Background and Hotel information
We chose this cruise for various reasons, one as it appeared to be very good value, two as I had not been to Japan previously and we did want to experience it; and three we do like Princess as a very good product who seem to always deliver for clients, on the whole!
We stayed overnight at Sydney airport (Rydges) where we normally stay prior to flights on the very next day; it is a good hotel and they throw in plane runway action at no extra cost, well a little extra for a partial runway view. We had an early morning flight to Brisbane from the domestic terminal and connecting flight to Tokyo with Qantas. Seamless exercise to enter the Qantas transfer terminal across the road, check your bags in all the way to Tokyo, clear security, straight onto a bus to the domestic terminal, then wait for your flight. (worst part for domestic flights)
Arrived Brisbane airport, then we required transfer to international terminal, yes well, no signage past the terminal to transport to International Terminal. We walked up the ramp to what we thought was a free train to the international terminal only to find when we asked it was free for Virgin passengers only another with another young lady had also charged up the same path as us and we together charged back down the escalator and finally found the bus to the terminal 100 metres away, extremely small sign and no signage to point to where it stopped to pick up passengers. WE INCLUDED ALL THESE DETAILS TO PERHAPS HELP OTHERS WHO MAY BE ABLE TO AVOID THE SAME FATE AS ALL OF US!
At Tokyo airport it appeared fairly disorganised and 2 more mature Japanese airport officials were barking orders at all non-Japanese citizens to form a very large snake like line that slithered its way to the passport verification area (immigration). It took quite a while to have our passports and fingerprints recorded, the younger immigration officers appeared not to speak English and 3 lines of people fought their way to each of them (three of them) to have passports verified initially. Then we went through security, then we were marshalled into lines again to have the machines verify all details and then line up for the immigration officers to check out passports. Finally, we were through and we went to buy our tickets to Yokohama, where we were to stay for two nights prior to going to the port to board the ship.
No one at the train ticket counter speaks English, you need to know what train to catch prior to reaching the counter. If you can recognise the correct picture of your train on the pamphlet the lady was asking us to verify what train we wished to catch, then you are on a winner. She then informed man at counter and tickets were issued. About $50 each for the fast-direct train to Yokohama, expensive, however worth it! We advised others in the line to take the same train, however, they chose to take several trains to reach the destination. We spoke to several of them on the ship afterwards and they had large delays and packed trains to save $20!! Lesson learnt, we had a no fuss quick trip on a clean and comfortable train, worth every cent paid.
We stayed at the Sheraton, very near the station, after obliging to take some photos for a group of Japanese teenagers outside the hotel, we finally made it, yay! We carried out all formalities and were allocated a room. They must have had their wires crossed as we asked for a non-smoking room and no we didn't get a non-smoking room. We discovered the smell after we had been out to buy some food from the supermarket, yes, they didn't speak English, however, pick and pay, not so bad. Next day they gave us a non-smoking room up two levels and it was small, as all rooms appear to be in Tokyo hotels, however it was clean and smelt fresh.
Yokohama is an old fishing port, quite large, however not much to see, we walked around next day quite a lot, then early night for the next exciting day. $20 for a cab to the port, no hassles just pay it. Waited in terminal for an hour, we were the first group to board, seamless, very well-done Yokohama people and Princess, best embarkation yet in over 35 cruises (not all Princess).
We sailed on this ship from Sydney to New Zealand in April 2006 and loved the ship and the cruise. Well she isn't almost new anymore, however, the ship has been kept in very good condition overall. Big tick for Princess, the public areas are clean and well maintained, the restaurants were in good condition, and the external condition of the ship and decks were good. Teak chairs on the promenade deck are still intact, another big tick for Princess.
The activities were various as they are on other lines, the mainly Japanese entertainment crew were enthusiastic and managed to keep the mainly older clientele amused and interested in most activities. We enjoyed some of the trivia, around the world photo trivia was a lot of fun, the NZ host actually took the excellent photos around the world. It was new and we liked endeavouring to recognise all the locations across the globe, our score at the conclusion placed us equal second, we were pleased overall with the outcome, well most people like to win, que sera sera!!
Congratulations Princess, overall, we rate your staff "numero uno" amongst those who are recognised as premium cruise lines of the world. We had two cabin stewards, one disembarked in Singapore and the other assumed his role, both were very good, with some small deficiencies. We had some major problems with the new Premier Drinks package, I had two packages placed on my card by Princess and my wife had none. We endeavoured to sort it out on the first day to no avail. Three days later it was alleged to be sorted, alas, it was not. Chrissie the fantastic Client Services Officer was brilliant she changed our cards on day 3 and all seemed to work well. Human error with the new software in some restaurants and bars led to my wife being charged at least one drink per day for 17 days out of 22. Last 5 days it was heaven, no errors, yesss!! The staff had to record that we both had the premier package by pressing the key twice on the system, the error appeared allegedly when it was only pressed once, we do not blame the staff, the software and process was flawed.
We cancelled the Premier package on the following back to back cruise in this ship, enough is enough, it almost ruined our holiday, we are resilient, we think!
It was such a hassle to also count the drinks consumed (limit is now 15, and it is over $30 AUD dearer than last season in AUS) we think don't bother with it, too expensive and not condusive to having a good time sorting out the mess every day! Every cruise line with alcohol packages are raising prices and setting ridiculous and intimidating rules for consumers, don't buy them, unless they are supplied as part of a cruise package that hasn't had the price elevated too much to include the alcohol, speciality coffee and water.
After all they buy the alcohol at DUTY FREE PRICES and mark it up to on shore prices, it is a rip off, not just the packages, the price of all alcohol on cruise ships is a major profit maker for all of them. Drink onshore and buy minimum amounts on board in protest, enough is enough with this scam as well!!!
Well of the band wagon and back to the staff, client services staff overall were ok on this cruise, Chrissie and Eugene were standouts, promote them Princess, they actually solve problems, are not over assertive as some others were and they do not try to dismiss your problem, and hope you go away! And yes, Mr A don't try and intimidate and blame clients for software and human error from Princess when we know the score!!
Restaurant staff are the best, we loved them, their supervisors such as Angelo, breakfast and lunch chief supervisor for main restaurant take a bow Sir, you are the best we have seen on any ship, as I said earlier, we know we have been on over 35 cruises on various lines.
Josef in same restaurant and in at night in the Santé Fe restaurant also take a bow, always found a table for us, polite, friendly and also a true professional as Angelo is. Mario, like your style, keep up the good work!
Staff in Horizon Court both cooks, chefs, food servers and wait staff were always very helpful, courteous, and went out of their way to assist people and serve drinks, coffee, and tea, well done people! Officers seemed friendly and were out and about on the ship. Engineering and maintenance staff were always working hard to maintain the ship, well done!
Bar stewards were overall fantastic, JP, a great bloke and cared about the mature people that were less mobile on the ship and on shore in Singapore, helped a lady to catch a taxi, when she was determined to walk with her walking stick 500 metres in the searing heat to MRT station, what a champion you are JP, safe and successful travels in future! Bar steward Rico, true pro as well, up and coming star as well. Ricardo, keep up the good work, also for Danny, Carlos, Alice, Nelson, Shailesh, and all the staff in the coffee shop on level 5, well done!
Princess overall your staff are your ACE IN THE PACK, majority are from the Philippines, great overall staff over a long period of time with Princess, other nationalities fit in well with them generally as well!!
Port & shore excursions
We enjoyed Shimizu excursion to Shogun palace remains, gardens, temples, and parks. We also enjoyed excursion to Litchfield National Park in Darwin, we didn't have time to explore Darwin by foot, the tour did a short tour of the city by bus, we will return to Darwin one day.
Travel to embarkation port
See background information above for remarks.
We had a balcony cabin midship on deck 11. Cabin overall was in good condition, bed was very comfortable, pillows could have been firmer, however ok. Bathroom is dated, and please Princess invest in a glass semicircular shower door, similar to MSC Divina, or a flat glass door as seen on Celebrity Solstice class ships and HAL Koningsdam, best shower and bathroom on the seas, to date! We had a terrible sewage smell wafting up to our balcony for a large majority of the cruise, it appeared to be coming out of the vent on deck 7, we reported it as did many other in balconies under and near ours, it did improve marginally, they had a real problem. We have trouble with our air con, warm through Asia and near Darwin, people in balconies had their doors open most of the time, sucking hot air in, which obviously sucked our cool air to their rooms to try and cool their rooms, well some people really have no clue about things such as air conditioning and closing doors to ensure everyone's air conditioning works efficiently, hmmm!
Restaurant staff excellent, breakfast menu was good, perhaps include more meals such as eggs benedict, however, menu is ok, and food quality is good and meals are warm to hot. Lunch menus and food quality are very good, we liked going there on a regular basis.
We went to all the included restaurants for dinner, same menu at all of them, all were good for dinner, good menus, some food included on the Princess dinner menus, however, are only available in specialty restaurants on other Premium cruise line, yes that includes Celebrity, last time we cruise on Solstice. Princess senior management do follow Celebrity's error, keep your menu that is very satisfying and good quality.
In saying keep the menu, perhaps as we said in your survey add at least one relevant meal to the four anytime dining venues, such as 1 Italian meals each night in Vivaldi, one steak or European meal in Savoy, an Asian meal in Pacific Moon, and a Mexican inspired meal each night in Santé Fe!!
Most guest entertainers that we were able to find a seat to view were average to above average. The ship entertainment group who performed "Bravo" were excellent, best performance from quality entertainers we have seen ever on any ship!
No problem we were transfer passengers for the back to back cruise to Melbourne and Tasmania, went off without a hitch, well done Sydney and Princess.
Apart from the Premier alcohol drink package debacle and one manager blaming us for a software and Princess human error, and some cabin aspects and other minor issues, Princess A class staff and food quality and menus won the day's overall for us. We will return to Princess again when time permits, we have booked a lot of cruise in future as we have both just retired.
As an old chap in an English comedy show from years back frequently remarked in the show "rock on" Princess! Read Less