Ranked #13 Princess fleet
Ranked #83 among all ships
Regions: Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe
Prices Start at:$299/day
One of the 1990s ships, smallest in the fleet, good for long, quiet voyages to faraway places ...Read the CruiseMates report
Ranked #13 Princess fleet
Ranked #83 among all ships
Regions: Asia & Africa, Australia, Europe
Prices Start at:$299/day
One of the 1990s ships, smallest in the fleet, good for long, quiet voyages to faraway places ...Read the CruiseMates report
My husband and I absolutely loved this cruise and will do it again in a couple of years. It was second time on the Dawn Princess we did an island south pacific cruise in October 2011. The ship was going into dry dock when we got back to Australia and needed it. The ship is looking decidedly tired and in need of a makeover.
We could not fault the service by the crew but Princess do seem to not be organised well when dealing with US immigration day for all the passengers. Princess need to have more control over passengers when these days occur and also when there are people who line up for whatever reason.
Other than that the cruise was wonderful and the ship covered all our needs, with entertainment and things to do. I did the watercolour classes and Ian enjoyed the competitions for golf etc. As we have just completed our third cruise with Princess I would like to see less of the same people who entertain, and some are below standard.
We have had the same comedian on all cruises and he not that good, and hestates the same jokes for at least half his routine. The shows are great by the dancers and singers but again they need a bit more of a change as we have seen some twice and as we would like to do more Princess cruises would like to know we get variation. This also applies to the movies in the theatre, more variety and more up todate would be good as I do not see many back home and this is one of my things I enjoy on the cruise.
Will probably go with Princess again due to coming out of Sydney so much but will also look at some of the others for a change. Library was good, internet expensive and naturally depending on signal can be a pain, deck chairs need an upgrade some very grubby and old looking, clean otherwise on ship, and most service was great.
28 day cruise around Australia. It was a nursing home at sea. All old people. Very boring for young and middle age people. everything was for the older people. If you like to have fun and stay up late don't go because everything shuts down early. Very boring bands also.
Wanted to start off by saying that this was our first cruise, so I have no basis of comparison.
My husband and I just returned recently from our seven-day trip to the Mexican Riviera aboard the Dawn Princess. I had read some negative stuff on the boards about this smaller ship and I have to admit I was a bit nervous about how our cruise would turn out. However, we had a fantastic time and the trip exceeded our expectations!
Cabin We selected an unobstructed ocean view room at the VERY front of the ship (Dolphin deck). The location was not ideal for several reasons: long walk to and from elevators/stairs, lots of movement when the ship hit rough water, noisy when we entered and left each port. The room itself was perfectly comfy. Good size, lots of closet space, comfy bed. I loved having a vanity by the window. The comforter needed to be replaced (a bit faded), but the rest of the room was in tip-top shape.
Food The dining room was delish and definitely went above and beyond expectation. The only night I did not enjoy was Italian night asI thought the food a bit bland (my "fiery prawns" weren't spicy at all). Other than that, each dish was splendid and I now have an appreciation for chilled soup. Each dinner is five course (appetizer, soup, salad, entrée, and dessert) and you will walk away stuffed.
The Horizon Court Buffet was disappointing, but we only ate breakfast and lunch there. We've been to many buffets and this was not up to snuff, however, I did manage to find something each meal to enjoy. The pile of lox at breakfast was a definite highlight as was the fresh fruit. The hash brown "pucks" were just plain odd tasting. Not sure that they were actual potatoes… But overall, it's hard to mess up eggs, bacon and oatmeal. Lunch was unspectacular and the so-called sushi served at one meal was pretty dreadful. I do have to say that I was thrilled to find that I enjoyed the coffee.
We ate at the Sterling Steakhouse one night ($15 ea. cover charge) and we were not disappointed! HUGE, perfectly cooked cuts of steak. We each had a 17 oz. rib eye, but the cuts went from a petite fillet all the way up to a 22 oz. porterhouse that was massive. Delicious chocolate pecan pie!
We ordered pizza the last night of the cruise from La Scala and weren't impressed. The pizza was thin and bland. Not what we expected.
Ate once at the Balcony Grill -- pretty basic cheeseburger and fries.
Drinks OK, here is where you will want to keep your cruise card in check. Drinks are pricey ($4.75-$7.00 for mixed/blended drinks) and rather weak. The massive pina colada I had the last day of the cruise was more fruit smoothie than drink. I did enjoy a rather good lemon drop in the Atrium Bar, however and I heard their Bloody Marys were to die for. Next time I am buying a very reasonably priced bottle from room service and making my own drinks.
Activities Fun show ("Piano Man") and the performances were good. We frequented the nickel slots in the casino most nights. During the day, we just lazed around the pool or enjoyed excursions and didn't participate in bingo or trivia. There is always next trip…
Miscellaneous The photos are spendy ($25 for one 8x10) and some of the backdrops did not photograph well IMO (the plain blue and plain white seemed to wash people out), but we did buy one photo of each formal night (one Titanic backdrop and one on the stairs). If you have the time and are inclined, get your pic taken at each stop so you can pick and choose your favorites.
The onboard shops are not open during port time, so if you run out of sunscreen, need some Pepto, or want to buy a hat, don't expect to do it on the ship. I did not find the fragrance or cosmetic prices to be any better than in the US (but, they were sales tax free).
Overall The ship is in great shape and the service was excellent (Adel, our cabin steward, was awesome)! The fabulous food in the dining room far made up for the lack of excitement of the buffet. No, we didn't have a rock wall, mini golf, or a massive tropical pool, but we had a blast and are definitely looking forward to our next cruise. Princess treated us very well and we will definitely be cruising with them next time.
We enjoyed this cruise very muchh. Our previous experience had been with Carnival. We chose not to attend the entertainment and ship activities and never felt pushed to go. Announcements were at a minimum and never intruded into your room unless you had that channel on the TV.
Movement was frequently felt even the sea was calm with only wavelets. The one night that the sea was 4-8 ft., the ship had significant movement.
We were in a mini-suite, which was very nice. We had 2 sliding glass doors onto the balcony. The bathroom was roomy. The walk in closet was great.
We took a ship shore excursion in St. Kitts and in St. Lucia. The rest of the time, we went out on our own. Taxis were plentiful and cheap and always available even for return visits.
St. Kitts still had a significant amount of hurricane damage visible. The beaches were not very clean and had no services on them.
St. Martin was our favorite port with St. Thomas close behind.
The food in the dining room was always fresh and delicious. There was not as much variety as we had on the Carnivalship. I never encountered a crew member with a negative attitude.
Overall, the cruise was a great experience. I would never choose to go on another Carnival cruise, but I wouldn't hesitate to go with Princess. We have an August cruise to Alaska planned with Celebrity on the Galaxy.
We flew into San Francisco airport a day early for a 10 day roundtrip cruise to the inside passage and Victoria. Embarkation was the best we've ever experienced. We arrived at the cruise terminal approximately 11am as we usually do. It was kind of crazy outside because a lot of people were still waiting for rides after just getting off the previous cruise. To our surprise, when we walked into the building, we could walk right up to check in and get our cruise cards. Then after going through security, we went to a waiting area. We usually have to wait prior to check in. At about 11:40, they allowed us to board and we were setting our carry on luggage in our balcony room before noon.
This is our 6th cruise and our 4th on Princess. We've cruised on the Dawn before so we were still very familiar with the ship. After going to the buffet lunch, we did look around a bit. We had signed up for early fixed dining and was disappointed to find out that the first seating was at 5:30pm. We prefer 6pm because itgives you a little more time to do things in the afternoon. After the muster drill, we went up on deck for the sail away. We were really looking forward to sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge. Even though it was sunny outside, it was extremely windy. It was hard just to keep the camera still. As we approached the bridge, the weather had turned worse. It became very cloudy, cold and the wind continued at blow.
The room was adequate and our room steward did a great job. The shower in the bathroom on the Dawn was larger than some of the newer ships. We really have no complaints about the room. A balcony is a must on an Alaska cruise. All the service staff was polite and friendly.
The food in the Horizon court was good. The breakfast foods were very good, however, our biggest complaint is that you couldn't count on the beverage cart ever making it around to where you are. They had a person pushing a beverage cart, but it never found me the entire cruise. I always had to get up to refill my coffee or get that first cup. I think they should have 4 or 5 carts in the morning moving through the area. They were always quick to pick up your dirty plate, but no one ever asked to get you a drink. If you asked them, they would get you one, but I think they should be asking you. The other minor complaint that we have about the Horizon court was that the lunch menu was too heavy. It's like eating a dinner meal for lunch every day. Our suggestion is to offer an array of sandwiches at lunch. They did have some small sandwiches available as a mid afternoon snack. The hamburgers and hotdogs at the outside grill was very good and a great alternative to the buffet. Also, on the Dawn, pizza is available at a sit down restaurant type venue. It adds a nice touch and the pizza is very good. However, you can't just grab a quick slice like on the other Princess ships.
The dining room was the usual experience. We did change to anytime dining for two reasons. The first seating was too early and we were seated at a large table and only a few people showed up. We wanted more social interaction at dinner so we changed to anytime. This proved to be the right move since we met a lot more people. Except for one night, the service was slower in the anytime dining room. Usually we skipped dessert so we could make the 1st show. That was fine since we could go to the buffet after the show for dessert. However, if the service was faster, we could have eaten it in the dining room. Some of the menu options did not suit us. I guess you're always going to have cruises where the dinner menu has more selections that you would enjoy. However, we were always able to find something. And the wait staff was more than willing to let you try whatever you like. They even made it a point to tell you that if you didn't like something, to let them know and they would bring you something else.
All the entertainment on board was excellent. The only singer we did not care for this time was Tony Cherry. We have heard him before on another cruise. He has a good voice and can sing all the favorites. But his main show was a disappointment. He did more clowning around as if he had been drinking and did very little singing. We heard Libby Riddles who had won the Iditarod in 1986 give a talk and show a video. This was very fascinating and was a highlight. We had two comedians and one illusionist perform. All three were very good and enjoyable. We also saw three movies while on board. The cruise staff did a great job with the variety of activities. Cruise director Gavin does a great job.
We stopped at 4 ports of calls and cruised Tracy Arm Fjord. Our first port was Ketchikan. We were able to dock next to the pier which was nice. It was a beautiful day and we didn't do any planned excursions, so we just walked around the town. We went back on board for lunch and the weather was nice enough to take a swim and lay by the pool.
Our second port of call was Sitka. Here, we had to tender from about a mile away. This was our first time visiting Sitka and one of the main reasons why we chose this cruise. We took a tour that included Sitka National Park. Due to time, we were not able to spend as much time at the park as we would have liked. We then saw the New Archangel Dancers. They were excellent and a highlight of the tour. Afterwards, we visited St. Michaels, the Russian Orthodox Church, and then went to the Raptor center. The Raptor center was fascinating. Overall, this was a good tour and we really enjoyed Sitka.
Our third port was Juneau. Again, we were able to dock next to the pier right behind the Mt. Roberts tramway. We went on a photo by land and sea excursion. This took us on some trails at Mendenhall Glacier, and then out on a boat in Stephens Passage for views of whales and other wildlife. This was a good excursion for those who need additional knowledge on how to use their digital cameras. The guide was very knowledgeable with digital photography.
Early the next morning, we cruised back into Tracy Arm Fjord. There were a lot of icebergs, but we were able to get almost to Sawyer Island before we had to stop. We got a pretty good view of Sawyer Glacier. If you have never been to Alaska's Glacier Bay or College Fjord, then I would recommend a cruise where you went to one of these oppose to Tracy Arm. Since we had been Glacier Bay and College Fjord, this was a nice change to see something different. However, Sawyer Glacier is amazing to see. One negative about the ship here was the Horizon court running out of coffee early this morning. As you can imagine, a majority of the passengers were up on deck early to see the breathtaking views. So there was a mad rush for coffee early that morning. I think the staff could have prepared better for this. They should have set up a couple of portable coffee stations on deck. Later they were selling hot chocolate, but they weren't even doing that at 5am which is the time we entered the Fjord.
Our final port of call was Victoria BC. It was a beautiful sunny day and we took a bus out to Butchart Gardens. This was our first time seeing the gardens and they are incredible. We only had a couple of hours, so there was no time to slow down and smell the roses. We were able to see all the gardens. Due to the ships schedule to leave, we had to be back on board by 1:30pm. We did not have time to walk around the town which would have been great to do. The bus driver did drive us through the downtown area so we could at least get to see some of the buildings.
This was a great cruise and we had a great time. There was an older crowd on this cruise. I've never seen so many walkers and people with oxygen. I have no major complaints about the ship, staff, or even the food. The Dawn is still in pretty good shape for 10 years old. In April of this year, it was in wet dock at San Francisco to get some sprucing up. We will always have our suggestions for improvements though. For one, we think that Princess should give Platinum cruisers free Coke passes. This would be a good perk for continued loyalty which wouldn't cost them very much. The Coke pass is $39.50 plus 15% gratuity. It is a little high, but I have to say the wait staff never had a problem with getting you a coke beverage at anytime.
This is our third cruise aboard the "Dawn Princess" and we are not disappointed. Embarkation was speedy, food exceptional and the only way to spend Christmas away from home! The cruise staff, very pleasant and since I spend a lot of time using the Internet facilities, am particularly impressed with Napoleon (Photos) and Koos (Internet) guiding me on the use of the new computers on this ship. They both deserve a raise!!! Our room steward, Sonia and our dining room staff are just great. We were upgraded to a balcony room and this was indeed a bonus. I am an avid Trivia player and am enjoying the games as well. I would not hesitate to book again on this ship, the right size, not too big and not too small. Would recommend it to all our friends. Again, you are doing a great job!
Four ladies on the Dawn to do the Mexician Riveria.
The ship left from San Francisco and was 3 hours later arriving from Vancouver. Getting on was a nightmare, the gang planks were so steep I do not see how many of the older travelers were able to get on to the ship. The ship was very clean, we had a suite at the very back of the ship, service was great, room steward was wonderful. Food was only good for dinner in the dining room. Breakfast and lunch was hit and miss. Did not try the buffet for a meal, only for ice cream and coffee.
This was our first time on one of the larger Princess ships, we were on the Sky Princess several years ago and the memory of food on that voyage was very good. The dining staff was wonderful on the Dawn on table mates were the best, we are all over 60 and were very pleased with the people we met.
The real complaint is getting off in San Francisco. You are called by color luggage tags, so we waited in the lounge withthe other frequent cruisers, they did have coffee and sweets. The line to have your passport checked went around the ship like a large snake, we had no direction, not one single crew member to be seen. It was like we were lemmings ready to go over the side of a cliff. That is the only real complaint on that ship. Oh yes there is one more, no seat covers in the ladies rooms on all floors. They are so concerned about your hands with the gel, they ought to consider the place where we really do like to "take a seat".....I would try Princess again, like I said the ship was very clean and the staff very efficient.
My wife and I recently experienced our sixth cruise but our first on Princess. We left Seattle on the Dawn Princess which took the inside passage to Alaska. A small ship by today's standards, it was well maintained and very clean.
I had a few complaints that I thought were a reoccurring problem. First, we paid for a balcony but couldn't use it much because of a sewer gas smell. I couldn't pin point the origin but it was consistently unpleasant all week long. More often than not the food was only warm. It didn't matter whether we had our meals in the dining room or at the buffet. Salt and peppershakers were often absent from the buffet tables; almost cold food was the norm. A waitress who was a bit too efficient pushed and rushed all of our dining room meals.
On the bright side the king crab was wonderful as was the halibut served in the buffet. The deserts were spectacular as one might hope. Our room attendant was second to none. A small, young woman from the Philippines, she busted her behind day and night to please her guests.
Ourgreatest disappointment was our failure to negotiate the entire length of Tract Arm. We encountered heavy ice and had to turn back shortly after entering the arm. This wasn't the fault of the cruise line but when we stopped our progress, the Naturalist, in a surprised but phony manner, announced we could go no further for safety reasons. This seemed to everyone as a lame scheme to make it appear as if they had been caught off guard and were as disappointed as everyone else that we couldn't precede further when they must have known the conditions before we entered the Arm because the sister ship, Sun Princess past us as we entered the arm and did notify our ship the passage was blocked by ice.
In all, the cruise was fun and enjoyable. We saw nearly fifty whales during the week not to mention tens of thousands of salmon that were running the streams. It was cloudy much of the time but during August, expect clouds and rain and don’t forget to dress warm. The high temp on one day was a mere 44 degrees.
Those who were taking their first cruise seemed to loved it, but those who I spoke with who have taken other cruises were somewhat critical. Would I cruise Princess again? I wouldn’t rule it out but just knowing that Carnival Cruise Lines now owns Princess Cruises, I think I’d prefer to cruise with another line if possible.
Dawn Princess 10-Day Mexican Riviera A712 – Covered Balcony – Queen Bed Traditional Dining Late Seating 10-11-05 to 10-21-05 Catalina, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas, San Diego Charles and Judy Crain – 48 and 50, engineer and homemaker, respectively
Previous Cruises Eastern Caribbean (Sun Princess) – 4/2005 Western Caribbean (Star Princess) – 12/2004 Panama Canal - Partial Transit (Island Princess) – 1/2004 Mexican Riviera (Sea Princess) – 1/2002 Alaska (Ocean Princess) – 6/2001
A good value cruise. Nothing extraordinary like an Alaskan or Panama Canal cruise, but a good basic vacation away from everything and everybody. Relaxing, enjoyable and restful. Highly recommended as a getaway and for those people in the bay area that don’t have to fly, the value is very high.
The Dawn is a Sun class ship in service since 1997. She is one of four of the class (Sun, Sea and Ocean [now at P&O as Oceana]). (The Coral and Island, listed as Sun Class by Princess, are unique and are not the same ship class. They are more of a blend between the Grand and the Sun classes.) She carries around 900 crew and 2000+ passengers. She doesfit in the Panama Canal (Only the Sun class, Coral and Island can.)
The artwork and furnishing are subdued, not glitzy, although the central atrium which stretches from deck 5 to deck 8, is impressive by itself. Two main staircases and elevator shafts serve the forward and rear areas, while the atrium stairways and elevators only serve the atrium area.
The Dawn is in remarkably good condition. Yes, you can find signs of wear and tear if you look closely and in nooks and crannies, but the carpets, paint, overall condition is very good. The only highly noticeable issue is with the windows. They are showing signs of permanent staining and will have to be razor bladed to be cleaned or simply replaced. The crew is constantly cleaning, varnishing and painting. This occurs on a continual basis while the ship is in port or at sea. Areas of the ship and the deck will be cordoned off at times while this work goes on.
The Dawn epitomizes the slogan “big ship, with small ship feel”. Most bars and seating areas are little spots which are both near to the action, yet seem quaint and isolated. We spent a lot of time in Magnums, basically for the service. The Patisserie on deck 5 is another example. The wheelhouse bar, when an activity is not scheduled, is also another place for a quiet drink.
A712 is a BB category balcony. We booked a BE guarantee and were upgraded. These cabins are smaller than the Grand or Coral class balconies. But they are more than sufficient for two people for 10 days. We didn’t use all the closet space and all of our bags fit under the bed. The balcony is small but completely enclosed and covered. The door to the balcony is a sliding door, not hinged. The Aloha and Baja balcony openings are larger than those on Caribe, but the size of the balcony is still the same as are the cabins themselves. (The Sun class cabins were originally intended as outside view cabins. Princess decided to cut large circular holes in the hull, move the wall in on the cabin and basically build a balcony. At the time, this innovation was hailed and widely advertised, but has now been superseded by the more modern balcony designs on the Grand and Coral classes.) Note that the mini-suites on the Sun class are essentially two balcony cabins side by side with a double size balcony as well. They are much bigger than the minis on the Grand and Coral class.
The only issue with an Aloha deck balcony cabin is that you will hear noise from the open deck above you. Joggers or work parties on the deck above may disturb your afternoon power nap. There was no noise from the gym and the door to the aft of the ship opens into a large deck over the stern. It’s a great place to wander out to and is close by for a quick view of the moonlit wake behind the ship. Its also relatively unknown to most newbies on a ship and relatively little used.
There is a shower and a sink, no tub. The shower is small but functional. The sink has a shelf under the counter and a set of smaller shelves next to the mirror. All were more than adequate for basic toiletries. Shampoo, conditioner, lotion and soap is provided as is room service twice a day. The TV is very small with no RCA jack inputs for viewing photos from digital cameras. The refrigerator is also small with an ice bucket refilled twice daily. The desk is small and intended more for a makeup area than a real desk. A single 110VAC outlet services the desk, a hairdryer is over the desk. The safe in the closet is self coded electronically as you close it. A four to six digit pin number allows a pretty secure storage. Another 110VAC outlet is under the shelf near the bathroom door, but two is not sufficient for most of the electronics we carry, so we bring a short 3 outlet splitter to charge multiple items at the same time.
A couple of important cabin notes. We always bring a can of Lysol and several bathroom cleaner cloths, like Clorox, in our carryon luggage and go over every square inch of the cabin solid surfaces, spray the bedspread, floor, shower curtain, drapes, inside the closet, etc. Can’t be too careful with hygiene. We also tried a special anti-viral cleaning agent this time just in case. We didn’t get sick, so either we didn’t need to or we did some good. We also request an egg crate foam mattress. This is a two inch foam mattress pad that goes on top of the two push together twin beds and actually helps keep the two beds together. It also makes the bed a little softer.
Our cabin steward was Ren. It took a while to get adjusted. He was a very shy, hardly ever seen, but very efficient room steward. We left in the morning, came back and the room was clean. Left for dinner at night, same thing after dinner. No cute towel animals, just very efficient service.
There are two main dining rooms on the 5th (Florentine) and 6th levels (Venetian). The Venetian is for traditional dinner seating, while the Florentine is for Personal Choice dinner, and lunch and breakfast seatings. The breakfast menu has a couple of featured items which change every day – like a scrambled egg with something dish (asparagus, spinach, celery) and a waffle or pancake dish and a bunch of standard items. The lunch menu changes everyday as well and has a variety of items, including ice cream. The dinner menus at both dining rooms is identical. The Venetian has an early 6pm and a late seating 8:15. The Florentine is personal choice. You can eat anytime between 5pm and 10pm. Just walk up or call and state your preference: Table for two-twelve, any available, round table by the window, etc. You can request to eat at the same time, same table, every night, BUT the popular dinner time of 7pm is VERY difficult to get seated. Once you arrive, they give you one of the lighted buzzer things and they buzz you when your request is available.
We ate in the dining room for breakfast once and did not like it much. The selection is limited and the food was cool when we got it. We ate in the dining room twice for lunch and on both occasions were pleased with the service and the food. (It was our two CC group lunches with 6-9 of us at the table.) The atmosphere is much more relaxed and you can enjoy a conversation much easier than in the Horizon Court.
I know that the menus are identical across the fleet. What I didn’t know is the latitude a ship’s chef has in making the dishes. The tastes for the same menu items on different ships were totally different – except for the lobster. That was excellent and did taste the same. One specific example was the eggnog ice cream. On the Star the flavor was light and very good, on the sun the spices were heavier and overwhelming, on the Dawn the ice cream was lighter, but still not the same as either previous ship. The Beef Wellington was another example. On the Star is was very good. On the Sun, I couldn’t eat it, but on the Dawn it was very good again.
My philosophy on a cruise is to taste everything I can’t pronounce. This cruise was no exception. I found out several interesting things on the last couple of cruises. They have added a couple of new menu titles. The candlelight menu was one. Also, because of my desire for differences, I usually end up with something I don’t care for. The Lobster Thermidor was one, an Italian crepe dish was another. One thing I can say, the fish was excellent on all nights.
The cream soups were excellent. European style cream soups heavy with the vegetable’s flavor (broccoli, asparagus) were all very good. The lobster, on the second formal night, was probably the best meal. Two of my least favorite menus (Continental [used to be French] and the Candlelight) are good candidates for going to La Scala or the Sterling Steakhouse for dinner. The International Menu surf and turf were also very good as were the tournedos of beef.
The Horizon Court (Lido Deck 14) is the standard Princess Buffet. There is a lot of griping about the layout, but Princess chose a station layout rather than a linear buffet. (Note that there are two buffets, one on the port and one on the starboard. Both serve identical food and are both open at peak times in the morning and for lunch, but they alternate openings and closing to prep one for the changing of the meals.) As you enter, there are 3 hot entrée stations on the right, 5 cold or packaged stations on the left and 2-3 island stations in the middle with salads and breads. The station concept allows you to jump ahead to each station rather than a linear buffet that would require you to pass each and every item from beginning to end. We like the station concept. The only time there is a problem is at peak rush hour and the jostling between stations can be frenetic.
It is important to note that the menu on the Horizon Court depends on the ship and the manager. Over the past four cruises I’ve noticed significant differences between one ship and the other that can only be attributed to shipboard management. For example, on this cruise, the dinner buffet selections mimicked the dining room selection to a certain extent. However, on the Sun in April, the dinner buffet was deliberately different, and advertised as so, from the dining room menu and was theme based. There was a German/Bavarian night on the Sun in the Horizon Court in April – and it was advertised in the patter. No such night on the Dawn that we could find.
We usually had breakfast in the Horizon Court. They have scrambled eggs, two versions, sausage, ham, bacon, cheeses, cold cuts, pastries, cereals, French toast, pancakes, yogurt, breads, a few ethnic hot dishes that vary and an omelet/egg and toast station that will cook your omelet to order or eggs over easy to hard. There are no special taste treats, it’s a standard buffet, but the food is pretty good and plentiful. Lunch can vary. We missed sushi day (with fake sushi – smoked fish, cooked shrimp and crab), but caught a couple of good hot meals of pasta. There is a dessert station, but the Dawn has something extra - An additional dessert station of cakes and pies just outside the last buffet station. Some pretty good treats. At 3:30pm to 4:30pm, ice cream is served in the Horizon Court for free. Vanilla and chocolate with syrups, nuts and sprinkles.
The Sun class has a sit down Italian style Pizzeria, on the Dawn its La Scala. This is on deck 8 at the top of the atrium. They serve fresh made to order individual pizzas (about 12” in diameter) and calzones for lunch. At night they expand the menu to include salads and a limited selection of pasta. There is no charge for this alternative and it remains one of our favorites. You can mix and match your topping selections, or order directly from the menu. Judy likes the vegetarian pizza with double pepperoni. Note that La Scala is closed on embarkation day – darn.
Half of the Horizon Court becomes the Sterling Steakhouse at night. They block off entrance to that half. The newer ships have a separate restaurant, but not the Sun class, they had to create a restaurant out of the buffet. We did not try it and have heard mixed reviews. My own opinion is that I can get a New York steak, or beef tornados off the dining room menu and it doesn’t cost me $15 per person.
The Balcony grill is on the deck above the pool. They serve hotdogs, brauts and burgers. I liked the burgers and Judy liked the hotdogs. They are open on embarkation day as well.
This cruise had a much higher drink service characteristic than other cruises. The feeding frenzy to get that 15% tip has abated somewhat and I had several waiters offer us glasses of water (not bottled!) when we declined to order. Snacks were available in most bars after 500pm and the drink of the day was typically a pretty good deal. They do have a bar hopping card for the 12 bars on board and offer a gift, but what I’m not sure. We visited Magnum’s a lot because of the great service there.
The coke sticker is $40 ($45 with tip) - it also comes with a insulated coke container that holds about 12 oz.. This is for bar gun drinks only. A can of soda cost $1.50. The Riviera bar has the LARGE coke glasses. The Horizon court has the small and medium. Everyone else is typically those small glasses that you down in one or two sips. Diet coke is the only diet drink from the gun. Sprite is sugared. (We brought our own sprite on board.) If you are a major coke drinker, I would recommend that you go to the bars with the large glasses and order your own coke – its quicker and more efficient.
Water is $3 for a 1 liter bottle (plus tip) and $2 for a ½ liter bottle (plus tip). Its not totally absurd, but there is sufficient shopping in the ports to pick up your own bottled water and save a bit.
There are two show venues, Vista in the rear and the Princess Theatre in the bow. The Vista is a show lounge with couches and chairs while the Theatre is a standard row seating theater.
The entertainment is run by the Cruise Director – in our case Mr. Billy London. Billy is a wonderful person, but he’s leaving soon on vacation. His support staff were: Andre, Gavin, Kate, Anya and Natasha. Andre is Billy’s right hand man, is very funny and has a voice you have to hear to believe. He will have his own ship soon – he’s that good. Gavin is one of the assistant cruise directors. A great personality and impersonates a cab driver very well. Kate is the line dance instructor, wonderful girl, great personality. Her contract is up in a few weeks and will be going home on vacation. We hope to meet her again on a future cruise. Anya and Natasha are also assistant cruise directors that run the various activities on the ship. I don’t understand how they do what they do on only 4-6 hours of sleep a night.
We did see one production show, the Piano Man. Judy liked it, I thought the dancing could have been a little better. We saw all the comedy acts we could fit in. The best was Jay Moore. We’ve seen him before and he’s pretty good.
However, the cooking show stole the award for best comedy show. It’s a don’t miss. While most ships have a normal serious cooking show, this featured the head chef cooking with the matre de doing his thing alongside, showing the head chef how “real Italians” cook. It was an absolute riot.
We also saw Elliot Maxx and Dan Horn, the ventriloquist. Elliot’s ok, but Dan is pretty good as well. He makes his puppets seem alive. The international crew show, sorry no pub night, was also an entertaining evening.
We did the country western ho-down in the wheelhouse. Judy ended up wining a travel clock. (They’re giving away better prizes now a days.) We tried to do 70’s night, but the smoke in Jammers (the disco) was too much to tolerate. We missed 50’s night.
THE PORTS Weather Overview The weather started out chilly and breezy during sailaway. Approaching Catalina, the marine layer lifted and the sun came out, but the breeze was very chilly. After Catalina, the weather warmed enough to leave our balcony door open. In PV and Mazatlan, it was hot and humid. In the 90’s for temperature and 70’s for humidity. In Cabo the temperature stayed high, but the humidity dropped a little. In San Diego, the weather was clear but cool. After San Diego, the balcony door stayed shut at night.
The sea was almost flat the entire trip. Minimal chop going out of San Fran bay. Only 1-4 foot swells coming back up the coast to San Diego. Very unusual. The trip back north is usually the worst.
Catalina We didn’t go ashore in Catalina. By 3:30pm our tender ticket color still had not been called, so we went hot tubbing instead. It was a beautiful day in Catalina and we did see a lot of porpoises on the way in to the harbor. There was never a good reason given on the problems with tendering, but it has happened on several other cruises as well.
Puerto Vallarta Our sole objective in PV was to see what a Wal-Mart in Mexico looked like. (Don’t laugh too hard!) We had also heard that they have a large souvenir collection. They didn’t. We basically just restocked our water bottles. We did notice the vendors are pretty aggressive in PV. Not as bad as Jamaica, but persistent none the less.
Mazatlan We booked, along with 3 other CC couples, a guided tour with Mazatlan Frank (see the Mexican Riviera Boards). We did his Sierra Madre tour, but it should be called a taste of Mazatlan. We went to see a brick maker, a tile maker, a bakery, the mountain mining town of Copala, the Golden Zone, the cliff divers, the downtown area, the church, a hacienda. We started at 800am and got back to the ship at 4pm. Highly recommended if you want to see a little of everything around Mazatlan. Frank is an excellent guide, his English is better than most of ours and his knowledge of local history, the people, the area is pretty amazing.
Cabo San Lucas The tendering was a little better for Cabo, but since we had the whole day, we weren’t concerned. The Osterdam and Crystal Harmony were in port as well. The vendors are not as aggressive as PV here.
San Diego Immigration was performed at San Diego. For us this was kind of fun. For others, it was a real pain. Basically everyone started lining up at 0700, before the ship had even docked. By 0730 over 1,000 people stretched back through the ship from the Vista Lounge and around the wheelhouse bar twice. Since we had nothing planned, Judy and I sat in Patissiere for about 30 minutes, then sat near the wheelhouse bar for another 30 and then just basically walked through the line. They do punch your card, then track everyone to make sure they go through the line.
Face it folks, there is no easy way to do this. No one even looked at our passports or ID, the SOLE immigration officer was simply directing traffic to one cruise card puncher (Gavin) or another. It is a real joke, but Princess has to do it. When you walk into the Vista lounge and see the 20-30 Princess personnel sorting out all the paperwork, realize they do this to speed the process. If it was up to the immigration service, it would go a LOT slower.
Also realize that the same thing happens in St. Thomas or any US port where you arrive from a foreign port without total disembarkation, like FLL. The only way to improve the process is for the immigration service to change the way this inspection is performed.
A couple of notes. Make sure you take each of the letters Princess gives you. Drop the custom forms off at the Purser's desk and take your cruise card, letters and ID into the Vista lounge. We heard from several other people that they sometimes looked at ID, and other not.
Embarkation in a strange port was a breeze. We arrived at 1:25 and were on the ship at 1:45. No thanks to a certain princess person though. She directed us to the normal line, even after Judy showed her our platinum sticker on our envelope. As we got into line, I noticed the platinum line, switched and got on in short order. I did not need to take my laptop out of the case either. The other downer was that our luggage did not arrive until 745pm. 30 minutes before dinner. Being an eternal worrier, it bothered me enough so that I didn’t really unwind until the next day.
Debarkation was also a breeze. We were called (Yellow 4) at 0925 and were at the SFO airport at 1000. No customs, no immigration. Cab fare was $43.
Photos We spend way too much on photos, but can’t help ourselves. The Dawn does have a video team that videos your specific cruise. It’s a great concept, but execution on the Dawn suffers. Basically, being an amateur video maker myself, the video team on the Dawn does not do a proper job. A couple of gripes: (a) – they stuff the video with stock Princess footage that includes Alaska, the Med and Grand class ships. Now that’s just plain lazy. Why do I want to see footage of snow covered peaks and a Ultimate Balcony Dinner served on a Grand class ship, when I’m in the Mexican Riviera on the Dawn. (b) Their videographers are lazy. During the deck party, one camera was set up to capture the overall scene while the other was supposed to be taking individual shots of people having fun. That person was rather bored and was simply not taking pictures. Just standing there watching the crowd. (c) They only like to include scenes of people waving, acting stupid or somehow acknowledging the camera’s existence. We did buy the dvd version ($25), but we were disappointed in the content, editing and presentation of the video. They could have done a much better job. We’d buy it anyway to use as footage for own videos. We did ask about purchasing our photos as .jpgs. They wanted $50 per image to burn to CD. No thanks, we have a scanner at home. I can see $5, but not $50.
Clothing As this itinerary moves into the winter months, long pants and coats will be required from Cabo north. We’ve been in PV and Mazatlan in January and they were comfortable with shorts. Heavy coats will be needed during sailaway under the bridge for sure as winter approaches.
Formal Nights There were two formal nights, The Captain’s Welcome dinner is on the sea day after Catalina and the Captain’s Gala is on the Sea Day after Cabo. There were about 50% tuxedoes during late dinner seating. 49% suits and ties with about 1% not dressing up at all. Ladies wore cocktail dresses, formal gowns, skirts and tops.
The Gym and Lotus Spa The Gym opens at 0600. There are no "forced" tours of the spa, like the Sun and the Star were. You are free to wander around and sign up for classes. Yoga, pilates, spinning, kickboxing are all on sea days, 45 minute classes and $10 each. Port day classes like aerobics are free and 30 minutes. Judy did pilates once, but did not like the class. We did kickboxing once and really liked the class, but they cancelled the remainder due to lack of interest. They need a minimum of 3 people to hold a class.