I went on the London (Southampton) to Rome 10-day portion of this 35+ day cruise. The itinerary went on through Dubai, India, to Singapore. Most of the people I met were on for the full cruise. This was my 10th cruise, 9th with ... Read More
I went on the London (Southampton) to Rome 10-day portion of this 35+ day cruise. The itinerary went on through Dubai, India, to Singapore. Most of the people I met were on for the full cruise. This was my 10th cruise, 9th with Princess, but my first time seeing Europe by cruise. I am 60 years old, live in the Midwest US, and a solo traveler. The ports were the determining factor in choosing this sailing. Realizing that I could have a few days in London on the front end, and make stops at LeHavre (to see Mont St. Michel) and Gibraltar (to see the Barbary Apes) made it an easy decision. Then I also decided as long as I was doing this, I would stay in Rome two days as well at the end.
Obviously I am a Princess fan or I would not be a repeat customer. I had a fabulous time on this trip. The ports were one thrill after another. Although I can be very anxious leading up to a vacation, once the vacation is underway, I like to relax and am not looking for things to pick apart or criticize. I made my air arrangements through Princess to fly non-stop to London Heathrow and also arranged a pre-cruise package at the JW Marriott Grosvenor House Hotel.
The hotel stay was the only disappointing part of the trip. This is an expensive property and based on what I was paying, I expected superlative service, which I did not receive. My room also had several problems that were not remedied. I felt maybe it was because I was a female traveling alone, but it could also have been that I was there the same time as the NFL London football game. The Tennessee Titans staff and cheerleaders were staying there, and I simply wasn't important enough to receive any type of adequate service. I was out exploring London all day during my 3 days there, so I wasn't at the hotel during the times the Princess desk was open, to make a complaint. I did complain to the front desk and I also gave a negative review in the Marriott satisfaction survey. Both resulted in nothing but excuses, double-talk, and an acknowledgement that "my expectations hadn't been met", but not even so much as an apology for that.
My flight to London was fine. I was very surprised at how long it took to clear immigration and passport control. Arriving on a Thursday morning, in the latter part of October, I didn't expect it to be so crowded. I had tried to research online what an expected wait time would be and it seemed to be 20-30 minutes, but I was in line for well over an hour. I did note that about one-third of the available desks for the immigration/passport control workers did not have anyone working at them. I'm sure it would be much worse if arriving on a weekend day or during the summer tourist season, so keep that in mind if you're flying in same day for a cruise out of London. The cruise line can't do anything to help you expedite getting through that line. Having Global Entry status would be the way to speed it up.
Princess sent a driver with a Mercedes sedan to pick me up, which was a very nice touch. Other than the problematic hotel room and the inhospitable attitude of the JW Marriott employees, my 3 days in London were great. On the 4th day, we left on a coach for the approximate 2 hour drive to Southampton around 10:00 or 10:30. As a result, we were in Southampton, I think around 12:15 and was on the ship very quickly. The line to check in was very short, but there were a lot of people that had already been through check-in and not yet allowed on the ship. I was able to board immediately, I guess as a perk of being a platinum Princess member.
The safety briefing was fine. We were not required to bring life jacket to the briefing, which was nice. They had reworked the old "Love Boat" theme song to lyrics, which was goofy.
I had a mini suite on Deck 9. It was a nice cabin on the port side, with nice balcony. The new Princess bed is marvelous. Cabin attendant was fine, he was personable and did a good job. It seemed like he was always in the hall somewhere and he would inquire as to where I was going- I think so as to have an idea of approximately how long I would be out of the cabin. The cabin was always tidied up when I returned.
I have seen other comments about how Sapphire does not seem crowded and I agree with that. Other than the shows and the daily trivia sessions in Explorer Lounge, it always felt spacious, easy to find a table or a seat, even in the Piazza. I love walking around the Promenade Deck for several miles. There were never many people doing that. I also make it a habit to use the stairs instead of elevators during a cruise and the stairs were not crowded either. The International Café and the Horizon Court buffet were never as crowded as I have experienced on other Princess cruises.
I thought the ship was in very good condition after its dry dock earlier this year. Then again, I am not going to walk around the ship with a magnifying glass searching for peeling paint or rust spots. I did not participate in a lot of ship activities. This was a port-intensive cruise and after being out most of the day, I was happy to do my walk, get something to eat, or sit on deck or in a lounge and read. I did enjoy Movies under the Stars and liked the selection of movies. I wasn't interested in the production shows; I would have liked to see the comedian, but I arrived too late and it was standing room only. I did not eat any meals in the dining room. I tried the Crab Shack, and otherwise ate at the buffet, the pizzeria, International Café or the burger stand. I also had room service continental breakfast on a couple of mornings when I had early tours.
I did 3 Princess shore excursions, 1 independent excursion, (arranged through Cruise Critic Roll Call), skipped going ashore in one port, and walked around on my own in one port.
The first stop was LeHavre, and I did Princess excursion to Mont St Michel, which is a monastery and walled town dating back to 900's. I have wanted to see it for a long time, but the last time I was in France, I ran out of time. It's a long way from the port to Mont St. Michel - about 3 hours each way, but it was worth it to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour. The guide spoke very good English and was very informative. Almost every tour I did on this trip uses earphones with a small radio type device that you can hang around your neck. This was very helpful as you did not need to stay right next to the guide to hear what was being said. Outside the monastery, the walled city is mostly restaurants and souvenir shops. There was time to walk about, do a bit of shopping and have lunch.
In Lisbon, I did an excursion arranged on the Cruise Critic roll call with Spain Day Tours. I didn't know much about Lisbon and was feeling kind of "meh" about the excursion. Well, I was wrong. The guide was my favorite of the cruise and the trip was fabulous. we went to the villages of Cascais and Sintra. Sintra has the Pena Palace which was formerly the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family. It was spectacular and very interesting- again, thanks to the very well educated and informative guide. Back in Lisbon, we also stopped at the beautiful Jeronimos Cathedral - very worth a visit and the Monument to the Discoverers. A great great day out and she made sure we were back to the ship in plenty of time (there were multiple people on the tour afraid we would miss sailing)
In Gibraltar, I did not do a tour. I knew what I wanted to do - ride the cable car to the top of the rock and see the Barbary Apes. Hint: if you want to do this, buy your cable car ticket in advance online. Gibraltar has a website with a lot of information about what you can see there and you can buy the cable car ticket. I decided to walk to the cable car as it was about 1.5 miles from the port, but I got hopelessly lost - after 45 minutes I wound up back near the ship and had to start over. Didn't see any cabs. Finally found it and then I was so very happy to have booked in advance. The line to buy tickets was immense. Probably 3 blocks long easily. Even with the advance ticket, it still took 60-90 minutes to work through the line to where you were actually on the cable car. It's a 6 minute ride to the top of the rock. The Barbary Apes are the only wild monkeys living in Europe and legend has it that if they ever leave, then Gibraltar will no longer be a part of the United Kingdom. The government cares for them and feeds them. They are extremely habituated to tourists and will try to snatch plastic bags from you in the hopes of getting a snack. One did make an unsuccessful grab for my bag. They are too cute for words. There is a snack bar/gift shop up at the top and the monkeys are forever trying to get in. I sat there for about 30 minutes having a soda and a monkey got in 3 or 4 times, once successfully, as he leapt on a table , grabbed someone's sandwich, knocked over their drinks before being chased out.
Barcelona was rainy and chilly. I had a Princess tour to Montserrat, which is a monastic retreat and home of the Black Madonna. Montserrat is in the mountains and the temperature was in the upper 30's - not what I expected on a Mediterranean cruise. It was a half day tour and we did not have a lot of time at Montserrat, even though the guide gave us 30 additional minutes. The line for the Black Madonna was so long that I didn't think I could see it and anything else, so chose to skip that and explore the rest.
On this tour, the coach was full of sick people. The coughing and sneezing was intense. I know there is not much a cruise line can do about this, but it was very annoying. Because I was in an enclosed space with so many people that were sick, I wound up getting sick.
The next stop was Toulon. I had originally booked an all-day excursion, but it was raining again, and I was already starting to feel a cold coming on, so I cancelled it and stayed on the ship for a day.
The next stop was Livorno for Florence and Pisa. My Florence tour had been changed to where we were not going to be able to see the David statue, so I changed to a half day tour of Pisa instead. It was a very enjoyable tour, another really good guide. The leaning tower is so iconic, it is a jaw dropping moment to walk around a corner into the Square of Miracles and see it there. I kind of wished I had booked the tour to climb the tower. Maybe next time. It was amusing to see so many people trying to pose so that their pictures look like they are leaning against or propping up the tower. It was also a very nice sunny day.
We docked in Rome on Halloween. I had booked the Rome Airport Hilton as I had a 6:00 am flight two days later. It was a very nice hotel with very courteous and helpful staff. I did a walking tour of the Vatican (breathtaking and overwhelming) and a walking tour of the Capuchin bone chapel and the Priscilla catacombs. The next day I went to the Colosseum and walked around in rain all day.
I flew home via Amsterdam. Here's another hint - if you are connecting through Amsterdam, make sure you have a couple of hours between flights. Fortunately I did. I had no idea that even while just changing flights in Amsterdam, you need to go through a long passport control line.
All in all, it was an amazing trip. I think the biggest surprise was how very crowded everything (off the ship) was. London, Rome, and every port - very very crowded. Buses and subways in London and Rome jammed. Every museum, or church, or monument - jammed, with the Vatican being the most crowded of all. I did not expect this in late October and would never go to Europe in the summer high season! But Princess did their usual fabulous job and this itinerary was excellent. I highly enjoyed it and am looking forward now to a Scandinavian itinerary in a couple of years. Read Less