell our guide that there was an accident in front of us. We waited a few more minutes and then started to get really worried. Fortunately, we had thought to get the contact information for the ship's agent in Xingang, and Cindy promptly got on her cell phone and began working her way through the agent's office to, finally, three numbers later, connect with the right person in Xingang. She let them know of our situation, which gave us some relief, but there was no assurance that the ship would wait. Still, at least they knew where we were and that we weren't just flaking out somewhere shopping. At last, about thirty minutes from when we stopped, cars began moving again, and we started our race for the dock. If we had been under the impression before that our driver was aggressive, we had no idea! He was determined to get us back to the dock on time and started squeezing our car through seemingly impossible spaces between other vehicles and pretty much continuously leaning on his horn. We sometimes just couldn't look as he maneuvered through non-existent gaps and created his own lanes along shoulders and medians. Meanwhile, Cindy was in nearly constant communication with the ship's agent letting them know about every half an hour where we were and how long it would be before we arrived. Somehow, we managed to get into the terminal building at 6:40, shaking, anxious, and frankly happy to be in one piece. A hurried farewell to our amazing driver and to Cindy and we flew into the terminal to find the immigration folks who had packed up all their stamps, but were waiting on our arrival. Two of the officials hand lettered our passports, and then sent us through to the gangway, and we were happily back aboard, and ready for a stiff drink. Then, it turned out, there were a few hundred other folks who were also delayed on their way to the ship, so we didn't leave the dock for quite some time. However, we found out later, since the missing folks were all on Princess tours, and had already been 'processed,' the immigration folks left after dealing with us, and an artist who was supposed to be boarding the ship and who was also late arriving was unable to board. To make things even more complicated, he was sent on to Nagasaki to join the ship there, but, due to a medical emergency in the middle of the night, we returned to Xingang, and thereafter, missed the call in Nagasaki. Poor Mr. Mack finally joined us in Shanghai and we realized that that very easily could have been us! The moral of this story is two fold - one - always take the contact information for the ship's agent with you and two - don't try to do more than you reasonably can and allow plenty of room for error! That said, we DID manage to see both the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, although we'd have been just as happy with the new section, closer to Beijing! And we had a great time right up until the accident. Moreover, it makes a better story than it did an experience, and it gave us a little notoriety on board as people discovered we were 'Those People' as there were evidently announcements on board during our little drama. We were more than pleased with our tour provider and guide and driver, and have suggested that others wanting to tackle this demanding itinerary be taken to the closer section of the Wall. Tansy was great with the administrative details and Cindy went well above and beyond the call of duty as did our driver in getting us back to the ship in time. Contact information: www.Beijingservice.com Email: tansy@beijingservice.com, Tansy@chinatravelkey.com ? Tel: 008610-87630208/ 51667026, Fax: 008610-87638057/ 51667036? Emergency call: 0086 13661092071? Address: No.46, Puhuangyu Road, Beijing, China. Post code: 100078 Is it better to do Bangkok to Beijing or Beijing to Bangkok? Hard to say. There are differences in the timing in ports, and you should be attentive to the stated times, so that the ports you are most interested in are the ones with the longer stays on your itinerary - Bangkok to Beijing has more time in Nagasaki, for instance, while the Beijing to Bangkok route offers more time in Vung Tau. Bangkok to Beijing has more effective time in Singapore, due to the shuttle and traffic patterns. In either case, you have wonderful beginning and ending ports, both well worth extended pre and post cruise visits. Bangkok may be slightly easier as an embarkation port, and has fabulous five star plus hotels for quite reasonable prices compared to pretty much any other major city in the world. Immigration formalities are handled quickly and efficiently and the new airport is easy enough to negotiate. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
We began our long flight on Thursday morning, November 9, 2006 from Indianapolis, Indiana, flying through Chicago, then to Tokyo, then onto Bangkok, Thailand. We were lucky enough to have business class air on American Airlines for the 15 ... Read More
We began our long flight on Thursday morning, November 9, 2006 from Indianapolis, Indiana, flying through Chicago, then to Tokyo, then onto Bangkok, Thailand. We were lucky enough to have business class air on American Airlines for the 15 hour flight from Chicago to Bangkok. It was wonderful. American Airlines treated us very well and we were rested and relaxed when we got to Tokyo. We then boarded Thai Airways for a 5 hour flight to Bangkok. Thai Airways was very pleasant. When we arrived at the airport in Bangkok on Friday night, November 10, 2006, the airport was sheer chaos. I suspect it is always like this. People running over other people etc. We had booked the operational overnight/transportation package with Princess. We easily found a Princess representative, who led us to a bus, where we sat for over an hour only to be told that because we were going to the Indra Regent Hotel, we needed to board another bus, which would be waiting for passengers for about 2 more hours. We had been flying since Thursday morning at 8 am and it was now Friday night about 10 pm. We spoke to a supervisor with Princess Cruise Lines and they quickly got ourselves and 2 other couples a van that would take us to the Indra Regent Hotel. Once at the Indra Regent Hotel, we were quickly and politely checked into our room. Our room at the Indra Regent Hotel was WONDERFUL. We were able to get cleaned up and get a good night's sleep. This hotel, I would definitely recommend to anyone going to Bangkok. It was in the middle of everything, the people were wonderful and we said, if we ever go back to Bangkok, we are definitely staying at the Indra Regent Hotel. Princess had arranged for a huge buffet breakfast for the entire Princess passengers staying at the hotel. It was great food and plenty of everything you can imagine from bacon, sausage, ham, eggs, cold cut meats, breads, fruits, jams, orange juice, milk, coffee, etc. We were very impressed. I discovered once in the lobby of the hotel that it was attached to a wonderful mall where anything could be had, once you haggled for a low price. I wish I had known about this earlier in the morning because the deals were wonderful and I got DVDs for about $1.00 each. They worked great on our portable DVD player as well as our home DVD player. To say the least, had I known that this market mall was next door, I would have gotten up early and done a lot of shopping before we headed out to the Sapphire Princess. About 11:45 am, our bus number was called and we loaded on a tour bus for our 2 ½ hour bus drive to the port to board the Sapphire Princess. About 30 minutes into the trip, we were told that we had to divert to the airport to pick up several folks that their plane got in late. That was not bad and I felt had that been us at the airport trying to get to the ship, I would have been thankful that Princess was working with us to get us to the ship. Unfortunately, that was not all that was going to change during our soon to be 5 hour trip to the port. After a lot of construction traffic, our bus driver got lost. My partner had to help out the driver on which way to get to the ship. We had never been to this part of the country and here we were having to help someone who lived here, find the right roads to get to the ship. We finally found the entry into the port only to be told that we had to wait in a line of buses to be cleared to get to the ship. At this point, several folks including us needed to use the bathroom on the bus that we were told the bus would have. We found out at that point, there was no bathroom on the bus. Several people got out at the entry to the port to use the restrooms and were reluctantly allowed to use them. One woman on the bus was unable to wait until this time and had an accident. I felt sorry for the elderly lady as she was so embarrassed. Once our bus was allowed through the gate, we found ourselves in a building of chaos. Apparently all the buses arrived close to the same time and there was about 2000 plus people in line to register to board the Sapphire Princess. We did find a purser, who was able to get us registered without a long long wait, so within 30 minutes we were on the ship. We realized as we were getting ready to board the ship, that we had left a package on the tour bus. Princess contacted the tour bus company and they shipped our forgotten package to Hong Kong, where a Princess representative delivered it to our cabin at no charge. Way to go, Princess. This was unexpected and greatly appreciated. We talked to the Purser's office about the bus trip and our disappointment with everything. They quickly made amends and we were satisfied with the outcome. We were finally are on the Sapphire Princess about 5 p.m... Our luggage is already in our cabin and we head to the buffet since we were hungry and had not eaten since 6:30 a.m. that morning. The food was wonderful and the ship was beautiful. We head back to the cabin, C748, a category BB, balcony cabin off the back of the ship. Our cabin was great and our cabin steward Rudy was the best. He kept our cabin in great shape all 16 nights and days. We have been on over 24 cruises, and Rudy was the best. We asked for some extra things and they magically appeared very quickly. We booked the specialty restaurant, The Sterling Steakhouse for our second night of the cruise and were very disappointed. We had cruised on the Star Princess last year, to the Baltic Sea and enjoyed the Steakhouse 8 of our 10 night cruise. The Sterling Steakhouse on the Sapphire Princess is a converted part of the buffet. There was not music or entertainment as we had experienced on the Star Princess the prior year and the service really lacked a lot to be desired. We had late seating for dinner and found out that our request for a table for 2 had not been honored and we were at a table for 8. We spoke with the Maitre d who quickly and quietly got us in a wonderful dining room, the Vivaldi, at a table for 2. We were very pleased. A table for four was transformed into a great table for 2 for our entire cruise. We enjoyed the regular dining room so much that we ate there every night of our cruise and never returned to the Sterling Steakhouse. Our waiter, Alan was outstanding. We could not have asked for better. Our biggest disappointment in the dining room was that we only got lobster one night of the 16 night cruise and it was almost at the very end of the cruise. We usually eat lobster several times a week and were disappointed that it was rationed to once for the entire 16 night cruise. However, the head waiter, got us extras during the cruise, which we very much enjoyed. We had great shrimp one night, a special Italian appetizer once, and several other items. We were very pleased and thought the dining room staff did the best they could do. The shows/entertainment was ok. The shows were not great. We skipped or left early at several of the shows and went to listen to music in some of the other venues or enjoyed our balcony at night. The piano player in the small lounge just off the atrium was WONDERFUL. The small lounge was filled to capacity every night of the cruise. We found the Sapphire Princess to be an extremely beautiful ship and well kept. The staff was great and very friendly. We actually discovered that the buffet was wonderful and several occasions. We have rarely ate at the buffet on our other cruises but really enjoyed the buffet on the Sapphire Princess. The buffet had a shrimp, beef Wellington, make your own sandwich bars, and much more all the time all day and all night. The staff working the buffet was always friendly and went out of their way to get anything we wanted. One evening we wondered into the buffet to discover they had set up place mats, place settings, etc on all the tables. It was very nice and clean all the time. The photo staff was great on this ship. We had a lot of photos made and brought home a lot for our home to enjoy. The disco on this ship is out of this world. The views day or night are extraordinary and not to be missed. The pool areas are wonderful and well kept. The pizza and burger grills were wonderful and the food was always great. Everyday from 3 to 4 in the buffet, they served complimentary ice cream from the Sundaes shop. It was great. We went to all the art auctions, and would go get ice cream immediately following the auctions. The art auctions were great and we came home with about 6 pieces of art. We bought 4 and won 2 pieces of art. We were very pleased with all the knowledge we came away with about various artists at all the art auctions. Our first port of call was Singapore. We did this port on our own. We took a cab to the Singapore Zoo and arranged for our cab driver to come back to pick us up and take us for a quick tour of Singapore in the afternoon. The zoo was wonderful and the elephant show was very interesting. We had our cab driver take us by some major points of interest, did a little shopping and back to the ship. We spent a less than $100.00 for everything we did for the both of us including food. Compared with the ship's tours, we felt like we did very well. Our next port of call was Vung Tau, Vietnam. We booked the ship's tour to go to Ho Chi Ming City on your own. The drive was long to get into the city and even longer to get back from the City to the ship but it was worth the drive. We got the best deals of the entire trip in Ho Chi Ming City. We went to the famous market that was located near the hotel where the Princess Ship dropped us off. We haggled for everything from hair adornments to shirts to more DVDs. We used American dollars for everything and had taken a lot of ones with us which we were thankful because they do not like to give change back in American money. We even got a beautiful kimono that was reversible for $10.00. We wished we had gotten several more as they were priced about $250.00 when we go to Japan. We found another mall with open stalls near the main market where we got more deals. This is a shopper's paradise and I hope to return some day just to shop. Our next port of call was Nha Trang. I had arranged a private tour with Dung prior to our trip. He owns and runs his own company called Nha Trang River Tours. He speaks fluent French and English and is a native of Nha Trang. I would recommend me this to anyone going to Nha Trang. Dung picked us up at the port, we visited a temple, took a river cruise, went to a coconut plantation, rode a horse drawn carriage, visited a private home with beautiful wood carved furniture, ate lunch at a restaurant by the river, and took us to a Spa for the afternoon and waited for us at the Spa then back to the ship for less than $40.00 a person. We used American dollars the entire time we were here and it was no problem. We had taken a lot of ones with us and it worked out great. The Spa included a mud soak, thermal springs soak and a 1 hour massage. The price was unbeatable and Dung was outstanding. I wish we could have had him on our entire trip. He can be emailed at nhatrangrivertour.yahoo.com. I have included this as I found him was from another cruise critic referral and he was even better than we had hoped for. If you want a private tour tailored to exactly what you want, with an English or French speaking guide, this is the man for you. He knows all the back ways into everything. We never waited in line for anything and felt like we were citizens who knew all the ins and outs of being in Nha Trang, Vietnam. We will definitely contact Dung if we return to Nha Trang. Next stop was Hong Kong. We are huge Disney fans so we went to Disneyland in Hong Kong. The ship supplied a free shuttle to a mall in downtown Hong Kong because the Sapphire Princess is such a large ship, she must dock in shipping yards in most of the Asian ports. We received a map of the downtown area upon arrival at the mall. We proceeded to an ATM to get Hong Kong dollars for the day. We walked about 2 blocks or so to the train station where we used a ticket machine and within minutes had our train tickets to Disneyland. The fare was about $2.40 each way per person. The great thing about taking the train to Disneyland in Hong Kong is the one of kind Disney train. We switched trains twice to get to Disneyland. The last train was a special train with Mickey Mouse windows, padded seating, and statues of various Disney characters. We arrived at Disney just before they opened, purchased our tickets and we in the first group to enter the park. The park was not crowded at all and we rarely stood in line to ride or do anything. The ticket prices are cheaper than any of the other Disney parks. There are some rare shows at this park that can only be seen in Hong Kong Disneyland. We took the train back mid-afternoon to allow us plenty of time to get back to the mall in downtown Hong Kong to take the bus back to the ship. It was great, easy to do, and we had plenty of time. Our next port of call was Keelung, Taiwan. Again, we took the free shuttle into town only to find out that the shops don't open until mid morning. The shops were disappointing and much more expensive than in Vietnam. I found a pet shop where I bought an outfit for our dog for about $10.00 and that was the deal of the day. I took the free shuttle, provided by the ship, back by 1 pm as I felt like Keelung was sort of a pit of a town. Next up was Okinawa. Keeping in mind that we wanted to do most all the ports on our own as we had heard on Cruise Critic as well as throughout the cruise that the ship's tours were not very good, we got off the ship to get a taxi. We found out that taxis were outrageously expensive here, so we just got back on the ship and went to the ship's spa for the day. We enjoyed the ship's spa. It is very nice and they run specials on things throughout the cruise, so it is affordable for everyone. Our next port of call was Shanghai. We had booked a private tour prior to our cruise. We got off the ship at 7 am and met with our guide Crystal. She was outstanding. She spoke great English and had grown up in Shanghai. We departed the dock yard for the 45 minute Shanghai. We had contacted Crystal to let her know all the things we wanted to while in Shanghai. We started with the Oriental Pearl TV tower. We were there when it first opened and had it all to ourselves. As we were exciting the Pearl TV tower all the buses from Princess Tours were arriving, so we just missed the hundreds of people getting off the buses. Crystal had taken care of all our tickets, entries into everything for the entire day. It was great. We visited the Bund, ate lunch at a local Chinese restaurant, the Jade Buddha Temple, a river cruise of the bund along with some back alley shopping for knock off purses at deeply discounted prices. Our guide knew a lot of history of Shanghai and we felt like we were informed of what most might never know about Shanghai. We arrived back to the ship about 7 pm that night with all our goodies and feeling great. Our next stop was Nagasaki. We had bought Japanese Yen at the airport before our trip. This was the one port where the ship was originally built and the Sapphire Princess was able to dock right in the town. It was great. We got off the ship and went to an information building to get a map to go visit the site of the atomic bomb. We decided we would take the tram cable car located a couple of blocks from the ship. The fare was about $1.00 each way to and from the site of the atomic bomb and the atomic bomb museum. We lucked out at the tram stop. Several groups from the ship were on a Princess tour to the atomic bomb museum so we followed them to make it easier to find everywhere we wanted to go. We stayed with the ship's group/tour for about 3 hours and then made our way on our own back to the ship taking the tram back to the ship. I looked up the cost of the ship's tour to the atomic bomb museum. It was $50.00 each. We spend about $5.00 between the two of us for what the ship was charging $100.00. We did have to figure out how to get to the tram station and a few other things, but it was not hard at all. Our final destination was Xingang, China. We disembarked the ship with little effort and boarded a bus that was to take us into Beijing, China. Getting off the ship was a lot easier than getting on the ship had been in Thailand. We had booked the operational overnight for Beijing with the cruise line as the trip from the port to Beijing was about 2 ½ hours drive. I feel this was a good move as there were few taxis and we knew the ship would make sure we got to our hotel in Beijing. The trip was exactly as we had been told and our trip was just at 2 ½ hours. We arrived at the New Century Hotel in Beijing and checked in quickly. We were in our room within 5 minutes. The New Century hotel is ok. The carpets are stained and beds were not comfortable at all. As we were only there for one night it was hard to complain. Had we had this to go over, I would have still booked through the cruise line as they had everything planned out and we had breakfast again provided for us at the hotel prior to our departure for the airport early the next morning. We had booked a private tour with Key China tours and were disappointed as our supposed English speaking guide did not speak English well at all. He was very nice and we visited the Great Wall of China, took the cable car at the Great Wall, went to a silk market, and a few other points of interest. We went to bed early as we had to depart the hotel at 5:30 am for our flight to Tokyo. The bus transportation that was included in our operational overnight price left for the airport on time and made everything very easy and carefree. We had used the service provided by the ship and had our entire checked luggage sent to the hotel directly from the ship. It was great. We did not have to worry about our 4 large pieces of luggage while in Beijing at the hotel and we found our luggage very quickly once we arrived at the airport. The Beijing airport was very easy to figure out and customs was a breeze. We had extended our trip to include a week in Tokyo after our cruise. We stayed at the Hilton Narita Hotel near the Narita Tokyo airport. It was outstanding. We are Hilton Gold Club members, so we were upgraded to a suite with a wonderful view of the airport. We could see planes taking off and landing day and night. The windows were sound proof, so we could see the planes but not hear them. The hotel is gorgeous. There is a huge waterfall in the center of the lobby along with several restaurants and shops. The hotel provides free shuttle service to and from the Narita airport as well as to the train station and a local mall where inexpensive meals can be found. The hotel is run like a well-oiled machine. Everyone is very nice. As in Japan, it is hard to find English speaking people, but there were several at the Hilton. As a Hilton Gold member we were given complimentary buffet breakfast coupons for each morning of our stay. The buffet was great with homemade omelets, breads, fruits, cold cut meats, and juices. For those that have visited Japan, you know how expensive food and taxis are in Japan. The Hilton also gave us a buy one get one free coupon for the Terrace restaurant in the hotel. We ate dinner there one night and it was delicious. We visited Disneyland and DisneySea in Tokyo. We took the hotel's free shuttle to the airport and then purchased bus tickets out to Disney. We took the train back to Narita station or the airport from Disney on our days at Disney and then took the free shuttle back to the hotel. We visited the mall twice to eat, taking the free shuttle to and from the hotel. I can highly recommend the Hilton Narita for its price and location. If it is not important to you to stay in downtown busy crowded Tokyo, this hotel is for you. You will not be disappointed. Our trip was a trip of a lifetime and we will always have fond memories of our time in Asia. Read Less
Sail Date November 2006
We are a couple in our early 30s who have cruised a few times before. The majority of our cruises have been with RCI. We chose Princess because we wanted to cruise Asia, we needed a route in the Summer holidays and Princess were supposed ... Read More
We are a couple in our early 30s who have cruised a few times before. The majority of our cruises have been with RCI. We chose Princess because we wanted to cruise Asia, we needed a route in the Summer holidays and Princess were supposed to be a superior cruise line. This was our first cruise with Princess and probably our last! The destinations were Bangkok (would return - vibrant), Kuantan (unsure why we stopped here - a beach and that's it), Singapore (would live there), Saigon (the main reason for taking 3 hours to drive from the port is discover the history relating to the war, but this is not mentioned (not PC?) so disappointing), Nha Trang (not a popular stop and not sure why we stop here), Hong Kong (enjoyed this-don't forget about the Botanical gardens), Shanghai (bit dirty and chaotic, but underwater tunnel at the Bund is a must), Nagasaki (very moving - museum exhibits are not for those of a sensitive nature) and Beijing (we stayed on for a couple of days at the Marco Polo - highly recommended). We had to miss out Pusan due to the typhoon. As cruising in Asia at this time of year is in their rainy season (typhoons included!), it is worth taking on board the fact you may have to miss out some ports. Overall, the destinations were fabulous and certainly our favourite cruise ports yet. Unfortunately, the cruise line did not meet our expectations. Here are just a few points:- *Lack of cleanliness around the ship and in particular, our cabin. We had the soap remnants from the previous guests in our shower, somebody's fruit chunks stuck to the back of our fridge (we reported this and a new fridge was installed, but no apology, in fact, no communication at all!), rubbish left in the safe and drawers, no clean towels- was the room ever cleaned before we embarked?! *After the Norwalk virus affecting one of their fleet, you would expect better hygiene and food handling. We received coleslaw from room service that was 'off'(we made them aware of this and nothing was done - no apology), milk that was left out past the time on the labels at the buffet, ice in trays with tongs that had fallen into the tray and therefore had to be 'fished' out (there was no other source of ice at the buffet and the water in the dispensers was warm) and a number of staff with very poor hygiene habits (eg, sneezing, coughing, rubbing their face with their hands in the plastic gloves for serving food). My husband actually suffered mild food poisoning from a crayfish that, part way through his meal, he found was also 'off'. Generally, the hot food items weren't hot enough and the cold ones weren't always stored correctly. *Food was very poor (a comment echoed by a number of our fellow travellers). We actually left the dining room hungry. Service was poor too, with the waiters at our table not remembering (even after the 15th night!) that a member of our table had a allergy to pepper! Dishes were whisked out and whisked away, meaning that my husband could be on his salad, I'd be on the appetizers and other people on the table could be on the soup. Not the way to promote fine dining. *Overall, there was a poor level of English spoken and understood by the staff, which led to them being quite rude and abrupt (at least I think that was the reason!) We must mention Geoffrey in the Cabaret bar, however, as he was the only member of staff who seemed to know how to treat the guests! *The Cruise Director (Sammi) was the worst we have encountered. She was ineffective when dealing with a complaint that we had about safety (the outcome being that the reason no staff came to check on a situation was that they were all at lunch from 1-3 pm! Good job we weren't sinking then!) She had an unusual manner (i.e. telling us all at the show to stop spreading rumours about the ports we might have to miss due to the typhoon - it was like being back at school) and on many occasions, kept telling us to stop complaining that the ship wasn't like the Grand Princess, Golden Princess etc. She actually said that Princess knew they weren't the best cruise line, but that they weren't as bad as some! There's a sign of someone who trusts and values their product! *Disembarkation at Beijing took 3 hours!! plus an hour to get through immigration. Some people missed trips they'd organised in Beijing (we didn't reach our hotel until 3:45 and the Forbidden City closes at 4pm) *Finally, a word of warning to those of you under 40. DON'T GO!!! unless you look over 40. We got ignored and treated as second class citizens because we weren't older and dripping in gold, diamonds etc. Princess seem to target their cruises at older people, which seems crazy because we are the cruisers of the future. Someone else on Cruise Critic had mentioned a similar problem on one of the other ships. In closing, this was an expensive cruise and we didn't feel we got value for money from the ship. The facilities on board are VERY limited (if you have children, forget it!) and overall, the service, food and morale of the staff seemed low. There wasn't a sense of 'family' within the staff (although you could at various time in the cruise, clearly overhear the latest love-life of the entertainers!) If you want to cruise Asia, look for another cruise line, or wait until Princess have got their act together. Read Less
Sail Date July 2006
Day 1  En Route San Francisco to Bangkok The trip started out on a high note by there being barely any traffic over the Altamont, putting us into BART well before 10. We caught the 9:55 train, which dropped us at the International ... Read More
Day 1  En Route San Francisco to Bangkok The trip started out on a high note by there being barely any traffic over the Altamont, putting us into BART well before 10. We caught the 9:55 train, which dropped us at the International terminal at 11:15. We walked just a few feet to the United desk  the very first one in line and got checked in. Didnt have enough points to upgrade, but that was okay. We had some lunch, then walked over to MOMA. After that, we decided it was time to go to our gate, which was the first one and we boarded easily. We were seated the a small business class section (the larger one was behind us) and we met the people behind us  come to find out, they are from Stockton (Walt and Jenny Yourchek) and hes a dermatologist  he immediately picked up on the mole on Chriss forehead and called his office, so that Chris could make an appointment to meet with him upon our return (Im so glad  Ive wanted him to have that thing looked at for ever). They are exceptionally nice people and we had a great time visiting with them. They were also headed to Bangkok  we had hoped on a Princess cruise, but they were going on to Bali. We made plans to meet after the vacations to trade pictures and stories The plane trip was smooth and the food very good  I had a Bento box and Chris had Fillet. We also were served Breakfast  a fruit platter for me and an omelet for Chris. We were both surprised and delighted with the Narita Airport  the lounge was huge and beautifully done. Jenny and I headed off to shop while the guys talked. We had just sat down when it was time to climb onto the next plane. Thankfully, this second leg was all in the dark and both of us slept most of the way. We did, of course, stay awake for the meal  Chris had lamb shank and I had a great (but spicy) chicken curry. The Bangkok airport was all the Narita was not. We had to go down a stairway and were bussed past two miles worth of cargo storage to the airport. We went through passport and customs with no problems, bid our new friends goodbye and went looking for Princess. After a wrong turn, we found them and got to the hotel at about 1 a.m. We both went right to sleep, only to be awoken at 5:50 by a wrong phone number (grrr). Day 2 - Bangkok We decided to get up and I had a lovely bath (brown water, yucka) and we went up to the Executive room for a yummy breakfast. We started with mark melon/orange/banana juice, followed by papaya and dragon fruit (its red and green on the outside, you peel it like and apple and its white with black seeds (like a kiwi). It had the same texture as a kiwi, but little favor. I tried the Bircher muesli (slimy, but yummy) and then we explored more new tastes. There was a roast Roma tomato topped with fresh garlic and herbs, chicken sausage, thyme sautEed mushrooms, muffins with lychee and pear (these were like popovers in that the fruit was in the middle and the muffin puffed up over the top of them). Chris also had some bitter orange marmalade. We called John and Irene to say hello and then Chris headed out to take photos, while I stayed around to start on this. After a little while, we went down to the Princess desk and asked about the gem shop. We ended up and S & J Gems, a locally owned operation. They had an incredible display of all gems, but we were met and asked about sapphires. To make a long story short, we picked three stones, a loose one for about $350, a small one ($60) to replace the darker sapphire in my engagement ring and then, a knuckle buster at (gulp) $4,000. It really is a beautiful ring and I cant believe that I actually own something like this. After that, we headed back to the room. I was feeling a little motion sick because of the crazed ride back, so we rested for a while. After a couple of hours, Chris decided that we had to ride the sky train, which wasnt much of anything, but it did show us some of the city. After that, we came back to the room and relaxed until it was dinnertime. We went to the Madison and had obscene amounts of beef. Chris had a brand of Kobe beef (they shipped several head to Australia, so they are called something else, but its still Kobe beef). I had prime rib that could have fed a small army. I felt so badly that I couldnt eat more, but I just wasnt feeling up to par. I decided to head back to the room and get some rest. Chris sat by the pool for a while and then followed me. I never even heard him come in. Day 3 - Bangkok We had a nice breakfast, nothing really wild today  some cereal and toast. Chris had sweet rolls, sausage and fruit. We then headed down stairs for our first tour. We met all sort of folk, including a couple from New York (George and Marion), a younger couple named Michael and () and some others. Today we headed for Nong Nooch gardens and elephant show. The cultural part of the show was okay, but they really needed a choreographer. The elephant show was too fun. They danced, played football, basketball and bowled. The young ones were especially sweet. I got my picture taken with a leopard. It was great to be that close to a big cat, but I was aghast to see that her teeth had been filed off. She was purring like mad, so she must have been okay overall. The gardens were beautiful, but we didnt stay for very long. Then we went to a hotel in Pataya for lunch (it was okay) and then went to another gem store. It was HUGE, bigger than HUGE, but we got out of there without buying anything. After a very long bus ride back, we decided to stay in and have room service. Chris built his own sandwich and had a great mushroom soup and a lime soda  it came with its own simple syrup and he mixed it as he went. I had a club and some minestrone. Both were very good. I was still exhausted, so I went to bed, but Chris went to the pool. We got packed and sent the bags off. It was a tiring day, but fun. Day 4 - Bangkok Today it the Highlights of Bangkok, with a visit to the Golden Buddha, the Royal palace and a boat ride to lunch. Again, very hot and humid and worse, we had to be fully dressed because of the temples. The Golden Buddha was originally encased in case to save it from being melted down by foreign invaders and everyone forgot about it. When it fell in an accident in 1953, people were amazed that it was solid gold underneath. We saw several kitties at the temple and Christ got a picture of a monk holding a kitten. The Royal Palace is still used for some ceremonies and it was really incredible. The inlay of mosaic tile and jewels and gold leaf was just unbelievable. The temples were ornate and beautiful, but it was so hot, it was hard to enjoy them. After a walk through a bazaar, in which the smell of food just about made me crazy, we got to the river. It was really rough and hard to get on the boat, but we managed. All I can say is thank goodness that the Meclazine is working as well as it is. I didnt have any trouble, although Chris got a little rocky at first. We had lunch at another hotel, it was better than the day before, but I was disturbed at how much food people took and left. We chatted with Darlene and Julie, her daughter. They are very funny and have a fun sense of humor. We also met Burr and his wife. It was so nice to just chat with people and get to know them better. Then it was off to the ship! The ride to the ship was long, but not because it was so long, but because we were in a hurry to see her. We arrived and were ushered in with no wait at all. Our luggage (sans one bag) was at the room when we arrived and we were a little dismayed that the room wasnt as clean as wed hoped, including a dirty towel left hanging on the bathroom door. The assistant room manager came down and was very apologetic. We then met Michael; our steward who had just come on board, between the two, the room was ship shape before muster. Chriss suitcase arrived and we had time to unpack before heading to the dining room. We sat with Burr and his wife, and then stopped off at the bar for a drink to wait out the crowd, only to have Marion and George join us. I came back to the room to work on this and Chris went up to help the captain get the ship out. He came back and we were standing on the balcony when we looked up and saw more people we knew. This is what I like about the smaller ships. So far, this trip has been all Id hoped for. I would like to come back to Bangkok  I feel we only scratched the surface of a very old and diverse city. Our tablemates are very nice: Jim and Edie are from Atlanta, Roy is from Queensland and SJ and Sherri are from Canada. I thought to start off right with some spring rolls, beef broth and Fettuccini Alfredo. Chris has the Shrimp cocktail, mushroom soup and Beef tenderloin. Long day, early night. We had a good chat and went to see the show with Roy. Day 5  At Sea We intended to spend a very quiet day and we did. Walked around a little and got to know the ship. We went to a ports talk by Sammy and got to hear the ins and outs of each port. We napped and just generally kicked back. Chris offered to get lunch and when he returned, he sat in the other deck chair and it collapse beneath him. This resulted in a bottle of wine, two hors d'oeuvre platters and boutonnieres for us. We started to get ready for our first formal night and thats when disaster struck. Chris had not remembered a dress shirt! Thankfully, the purser was able to help and, although we missed the captain cocktail party, we were to dinner on time. It was very good. I had a salad and Rock Cornish game hen. Chris had a seafood turnover. We were both pleased with our choices, but Edie, suffering from a cold, was not been as complimentary. Every night she has gotten something that she hasnt liked, wasnt what she wanted, etc. Oh well, no pleasing everyone It was supposed to be a production show, but one of the singers got sick, so we had an Aussie singer. It was okay, just not what we were expecting. Day 6 - Kuantan, Malaysia We had been warned that this port was small, dirty, isolated, etc. We were delighted to discover while it was indeed small, it was clean and very well run. I was startled by how many jellyfish were in the water and visible from the ship  should tell you how clean the water was. We had been warned that our tour would be awful and we found it delightful. We went on a boat ride up to some mangrove swamps and wandered around the mangroves for a while. The birds and cicadas were deafening. Then we went to a Hindu temple and a Mosque. I stayed on the bus because my back wasnt happy about the mangrove walk. A couple pills and some quiet time and it was ready to go again, just in time for the batik factory. I got a great shirt, a tablecloth, two scarves and a wall hanging. Chris got two shirts, one of which will have to be altered when we get back home  he didnt realize it was long sleeve. We got back around 1:30 and had a bit of a lay down. I did go off the ship to buy some earrings for Ginny and came back to find that my card didnt work. It was fixed in no time, but it was an annoyance. We rested up and then went to dinner. It was Thai night and the food was yummy! I had a cucumber salad with peanuts and chili peppers, chicken and galangal soup, and Khai Yang  bbq chicken garnished with vegetables and fries. It was very good and Rocky Road for dessert. Chris had seafood cakes, chilled yogurt and tamarind soup and sautEed prawns. For dessert he had a meringue tiered chocolate filled tower. It looked deadly. I went to back to the cabin and just relaxed (watched part of Memoirs of a Geisha). Chris walked about the ship and then came back to watch some TV himself. It was a good day and I loved this port. Day 7  Singapore Okay, early start this morning for some reason. We both woke up about 6 or so to watch the ship pull into the dock. We have been in a holding pattern for about half an hour now as we wait for something. Its unclear if its for a berth or to turn the ship. It isnt quite certain what the hold up was. We had to clear customs today, but our tour isnt until this afternoon, so it was a big deal. We went ashore just to check things out and to go through Customs before the mad rush. We walked around a little and changed some money and I bought some postcards. Nothing much else was opened. Heading back to the ship, we could see all the masses of people going off for tours. It felt good to be heading in the opposite direction. I wasnt feeling really great due to my period, so we just hung around the cabin until it was time for lunch. I wrote my postcards and Chris read a little. We had a fast lunch at the buffet and then headed down to meet our tour. Alas, everyone we knew was on Bus 2 and we were on Bus 1. We were doing the Chinatown, Pewter demo, Raffles trip. We headed first for the pewter demo, which was very brief. We saw one person pouring and another person shaping pewter and then it was time for us to try our hand at making a bowl. We each got a sheet of pewter, a couple of hammers and some punches to put whatever we wanted on the bottom of it. Chris put Bangkok to Beijing and I put Pacific Princess  got my initials messed up though, but thats okay. It was fun and we had a couple of bowls to take home. We also bought a vase and a wine corker. Then it was on to Chinatown. Our guide gave us some insight into what it was like to grow up in Chinatown during the Japanese occupation. It was not pretty and the Chinese felt the Japanese deserved the bombs we dropped on them, calling them payback. The museum was tiny and very hard for Chris to maneuver around in, but it was very informative and a little scary to think of people living like that as recently as the 1960s. We also had a little time to shop at the bazaar in Mosque St. I got two beautiful cashmere scarves. Then it was on to Raffles for some liquid refreshment. The hotel was very elegant and looked wonderfully decadent. We walked past people having high tea, all dressed to the nines, and served by waiters wearing white gloves. The Long Bar, where we were bound, was far more casual. We had our drink, Chris had two, in fact, with the younger couple we had met from New Jersey. Then it was on to the shops to try and get rid of the rest of our Singapore money. We bought a poster, a polo shirt and a silver Raffles ornament. Our bus was waiting for us, except it wasnt our bus and we almost ended up at the airport but Fifi (our tour guide) stopped us before we ever got on the bus. We were with a Princess crew person and we thought she knew where she was going. It led to some good laughs. Also discovered that one of the women we were traveling with was from Pleasanton. The world seems to get smaller and smaller the more you travel. We got back to the port with less than an hour to spare. After walking around a little, we decided to just cash the money in and get back on board. I took all the packages and headed form the ship, worried that Chris might get side tracked by all the electronic shops. He didnt and was there just behind me. We had just enough time to change and head for dinner, stopping to chat with Burr and his wife, Amy, as we went. Dinner was very good tonight. I had onion soup, complete with the cheese crust and some duck, which was very good. Chris had a potato/pumpkin soup, followed by a salad followed by the pork loin. For dessert, it was a raspberry crème Brule and I had a sundae. There was a debate about whether or not to go to the production show  Rock and Roll  I decided that it was time for me to go to bed and Chris followed suit, even though I assured him that we was free to attend with Roy, SJ and his wife. Day 8  At Sea We decided to stay the day by having breakfast in the cabin. It was the same for me, cereal, fruit and a bagel, but Chris had a good Denver omelet. The coffee was better than at the buffet, so that was okay by me. After sitting around for a while, we went down to the future cruise desk and signed up for our next cruise  to the British Isles. It was exactly the same trip as the one we were looking at  this one goes to Normandy, but the cruise director said it was because it was a new season and the lists Id been looking at was for this year. As long we hit Edinburgh and Inverness, thats okay by me. Then well be able to say weve been to France. We also talked about Tahiti in 2008, but it was really too far to book anything. We even booked the suite we wanted, so that will be nice. It will be nicer if John and Irene go with us, but its a big decision to make the first time. After that I headed back to the cabin to hang out while Chris prowled the ship. He went to the culinary demo and then came back to collect me for lunch. The afternoon was spent quietly, reading and resting. When we returned from dinner this evening, a lovely meal awaited us. I had Quiche Lorraine, capon broth and Breast of Duckling. Chris has shrimp cocktail, chilled papaya soup and New York Steak. I cant even remember dessert. We returned to our cabin to discover the acknowledgement for our 2007 cruise. We didnt get the cabin we wanted, but its a long way out and were on the waiting list for it, so heres hoping. It was another quiet evening. I dont know what were doing to make us so tired, but again sleep came early. We did hear that the Crown has an Asopod failure and developed a pronounced list, resulting in a shortened trip. People were whining and complaining about it on Cruise Critic, but Princess offered money back and discounts, so I dont really understand what is wrong. There was a message from Tony complaining about the large number of children and Mexicans on board. Im afraid I wasnt very polite in my response to him. Gee, and he didnt want to get together with us for a drink  what a surprise. The more I read about him, the bigger jerk he seems to be. Before I thought he was just pompous, now I know him to be a bigot. Day 9  Vietnam (Phu My) Today was an early beginning, we had a 7:30 start, and so we got up around six and had some breakfast while we sailed into Phu My harbor. We had gotten out visas the night before, so it was a simple matter of having them stamped as we headed out for our highlights and shopping tour. Amy and Burr were on this one, as was Jim and Edie. We started with a two-hour bus ride into Ho Chi Ming City (still called Saigon by most of the people). Our tour guide, Van, was very articulate and personable. He spoke English well and had an extensive knowledge of his countrys history. This was a hard stop for many of our passengers because of course of the Vietnam War. Van spoke dispassionately about the war saying that most of the population doesnt remember it (over 60% of the population is under 30). He says that their feeling is that it happened and now its over, so lets move on. Okay, first impression of Vietnam  this is where all the motorcycles of the world come when theyve finished elsewhere (80 million people and 30 million motorcycles share the roads). It was frightening to wait them weave in and out of traffic. Crossing the streets was also an adventure, but more later. Our fist stop was the Natural History Museum, which gave us about 4000 years of history in 30 minutes. First though were the water puppets. Chris didnt know about this, but it was one of the reasons that I picked this tour. They told three stories, one about two fighting dragons, complete with fire, the next one was about a husband and wife raising ducks and trying to protect them from a fox, who looked an awful lot like a cat to both of us, including climbing a tree, which I didnt think a fox can do. The last was about the four creatures of Vietnam, a dragon, unicorn, phoenix and a snake. It was spirited to say the least. The museum was okay, it gave a little background and displayed some interesting artifacts, the most interesting of which we couldnt take photos of. Then we headed to the post office, where we found some lovely cards. Next it was off to the site of the American Embassy, where we could look, but not take photos, even from the bus. Next was a visit to a lacquer factory, where the 17-step process was explained. I didnt know there were three different styles to this type of lacquer  the painting, egg shell and mother of pearl (or abalone). We bought a long tray, a small saucer and a pair of chopsticks. Then it was on to the museum for lunch. Lunch was an extravagant meal, lots of local dishes, including a very tasty lotus root salad and some deep fried pineapple  they used canned pineapple, which made it even tastier. There was also a display of local song and dance, very interesting and the best buffet lunch so far! After that, it was on to the Rex hotel and Dong St. for some shopping. Okay, this was a real eye opener. There was a fleet of peddlers who follow the bus from stop to stop, but when we hit the street here, it was an all out melee. It was amazing that we purchased as little as we did and Chris bartered like a native. I got a silk scarf for two dollars, my big purchase. It matches my dress for formal night. After that, we headed back to the hotel to rest and get a drink at the bar on the fifth floor. Chris had an Alice; I had an orange soda (again juice with soda water). Then it was back to the bus for another two-hour ride to the ship. We were all beat when we got back just in time to dress for dinner. Crossing the street was a wild adventure or making sure you didnt get flattened. Someone said over 7000 people are killed by motorcycles a year here  ouch! Chris had prime rib, with a scallop Pate and cream of artichoke soup. I had polenta with marinara, duck broth and a pasta dish in a brown sauce. It was tasty, but hard to describe. For dinner we each had tutti fruitti ice cream. Jim fell asleep at the table and we all struggled to stay awake long enough to make it back to our cabins. We are a real party table Ill say that! Day 10  Vietnam (Nhan Trang) We sailed into port today a bit later than the other cities. This is a lovely port with brightly colored houses and boats. Chris said it reminded him of some of the Mexican town we saw on our cruise with Barb and Rod. We didnt have a tour here, so we grabbed the shuttle into the market. Okay, again, wow with the attention. People just descend upon you. We picked up one gentleman who finally gave up. Chris had a running battle with this one old lady who wanted $2 for a spoon and he only wanted to pay $1. He won, but she wasnt happy about it. I bought some glass bracelets, five for $3 and a tee shirt for $3. We also got some fabric for my quilting, hard but successful bargaining and another helper. This time it was a young girl, about 10 or 12, and she would not let us out of her sight. We wandered out of the market and down some streets, got yelled at by a cop for walking in the street (honestly, its hard to tell) and just looked around. We decided it was time to head back to the bus, but not before being hounded by men offering to take us on tours. We declined, got back on our shuttle and headed back. There were several stands open on the dock and I got a necklace and some earrings for Ginny. We headed back to our cabin to discover they were fixing our patio door  it had rusted through its tracks  and replacing a missing light. One thing about maintenance on this ship, they are fast and thorough. We ate again at the buffet and had a nice lay down. There is still talk about what is going to happen with the typhoon and whether or not we will make it to Hong Kong. I am content to leave it in the Captains capable hands. He will pick what is best for the ship and its cargo. Some people are fussing about it, but theres really not much to be done. Weather is the weather. For dinner, I had a leek and potato turnover, roasted duckling broth and Risotto. Chris had cold poached scallop ceviche, chilled pea pod soup and lamb chops. Day 11 - At Sea Finally today was a day to rest up from all the sightseeing. With that in mind, we did very little today besides eat and sleep. We did take in a talk on Pirates  Yesterday and Today. This was pretty interesting. We also watched a bit of Pirates and watched a talk on Hong Kong. That night we got to meet the Captain at the Captains Circle party and we got to see the infamous Tony. He looked smug, pompous and exactly as I pictured him, except a bit younger. I wondered how someone so young could have all this time and money just to sail aimlessly back and forth on the same route. It would see boring to me! After that he headed down to the floorshow, which was the one we missed the fist night - Give My Regards. They managed to hit every musical I hated, even JCS  long tribute to that&sigh I can run, but I cant hide. Day 12  Hong Kong Today came the best news possible  because of Kimai, we will have two days in Hong Kong! What an incredible city to sail into, some buildings are so full of color and yet some are so pastel colored. We sailed into the Bay of Hong Kong  we docked on the Kowloon side and had a few minutes ashore before it was time for the tour  not even time to eat lunch today. We had highlights of Honk Kong, which started with a trip under the bay via one of the three tunnels. Traffic was a bear and our guide, Stella, assured us that this wasnt bad at all. She says that she rides Bus 11, i.e. she walks or takes public transit. First we headed to Aberdeen, where the water people live. The government is trying to get these people out of the water and into low cost housing, but they arent budging. The younger people are willing, but the old people wont leave their sampans. After the water taxi ride, which was a hoot and a little rough, we went to a jewelry store, where I purchased a jade and gold pendent for probably a lot more than it was worth, but I like it and it will go perfectly upon the gold chain that came with the plumeria pendent. After that, we took a hair-raising ride to Stanley Market. I got a little frog, a humming bird and post cards, but the best purchase were the ice creams bars! Anyhow, it was beastly hot and very humid because of the typhoon. We walked the entire market and got back just in time to wait for the bus  we beat the tour guide, who was delighted that we were all together. Next we drove to the top of Victoria Peak eek! I had to take more meclazine, just for the trip, plus my back was just killing me. We got to a shopping center and I got to use the Happy Room (toilet) and we walked around a bit before climbing on board the tram  it went down backwards. There was a massive thunderstorm coming into Hong Kong and we got to watch the lightening for several minutes before the storm hit. What a trip it was down the hill. We reassembled and headed back to ship. Boy, was I glad to see that ship. We had just time to throw our clothes on and head to the dining room. I had a beef Bresaola with arugula and parmesan, corn chowder and veal parmigiana and Chris had a scallop mousse, albondigas soup and Gamberi Saltati alla Aglio (shrimp) Too tired for the floor show, we both went to bed after making plans to meet with S.K. and Shirley to meet the next morning for breakfast and our own tour of Kow Loon. Day 13  Hong Kong We met and decided to head out about 9 a.m.  it was too early, but thats okay. We took a public bus, which was a hoot and got off downtown. Nothing opened until 10:30 or 11, and it was only 9:30. We did a mess of walking and looking around and then Jim decided it was time to go back to Nathan Road for lunch. He and Edie really didnt like the walking at all. We went to a five-story department store and had a tea demo. That was fun and we bought three tea pots/strainers. I also got a puzzle and some cut outs for Julie. Then it was time for some serious lunch. We went to Shamrock Seafood Restaurant and S.K. ordered for us. I thought it was a shame that Jim would only eat the fried rice, but that was his choice. We had some fabulous Char Sui buns, fried rice, chow mien, Shrimp bow, deep fried won tons, egg rolls, chicken soup, it just went on and on. Then, for some reason, both Jim and Edie got a bee in their bonnet about having to get back to the ship as it was going to leave without us  it was 1:30 and we sailed at 6 p.m. but that was okay. We went back to the ship, except Roy, who walked back. The guys and Shirley grabbed a cab to go over to get an English warranty for Jim  he didnt pick one up when we purchased his new camera. I was only back on the ship about ½ an hour before Chris returned, unimpressed, from his visit to Ho Hum. Dinner was pretty good Italian tonight. I had a very good proscuitto and melon with minestrone and a veal chop. Chris had the eggplant parm, with a bean soup and beef stew. The gelato was really good and then, after the captain warned us of high waves that night and for the next day, we all retired to our cabins. I was pooped! Day 14  At Sea It was great to have a quiet day at sea today. I slept 12 hours before reluctantly dragging myself out of bed to face the day. I had taken enough meclazine to offset any wave motion and was pretty comfortable. By 3 p.m. most of the waves had quieted down and we were back to the regular motions. Chris went to a computer class on safety and I went to a talk on Titanic  it was about the filming, which really wasnt that hot. I havent seen the movie and didnt want to see it any more after the talk. Chris spent the afternoon working on a project for people at the table (e mail addresses) and I had a great bath, plus read a bit. Tomorrow is another sea day, so we should be really rested up for Shanghai. We had our second formal dinner tonight and it was the Italian dinner. I had the prosciutto (again), the rustic vegetable minestrone soup and the Pappardelle al Sugo d Lepre (pasta with rabbit) and Chris had baked eggplant, Venetian soup of beans and pasta and the Veal Chop. Day 15  At Sea We are still bouncing around a little because of the typhoon, but not as badly as I thought we would. We had already decided that we werent going to do much of anything today and we really didnt. I went to a lecture on sea myths and also painted a tee shirt. I couldnt get it finished in time, so I brought it down to the cabin to finish up. It was a pre-punched design, but that was okay. It was still fun. We hung around with S.K., Roy, and Shirley quite a bit today, just chatting and enjoying ourselves. Mostly today was just a day of eating and sleeping. Jim seems like hes getting a cold, which is not what you want to happen going into China. Roy is concerned because he only has a single entrance visa and cant come ashore. Dinner was good again, but we are beginning to see a pattern here. I had an asparagus puree, Day 16  Shanghai What a beautiful city this is! So many skyscrapers and they are so unique  not just simple straight lines, but circles, cut-aways and the like. It really is quite incredible. Our tour today was all day long and, boy, was it long. Lots of walking and seeing of things. First we went to the Childrens Museum, a fine arts school, and we got to see young boys (5  12) working at Peking Opera movements and young girls, all younger than seven, dancing to Jingle Bells. The school was three stories and we went up and down a couple of times. We bought two student paintings of kitties. Then it was off to the Jade Buddha Temple, which was lovely, but a lot more standing and standing as our guide explained all about Buddha. We bought a great little kitten cut out. Then it was time for lunch. What a spread Shanghai set out for us. Favorites for us were the sweet fish lemon pickles and in fact all the pickles were good, and the soup, chicken egg drop with corn. We had such a large number of dishes and they just kept coming. Everything was very good, although it did give me indigestion later that afternoon. I took a pain pill and soldiered on to the next sight, the Yu Gardens. On the way there, we saw a little kitten crying for mom. I would have taken him back to the ship if I could have. The gardens were really crowded and I wasnt feeling well at all  a combination of the sun, indigestion and back pain. After we finished the garden, which would have been nicer if it wasnt so crowded, we wandered around the market for a little bit, but I just didnt have my heart into shopping, so we went into DQ, got something cold to drink and just sat until it was time for the bus. More walking, five blocks, back to the bus, among all the professional beggars, vendors and people just out enjoying the blue sky. We got to the Shanghai Museum and it really was great, there was a costume and mask display on the top floor that was very nice and I really enjoyed the paintings, but my pain pill had worn off and I was not very happy. Then we headed to a silk factory, but I stayed on the bus along with a couple of other passengers. We got back to the ship too late for dinner, so we went up to the bistro and had some pizza. Chris went down to see our tablemates and I went right to bed. What a long day! Day 17  At Sea. Thank goodness we have a day to sleep in and relax a little. When I met the tablemates for breakfast, they presented us with a beautiful embroidered kitten picture. Roy, Shirley and S.K. had had a great day just walking a bit and shopping. Wished we gone with them in hindsight. I did go and paint a ceramic tile for Julie and take a long hot bath. The back isnt happy, but its okay. Chris went to a computer class and I watched a couple of movies. It was just a day to not do much of anything. This was also our last formal night. I had roasted grouse, Chris had fish  for some reason, there is not a menu for this dinner - and it was met with the obligatory march of the Baked Alaskas. Dinner was good, but not spectacular. We are seeing a lot of repeats during this cruise. Day 18  Nagasaki I can only say that I wish we had more time in this port. We took a brief tour of the city and even that was too long to allow us any time to get back out into the city. This was the cleanest and most demur of cities, as I would expect from Japan. The memorial at ground zero was nice and well cared for. We found a little gift shop and the rest rooms and that was about it. We got back on the bus and that was it, our grand tour. The bell ringers from one of the local schools came on board and played for us. That was pretty and the Tai Koh Drummers sent us off. The captain is really having to put his foot down to get us back to Beijing on time. Had a rattlely cabin all night because of this. Again, it was a quiet afternoon of sleeping and reading  actually I have been working to finish the applique on Amys baby blanket. Again, we seem to be missing the menu for this evening and the food completely escapes me except to note that nearly every item on the menu had been served before. Hmm, this is a little odd. Day 19  Last Day at Sea We spent today packing and getting ready for the disembarkation in Beijing. There are a total of 11 people on our land tour. I hope they are nice and fun to be with. We decided to bring down the bottle of wine we got to the table for dinner, which is down home food  turkey and dressing, prime rib, that sort of thing. Its hard to believe that 16 days have gone by on this cruise. They really went like a snap of the fingers. We spent so much time with our tablemates and they were really a lot of fun. Mostly, its hard to believe all the stuff we bought! I dont remember buying some of it, so its okay. Today I picked up a chain for my locket and some tee shirts. This afternoon, we sailed through a huge fog bank  it was very eerie, then suddenly we popped out to great weather and the coast of China. Now we just have to get up to Beijing. Its has really been a great cruise and the trip of a lifetime. We did so much that we both remark much of it seems like a dream. We exchanged addresses all the way around and left the table a little misty eyed. Its hard to think we will never see these people again. Guess thats a little how life is though. Im just glad we were able to do it. I dont know if I will have time to actually do anything once we get on the land tour, but I will try. Dinner was an odd assortment of items. I had an asparagus soup with tapioca and Prime rib. Chris had Oranges with mint and grand Marnier, a chilled pumpkin soup and turkey. There was an incredible series of storms at sea this evening. Chris called to tell me about the first one and then I woke up for the next two  or it could have just been one really long shower. With no clock in the room, its hard to tell the passage of time. Day 20  Beijing We made plans to have breakfast together and it was a teary event. These people had grown very close to me during the trip and I will miss them. The only thing I didnt get was my tile. I am going to contact Princess when I get home to see if they will ship it to me. I really wanted it for Julie, but at least I got photos of it. Our disembarkation went smoothly enough until we got to Customs, and then we got hung up when they put a large group through just before us. Thankfully the bus waited for us. Our guide is Jackie and hes from Beijing. He reminds a lot of Kenichi when he talks. We have a small group of people, just 11, and I will try to do a recap of them. There is Fran and Jim Yost, whom we met at Bangkok. There is Charlie and Connie from Montreal, Jim and Sandy Carpenter from Washington DC, (I think), Then there are Doris and Wally and Doris sister, Janice, from Michigan. It is a diverse group and we get along pretty well. Im glad its an older group, as I would have problems keeping up with younger people. Jim has had lots of surgeries and walks with a pronounced limp. Connie uses a crutch, so I felt right at home with them. I admire them both for trying this trip We had a two-hour ride into the city from the port area and that was pretty. China has done a lot of beautification, I think mostly because of the Olympics in 2008. Beijing is interesting in that the streets are very wide and they dont permit left turns  go figure! Jackie had suggested that we skip Tiananmen Square until later in the trip and at night so that it would be cooler, but we discovered we had lunch there. After a buffet lunch, (Connie went t back to the hotel because there were no wheelchair access to the Forbidden City we walked out to the square for about 15 minutes and then hit the Forbidden City. Big, enormous, huge, gigantic, none of these words come close to describing the size of it. We walked over three miles in it and didnt even scratch the surface. Jackie said that if you were to sleep in a different room every night, it would take you 27 years to do it. It was a very long day and the hardest part of the whole trip was when we had to wait and wait for the bus. The Crown Plaza is a beautiful hotel and we had a great room, even though we only had time for a quick shower and change before going out to dinner to a banquet. The food was great and we ended up sitting with a family we knew from the ship. They were very funny and the youngest girl was quite the hoot. She and I had a great chat. After dinner, the children put on a show for us, three dances and then they came out to the audience to meet us  they were so cute and the dances were very long and difficult for such young children, but they did a great job. We got back to the hotel at about 9:30 and fell asleep almost instantly. Day 21  Xian This was a day of mishaps, such as Wally losing his backpack and Charlie having a tiny pocketknife in his pouch. Hed flown all the way here with it, but was never stopped. Beijing Airport is huge, but much like any airport once you get use to the mass of people. We got on our plane with no trouble, only to hold for a passenger  for an hour! We were not happy campers. I was afraid this would cut into our time with the warriors, but Jackie assured us it would not. Our guide here is Tony and he has a bedroom voice. I loved listening to him. He was very knowledgeable and was a fountain of information about the area and the various dynasties around Xian. We had a lovely cloudy and cool day to do the figures and it was perfect. The terra cotta warriors were awe-inspiring. What a sight Building One was with its rows and rows of figures! China had a lot of foresight in constructing the area and making sure that it could hold massive amounts of people before they started digging. It was quite well thought out and we had a wonderful time at the site. We got a book signed by one of the farmers who discovered the figures, and I got some tee shirts, figures and a magnet for George. We headed in to Xian, which is a lovely city and went to the hotel  the name eludes me at the moment. It is new and still working the kinks out. Jim and Sandys shower leaked, our toilet plugged up at a very bad time and Janice was given a room with someone in it. That all being said, the bed sure felt good that night. We had dinner at a theater and saw a show. Most people went ohh and ahh, but I wasnt as impressed. I think theater has been forever ruined for me. The costumes were great and the food very good. Day 22  Xian to Chongquin Another early morning of 6:30 a.m. to catch all that we needed to see in Xian before flying out. We saw the bell tower and went to the city wall. They have four gates, but 11 entrances. The city fathers are thinking about tearing it down for more room, but we told Tony that we thought it should stay. He agreed with us. Xian has been the home of many dynasties and has seen a great many battles, but no one has ever gotten over the moat or through the wall. Then we went to a jade factory and I got jade for every one back home, Chris got a pendant for Elaine and we nearly bought a beautiful needle work cat  looked just like Nosh  but the asking price of $5,000 was a bit steep. We did get them down to $2600, but Jackie told us to pay no more than $2500 for it. We left it there. Then we headed for the City museum, which was very lovely. We took it on our own and had a great time of it, even visiting a side building that had nothing but Chinese signs. It had lovely scrollwork and landscapes, as well as some recent finds. We were now seriously ahead of schedule, so Tony urged us to take our time at lunch. We didnt, but kill some extra time by shopping. I got a shirt (surprise) and some bottle covers. We headed to the airport and again had to wait for passengers  six this time. However, they came right along and we even took off early. The flight to Chongquin was pretty short and we had no trouble with our luggage or getting to our bus. The ride wasnt too bad, but we were tired and just wanted to be there. The boat, the Victoria Star, is very nice and we had to the chance to upgrade to a suite. Its very lovely and has a huge balcony facing front. Chris really enjoyed it and spent lots of time out there. Because we were so tired, the ship actually served us dinner and we set sail at about 9:15. Aside from nearly falling out of bed once (the ship occasionally leans side to side), we slept fine. Day 22  Feng Du I have wanted to visit this city for a long time and was very excited to get the chance. It was another early morning of 6:30, but it was good that we took the excursion early to keep as cool as possible. We took the chair lift up and I had no problems negotiating the steps. Again, Connie couldnt go because this place definitely wasnt ADA compliant! Still it was fascinating and we learned a lot about Hell. We had to pass three tests on our way in, walk over the center of three bridges in three steps, cross over the threshold to hell and balance on a rock. The last one about did my back in, but that was okay. The pantheon of ghosts and demons were very different from ours  there was the Good Ghost, who looked after all the animals, the ghost that killed bad babies, the ghost who punished people for reading too much  figure that one out  and just a host more, the far and neared sighted ghosts, the horny ghost, etc. The tour was great because we would walk a bit, then Summer would talk, then wed walk a bit. There were a total of about 250 steps throughout the temple, but I did okay. I was tired though. We spent a quiet and restful afternoon and then went to the Captains reception. It was better than Princesss do. The champagne poured freely and the apps were great. Dinner times vary depending upon where we are in the river. Tonight it was at 7; yesterday it was at 7:30. My poor body is so messed up now. Chris went to the fashion show, but I went to bed. Chris came back and sat on the deck only to discover that they chain the door shut after 10. Thankfully, we are just under the bridge and he was able to attract attention to get the doors unlocked. Day 23  The Three Gorges It was yet another early morning as we hit the first and most dramatic of the Gorges at 6 a.m. We watched it and then went to breakfast before boarding a smaller ship for the four-hour trip to the lesser gorges. The ride in was just breath taking and its impossible to describe just how beautiful it is. We saw the hanging coffins and lots of monkeys  I liked the yellow birds that flew around everywhere. Then we got into small sampans and went up yet another river  this one was called Ma Tu, Horses Knees, because it was so shallow. Now it is 20 feet deep and the water level is due to rise again on the first of September. It was very pretty and quite a trip for my birthday. That night at dinner, there was a surprise in that everyone with birthdays on the cruise were given a lovely painting of the Three Gorges and, similar to the big ships, the dining room staff paraded with cakes to each table. It was nice and a very special way to remember this day. There was a talent show for this evening, but we opted to watch the locks instead. Of course, it was nearly 9:30 before we got to one. Id been have intestinal problems mostly due to my pain medication and it really cut loose today, no pun intended, so much so that I had a pretty rocky night, but Chris slept well. Day 24  Yichang to Wuhan. And guess what time we got up today? Yup, 6:30 again. Chris has gone on a tour of the dam, but I stayed behind due to the aforementioned intestinal reasons. Its better, but I didnt want to chance a squat toilet today. Chris came back to report western toilets a plenty, but I just didnt want to take the risk. He said I would have been bored with the tour and I had had a feeling that it would e the case. Anyhow, he had fun and that was all that counted. We spent a quiet morning and sailed through the last lock at lunchtime. It was a very bizarre sight to watch the ship going down while we were eating. It started to rain as we left the ship, but we hadnt brought anything except hats  it was okay, we didnt melt. Then we left for the four-hour ride to Wuhan. No matter how you slice it, it was long. We stopped at another road-side happy room. Again, this was a sensory adventure. Our guide, Sammy, was interesting and talked a lot about what made Wuhan different from other cities  mostly its their aggressiveness. It looked much like all the other cities wed been to, but armed to the teeth with Citrons. Apparently, Wuhan is the manufacturing capital for this type of car and nearly even one you see in the city is a Citron. We had dinner at the hotel and got to know Jackie a little more as he opened up about his childhood and school days. He was the classic example of bad boy making good. It was interesting to see how very little difference there really is between us. Day 25  Beijing We flew back to Beijing today and it was an okay trip. At least we didnt have to wait for anyone and the trip went quickly. Charlie got to pick his knife back up at the airport and we quickly left for a tour of the Temple of Heaven. It was where the farmers went to pray for a good harvest. It was big, laid out much like the Forbidden City. It was okay, but had to confess to being really tired of temples at this point. We headed back to the hotel to pick up our checked luggage and a night to ourselves. We waited for the luggage to arrive and then headed out to shop. There was a huge street that was blocked form traffic. We checked out two bookstores, but found nothing that would work for John. For dinner, while many of our other traveling companions ate at the hotel, we ate at the Outback. It tastes just like home and, boy, was that good many of them complained that we didnt tell them, but we were ready for some us time. Day 26  Beijing. Today was the Day for the Great Wall. We stopped at a pearl factory on the way out and I got a nice necklace, as well as some earrings for Ginny. The Great Wall was something else and we bucked the norm and headed left, for the more difficult climb. There were fewer people and I made it to the first tower. I then waited for Chris to walk up two more before he caught sight of a tourist in a thong hiking in front of him and he called it quits. One of our members, the highest maintenance one, didnt make the trip, as she was sick with a pre-existing condition. Now why she didnt bring medicine along was anyones guess. Her husband and sister seemed to get along fine without her, so we werent worry, since they werent. We had lunch at the Friendship store, which was okay. It certainly wasnt the best, but also not the worse. The bathrooms were a challenge, but thats okay too. Its our last day here, so I can cope. Bought a bunch of stuff for people back home and then we headed for Mings tomb. This was an okay stop, certainly much smaller than the Summer Palace and I hit the jackpot by finding not only a four-star bathroom, but also four squished penny machines for Julie. It was a major coup. Back at the hotel, Marion was no better and Chris and Jackie went out to look for Gatorade. They found a powder that did the same thing and left it with her. She never even said thank you to them. Made me more than a little mad. We left a little late for our Peking Duck dinner. It was clear across town and I couldnt help but think we could have chosen one closer to the hotel. The dinner was okay, but I thought the hullabaloo about the duck wasnt worth the end result. It was okay, but nothing great. The skin was okay, but greasy. We both tried duck feet, which were okay too. Mostly I was ready to get back to the room and sleep a little. Day 27/28 Homeward bound. Beijing to San Francisco Its time to say goodbye to China and while we had a great time here, I was ready for home. We had a bit of trouble with Security trying to take my little scissors, but I prevailed. We waited in the business lounge and Chris went off to spend the rest of the Yuen he had. Got a bunch of chocolate-cookie things. The flight was pretty smooth, despite the incoming storms. I spelt nearly all the way back, waking just for a midnight snack and then breakfast. It didnt help the jet lag much, but you do what you can. It was worth every minute of travel and effort to do this. I certainly came away with a better understanding of the people and the country. Read Less
Sail Date July 2006
I had a hard time finding previous reviews of this cruise but I am sure others will see that these ports of call are far off and Princess only seems to cruise here 2/3 times a year. My wife and I are in are 40s, have cruised to many ... Read More
I had a hard time finding previous reviews of this cruise but I am sure others will see that these ports of call are far off and Princess only seems to cruise here 2/3 times a year. My wife and I are in are 40s, have cruised to many other destinations, and we did not travel with children- This ship is small compared to other Princess ships with only 650 passengers but that can be better when in port since there are not throngs landing from other ships-but with this closeness you do tend to see the same people over and over, aka forced intimacy! There is only 1 small pool with 2 spas but that seemed fine-Sabatinis and Steak House alternated 3 days off then switched for 3 days on with the same exact wait staff which was kind of weird and the food was ok-the regular seating dinners were easy with the staff allowing to change tables for more guests or locations but a few $5 or $25 casino chips always help! The casino crew and bar staff were the best and made the whole trip great-this cruise had I believe it was 120 Mexican passengers and it seemed they all liked to gamble since I got to meet many of them at the tables. Also met a few very fine Australians who we hung out with. Only downer with the Casino was the slots which had no video poker but lame Australian based slots which everyone including the dealers criticized. The Internet room was usually packed and I think they need to rethink the cost of this use since it is way over priced for what you get (slow connections). The staff and shows were ok, and some of the staff that dance and sing can be seen during the day conducting kids and pool activities doing double duty. A word to those 30/40ish somethings with small children who insist on taking the toddlers and small kids to the late night shows, bingo, and other events and insisting on sitting in the front row-Ok enough already we know you can reproduce and were willing to pay the extra cost to drag them along so please just keep them under control and in your own little world! I didn't think I would travel 3k miles to have that Chucky Cheesey feeling- Food and Wait Staff were great, but to that guy at the 2nd 8:15 seating I know you are on vacation but next time please try and not wear leather flip flops to dinner, then flip them off and have your bare feet out and on your wife's seat, floor, table, for me to see 12 of 16 nights! There was a typhoon heading to China and the Captain decided that nothing would stop him so he just followed behind it for 2 days, and my stomach felt it as well as others- Bangkok- Kind of dirty in the city- Malaysia- went to a fish drying village very hot, smelly, so why? Singapore-Very clean and neat- Saigon-wow talk about going back to the dark ages, very 3rd world- Nha Trang-nice beach area, but ruined by the pushy vendors- Shang Hai-Fun place, and Rolex watches for only $13 US dollars! korea-industrial port, so again why? Bejing-great wall more desperate vendors, view to emerging super power I am sure I am missing a few ports but they all seem to run together after the 4th port! Read Less
Sail Date July 2005
We have just returned from a Sapphire Princess Bangkok to Beijing cruise. We enjoyed the cruise but feel that we prefer a smaller ship - distance around the ship is vast and there is the inconvenience of having to go forward for most of ... Read More
We have just returned from a Sapphire Princess Bangkok to Beijing cruise. We enjoyed the cruise but feel that we prefer a smaller ship - distance around the ship is vast and there is the inconvenience of having to go forward for most of the restaurants, atrium etc. We had an aft cabin and this did necessitate long walks through the ship. The waiting service on the ship is excellent and could not be faulted. The International Dining Room and all other restaurants provided excellent service as did Horizon Buffet. The buffet food was much more hygienic and appetizing than usual on these ships. Cabin was in excellent condition with walk in robe, two tvs and a balcony - our room steward very efficient and helpful. However, we could not say the same about the Passenger Services Desk and Tour Desk. On both these desks there appears to be staff with "attitude". Both desks appear to be most disorganized and have no real idea of what is happening - come back again was mostly the comment with queries and they were quite unhelpful. The ship because of its size, docked outside the main area of the city and there were long distances to travel by coach. Passengers were charged for these shuttles - most of the passengers were irate that because of the size of the ship, passengers were penalized for the ship's size and this should have been included in the fare. The ship had a mixed passenger component, but the Americans especially were not at all happy and numerous Platinum cruise card holders were heard to say that they would never against travel with Princes. Disembarkation in Beijing was a nightmare - first passengers called off boat at 7.30 a.m. to no luggage out. Coaches full - people milling around - hardly any help at all from Princess staff. We were transported from ship to transit hotel in Beijing to wait for our luggage. This did not arrive till 3 p.m. - I can tell you there were many livid passengers by then. We enjoyed our cruise but we would hesitate to travel with Princess again. From what we heard, there have been many changes for the worse since Carnival took over the Line and for many people it was a disastrous vacation. We will be looking at Celebrity or Holland America for our cruise in '06. Read Less
Sail Date March 2005
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