After my most recent cruise with P&O Australia around 15 months ago I came to the conclusion that P&Os standards (in particular with the food options) have dropped too far and it was time to try another cruise line so when a good ... Read More
After my most recent cruise with P&O Australia around 15 months ago I came to the conclusion that P&Os standards (in particular with the food options) have dropped too far and it was time to try another cruise line so when a good deal came up on the Sun Princess that suited us we did some research on the ship and booked.
I need to say early on that I have never been on a cruise that I didn't thoroughly enjoy so I went on this cruise knowing that not everything will be catered to my taste but I was ready to make the most of it. I will point out also that I will make mention of the bad things not to have a whinge, just to give a balanced review.
My wife and I are mid (to late) 40s with 2 children 13 and 11 so we don't really fit the demographic that is being catered for, the shows, the trivia questions and pretty much everything else is catered to much older passengers but with that said we go on cruises for a range of reasons and while some aspects may not be to our taste, other aspects would be.
The old folks
After being on the Sun Princess I dont think you could go without mentioning the old folks, they are slow and walking frames are parked up on many corners, the tendering process to shore was slowed down by some of the less agile and waiting behind them as they tried to fill a plate one piece at a time at the buffet had me wanting to fill the plate for them. BUT, listening to their stories over a meal in the dining room was a real highlight for me, one lady spoke in great detail about her life in Russian occupied East Berlin before she escaped and how her husband was a POW in a Russian camp. Another lady gave her account of when the Japanese subs came into Sydney Harbour. Certainly the older generation have a lot to share and if I need to wait a little longer to get to an island so be it, it's worth it.
Very smooth, we got there a little early so had to wait half an hour or so before we could go through customs but other than that it was very straight forward, easy and quick, even with the half hour wait to board it still took no more than an hour from arriving to getting aboard
No surprise for a 22 year old ship that there are some things that are damaged or rust stained but behind the signs of wear is a beautiful ship, well appointed and comfortable with plenty of open spaces to enjoy
Kids club options are not good with just 2 groups, 3 to 12 and 13 to 17, the 2 groups meant that our kids not quite 12 and recently turned 13 were in 2 groups and both with a lot of kids a long way from their age. My kids wanted to be in the same group and my "not quite 12 year old" didn't want to be with "the babies" and I wasn't real comfortable with my 13 year old being put in with nearly 18 year olds. As a result they didn't go to kids club (as much as we begged them to go) after our initial visit when we signed them up and they hung around with us for most of the cruise, as much as we love them a little time without them would have been nice.
A lot of really good dining options including a free room service menu;
The buffet, not a huge range of options each night but some well prepared good quality choices and it changed every day, some highlights were the grilled king prawns and the bowl of strawberries with mouth watering deserts to choose from and of course the fruit which included a great selection of mostly ready to eat fruit.
A burger/pizza, pie type place outside has hotdogs, pies, ribs, pulled pork and a few other options. Level 5 was an international cafe that served food and drinks 24 hours, the food is free and always looked good while the coffees were not free.
The restaurants, nice with a good range of options but be careful, many people were turned away on formal nights for not being formal enough for their liking
Not to my taste at all, I dont like the musical stage shows but many said they were very well done, I like a good comedian or a hypnotist, there was a comedian which we saw once and he was good but he was careful to avoid "going over the line" which probably stopped him from being as funny as he could have been. Other than that there was a band that was good, pianists and violinists played well and many passengers raved about how good they were, of course they cater to the majority of their customers so although it wasn't to my taste I cant really complain about it too much as it is well known as an "older cruise"
For the most part very good, I didn't think anybody really stood out as exceptional but certainly the kind of service a frequent cruiser would expect
13 days, 6 consecutive port days in the middle and all good ports with each port being better than the one before it. It was a busy schedule and a day at sea to break it up may have been better but knowing what to expect for each port we paced ourselves (and our wallets) to make the most of the more preferred ports.
Rainy and overcast but not cold, we had planned on the aquarium so it didn't affect us too much, I was really pleased with the aquarium with many sea creatures I hadn't seen elsewhere in such good exhibits. Little bit of a downer that they advertise Dugongs outside, we went through the whole place looking for them as did many others, reality is they have some pictures of them, none the less a small but very good aquarium. We had time and a hop on hop off bus ticket so could have gone elsewhere but we decided to head back to the ship for lunch. Aquarium and hop on hop off bus for 2 adults, 2 children was 80,000 pacific Francs which is about $100 Au, we could have saved a few $s by getting the local bus to the aquarium and paying the entry fee at the aquarium but there really isn't much in it. Be mindful that there are 2 groups with hop on hop off buses, one is roughly $40 per adult and $20 for children, the other is half price, the difference is that one say they guarantee your return to the ship, I am not sure exactly how that works but if you allow yourself enough time to get back you wont have a problem.
I really enjoy what Lifou has to offer, Snorkeling is fantastic, especially at Janek bay or the leap of faith up by the church is also good for a walk but knowing we had some busy days ahead we went for a swim, the kids played in the sand and we went back to the ship early before lunch
We got out early and being low tide the snorkeling probably wasn't as food as it would have been, the water was too shallow over many of the easily accessible reefs, by our own choice we didn't do as much as we could have but still had a great day.
This is what we were waiting for, or the start of it at least, we found the same driver we had in Vila last time, his name is Michel and once again he was great, I negotiated a price, $100 for the day and offered a tip for a great day out. he took us to the "Nakamal" (where the chiefs meet) which had just been restored then onto our next spot.
Blue lagoon ($6 entry per person) we were the first there and it was fantastic, it was big, clean and has a sandy bottom which was not too deep so perfect for people who may not be strong swimmers, it included a couple of swings out over the water which were well used as more people turned up. From there the driver recommended a cultural village which wasn't far away, $10 for adults and $5 for children, we were the only ones there and they put on a show just for us including painting our faces and showing us dances explaining their culture and the significance along the way before finally encouraging us up to dance with them, I was really touched by how much effort they went to to make us welcome, it ended with a group photo which they encouraged so we could remember them. they had a donation box as well and another $10 went in there.
Next stop, Turtle Sanctuary, for $18 adults $20 if you include the lunch and half price for children we got to swim with turtles, hold turtles, feed turtles, yes there were other animals but who cares, there was turtles, well worth the price of admission and the meal, for the extra couple of dollars we spent we didn't expect much but it was great, huge variety and plenty of it.
Next stop duty free at the well known "Fung Kwei" (spelling may be wrong), this place is just over half the price on the ship so well worth the visit, for example 1 litre of vodka $17 compared to $32 on board and from there back to the ship. This time around we paid our driver in vatu which works out to be about $120 and we gave him another 2000 vatu which is worth about $25 Au, together with some drinks and lunch we bought him it probably cost us $150 Au but well worth it, his name again Michel, I thoroughly recommend asking for him by name, he was very good and I never felt at all like he was trying to do anything dodgy with us
Looked for our previous driver but couldn't find him so started negotiating for another driver, we started by negotiating a price with one person who seemed to be running a few cars who agreed with our offer of $100 for the day and directed us to a car, once in I confirmed the price and the driver said "no, he will take us to a blue hole and back for that price". I explained that its not what I negotiated so if he wasn't happy with my offer to let me out, he began to drive away with us in the car, I wasn't comfortable so I asked him to stop and let us out, once out I met another guy who's name was Rex, I negotiated the price with him and confirmed that he was happy with $100 for the day and when he agreed without hesitating I went with him. There is heaps to do in Luganville but I was looking for something a little different so we went to the Riri Blue hole, ($5 entry per person) one of our kids hadn't been there before so it was a good choice for an early swim, we were the first there and got right in where we spent an hour or so before moving on. next we went to see the water music and cultural village (I think $20 for adults and $10 for children) there they had 5 different areas; the "men's hut" where they explained and demonstrated kava making and offered a sample if I wanted to but did not pressure me at all to try it. next "the woman's hut" where they demonstrated fire lighting with wood and sticks then went on to show some cooking techniques and offered samples. Next up the "woman's dance", "the men's dance" and finally the water music.
Next stop we went to a local shop to replace a pair of thongs that had broken then to the main town center and restaurant where we had a really nice meal, pizza, steak, chicken, chips and salad as well as lunch for our driver was around $60, the bulk of that was for the steak I ordered (roughly $40 Au) which was very good even if a little over priced. After downing some cool drinks including some local "Tusker" beer we went back to the ship but not before organising Rex for the following day. We paid the driver in vatu again and gave a tip so it ended up roughly $150 Au for the driver again if you factor in lunch and drinks
Champagne beach is beautiful and if you spent a day there you would never be upset but a short drive away is "Port Orly", you could get a driver to take you there and hope another driver is about to take you back which they probably would be which could cost as little as $10 per person return or you can have a driver on call for the day for a little more which is what we did. After being dropped off we let the driver go off to make a few more fares and arranged for him to come back just after lunch to take us to our next destination. Port Orly has no admission charge and has some really nice huts for guests to use which include comfortable sun beds, hammock and table right on the beach, I am sure that if you started eating food and drink you had purchased elsewhere they might get a little upset but so long as you are buying drinks there they didn't have a problem, local beer $4, soft drinks about $2, they also had food, (my son had a burger which was about $4) some was very expensive, some was very cheap so check both shops there and they had a hut for massages which was cheap but it was probably more of a back rub than massage.
The beach itself at Port Orly is long and clean with soft sand, the water not as clear as champagne beach only because the waves are a little bigger, for snorkeling stay at champagne beach, for exploring rock pools or a little privacy Port Orly is worth a visit with maybe 10 or 15 people there at the most during our visit. Our driver was back a little early and we could have done a few different things but he had another passenger with him which was Ok but did influence our decisions a little as we considered what he wanted to do as well. With the other passenger waiting for us at Port Orly we decided not to have lunch there and instead went back to Champagne beach where we were greeted by what looked like 2000 other cruise passengers. We paid the driver in both vatu and $Au because it was what we had and it worked out around $110 Au, we could have done in much cheaper with the many cars hanging about but I felt he deserved it after 2 fantastic days. At Champagne beach we snorkeled, swam, looked through the markets and relaxed on the beach for a couple more hours before heading back to the ship on one of the last tenders after another really good day out.
Our only problem here was that one of our bags was missing when we got to the baggage area, after finding a similar looking bag with a similar looking tag it was suggested that just maybe somebody else had picked up the wrong bag, we phoned the number on the tag and sure enough, luckily she hadn't gotten too far and the customs people sorted everything out with the bag exchange. other than that we would have been off in less than 20 minutes.
One final thing worth a mention is the non alcoholic drinks package, $7 per day and it includes mocktails, juices. milk shakes, hot chocolates and of course soft drinks, the 4 of us had that and cost a bit under $400 for the entire cruise. had we not had it we would have drank a lot more water and gotten by just fine bit i did enjoy the fruity mocktails and hot chocolates.
Would I go with Princess again?, yes I would, not entirely to my taste with everything but they do a lot of things very well, next time though I think I need the kids in another room, its just too small for 4 people in the normal size cabins Read Less