Welcome to volume II of our 2015 World Cruise summary. Please refer to the volume 1 post for the introduction and how I am structuring the summary. Overall the cruise was a positive experience, so I’ll start with some positives. The areas requiring improvement or those not meeting our expectations will be included in volume 3.
We picked the itinerary, so were obviously in favour of at least the majority of the route and ports of call. Therefore, I’ll focus on any deviations to the itinerary and how it met our expectations.
The day we departed Sydney was the first day of the “Vivid Festival of Lights”, which commenced at 18:00, but we were scheduled to depart at 16:00. This issue garnered extensive online discussion pre-cruise, as to whether the Captain would delay sailing, so we could witness the light festival. Captain Kent is an amazing Master, totally committed to looking after his passengers and crew, so of course he delayed departure until 18:00. Therefore, at 18:00 on a cold, dull, dark and rainy evening, we pushed away from White Bay Terminal, embarking on a 104 night voyage of a lifetime. Yes, the few of us that braved the inclement weather enjoyed the Vivid festival of lights.
Previous cruises departing Sydney have gone north, but our itinerary had stops in Melbourne and Fremantle, requiring a transit across the Great Australian Bight. Based on the season, our preference would have been the northerly route, as the weather did not cooperate. The southerly route also required a large number of sea days, especially 7 days between Fremantle and Colombo. While this did not appeal to some of our fellow passengers, we enjoyed the ability to get well entrenched into our sea day routine.
From Sri Lanka until the Red Sea, we were in pirate waters, so we all participated in a piracy drill and the ship was rigged with hoses and acoustic generators, which at times were manned 24/7. On arrival Suez, we experienced what was probably the major disappointment of the cruise. Our daylight transit of the canal, or ditch through the desert, was repeatedly delayed by the Canal Authorities. Rather than a daylight transit, we only saw the approach and 1 hour of the canal in daylight. I made a previous southbound transit in 1976, but it was also at night. This was Judi’s first time through Suez, therefore we were extremely disappointed to miss one of our highlights. The 11 hour Suez delays resulted in a delayed arrival and reduced time in Athens, with all the full day tours cancelled. The tour office quickly organised some shorter drive-by tours, but we elected to just do our own thing in Piraeus. Athens and the Parthenon was on our nice to see list, but not a huge loss.
After Athens, everything went according to schedule, with the only comment being the flurry of ports in the Meddy, with long drives it was rather tiring, especially in contrast to the long stretch of relaxing sea days.
The time in UK, was most enjoyable, providing an opportunity to connect with family and friends. Next was the voyage to almost the Arctic Circle; yes, it was cold and stormy, but again, for us this was one of the highlights. Iceland really is a beautiful country. One departing Iceland our next scheduled port was Halifax, for which we had big plans. Unfortunately, the ice floes dictated a change to the schedule and we bypassed Halifax, heading straight to New York, for an extra night. In our opinion, this was one of the biggest disappointments. New York has loads of attractions, but basically it is like any large, dirty and noisy city. Two nights was more than enough, we certainly didn’t need 3 nights. I can think of many better ports in the world to spend 3 nights.
Panama Canal, wow, simply amazing. I have been through over 20 times, but I was still out there first, long before daylight and even before reaching the Cristobal breakwater. Definitely another highlight. Having never been to South America before, this was one of the areas we were looking forward to. While we enjoyed the port calls, 2 nights in Lima was excessive. Similar to the comment on NY, there are numerous ports in the world we would much rather spend an overnight.
Heading across the Pacific, we all held our breath, would we or wouldn’t we get into Easter Island. In fact, we made the port call, which for Judi was her biggest highlight.
In summary, we were very pleased with the itinerary, with the exception of the choice of overnight ports. Could we pick a favourite port – No, as each was special within its own right. However, having circled the globe, we are amazed at the similarities between civilisations dating back hundreds even thousands of years ago, that are separated by thousands of miles.
Very rarely, I suspect, would you get comments about the ship’s Master. However, Captain William Kent was a highlight, most definitely for Judi and I. Every Master talks about the passengers and crew being their primary consideration, but in my opinion, Captain Kent is one of the few that actually walk the talk.
He is no nonsense and keeps you informed of situations, long before the inevitable rumours have an opportunity to raise their ugly head. He makes a daily update broadcast through the cabins. OMG, you might exclaim. Some may consider it a disturbance; however, we thoroughly looked forward to his daily chat. In addition to the navigational update, he provides a daily explanation as to the origins of a saying with nautical origins. His last broadcast, although rather lengthy, had the entire ship rolling around with laughter.
One of his best was prior to Dubai, when at 23:30 he broadcast a cyclone update, announcing we were altering course to avoid the worst, but batten down the hatch as it is about to get bumpy.
His finale was joining the Cruise Director on stage signing, “I am sailing”. Captain Kent was an excellent positive and he was sadly missed during his vacation between Venice and Lima.
Being used to the Grand Class and Island/Coral cabins, our initial impressions was OMG, it is tiny, especially the balcony. We were in C424, which is port side, fire zone 4 or midships. We quickly got used to the size and personalised the bulkheads with pictures, etc held in place with magnets.
Our cabin steward Ben, was with us the entire cruise and nothing was too much of an effort. A really nice chap, hailing from the Philippines. On the last day, when we thanked him, including monetary appreciation, he was most appreciative, almost crying and telling how much this meant to his family. A really nice chap and we wish him well.
Mentioning our cabin steward under the previous heading is the perfect segue to discussing the biggest positive of the cruise, the Ship’s Company. Leadership starts at the top and the quality of the crew is a further testament to the Captain and his senior officers. The crew members, with very few exceptions, were amazing, constantly smiling and working hard to ensure that passenger’s expectations were met. Having cruised on many vessels, overall I would say this is the best crew we have had the pleasure to sail with.
While we have the same waiters for dinner, both lunch and breakfast are open seating, so for those meals we get different waiters for each meal. However, over 104 days we met each of them multiple times. Our dinner waiters Santosh and Sylvia, couldn’t have done more to ensure everything was to our satisfaction. While lacking some technical skills, they more than made up for it with their efforts to ensure we were happy. After 104 nights, they were more friends than waiters. We had similar experiences with most of the other waiters, including those up in Horizon Court during our infrequent trips to the buffet. Even the Head Waiters were more engaged than previous cruises, with John-Paul, who was assigned to our section, stopping by every evening for a chat. In summary, with the exception of the Matre D’, the Wait Staff on Sea Princess were one of the best we have experienced.
We don’t frequent the bars regularly, but on our occasional visits we found the entire bar staff provide great service with a smile.
Customer service is led by Angus (Director) and Cynthia (Manager), both who showed excellent leadership. Didn’t meet Angus, but his performance was exceptional, especially keeping passengers appraised of changes and the various immigration procedures. We met with Cynthia a few times and found her a very pleasant young lady, who gets the job done. Any issue we couldn’t resolve, once discussed with Cynthia was fixed in quick order.
Shore Excursions also had an effective manager in Ewa. We found the organisation of tours on this ship to be one of the best since on Island almost 10 years ago. Her staff were excellent and she employed numerous volunteers to ensure the process went smoothly. While most passengers were extremely nice, on tours we experienced a number of real treasures, and it was disgusting witnessing their efforts to circumvent the organisation, put in place by the tour department, to ensure the enjoyment of all.
Cruise Directors, we had 3 during the cruise. The first Dan, was a short term promotion from Deputy. He did very well, reverting to his base position of Deputy in Dubai. Younger than most, he was full of energy, even joining in at the deck party. From Dubai to Southampton we had Peter, who we know from other cruises. He was our favourite, but Dan did come close. In Southampton we received Matt and his new wife Kim, who was Deputy. He was our least favourite, although I believe he was the favourite of most Australians.
The initial cruise staff were exceptional, with special recognition to Jill and Sarah. Exceptional young ladies that were real go getters. Jill did a number of trivias, making jokes about her frequent typos. Sarah hosted the daily Zumba, which I attended. Her music was light and lively, and she didn’t see a need to scream into a microphone. She did the exercise and we followed. A great experience. Unfortunately, when Kim took over she found a need to scream into a microphone with her music being more bass orientated. I got a headache day 1, so never returned.
We started off with our usual sea day routine, attending Zumba, trivia, lectures, etc. initially having very busy sea days. However, we quickly realised that this wasn’t a 20 to 30 day cruise, but 104, so we quickly eased off, having a more relaxed schedule.
The ship had 2 guest entertainers aboard, with them changing about every week. Each entertainer performed 2 shows. We had a generally good selection of vocalists, multi-instrumentalists, pianists, comedians, jugglers, ventriloquists, etc. They certainly weren’t A rated performers, with most being supporting acts. Our favourites were Diane Cousins and Trevor Knight. Diane is a Welsh vocalist with immense personality and a powerful voice. In Vista Lounge, which seats about 500, she sang a song without a microphone and even those at the back of the lounge heard her clearly. Trevor, originally from UK emigrated to Australia many years ago. He performed 2 shows, but also hosted other functions. He held daily Ukulele lessons, culminating in an afternoon concert. In addition, he hosted daily lectures on horse training, as he is an Australian champion. His lectures were amazing and frequently resulted in the audience departing with tears streaming down their face. In summary, we enjoyed most of the guest entertainers.
Princess ships normally have company singers and dancers, comprising 4 singers and about 11 dancers. They perform about 5 or 6 shows, which include singing and dancing in elaborate costumes with a variety of stage elements. We thorough enjoy the traditional production shows. However, for the World Cruise they sub-contacted to an agency, who supplied 4 singers and 5 dancers. They were the most under worked people on the ship, as I believe they only performed about 10 shows. Costumes were minimal and the stage consisted of curtains with lights. Boring. While individually they were OK singers, they did not harmonise well when all singing. During the first show Martin, just murdered the Gerry Marsden and Pacemakers hit, “You’ll never walk alone”. We attended about 3 of their shows, but with no improvement, we skipped the rest. Definitely our biggest disappointment with respect to the entertainment.
The guest lecturers were hit or miss, but always had at least one, who I enjoyed. On each segment we had 2 lecturers, which on the 2 shorter segments were OK, but having the same lecturer on for 40 days got rather repetitive. Sydney to Dubai, I attended every lecture from a retired Australian Naval Commodore. An excellent presenter, I also enjoyed his nautical subject matter. The other lecturer was a retired school teacher, who thought she was still teaching kids. Almost fell asleep during her first lecture, so didn’t return. Dubai to Southampton we had 2 excellent lecturers, one a marine archaeologist and the other an astronomer. This was a rather busy segment with ports, but I attended many of the lectures from each presenter. Southampton to NY I attended every lecture from the retired deck officer, with each lecture having a nautical subject. The 2nd lecturer discussed ladies fashion, needless to say I skipped them. On the final sector we had David, a Chartered Scientist, and another chap who’s name escapes me. I attended all of David’s science lectures enjoying them immensely. Judi and I attended the first lecture from the other chap about journaling/scrapbooking. He started by polling the audience on who had been aboard since Sydney (50%). The ship also had over 1,000 black cards, or passengers with over 150 days with Princess. With this level of experience he started discussing how to use the daily Princess Patter. He then put up a slide with a pen and pencil, saying these are the tools required to write a journal. At that point Judi and I and many others walked out. I thoroughly enjoyed the lectures, but would have preferred more variety with at least 2 sets of lecturers on each longer segment.
The ship’s orchestra, or band, comprised 2 guitars, pianist, drummer, trumpet, sax and trombone players. They were exceptional, having minimal rehearsal time with the almost daily changes in entertainer. Other resident entertainers were aboard for the entire cruise and all were excellent:
- Fusion, the resident band played at deck parties and various venues throughout the ship.
- Sun Down Duo, he played the piano, sang and set up the electronic drums while she sang. They performed in the Wheelhouse daily for dancing and also in the Vista Lounge during afternoon teas.
- Derek, played mostly light Jazz in Crooners, but did perform a couple of shows in Vista Lounge and the Wheelhouse Bar. When playing in the alternate venues he played a more varied style of music.
- Mendel Trio, 3 chaps playing classical music, frequently found in the Atrium or Crooners. Not our style of music, so unable to comment.
- Pianist, originating from Eastern Europe I am unable to pronounce or spell his name. He performed in Crooners and the Wheelhouse Bar.
While the entertainers were generally good, once Matt joined the ship we found the daily schedule very repetitive. I especially didn’t appreciate him scheduling the science lectures at 12:00 and then 12:15 daily. Dan and Peter had much better schedules than Matt.
This concludes the highlights section of the cruise, so I will start a new post for the areas that need improvement or didn’t meet our expectations.