I previously sailed on this ship when she was originally the Sea Princess (1999), then the Adonia (2003). Since she was re-named Sea Princess again, I was interested to see what changes had been made following her much publicized and expensive re-fit, prior to the transfer back to Princess Cruises from her former operator P & O Cruises (UK). (In my review of the Adonia in 2003, I suggested the ship was a wrong choice for P & O cruises, and now we have her back home to her original family.)
This time, I traveled on Sea Princess from June 18-July 2 on a Norwegian Fjords and North Cape cruise, visiting Stavanger, Trondheim, Tromso, Honningsvag, Geiranger and Bergen. The weather was mixed at the beginning of the cruise, but the sun shone while we were at the North Cape and in the fjords; for two days, one would have thought we were in the Caribbean until we saw the snow on the peaks of the mountains.
Check-in at Southampton was controlled but slow - the average time for queuing for check-in was 58 minutes. Six check-in booths were closed; perhaps if thesehad been staffed, waiting time would have been reduced.
On embarking the ship, there were no members of staff to escort guests to their staterooms. The absence of staff for this purpose needs to be urgently looked at, as the majority of guests on this cruise were quite elderly and many were wandering aimlessly around completely lost.
Staterooms were clean, comfortable and compact. Compact is the key word: Many guests who had traveled on other cruise lines – indeed, on other Princess ships -- were disappointed with their size, especially the outside cabins with balconies. There are plenty of drawers for storage, but limited wardrobe hanging space in the cabins. The beds are among the most comfortable afloat. Each cabin or stateroom has a refrigerator, hairdryer, TV with a wide range of channels, a telephone, and en-suite shower room with toiletries supplied. If you require a bathrobe, just ask your cabin attendant. Fresh fruit is supplied daily, but only on request. Bottled water is available for purchase.
Cabins are well lighted and ventilated, and have soft furnishings. Some guests observed that some bedspreads had seen better days, as they were stained or threadbare, but these were immediately changed after a word with the bedroom steward/stewardess.
A number of guests were annoyed that their cabin attendants asked them, during their initial introductions, if they would like to attend a wine tasting seminar, and if so, the attendants would "get them the tickets for it." Those who agreed were surprised when they learned there was a charge to attend this seminar, and the first they knew about the charge was when they checked their on-board account. At the outset, guests should be made aware of these charges.
A word of warning: If you consider this ship for a cruise, be careful about cabins on Dolphin deck 8 aft. A number of these cabins are directly above the Vista Lounge, and when activities in this lounge involve music or the use of a microphone, every sound can be clearly heard. The cabins actually vibrate when the noise gets to a certain level. Like some, I enjoy an afternoon nap, but I seldom got an undisturbed one -- nor could I get to sleep prior to 11.30 p.m. most evenings. I spoke with other guests who had cabins in this area and they too suffered the same level of noise.
In fairness to the staff, within hours of completing an in-cabin form titled "Let us Know," I was offered a transfer to a different cabin. This was amazing, as a notice on the Pursers Desk indicated all cabins were full and no changes were possible. While Princess' official line is that they have "never received complaints concerning these cabins," privately staff indicated that Princess was very aware of the problem. This I know to be true, as in previous reviews and on the guest comment forms on previous cruises on this ship, I informed them of this problem. I spoke with guests who had cabins above the Princess Theatre, who said that they were not affected by noise. Readers may wonder why I chose this cabin when I was aware of the noise problems – but I didn't. When I booked, I was listed for a cabin on a guarantee basis, allocated at check-in; this occurred each of my three times on this vessel.
Now to explore the features of the refurbishment – but what features? I saw very little difference. I saw the same carpets, the same décor, the same furnishings - ah yes, there is Movies Under the Stars; and they have done away with the wonderful lounge, I think it was called ‘As Easy as a Friday' when the ship was called The Adonia – what a shame! But what else has changed? Nothing obvious! Though I must say that the ship is maintained in a spotless condition; staffers were always seen cleaning and polishing.
Muster Drill was next on the agenda. This drill was well executed - though I did observe that in Muster Station C there were not enough seats to accommodate everyone. This would be most uncomfortable in case of a real emergency, if guests had to gather for a lengthy period of time. Perhaps the number of muster stations needs to be reviewed.
Food and Restaurants
For our cruise we chose Traditional Dining. There are many options on this ship. At dinner, the food was superb, the service excellent and the menus varied and exciting. It was a pleasure, and we all looked forward to dinner each evening. There were 28 in our group. The only comment I would make about the main dining room is that in a four-star restaurant, one does not expect the waiter and his assistant to deal with wine and bar orders; this distracts from their primary purpose - to ensure efficient service and presentation of food to guests. Proper, dedicated staff needs to be employed for this purpose. It was amazing how our waiter managed to cope so effectively in this regard.
Formal breakfast service was slow in some areas of the restaurant, with the average wait being 35 minutes from orders being taken until the food arrived.
The Horizon Court is the informal dining area. This area is not user friendly. While the food and presentation are of a high quality, there is a lack of staff to clear tables (not only in Horizon Court, but in some of the other bar and coffee outlets throughout the ship). The layout of the buffets is higgledy-piggledy! There are no trays, and all the dishes are plastic. There are no staffers available to assist elderly or infirm guests, and the area is too small for the number of people on the vessel. Again, I previously brought this to the attention of Princess, but alas no action has been taken. A limited selection of fruit juices is only available for breakfast; they are weak in flavor and gave the impression of being watered down (although they are not -- I watched them being poured directly from their sealed containers into the dispensers).
At the entrance to the Horizon Court, facilities are available to disinfect or cleanse one's hands, in an effort to curb the Norfolk and other viruses. This facility should be extended to other eateries and main restaurants throughout the ship.
The entertainment on this ship is excellent in all regards, from the revue shows to the daytime activities, the individual acts, the many musicians and their varied styles of music - all were a treat to attend.
Some of the cruise staff needs to pay more attention to detail when hosting shows and other entertainment - a minor matter but noticeable.
Incidentally, for British guests on board (and there were many), do remember that answers for the majority of quiz shows are based mainly on American responses - this should be indicated to contestants at the outset.
One of the most annoying aspects of attending shows in the Princess Theatre (the main show lounge) is that Princess insists on serving drinks throughout performances. Waiters have to disturb guests who are seated and enjoying the show in order to get to those who want drinks. After they take the orders and return with the drinks, the same disturbance occurs. This is grossly unfair not only to guests but to the performers. The service of drinks should be suspended while entertainment is taking place.
The Princess Theatre causes me concern regarding safety. Seating is such that in some areas, seats are against a wall/barrier – an obstruction that prevents free movement/access. The only means of evacuation in case of emergency are the center aisles -- unless you are fit enough to climb over seats.
Bars and Lounges
Drinks are reasonably priced and of good quality. However, I take exception to the aggressiveness of some bar staff and those who suggest that large ones or doubles are a better value. Also if someone orders whisky or a similar spirit, they produce and serve the "premium" variety, thus attracting more commission for themselves - naughty. Regretfully this aggressiveness increased as the cruise progressed. Obviously bar revenues had not reached their targets and the big sell was the order of the day. This was not the approach of all bar staff, just a few.
The spa, shops, photography services, future cruise sales and shore excursions desk all operate efficiently and effectively, offering the normal wares, goods and items associated with ships of a similar size and standard and within their specialist range. Unfortunately at Geiranger, some 238 guests, after lining up for their bus assignments, were told the tour had been oversold and that their tour was canceled. This caused immense disappointment to many. According to the Shore Excursion Manager, this was due to a computer error -- or rather, lack of communication between Princess' headquarters and the ship. He did try to get additional buses but was unable to do so at the last minute.
Guests were compensated with a bottle of wine, but most felt this was totally inadequate, since the highlight of this cruise was to be going on this shore excursion. Many had indicated they would be unlikely to return to this port again. There does indeed seem to be a lack of communication between the headquarters and the ship -- when I boarded with my group, staff at the Pursers Office had not been advised my group was coming onboard. However in fairness, after a couple of meetings, this was soon rectified and group members were able to dine together, etc.
Some of our group booked a series of spa treatments, but canceled these after the first session as they were most annoyed at the hard sell to purchase spa products.
The staff attached to the Pursers Office -including the Captains Circle Representative - were most professional and helpful. Nothing was too much bother for them and they always went out of their way to assist, no matter what the question or request.
I have cruised many times with Princess and without doubt, this was the best cruise ever. The service and food (especially in the Traviata Restaurant), the entertainment, and the approach and attitude of the majority of staff were outstanding. The foregoing comments should not be taken as complaints but as constructive criticism in the hope that the excellence portrayed may be continued and where necessary improved on.
This ship, because of its size (77,441 gross tons), is manageable, comfortable and ideal to provide a fantastic cruise experience. I look forward to sailing onboard her again - soon.
Top 5 highlights
1. The entertainment. 2. The food. 3. The staff. 4. The Princess Loyalty Program (Captain's Circle) - the best afloat. 5. The ports of call and scenery.
Top 5 Disappointments
1. Cabin size and noise. 2. Aggressiveness (by a few members of the bar and beauty salon staff). 3. Lack of seating at peak times in Horizon Court. 4. Cheap plastic ticket wallets given by Princess. 5. The tender service - lack of organization and information.
Booking:Used an excellent agent,Gillett Travel who know their stuff about cruise lines.As this was the first official cruise after the ships re-naming,I telephoned Princess to check whether the power points in the staterooms were US or UK as it had previously sailed as the Adonia under P&O.I was told US but in fact there are both US and UK power points. Embarkation:Was cruising with my mother who has elite memebership status so our queue was short,but ordinary queue looked very long.Hoildayed with my family wife and 3 children 14,13 and 3. Staterooms:We had inside cabins on Deck 11 Aloha,rooms were smallish but well planned good closet and drawer space.Bathroom small but adequate. Dining:The food was excellent,we dined at la Traviata restaurant at night,waiter was very good and quality of food excellent.Mainly used Horizon court at breakfast and lunch and food was also very good,plenty of variety,sometimes difficult to find seating at busy times.Older children also used outside deck buffet which wasn't great and Café Corniche which is pizzas and pasta which was very good.
Entertainment:Mixed.Princess theatre is a bit small for the number of passengers on board if the ship is full(and it was!)all seats bar singles were taken a good 10 minutes before start of most shows. Movies under the stars was on during the day but you needed to wear headsets to listen and were quite old films.Picture resolution even in bright sunlight was excellent though.More up to date movies were shown at night but not many watched as we were crusing the Atlantic,it wasn't really warm enough despite blankets being provided!Will be better in the Med and carribean,I'm sure. Service:Most staff were very helpful and friendly and made an effort to be nice to the children. Disemabarkation:Chaotic.There were 3 ships disemabarking that morning and the port officials went to the wrong berth hence delaying things considerably.Way too many people hanging around near the exits. This was my first cruise with Princess though I've been on 20+ cruises in all and I was very impressed,overall.My one gripe would be that given that from May to September it sails from Southampton and our cruise there were 1800 British passengers and 140 US passengers many things were still geared to US tastes,which is a little puzzling.
I sailed B2B (back-to-back) on the Sea Princess and will do separate reviews to make for easier reading! The first was 7 days, Spain, Portugal, France and Guernsey.
Due to cost of flying to England, home from New York, I did my air through Princess. I usually do my own, but the cost of sailing single, length of cruise (21 days), I let Princess handle it. Everything went smooth, left O’Hare on time, arrived at Heathrow, did immigration, picked up my bags, walked through green lane for customs and there was a girl from Princess. She explained there were others nearby and we’d walk to the bus together. Very efficient and organized.
Bus ride to Southampton was interesting in that the expressway was jammed so the bus drive took us through the countryside, giving us a little rundown on Windsor along the way, an added treat plus we missed the traffic tie up!
The terminal at Southampton was already packed at 12:30, long lines but only 2 people in the Platinum line, a plus for me. Off the bus and onboard in 10 minutes flat, such a deal! Found out later for thiscruise, there were 1,700 new cruisers! Captain Circle was small, they had one at 7:30 and in one of the lounges, just like the good old days!
I really liked the Sea Princess a lot! Great layout, I think. One drawback but not major and not an issue in warm climates. For cold weather cruises, a retractable roof over the pool up top would be nice and would ease some of the crowding in the interior areas. There were times finding a place to sit and read was a chore, people were in every possible available spot.
I had an inside cabin on Plaza deck and thought the location was super! Around the corner from the Purser’s desk, Explorer’s bar, easy on and off the ship in ports, no need to wait for an elevator, I loved it. It was noisy at times but necessary noise when the ship is docking or tendering. I had a cabin more square than rectangular, one less closet but bigger shower in the bathroom, which is a plus.
Getting into the theater for shows was an issue at times, didn’t quite understand the logistics or why shows were so packed with no space available. The shows I saw were good, I really enjoyed Piano Man. I didn’t really care, shows aren't a priority but both cruises this topic came up at dinner.
Speaking of which, I enjoyed my meals, choices. I love lamb, veal, pork, fish so I was happy and I did eat beef twice, which is an exception for me but did not have chicken. I don’t do chicken out as I eat more than enough at home. The lobster was excellent as was the rack of lamb (had that twice)! I really felt that Princess has improved the presentation on the plate since my 2002 Golden cruise. I don’t care about the way it looks but that was also a topic of discussion during dinner. If it tastes good, the right temperature, not rubbery, tough or like mush, I am happy. Cutesy tied up bundles of carrots aren’t necessary but people seemed pleased by the way things looked!
Deserts were good but not spectacular. I think it has to do with the type of ingredients and quality of what they buy. I could be wrong but there is a major difference in real vanilla and generic, taste wise and dollar wise, also with various types of chocolate. I had the Love Boat Dream one time and it was not what I remembered. Other deserts were ok but some on the bland side.
We visited Vigo, LaRochelle, Lisbon and St. Peter Port on this cruise. I enjoyed all the ports, did tours at 3, and hop on/hop off bus in Lisbon. Lisbon is one of those places you could spend several days and find plenty to do. I just took the ship shuttle in, saw a trolley, purchased a ticket for 13 Euros and I was good for almost 2 hrs. It was rainy but by the time I was done, nice enough to walk to a square for a snack and a glass of wine. I ran into two ladies from the bus ride down to the ship so I joined them for lunch.
Vigo is an industrial looking town but on the bus ride to LaBayonne, I saw nice shopping areas, a very big arena, beautiful beach, boats in a marina, a different side of Vigo. The half day tour was worth it to see some countryside, to see more of Vigo than just the industrial port area.
I toured in LaRochelle for the same reason just to get out in the countryside and see a little bit of France. I went to the Green Marsh area, which was very interesting. These old towns have a series of canals and this is why the area is called “Green Venice”. The tour also included a stop for a tasting of local specialties, cheeses, wines, etc. It was good. When I was done, I took the shuttle back into town and LaRochelle is interesting, too. I walked around looking at some churches, the old fortress, taking some pictures, checking out the street vendors, having an ice cream, the usual things I do!
Guernsey was great, I did a tour and was glad for the overview and history of the island, which was a major German stronghold during WW11. We also stopped at the Little Chapel made out of glass chips and Dresden porcelain, very interesting. Guernsey is very nice, very expensive in terms of real estate and not just anyone can buy there (if they had the money)! Only drawback on Guernsey was the return tender, the absolute worst I’ve seen out of all my cruises, everyone was complaining, it was very ugly.
The Aurora was in port also and the pier set up did not allow for more than one tender from each ship. When all the tour buses got back and dropped us off, it was the longest line I’d ever seen! No exaggeration, hundreds and hundreds of people, 6 abreast and from both ships! Tempers were really flaring, I saw a few yelling matches and all I could think of was, tonight we fill out comment cards! Typical of me, I said something about those of us early dining versus late seating (I was joking)no one thought I was funny but then my dry sense of humor doesn‘t always go over well!
I had a great cruise and stay tuned for the second installment, Transatlantic via Iceland/Greenland.