This was our 6th cruise, the 4th on Princess, our first time cruising in the British Isles and our first time on a small ship (just 680 passengers). We traveled with our adult daughter in a balcony cabin on deck 7, mid-ship. We have only sailed the eastern/western Caribbean and Bermuda, and were looking forward with excited anticipation to a British Isles cruise. We flew into Heathrow and stayed in Canterbury for one night pre-cruise.
Flight, Transfer & Precruise
We took a direct overnight flight from Boston to London Heathrow's on Virgin Atlantic and arrived in Terminal 3 the following morning ahead of schedule by about 20 minutes. Anticipating a long queue at Immigration, imagine our surprise when the room was nearly empty, and the wait was mercifully short and quick - a mere 15 minutes! So much for all the stories about 3-hour lines and delays at the airport during the Olympics.
Weather on Arrival: The woman who checked us through immigration said it has been the worst summer for weather in London and around the UK - rainy and cool. We were very lucky, as our first day in the UKwas mild - around 70, with just a few showers and a lot of sun - what a blessing!
Transport from Heathrow to Canterbury (pre-cruise stay): We hired British Airport Cars, and I highly recommend them. I had reserved this company a few months ahead, and communication was great. I specified a 9:30 am pickup time, which would give us 2 hours to get through all the airport formalities. Since we were through immigration so fast, I called the driver who, as it turns out, was not very far away. He was happy to come ahead of schedule and scoop us up straight away for our visit to Leeds Castle and then to Canterbury for our pre-cruise stay. Our driver, Gary, was personable, professional and accommodating.
Leeds Castle: As we had plenty of time to reach Canterbury, we asked our driver to make a stop at Leeds Castle. We arrived early at the castle at opening time, so we enjoyed a leisurely walk through the beautiful grounds leading up to the castle entrance. By the time we got there, the crowds started to swell with lots of groups consisting of mostly young people. The castle itself is beautiful, though not as grand and formidable as Sterling Castle and Edinburgh Castle visited later in the cruise. We queued up for a self-tour, but feel the narrated tour, available for an additional fee, would have been more informative.
Canterbury & The Agnes Inn: A few weeks before the cruise, on the advice of my dear and wise husband, we switched our one-night precruise stay from Dover to Canterbury. We couldn't have been happier! This Dickens-like town is charming, with so much history, and we really felt like we got a better experience here than if we had stayed in Dover. The House of Agnes is a cozy and quaint B&B within walking distance of the old town and Canterbury Cathedral. Natasha and the rest of the staff were very friendly and accommodating. We chose to stay in the updated renovated stable rooms facing the beautiful gardened grounds and gazebo in the rear of the main house. The room was very small. However, a comfy bed, tea & cookies, and attractive decor made for a restful night. The heated bathroom floor was a real bonus! The main house is full of history and character, with sitting areas, an honesty bar, and comfortable breakfast room. We only wished we could have stayed longer at the inn as well as spent more time in Canterbury.
Embarkation & Cruise: Day 1
Canterbury Cathedral: Before leaving the lovely House of Agnes, we took a walk through the old town of Canterbury to Canterbury Cathedral. If you only have a short time in this beautiful town, this magnificent historical cathedral is truly breathtaking and is a must-see. Once again, the weather gods were good to us, as the day started out with a fine misty rain falling but the sun appeared in time for our walk to the cathedral.
Transport from Canterbury to the ship in Dover: We reserved a taxi through Canterbury Taxi for our ride to the ship. Our driver, Ray, arrived on time (even a bit early) and was personable and helpful, even pointing out several sights along the way. The charge was a reasonable £35 to take the five of us and all our stuff to the ship in a minivan.
Embarkation & First impressions: We arrived at approximately 1:00 pm to check in. We have always found the Check-In process on all of the Princess ships we have sailed to be fast and efficient, and even easier on the Ocean Princess, due to the smaller number of people. Our luggage was quickly whisked away, and we were warmly welcomed into the cruise terminal with smiling, happy faces. No lines, friendly staff, and all very fast and efficient, yet leisurely. There were crew members on board to show you the way to your cabin - not that you need help - the ship's not that big.
Our Cabin - Deck 7, #7061 Balcony (triple): The cabin was roomy enough, with plenty of storage space. However, the sleeper sofa, when open, blocks the way to the balcony and the desk drawers. The end of the bed can be folded back - but not so easy if there is someone sleeping in it. So I found myself crawling over my daughter to get to the balcony whenever something interesting caught my eye off the starboard side - which I am sure she didn't appreciate much. Our bed was perfectly comfortable, but our daughter said the pull-out bed was not. The bathroom seemed a tad roomier than the other ships we've been on and had plenty of storage. The balcony was large enough with a small round table and two reclining-back chairs. Honestly, though, there were several days when it was just too windy, cold or drizzly - or we were just too busy - to spend much time out there. Our cabin steward did a great job refreshing the cabin daily and always greeted us with a warm smile.
The ship's interior design contains a lot of wood paneling, mirrors, art and floral designs, giving the feeling of a traditional cruise ship of the past - a classy look, and I loved it! No room portrayed this better than the ship's library. Wood paneled walls, fireplace and a ceiling mural gave this room a warm, intimate look - a great, quiet place to curl up with a book or just sit and relax. The central staircase on decks 4 and 5 is beautiful and, as others have commented, reminiscent of the staircase scenes with Jack and Rose on the Titanic, except on a smaller and less grand scale.
The passenger demographic was much more mature (i.e. older) and well-traveled than the cruises we've taken in the Caribbean on the big ships, though a few kids were spotted around the ship, as well as a number of younger couples. There was no concern over "chair hogs" on this tiny ship in this cooler climate. Due to rain, drizzle and chill, the activity took place inside. Rarely did we see anyone spending time out on deck, although I did spot a brave person in the pool on one warmer afternoon, and the hot tubs seemed to be used often. Those who did chose to sit outside were bundled in sweaters, including myself!
One nice thing about the small size of the ship was that everything we needed was either a deck or two above or below our cabin and never more than a couple of flights of stairs away. Due to British maritime law, the casino is closed throughout most of the cruise, but otherwise, the activities on sea days are similar to those on the large ships, but not as varied and on a much smaller scale. Some of these included line dancing, trivia, Wii games, ice sculpture viewing, and the art auction. There are in-cabin movies and occasional first-run movies shown in the Casino lounge. Afternoon tea, of course, is available every afternoon, and the Lotus Spa and fitness room provide classes, treatments and workout options.
Day 2: Guernsey (Formal Night)
I had read many tales of missed calls to this port. I am happy to report that the day was mild and sunny, and the ship made it to port, as scheduled. However, wind and high winds prevailed, making the tender ride a bit choppy. We watched the tendering process from our balcony and noticed that the tender and ship had trouble connecting in order to board the passengers. The captain had to reposition the ship throughout the day in order to assist the process to make it easier and safer for boarding, so it all worked out.
Castle Cornet: Since we had to be back on board by 2:30, it was a short day for us in Guernsey. We walked to Castle Cornet, a very easy and walkable mile. We paid for admission which included a guide who was very informative and filled us in on the history of Guernsey and the castle (which is a fort, really). As an added bonus, the views are truly spectacular, including a fabulous view of the ship! One notable event at the Castle is the firing of the Noon Day Gun, a tradition dating back to the early days of the 19th century. We watched from the roped area surrounding the gun, but a visit timed to be at the level just below the gun at noon may make for a better view.
Added note about Guernsey: Later on that evening, we learned that the captain had nearly made the decision to cancel the Guernsey port stop due to high seas. Which makes me wonder - what happens when they tender people over to the island but then can't tender them back because the waves are too high ....?
Motion on the Ocean! Just as we had earlier in the day, we faced rough seas Friday night once we left Guernsey on our way to Waterford. So rough, in fact, that the Ocean Princess Singers & Dancers production was canceled, replaced by comic, Tom Brisco. There were a lot of seasick passengers that evening, as well as many empty seats in the dining room and show lounges. Those souls brave enough donned their formal attire, stumbled around the ship, attended the captain's welcome party, and dined to the rocking and rolling of the ship. The formal photo shoot was particularly challenging for both the photographer and the subjects. Another consequence of the turbulent waters is that the ship had to reduce speed, which could have affected the arrival time in Waterford the next morning. As it turned out, we made it on schedule.
Tonight was our daughter's 25th birthday. OK, not really. It was actually last January, but we never properly celebrated, so we thought this would be a good way to honor such a momentous occasion. Balloons, a happy birthday sign on the door, a card from the Captain, and a cake complete with singing waiters at dinner made it all special.
Day 3: Waterford, Ireland
When traveling to Waterford from the ship, cruise passengers are not permitted to walk out of the gated port of Belview. Fortunately, Princess does have a complimentary shuttle for the 20-minute ride into Waterford. We also saw four or five taxis waiting, but with the small number of passengers, it doesn't make sense to hire a taxi here, when Princess provides a free ride. There was never a wait, and it was an enjoyable ride.
Rural Ireland & Jerpoint Abbey Excursion: We did not want to leave Ireland without seeing some of the countryside and, therefore, pre-booked this 4-hour excursion. The day began overcast, but rain-free. Sitting on the balcony with my morning coffee and the Princess' version of an Egg McMuffin, I admired the beautiful Ireland countryside as we pulled into Waterford. By the time we headed off the ship for the tour, the rain had begun and continued on and off through most of the day. Our guide for the tour was Mary, a very personable and knowledgeable woman, whose charming Irish brogue reminded me of Mrs. Doubtfire. The bus took us on a ride through rolling hills and farmland filled with horses, cows and sheep. We were led through Jerpoint Abbey with a knowledgeable guide who took us through the old monastery ruins, pointing out interesting facts along the way. We then continued to the little village of Inistioge, along the River Nore, where we spent about 15 minutes photographing the scenery and the remaining 10 minutes in a small Irish pub enjoying a pint of Guinness with my husband's new-found Irish friend "Patty" and a few other locals. Perfect! We then made our way back to the ship for lunch before heading out, once again, this time to the shuttle for a ride into Waterford. We were very happy with the Jerpoint Abbey tour, though, as my husband mentioned, we would have liked to stop for a quick photo op of the beautiful countryside we drove through. After all, photos tend to be of better quality when the scenery is standing still, as opposed to speeding by.
Waterford: As mentioned, we took the ship's free shuttle into Waterford after lunch. We began by heading over to the City Square Shopping Center. It was Saturday, there was an outdoor festival going on in Waterford and the streets were mobbed. The shopping center was just a mall with chain stores mixed in with local shops. We didn't like it, so headed back to Reginald's Tower, the Greyfriars ruins and the House of Waterford Crystal, stopping on the way to pick up a few gifts. We prefer the historical aspects of touring and found these places more interesting and enjoyable than trying to maneuver a busy shopping center full of stores that we can find back home. Waterford is the oldest city in Ireland and I am sure has many fine qualities. However, after spending time in quaint Canterbury two days before, it was hard to become excited about Waterford's traffic, crowded streets and noise. It was my least favorite city on this itinerary.
Day 4: Dublin.
The weather in Dublin on the day we called was fairly wet - not a washout by any means, just enough to bring out the rain slickers and umbrellas. There may have been taxis available at the port, but we chose the ship's shuttle into Dublin, 16 dollars/pp round trip. It was convenient for us - the shuttles drop off and return to the same location, so they were easy to find and always available. Once dropped off, we needed to get our bearings and find the green Hop On, Hop Off bus which we reserved in advance. There happened to be one sitting nearby, and when we asked the driver how to find the location to obtain our tickets, he said it was about a mile away but made it easy for us by giving them to us right then and there. As he wasn't operating at that time, we walked to the nearest location and hopped on board the next bus. This was #5 on the route and we stayed on until the end, at which time we needed to change to a new bus. This next bus had a live narrator, where the first was the multilingual recording. If I were to do it again, I would be sure to be on the bus with the live narration. Other than that, the HoHo tour was a great way to get an overview of this lovely city as well as many photo ops. Note: The HoHo bus tour we booked was the green bus run by Dublin Bus Tours. They can easily be joined and paid for at any of their stops, and it is not necessary to book in advance. However, they do offer a 15% web discount. As our only missions in Dublin were the Book of Kells and a pint of Guinness, we got off at #3, queued up at Trinity College for the Book of Kells and then had a fine lunch on Grafton Street consisting of a very tasty Irish stew and a pint. We stopped at a few shops for Irish woolens on the way back to the shuttle and headed back to the ship. When comparing Dublin to Waterford the day before, Waterford seemed to be more of a typical working class city, whereas the city of Dublin had more of an Irish flavor and character, as well as better local gift shops.
With regard to the Book of Kells: We arrived here on a Sunday morning and, therefore, the city was pretty quiet. We arrived at the queue for the Book at 10:45 am, just in the nick of time, before several large groups lined up behind us. So if you plan on seeing this, make it your first stop of the day or save it for later. We waited about 30 minutes in line and then, once inside, it took some patience as people waited their turn to view the Book as well as other writings. Once in view, it was humbling to be in the presence of such ancient works.
Day 5: Glasgow/Greenock
We woke up to Greenock with the sound of bagpipers playing below our cabin on the pier and then, once off the ship, were treated to a dram of whisky (my husband got a double!) by a friendly Scottish welcoming party at the port. We were very impressed by the genuine hospitality all over the UK, but particularly here in Scotland.
Independent Tour with Gordon Ross - Luss, Loch Lomond & Sterling Castle: I had gathered a group of fellow Cruise Critics and booked a Highlands tour with Great Scot Tours for 15 people. Our guide, Gordon Ross, and his able driver, John, were waiting for us right on schedule and greeted us warmly as we boarded his mini-coach to set out on a full-day tour of the Highland. The village of Luss, our first stop, is a quaint, pretty little town on the banks of Loch Lomond. Gordon refers to it as "Brigadoon" and we wholeheartedly agree. One feels a sense of quiet serenity in this idyllic place, and the view of the distant hills across the lake is one of timeless beauty. It was all very magical!
Back on board, we arrived in the Highland, at which time Gordon stopped at an overlook and let us sample an assortment of whiskies - just a wee dram ... or two or three! This was not in the tour description - just a little extra something that this kind and thoughtful Scotsman adds to his tours. With his passengers now all warm and giddy, he took us on a scenic drive, pointing out many sites along the way including all the "white rocks" dotting the countryside. Except they weren't rocks - they were sheep! Thousands upon thousands. I believe there are more sheep in Scotland than there are people.
After sharing his vast knowledge and history of this beautiful country, Gordon brought us to the lovely town of Callender, where we could wander about and have lunch. While many in our tour chose a restaurant pointed out by Gordon, we chose a pub nearby for some fantastic fish & chips and black pudding.
We then continued on to the final destination of our tour - Sterling Castle. As we came closer, the castle appeared majestic and formidable to us at the top of a rocky hill and was a fearsome sight to behold. There are no words to describe it. A walk through the castle and along the grounds is like a step back in time to the days of Rob Roy, Sir William Wallace and Sir Robert the Bruce. While some in our group toured on their own, Gordon led a few of us through the castle and showed us some of his favorite rooms - the jail, the great hall, the queen's and king's bedchambers, the kitchen, tapestries, and so much more. The distant views from the castle are spectacular, and it was humbling to look down upon the fields where fierce battles were fought to secure Scotland's freedom. Our tour was now nearly at an end, and it was time to head back to the ship. Gordon Ross was an outstanding tour guide, as well as a kind, intelligent and well-traveled man. Did I mention that he travels the world with his Celtic band? He is retiring as a tour guide after this outing, but tours will still be available with other guides from His tour company. Thank you to our fellow tour mates: Violet, Tom, Sharon, Cindy, Jon, Nancy, Dennis, Kathy, Cheryl & Mike. I couldn't have found a nicer group of people!
Today was our 35th Anniversary. Just as with our daughter's birthday celebration earlier in the cruise, there were balloons, a happy birthday sign on the door, a card from the Captain, and a cake complete with singing waiters at dinner to make it all special.
Day 6: Sea Day
Today was the first day of this cruise without a raindrop, and partly sunny skies prevailed. As great as it is to be in port and see new cities and places for the first time, it is nice to have a day in between to sleep in a bit, with no place to be. As I write this on our first day at sea, I thank God for our balcony. With just a climb over my daughter slumbering in the pull-out bed blocking the balcony door, I could step out and admire the majestic rocky cliffs off the coast of Scotland. We headed north and rounded the northern parts of Scotland today on our way to Edinburgh. I had no idea the coastline would be so magnificent, and I could sit on the balcony and stare at this beautiful scene all day.
With that said, however, I should point out that my husband and I have very different ideas about sea days. I like to lounge around in my jammies and order breakfast in the room. He likes to be up at the crack of dawn, get some exercise, and stop at the buffet for breakfast. I like to find a quiet place to read, write or just watch the world go by, maybe participate in an activity or two. He likes to be entertained non-stop, 24/7. We both love to lounge out on deck, swim in the pool, and walk around he promenade deck. Unfortunately, there is no promenade deck on the Ocean Princess, and it was too cold for serious sunning and swimming. My husband likes to try his luck in the casino, but that too was unavailable for most of the cruise. While I was perfectly content with the entertainment on this ship for this itinerary, he was not so impressed. Unlike me, he was restless and it was an effort for him to find things to do. I can see his point, and I think on a longer cruise with more sea days, it would all become old fast.
By the way, today was my husband's birthday. Balloons, a happy birthday sign on the door, a card ... well, you know the rest!
Day 7: Edinburgh
As we headed into the Port of Rosyth, the Captain came on over the loud speaker with an announcement that (1) a barge was blocking our way into port and (2) a cargo ship was parked in our spot, and he did not know if or when we would be able to dock. Well, you can imagine the rumbling which began to arise among the passengers. This was the highlight of the tour for some folks, especially those who spent big bucks on Edinburgh Tattoo tickets. Fortunately, the ship did manage to pull alongside the dock a short time later, and we were soon on our way into the city, so it all worked out.
Weather forecast: Today we were given a gift. After a mixed bag of sun, clouds, drizzle and rain, we were blessed with a warm, sunny day in Edinburgh. Blue skies prevailed, and the folks holding tickets for the Edinburgh Tattoo were very fortunate and had a beautiful night for it.
We did not choose an excursion for this port, but instead found 2 taxis for the 5 of us to take us to Edinburgh Castle at a flat rate of £35 each. There were taxis lined up at the port terminal building, and we could see them clearly from our balcony cabin. In order to get to the taxis, you might think - ok, it's just a short walk from the ship to the terminal along the perimeter of this cargo port. No, not a chance. Due to insurance reasons, presumably, we had to take a free shuttle from the gangway to the terminal, just a stone's throw away. Silly, really. Our taxis dropped us off just a short distance downhill from the castle on the Royal Mile. We had purchased the Explorer passes in advance of the cruise and simply walked in through the Fast Pass gate. Not a big deal with the small crowd when we arrived early in the morning, but a real timesaver if arriving later when the queues become large. We joined a guided tour through a portion of the castle and explored the rest on our own. The views over the city and distant hills and river are stunning.
Once we had our fill of the castle, we continued downhill along the Royal Mile toward the Palace of Holyrood House, stopping for lunch at a Scottish tavern, Deacon Brodie's Tavern. We were seated upstairs, which was fortunate because the downstairs was crowded and very warm & stuffy. There was a nice breeze and a roomy feel upstairs, and it was a great place to refuel with local favorites, like chicken pie, vegetable tort, bangers & mash, and we shared a plate of Haggis, which was actually quite tasty considering the contents of the dish and the manner in which it is prepared - minced meat and oatmeal cooked in sheep's bladder. Yikes! We had our fill, left the restaurant and found ourselves in a large crowd of festival goers outside. It was the week in which "the Fringe" was happening, and the streets were mobbed with performers, photo ops, including Sir William Wallace (my personal favorite), Yoda, and lots of people passing out ads of the fun things going on around town. We made our way down the Mile until we finally made it to the Palace. We didn't go in, but simply peeked through the gate and took photos of this stately retreat for the Queen. We turned around and started back up the hill, bought a few gifts, and when our legs couldn't take another step, grabbed a 5-person taxi parked at a hotel and went directly back to the ship. The cost was £35 - a very economical and convenient ride when split among the five of us. We loved the picturesque streets and beauty of Edinburgh, and the Castle was magnificent. Next time, though, I would take a HoHo bus tour around the city, similar to what we did in Dublin, in order to see more in a short amount of time.
The big highlight, of course, of this cruise was The Edinburgh Tattoo. Even though it is a must-see event recommended by many, we chose not to attend. At $199 per person for the ship excursion, it was more than we wanted to spend. Even though we could have easily saved a lot of money by purchasing tickets to the show on our own, stories of cold, torrential downpours during the performances were deal breakers for us, as well as the late night crowds and transportation issues if we were to go on our own. As it turns out, the night was clear and dry, though a little cold. Many people I talked to said it was a perfect night and all had a great time.
Day 8: At Sea
It was another much welcomed, relaxing day at sea - the second and last of the cruise. The warmer sunshine brought a few more people out on deck, and I saw at least one person in the pool. Re-packing took up most of the late afternoon hours.
Disembarkation was a breeze. We had breakfast in the buffet, vacated the cabin, and waited at the appropriate time and venue according to color code. In our case, we waited in the Cabaret Lounge for just a short time while Princess showed a video of the new Royal Caribbean features. We had already seen most of it, but the review was nice, as we are booked on Royal for next summer. Our color was called, we exited the ship, grabbed our luggage, and climbed directly aboard the Princess shuttle for the 2-hour drive to Heathrow. The process was all very well quick and well-organized.
Return Flight Home:
This was the first time we flew out of Heathrow. The process was pretty painless, except for not assigning the seats requested on line. I was surprised by the terminal - it's a shopping Mecca. I also didn't realize that we would have to wait over an hour before we could go to the gate, nor that one had better use the bathroom before you get to the secure gate area, which seems to be guarded like Ft. Knox, not like the small town airport I'm used to.
Dining, Entertainment & More:
Dining Room: This was our first time with fixed, late seating, and it worked out very well. With long days in port, we were able to nap or just rest before dinner. We found the dining room cuisine to be excellent. Just like all Princess menus, the menu is different each night, and if you don't see anything that appeals to you, there are the alternative always-available items (i.e.. Fettucini Alfredo, roast chicken, etc.). Our waiter was fabulous, attentive, friendly and professional. It always amazes me how hard the dining staff works, always especially evident on the final evening with the Baked Alaska Parade. If the service seems a little off, it is always this final night. It takes time and patience to individually serve and chocolate-glaze that Baked Alaska after being paraded around the room, and things can get a little muddled in the process, with some staff assigned to the parade, and the rest left to serve the tables alone. So please forgive your waiter on Baked Alaska night, when he seems a little frazzled or for the little omissions, like forgetting to bring coffee.
Buffet/Room Service: The buffet, on the other hand, at both lunch and breakfast was hit or miss, like every other cruise or land buffet I've experienced, but there was always something to like. In particular, there is an omelet station for made-to-order eggs if you don't care for the buffet scrambled eggs. Drinks, on a couple of occasions, were a little slow in coming in the buffet, and I found myself getting my own coffee or juice on occasion. Room service is available 24 hours, and we always started the morning with pastry and a pot of coffee.
Specialty Dining: Crown Grill and Sabatini's: We didn't bother with either this time around, so I can't comment.
Pizza/burgers: Princess still has the best pizza at sea. I was told by my family that the burgers by the pool were good.
Coffee: With coffee being a popular topic on the boards, I will simply comment that it was all good, but better when cream was added as opposed to milk. I am a Dunkin Donuts/Folgers gal, and I take my coffee with "extra cream". It was fine in the dining room with milk, but better in the morning when it came with cream to the cabin. Whatever it was - syrup or real ground coffee - it gave me the caffeine kick I needed. I used my old coffee card from 2010 for specialty coffees and hot chocolate in the Club Lounge.
Afternoon Tea: It was our sixth cruise, and we finally attended our first afternoon tea. I don't know why we never tried it before (could it have something to do with my husband not being fond of tea?). We enjoyed it and think it will now become tradition.
Entertainment: I liked the intimacy of the show lounge over the large crowded theaters of the big ships, there was never a problem finding a seat, thought the entertainment on board ranged from "just OK" to excellent, and all provided 45 minutes of solid entertainment. Following is a summary of some of the entertainment we caught:
Ocean Princess Singers & Dancers/Joe & Jennifer: Great vocals, choreography and stage presence. By far, the best shows on board. The alternate cast appeared later in the week with their premiere dance show - good, high energy dancers.
Comedian, Tom Brisco: Good, funny stand-up comic.
Piano man, Alan James: Young, talented guy with a nice voice. He takes requests, to the point of attempting a Lady Gaga song ("Bad Romance", of all things!) requested by a group of three young blondes who wandered into the bar. Let's just say it wasn't pretty. I give him credit for aiming to please his audience.
Comedian/Impressionist, Sean O'Shea: Highly energetic, entertaining and sometimes funny. In one of the more memorable moments of the show, I was one of several women picked to throw a piece of underwear at him during his rendition of "Delilah" as Tom Jones. Oooh La La!
Alex Crowe, Mentalist: He was the "Just Ok" element of the entertainment on board, and the skeptics among us had an inkling of how he was able to perform some of his mind reading acts.
Trivia: Tough questions on this cruise, mostly relating to history and geography.
Art Auction: The free champagne flowed on this voyage at the auction, several glasses, so I hear from my husband who attended and was feeling enough of a buzz to purchase a piece. I have yet to see it.
Line Dancing: Since it was too cold for the pool, we found ourselves taking part in cruise activities we never bother with. This was one of them, and it turned out to be fun - and we burned a few calories in the process!
Casino: Gaming lovers, take note: The ship's small casino remains closed throughout most of this cruise due to British maritime law.
Dress Code: Even on this classy little ship, a few pairs of jeans were spotted in the dining room at dinner. The staff didn't bat an eye, but some of the more seasoned cruisers may have turned up their their noses at this. Several tuxedos were seen in the dining room, but the majority of men wore suits or jackets, and the women were seen in an array of styles ranging from cocktail dresses to long gowns.
Weather: like most reports I read about weather in the UK, every day on this cruise was a mixed bag of sun, clouds, drizzle and a few periods of steady rain, but far from a total washout. The temps hovered at a high of low 60's through most of our time in Ireland and Scotland, except for our last port day in Edinburgh, when the sun appeared and warmed the day up nicely. As others have recommended, bring a rain jacket and umbrella, and be prepared for anything.
Dolphin Discovery: Early in the cruise I was sitting by the balcony door writing notes for this review, when I turned to gaze outside at the sea and spotted some gray fins pass by as they bobbed up and down in the waves. With no open sofa bed to climb over, I jumped up, grabbed my camera, and quickly made my way to he railing, and snapped a couple of photos. By that point, they were pretty far ahead of the ship, so I may have only a couple of dark specks on the ocean in my photos to show for it. It was still a great moment nevertheless!
This was a fantastic itinerary for an 8-day cruise, and we thoroughly enjoyed all the ports, except maybe for Waterford, which was our least favorite. I particularly thought the cooler climate was a nice change to the tropical waters of the Caribbean. The Ocean Princess is a very pretty ship, and the smaller size makes it easy to get to know the crew and fellow passengers. On more than one occasion, crew members addressed us by name, a pleasant personal touch not found on a ship of 3,000 passengers. Features of the bigger ships that we missed most on the Ocean Princess were a real promenade deck and the International Cafe. The most wished-for item missing from the dining room menu was French Onion Soup. For the most part, the pool deck was unusable and I wish there had been a covered pool like that of some ships cruising colder waters. We are happy that the cabins and balconies are now smoke-free, but disappointed that the prettiest lounge on the ship, the Tahitian Lounge, allows smoking on one side of the room, making the room reek of tobacco at any time of day.
Would we cruise Ocean Princess again? If it were me, absolutely! However, given that my husband still prefers the large ship experience and since he contributes the most money to the cruise piggy bank, I would have to give him a say. So the answer to whether or not we would cruise Ocean Princess again is probably more of a definite maybe!
After much anticipation we flew on Aug 20 from Norfolk, VA at 6am to Papeete, via Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the Air Tahiti Nui flight from Los Angeles was delayed 5 hour for mechanical reasons, making our travel day about 28 hours long. They did provide meals $20 per person meal credit in the airport by showing our boarding passes. The 8 hour flight provides two meals, and the seats, with 34 inch pitch and foot rests, include individual video screens with a selection of movies and games, as well as audio programs. Service by the Tahitian crew is gracious.
Upon arrival in Papeete at 11:15pm local time there is a long line for immigration/passport control that took about 1 hour. After clearing immigration we claimed our bags and moved them to the waiting bus area outside, where porters took the bags and loaded them in a truck. The bus ride is only about 10 minutes to the pier in Papeete. The check-in at the pier provides no expedited check-in for past passengers, so the lines were long again. When we arrived on the ship and proceeded to our balcony cabin, 6057,the bags arrived within 30 minutes. While we were 5 hours late arriving and missed the evening meal on the ship, we had been fed on the plane, and the buffet area did have finger sandwiches and fruit available even at 2am due to the late arrivals. The cabin has a small refrigerator and plenty of storage, with spacious storage in the desk as well as end tables, and closets. There are cabinets below the TV, one with a safe and some space, and another large cabinet. The beds were very comfortable, with duvets, and two extra pillows I had requested online before sailing. A sofa and coffee table are provided, and there are two chairs, not recliners, and a small table on the balcony.
We had cruised on Oceania Nautica last year. Tahitian Princess, a sister ship, one of the former Renaissance ships was identically designed. The two specialty restaurants, normally called Sabatini's and Sterling Steakhouse on the other Princess ships, are simply termed The Grill and The Italian Restaurant on this ship, and they are not both open on the same nights, alternating service each night. The ship carries 673 passengers and nearly 400 staff, has a small casino with blackjack and poker tables, roulette, and slot machines, and two lounges. The Tahitian Lounge on deck 10 forward is the site of evening dancing and DJ, Captain's Circle reception, and dance classes. The Cabaret Lounge on deck 5 forward is the site of the Captain's reception, movies, and the evening entertainment, which included three excellent production shows, a singer, and a comedian and a magician. As there is no slope down toward the stage, the views become slightly obstructed by rows in front, but the lounge was never very crowded. The house band is a 4 piece group, and the featured 2 person group, Spice, was excellent, playing both at the pool and in the Tahitian Lounge in the evening for dancing.
Dining in the Club Restaurant is traditional early and late seating. The design is similar to the other R-ships, but with somewhat less tables for 2, which we had requested and received. It is also open every day for breakfast and lunch. The menu featured all the usual, prime rib, beef Wellington, lamb twice, pork, chicken and turkey, a different variety of fish every night (to my wife's delight), prawns, snails, crème Brule, baked Alaska, and much more. Only the salads were somewhat monotonous, but a premixed Caesar salad is available every day. The Buffet on deck 9 aft has both indoor and aft outdoor seating. Fruits and desserts are plentiful, and a varied selection of items was available. The BBQ grill by the pool offers omelets and eggs to order in the morning, They offer pizza during lunch and the afternoon until the evening meal. Room service is very punctual, even arriving a few minutes early in the morning. Other than the standard continental breakfast, the room service menu is quite limited. We did arrange, before the cruise, for a Princess Champagne Balcony breakfast the morning we weren't scheduled to arrive in Bora Bora until noon. We have done it before and it is a great value, four courses plus a half bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne. Dining room service was excellent.
There were two formal nights, the 1st sea day enroute Raratonga on the 4th day of the cruise, and the 2nd was the night we left Bora Bora. This is the night they had the Captain's Circle reception at 5:30pm, quite early for us scheduled for second seating dinner at 8:15pm
The ship shows some wear and tear. On our balcony the wooden railing had no varnish/shellac remaining on it and some rust was evident. In fact, the balcony needed painting. There are some cracks in the fresco's on the ceiling of the Club Dining Room and the Club Bar outside. But overall it is in nice condition.
The photographers were personable and accommodating and the lines were short. Prices continue to rise! The purser's desk was able to exchange USD for CPF (Central Pacific Francs). The bank exchange rate in Tahiti was a bit over 83 CPF to the dollar. While many places will take USD, the rate is lower.
The ship arrives back in Papeete the evening before debarkation day, and they asked that baggage be packed and outside the cabin door by 10pm. The last day they ask that we vacate the cabin by 10am, and they will store carry-on luggage in the Grill from 8am – 8pm. After the day touring Tahiti Nui, we returned to the ship, claimed our carry-on's and changed in the bathroom nearby. We went to the buffet for dinner and they called the first airport transfer bus, which we were on, at 5:55pm. The flight back was scheduled for 10pm. We claimed our luggage at the airport, and waited in line for the ticket counter to open, which it did about 6:45pm. There was a long line at the immigration and a longer line at security, where there was only one screening machine. There was still about 90 minutes to wait in an un-air-conditioned terminal. There are no water fountains, but the duty free shop sells bottled water. Being tired from a full day, after a meal on the plane we slept till awakened for breakfast and arrival in Los Angeles shortly after 9am. After clearing customs and immigration in the International Terminal, there is no baggage conveyor operating for connecting flights, even though our baggage was already tagged for the connecting flights. We used a cart to move several blocks to the Delta terminal for the flights home, arriving about 9:40pm EDT, the day after leaving Tahiti.
The passengers were an international mix. Only 320 US passengers were aboard. There were large numbers from Argentina, Chili, and some from Spain, Mexico, and Italy, and smaller numbers of Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders. The couple sharing our table at both wine tastings was from Tasmania. Announcements were in English, and Spanish or French, but they were limited to twice a day.
Notes on the itinerary: Papeete overnight, Huahine, Raritea, Cook Islands (Raratonga), Bora Bora overnight, Moorea, and Papeete overnight.
The day after arrival on the ship we had the full day to explore Papeete before the ship sails in the late afternoon. There is a tourism office across from the pier which provides maps. We exchanged some additional USD for CPF at the Bank of Polynesia, but found that the exchange rate on the ship was better. We walked the streets, visited the local church, looked in some shops, and enjoyed the Marche, the open market where the local products were on display. I had no idea that there was so much tuna in those waters. I sampled the local beer, Huahine, the first of several over the next 10 days in each of the islands, in restaurant in the Marche where several local Tahitian musicians were jamming. In fact, throughout the islands we encountered individuals strumming guitars and ukulele's and singing…in parks, on sidewalks, at the beach. We purchased a beautiful tropical flower display in the Marche for 1500 CPF, about 17 dollars which we carried back to the ship and enjoyed in the cabin all cruise. There was a welcome aboard show after dinner.
The next day we arrived in Huahine and the first real site of unspoiled French Polynesia. It was breathtaking! We even saw a whale spouting. Practically no buildings in sight. Just what I hoped it would be like. We took a tender ashore but purchased shuttle bus tickets first at the purser's desk, $5 pp one way/$20 for two roundtrips to the town, Fare. We walked a few blocks to the Europcar rental agency that we had reserved online. We paid $74.59 by credit card for 6 hours, plus 1000 CPF for gas and drove around the entire island. We had purchased the Moon Tahiti Guide book from Amazon.com and used it to guide us around each island. With it we found a beach by a closed hotel and I snorkeled. This was a spot where snorkel excursion boats showed up. The excursion cost for 1 person was more than the cost of the car rental and we had it all day to tour the island. We found hotel/pension on the south end of the island where we enjoyed salad with grilled tuna, a huge grilled tuna sub sandwich and fries, a Huahine beer and a rum punch for 4000 CPF, about $45. It would have been a good place to snorkel, too. When we returned the car, there was still time to walk to the beach just north of town for a swim and then the shuttle back to the tender at 3:30pm. That night there was a magician show at 7:30pm before the 8:15 dinner.
The next day was our first at sea day, enroute the Cook Islands. The weather was windy and there was some "motion of the ocean", but not bad. It did complicate trying to learn the tango in the dance class, though! There was a superb Italian lunch at the buffet, and a Matre' D Wine Tasting with some special wines for $25 per person. That evening they held the Captain's Reception, followed by the first formal night, which included crab legs as an option on the menu. After each seating they presented a production show in the Cabaret Lounge. Just 7 dancers and 2 lead vocalists, but with an occasional miss by the female lead singer, the show was excellent. The "throws" and moves were more remarkable in view of the fact the at the ship was moving about considerably.
The following day we arrived at Raratonga in the Cook Islands. It was too rough to tender and the ship turned around and spent the next two days returning to the Society Islands. In fact I knew from other travelers in the past, and verified with the crew, that 3 out of 5 times they can't tender and passengers don't get to go ashore. We were scheduled for a Sunday there, and most excursions weren't operating on Sunday anyway. The chances are better, I believe, if you choose the Polynesia and Marquesas itinerary instead, but it is not offered as often. Three consecutive days at sea in a 10 day island cruise was too much, in my opinion, but the weather was fine and it was relaxing. That evening there was no show, only a movie in the Cabaret Lounge after dinner.
The next day was a sea day and they featured a culinary demonstration in the Cabaret Lounge with samples for the audience, and ice carving on deck. This was followed by a galley tour, but their was not vocal guide as we paraded through. In the afternoon they presented another, only $10, wine tasting. Dinner was Italian night, with such entrees as swordfish and shrimp Diablo.
The second production show was presented after both dinner seatings.
On the following day we arrived in Raritea in the morning, and were berthed at a pier. We had reserved a car from Europcar online in advance. They met us at their booth and drove us to the agency where they couldn't find the reservation but they had a car for us. We drove counter-clockwise around the island. There are few sandy beaches, but we did find one near an old temple site where I snorkeled for about 1 hour. We continued around the island, stopping at Hotel Atiapita for lunch on the south coast. They had a pier, beach, but no coral for snorkeling. Lunch was a curried shrimp dish with rice, rum punch and Huahine beer. They also offered fish and shellfish/crabs. Lunch was 3,350 CPF, about $39. By the way, while American Express card logos are seen throughout the islands, VISA and M/C are not. I was able to use M/C for the car rentals with no problem. We drove back to town and turned in the car in the late afternoon, and they shuttled us back to the pier. The price was $110.27 for 6 hours. There are some shops, a market, and several restaurants/bars there, and some ladies selling flower leis, which we purchased, since there was an island party scheduled for the evening. I developed an eye infection and had to stop at a French speaking pharmacy where the pharmacist looked at my eyes, said "infection" and got me a bottle of antibiotics for conjunctivitis for 1,200 CPF, just under $14. After dinner the island party started at 10:15pm on the pool deck with local a local Tahitian dance troupe, dancing, conga line, and a fruit dessert buffet. The ship doesn't sail till the following morning.
The next morning we sailed at 6am around Tahaa headed to Bora Bora. The sights are marvelous, with many over the water bungalows on the islands, called motu's, and beautiful green volcanic mountains. We anchored and took a tender to the pier, where the Europcar booth was across the street. They had our reservation but were charging, with posted rates, 150% of the quoted internet rate. Haggling didn't work, and they have limited English in negotiations like this! The price was 12,700 CPF, or about $146 for 24 hours, plus 1000 CPF for gas. We drove around the island, and it only took about 1 hour. We then drove to Mateira Beach, south of the public beach where there is a shuttle bus to, and we parked and found a spot on the beach in front of the Mateira Restaurant, which doesn't open until the evening. It had lounge chairs and sandy beach, but no coral to snorkel. The best snorkeling is just south of there, from the Bora Dive Shop on Mateira Bay along the beach to the Bora Bora Hotel property. After beach time we drove the Bloody Mary's Restaurant and Bar, an institution there since 1979, and visited by many celebrities. We met one of the owners and enjoyed a …Bloody Mary and a vanilla rum punch. The entire place has sand for a floor. For the evening dinner they have a fish display of all the day's local catch, such as wahoo, tuna, mahi mah, and much more. You pick your fish from the display and the chef takes it to the kitchen. However, we chose to return to the ship for the evening, parking the car near the pier.
The following morning we drove to the Bora Dive Shop parked and I entered the water there to snorkel, drifting among the coral along the private hotel beach. Water was clear and I even saw what appeared to be a grouper. Great location. We had lunch at Bloody Mary's with Huahine and a glass of wine for 3000 CPF, about $34 USD. After returning the car we tendered back to the ship. This was the second formal night, with Captain's Circle reception at 5:30 pm. Dinner included 2 lobster tails as a selection, and was followed by the third production show, which was even a bit better than the others. We really enjoyed them.
Our final island day was to Moorea. This is where some scenes from South Pacific were filmed. Since Regent's Paul Gaugin was anchored in Cook's Bay, we anchored in the next bay, just east of Cook's Bay. The scenery here is absolutely breathtaking. Jagged green peaks, multicolored water, palm trees. It was easily the most beautiful of the islands, and Huahine was the other, and least developed. We had opted to take a ship sponsored excursion and after a tender ride to the pier, we boarded an excursion boat that took us through the coral lagoon, past shark and sting ray feedings sites, which we observed, and on to an island (motu). They had tables set up under the palm trees and started with sting ray feeding right off the beach. The snorkeling and coral were excellent with lots of coral and clear water, and a wide variety of fish. They provided a BBQ lunch with grilled mahi-mah, chicken and sausage, salad, pasta, and fresh pineapple, and lemonade, followed by a demonstration on how to husk, and crack a coconut, remove the meat, and squeeze it for juice. They also showed the women how Tahitians tied parea's. The cost was $84 per person. After the boat ride back to the pier, we tendered back to the ship, which sailed at 4pm for the 3 hour sail back to Papeete, on Tahiti. After dinner, we packed and placed the baggage outside the cabin.
The last morning, in Papeete, after breakfast we vacated the room, checked the carry-on's, and walked into Papeete to the AVIS office, just about 4 blocks from the pier. I had reserved online before leaving home. We drove clockwise around the entire island of Tahiti Nui in a little over 5 hours, including stopping for photos, and at black sand beaches to watch the surfing, and a visit to a Lagoonarium on the was back to Papeete. We returned the car ($84.83 plus 1000 CPF for gas ($11+)) and returned to the ship just before 5pm.
Final thoughts: I left home knowing this would likely be our once in a lifetime trip to French Polynesia. We loved the islands, especially once out of the hustle and bustle of busy Papeete. The beauty of the foliage and the colors of the water even inside the lagoons were striking. Prices are high, as almost everything is shipped in except fish, beer and many fruits. It is a scuba diver's paradise, and the snorkeling was very good even when not on excursions. We saw a lot more of the islands by renting the cars (they drive on the same side of the road as we do in the US) than by going on excursions.
We enjoyed the ship and staff. Princess had a 5 year contract in Tahiti and did not renew it. The Tahitian Princess will leave the islands in May 2008 to sail in Alaska, returning from September to December. It will then leave permanently to make a 100+ day world cruise, ending in Europe in the spring of 2009. The only ships still sailing from Tahiti would be the Regent's Paul Gaugin, and Star Clipper's Star Flyer which will be home ported there beginning in January 2008. Princess has a 5 year contract in Tahiti and it has not been renewed.
Never say "never"! We enjoyed it so much in the islands we might even consider a land stay there, but not in Papeete. Perhaps Moorea or Huahine. Accommodations are limited unless you are prepared for very expensive lodging, with over-water bungalows running $800 per night. Breakfast and lunch for $100 per person. But there are other options. The only drawback is the LONG time to travel from the east coast. Breaking the trip with a stop in Los Angeles on the way there would help. Half of the cost of the cruise was the airfare.
Just returned from this Cruise, highly recommend it. We had a balcony-very worth the extra money. The Islands are unbelievably beautiful, the ship is lovely, clean, friendly staff. I love the smaller ship as you get to know people more easily and see them more often. The excursions were very good. My only negative is the food. It is the worst of any cruise I have been on.
Especially the early part of the cruise. I tried the beef dishes, Prime Rib, steak and they were tender but the taste was not good, Tried it several time and then avoided the beef and did better. They should have the ice cream bar open longer as it sounds so good after returning to the ship. We were not able to get to Roratonga because of the high sees, we saw an emergency off load of a crew member and there is NO way I would have wanted to try to board a tender. Getting to and from is a LONG day going and even longer coming back but would I do it again Absolutely!
Just returned from another wonderful cruise on the Tahitian Princess (our second one to the S. Pacific). There was a small group with me and I venture to say, we had the best time ever and everyone enjoyed the cruise, their first trip to Tahiti. I personally enjoy being on the smaller ship since one can meet the same people throughout the cruise.
The Cruise Director Robbins and his staff were great and planned a good amount of Trivia and games which I love and usually win! The food, I felt had dropped in quality, the breakfast buffet was terrible except for the fruit, so it was Continental Breakfast for me. The islands were wonderful as well as the shore excursions offered.
My personal disappointment was when we missed Rarotonga, where I was to meet relatives,laden with gifts for them. Due to the high waves, the tender was unable to make the call. However, the Purser offered to deliver the gifts on the next cruise to the port. My whole trip was centered around seeing everyone in Raro. I understand that Raro is skipped quite often due to weather conditions, which we haveno control over. Our balcony room was wonderful and we would strongly recommend you only book a balcony room in this area, it is absolutely beautiful to sit out and watch the panorama of the Islands unfold.
Mostly Aussies and Kiwis were employed on the entertainment staff and they were lots of fun and we enjoyed their participation very much. Our waiter, Roberto and his assistant, Juva were wonderful with our meals. The Customer Services Desk were good about all our needs and were some of the best people we have encountered on other ships. Likewise with the Circle and Future Cruise Reps. I was fortunate to get the second most traveled passenger award and this added to our enjoyment. I am planning another cruise next year to the same magical place on the best little ship afloat! I urge everyone to try it, it is like no other cruise you will take in your lifetime!
We had booked a pre-cruise hotel stay in Los Angeles through Princess in order to get over the long flight out from the U.K. prior to going on another long flight to Papeete. All transfers from the airport to the hotel and then back to the airport again were supposedly included but nobody from either Princess or their appointed agents were at LA to meet us or 3 other passengers. As an aside the Immigration staff were fine and the fingerprinting and photographing did not delay us at all. On calling the agents we were all told to get cabs and then they would reimburse us later; did this but getting repaid was not that simple despite various voicemail messages to the hotel promising when!
A stretch limo duly arrived to take us all to LAX 3 days later; good idea as a PR exercise but they forgot about trying to fit the suitcases for 5 inside one of these tanks. We've been in them before and, quite frankly, they leave a lot to be desired in the comfort stakes. We had been booked on an Air Tahiti Nui flight departingaround 4.30p.m which is all very well but meant that we arrived in Tahiti at about 10.00 p.m. local time on what was meant to be day of a cruise; we subsequently found out that there was an earlier flight but Princess had not booked us on this one which meant us hanging around in LA/LAX kicking our heels when we could and should have been on our way. As would become the norm there was nobody from Princess at LAX to assist.
Immigration at Papeete airport was no problem since we are UK passport holders and seem to be treated almost as if we were entering an EU country, which Tahiti patently is not, but to avoid the queue, which formed for US passport holders, was a result. Our suitcases came through quite quickly and off we went on the first coach to the ship. Embarkation was a breeze and we were in our stateroom by about 11.15 being informed en-route that the Panorama buffet was open until 11.30 if we were hungry which we were but not enough to rush off. We had booked a mini-suite on deck 8 and were most impressed with it; our only criticisms would be in regard to the lack of water pressure for the shower and the tacky white plastic table and (non) reclining chairs on the balcony: not what should be expected for a mini-suite.
Papeete is basically another colonial French town complete with whistle-blowing gendarmes trying to control interminable traffic jams; as such probably best avoided and certainly not worth spending day 2 of the cruise and later day 11 in the same place; that being said day 11 was a Sunday and Papeete was shut so even less worthwhile but more of that later. I always go up on deck for the Sailaway (no real reason I just do) and tried in vain to get a beer with which to celebrate; the only bar open was the one near the pool which a) is not large and b) had customers standing 3 deep trying to get a drink along with the ubiquitous waiters queuing to get cocktails. Ordinarily this would not be a problem since you just go off and find an alternative bar but when they are all closed, which they were, it becomes extremely annoying. I subsequently discovered, in the course of various discussions with various staff, that the ship is understaffed with no more cabin space for additional! QM2 all over again!
As a cruise destination French Polynesia, plus Raratonga which is a New Zealand protectorate, is as yet unspoilt and is certainly different from Hawaii with which I have sometimes seen it compared. We were a little unfortunate with the weather, since the rains came a few weeks early, but this did not really dampen our spirits. Contrary to various reports we did not find the prices excessive but then we did not go into any of the large hotels which seem to be springing up all over the islands ( $1500 for 1 night in an overwater bungalow is big bucks - certainly to me!) If I personally had to name a highlight then the underwater safari on Bora Bora is not to be missed unless of course you are a scuba diver! All who tried it said the same: AWESOME. More than a little nervous before donning the helmet and being forced underwater by 88 lbs of weight but then.. The trip to and from Raratonga revealed a weakness in the ship design; there was a long ocean swell which caused the ship to corkscrew through the water to the extent that seasickness left the dinner sitting with many empty tables. One crewmember remarked that this was unusual behaviour - the ship normally tried to bash its way through the waves! For sure the sea conditions were bad enough to leave tendering to shore at Raratonga suspended after about half the passengers had disembarked: the remainder never did make it ashore meaning the long trip to and from was somewhat of a waste.
The remainder of this review pertains more to the ship and its staff so if you don't want to read about such things skip to the end. Tahitian Princess is advertised as having 24-hour buffet, 2 speciality restaurants and a poolside pizzeria amongst other attractions. There is no 24-hour buffet; in the evenings the buffet turns into a small pizzeria with a salad buffet and it does close. The 2 speciality extra charge restaurants, Sabatini's and Sterling Steakhouse, do not open together; it is a case of either/or. Thus unless you wish to pay extra or have a pizza then your only option for dinner is the main restaurant or your cabin. We tried Sabatini's together with an American honeymoon couple (ship seemed to be full of honeymooners) and none of us were impressed. How can you possibly have a Hungarian waiter, who does not speak Italian and cannot even pronounce the names of the dishes correctly, serving in an upmarket Italian restaurant? Probably this had been organised by the same person who gave our headwaiter the job of standing outside the buffet on disembarkation day for 12 hours trying to sell soda cards! I can assure you she was not a happy person! We met him the following morning clearing away dishes in the breakfast buffet! I enjoy playing Trivia and joined most quizzes with some American friends; no longer do the prizes get given to the winners - they get a voucher for an item such as a luggage strap, to be redeemed in the boutique. On at least three separate occasions the question master failed to bring along any vouchers and then failed to send them to the staterooms as promised. We brought this up with the Cruise Director at one quiz who promptly corrected the situation; just as well we did since the person concerned was a Joint Assistant Cruise Director! Coincidentally the same one who insisted that Tahitian Princess was built in Gibraltar; it says so on the stern! We enjoy an after dinner cocktail at around 10.00 p.m. and adjourned to the Tahitian Lounge most evenings. On one evening there were no waiters and the following evening no bartender or waiters! The response from the purser's desk was "how many other passengers were there?"
The Tahitian Lounge is in our opinion the best room on the ship with panoramic forward views; unfortunately we were unable to use it on several days since they had moved the "Art" for the auction in there - as if sufficient room was not set aside elsewhere on the ship for the bric-a-brac. Overall it was evident that the ship did not live up to Princesses hype, advertising or previous standards and had many disgruntled crew (one even told me the exact date and time she was getting off in February next year and the days could not pass quickly enough) Many of the staff I spoke to had been with Princess for several years on different ships and I could but wonder what they had done wrong to be sent out to go round in circles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for 6 or more months? There is an expression in the UK about the "inability to organise a party in a brewery", or words along those lines, and it applies to those who purport to run Princess currently.
Unfortunately the worst was yet to come. Day 11 of the cruise was spent in Papeete which was closed being a Sunday. All passengers had to leave their staterooms by 10.00a.m. and most were then booked on two Air Tahiti Nui flights leaving between 11 and 12 p.m. that night. The luggage had been taken by 8.00p.m. the previous evening so all anyone had to wear was what they stood up in or had in their carry-on bags; the only showers were in the spa so basically we just sat around kicking our heels eating, drinking and playing board (or should that read bored?) games. The main relief from the boredom was watching a Chinese ship moored nearby suddenly go full speed ahead into the quayside ripping all its mooring lines - it really happened and I have the pictures to prove it! We finally got off the ship at 9.00 p.m. and then proceeded to wait in a variety of queues at Papeete airport until gone midnight when we finally reached the aircraft. Shambles does not describe it adequately. To make matters worse we had booked 3 additional nights in LA post cruise via our travel agent since Princess does not offer this; because of Princesses inability to let them know who we would be flying with let alone at what time (and who would have ever believed midnight) the first night was spent in the air!
In summary if you want to go cruising in French Polynesia, and it is certainly a stunning unspoilt destination, there are few options available and even fewer at a sensible price! Tahitian Princess is probably the most reasonably priced vessel out there but offers a flawed product in many ways. I lost times of the number of times I was asked by fellow passengers to back them up in discussions with friends to the effect that "other Princess cruise are not like this" which probably says it all! I would be equally wary of sailing on the other ex-Renaissance ships although I do keep reading rave reviews for Oceania Cruises.
As a post script I sent this review to some fellow passengers who "thought it covered everything"
Our Tahiti cruise started on an ominous note with our San Francisco to LA flight being cancelled due to mechanical problems. Three hours behind schedule, we got to the Air Tahiti Nui counter at 12:50 pm, only 10 minutes before flight time. The agent radioed the last shuttle bus to wait for us, checked us in and escorted us to the short security line the flight crew uses. Our checked bags arrived the next day. we've learned to have a couple days' clothes in our carry-ons.
This cruise was a wonderful experience, and the first for my brother John and sister-in-law Judie who joined us from St. Louis. They are terrific traveling companions. The Tahitian Princess is the smallest ship we've been on. nice because after a short while you're recognizing lots of faces. I felt a little more motion than on larger ships. It wasn't a problem for Linda and me, but Judie was glad she brought "the patch" from home for motion sickness. I don't think the doctor on board ship will prescribe them.
Being more morning people, we had the early dinner seating and saw the earlier shows. Inthe Caribbean we enjoyed the "anytime dining" where you sit with new people every evening but that wasn't offered on the TP. Our table companions on this 10 day cruise were interesting and fun to be with.
The real beauty of French Polynesia is found in the water. Two of our favorite excursions were Marc's motu picnic on Huahine and the Princess booked introductory scuba dive on Bora Bora. Judie almost scrubbed the dive while on the boat, but finally got up the nerve to take the plunge. Afterwards she said she'd do it again in a minute, it was that fantastic!
We've enjoyed all six cruises we've been on, but this was one of the most memorable.
For a more detailed description, and 155 captioned photographs of the cruise, see our website:
Beware of Princess Cruises. Once they get your money, you are on your own. They could care less whether you ever make the cruise ship.
We had booked a 28 day cruise on the Tahitian Princess departing from Papeete, Tahiti on Dec. 19, 2008 and arriving in Ft. Lauderdale on Jan. 14, 2009. Due to weather, our NW flight from Detroit to LA was delayed 2-1/2 hours and arrived after our connecting flight to Papeete had departed. We called Princess and they were absolutely no help. We were told that we were responsible for making our own arrangements to catch the ship.
We flew to Tahiti the next morning arriving 12-1/2 hours after the Tahitian Princess had sailed for Moorea and one-half hour before she departed for Bora Bora. There were no seats available on commercial flights to Bora Bora, which was the last port we could possibly catch the ship before it sailed for South America.
If we were on our own, we would have had to abandon our dream cruise and forfeit the $19,000+ we already had invested. Princess could have cared less as they already had our money andtheir Princess Gold Travel Insurance does not cover this as a trip cancellation.
Fortunately for us there were 11 other Princess clients (2.0% of the total 640 booked passengers) who also found themselves in the same predicament. We were able to join together and charter an Air Tahiti plane at $1,115 each to fly the 13 of us to Bora Bora in time to catch the ship.
When we returned home we filed a claim for our $2600 in hotel, meal and additional air travel expenses with Princess Gold Travel Insurance. We were only reimbursed $500 each per their trip delay policy, which merely represented a refund of our insurance premium.
We appealed to Alan Buckeley, CEO of Princess. In their response letters Princess basically claims no responsibility for anything, even though they made the transportation arrangements.
It is buyer beware when dealing with Princess Cruises. In all fairness, the cruise was excellent; it is Princess Air's travel arrangements that were the problem.
We purchased our cruise and air arrangements directly from Princess Cruises about three weeks prior to the cruise. We had a guarantee reservation for a balcony cabin on deck 7. We were too late to make reservations for any land tours on the various islands that we were to visit but felt that we might find available tours in each port. As it turns out, we were wrong about that. Unfortunately, I did not read any of the other reviews about this particular cruise before leaving home. Had I done so, I would have picked up some very useful information that would have helped us locate car rental places on some of the islands.
We left San Francisco at noon on Dec 10, 2007 and flew to Los Angeles with American Airlines. There we boarded an Air Tahiti Nui airbus for the flight to Papeete, Tahiti. We were about an hour late departing so arrived in Papeete about one hour past the scheduled arrival time. We then waited in the customs line for at least half an hour. By the time we got our luggage and were bussed to the ship,it was about 2 am local time. When we arrived at the ship, we were told that we had been upgraded from the reserved balcony cabin to a suite. It was an outstanding cabin compared to those we have had on other ships. We had a 13-foot wide balcony separated from the room by a wall of windows. Our baggage had to be delivered to our cabin, so I was unable to sleep until it arrived around 4 am.
By 5:30 am, I was awake and out on the jogging track looking at the island of Moorea in the distance. This and Bora Bora are the prettiest islands on the cruise to view from the sea. They both have outstanding mountain formations. We were unable to schedule an organized tour of the island, so we took the tender to the island and started to walk along the road toward where we thought there might be a town. As it turned out, the town was several miles away, so we just spent some time near the dock and returned to the ship. The weather was very hot and humid and we were not in the mood to walk several miles. We spent an enjoyable day on the ship and took an afternoon nap to catch up on lost sleep.
The next two days were spent at sea. The ship had a variety of activities available, but we enjoyed time on our balcony each day and kept an eye out for flying fish.
On day five, we arrived at Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands. The town where the ship was to anchor did not have a protected harbor and the sea was quite rough with waves up to a height of 8 feet or so. The captain came on the PA system and said that we he would not allow the tenders to load passengers in such rough seas. He was going to check the weather report to see whether we might stay at the location and go ashore at a later time of the day. A short time later, he indicated that the weather was expected to remain the same or get worse later in the day. He decided to raise the anchor and cruise around the island for the remainder of the day, then make for the next stop on the cruise.
On December 15, we arrived at Nuku Hiva where there was a protected cove in which to anchor the ship. We tendered in and took a free shuttle to a museum and hotel on the other side of the cove from where the tender dock was located. We enjoyed a tour of the hotel's garden and had a couple of $5.00 cokes in their restaurant. Some of the guests from the ship used the swimming pool at the hotel, but it was a very small pool and used just for cooling off. After that, we toured the museum. The lady that ran the museum had also built the hotel with her husband, but apparently no longer owned it. Now she ekes out a living by selling items at the museum and taking donations for tours of the small facility. On the way back to the ship, we got off the bus for a short time at a very pretty church along the harbor road. At the tender dock, there were a couple of buildings where the locals sold art objects and other creations made locally.
December 16 was another day at sea. The ship had a demonstration of vegetable carving followed by a tour of the galley. We enjoyed more time on our balcony.
On December 17, we arrived at Rangiroa. This is an atoll so there are no high mountains. The ship's newsletter had said the locals provided a bus, which charged $15.00 for a round trip into the local village. We went to the pier and waited for the bus. I few minutes later, a guy showed up with a Mercedes van and asked us if we wanted to go to the village. Assuming that this was the local bus, about 12 of us piled into the van and started down the road. The driver was a maniac and had no concerns about people walking the road or how fast he was traveling. He just wanted dump us off in town as fast as possible so he could go back for another load. As we were approaching the village, we passed the real bus going in the other direction. When we arrived at the village, we all wondered whether he would ever return to take us back to the ship or if he would just disappear. Fortunately, he showed up about an hour later. It was at least 10 miles to the village and would have been a long, hot walk back to the ship. The village consisted of a store and church surrounded by houses. It was not worth the ride. We all gave thanks when we arrived back at the pier safely. We could not get back to the ship fast enough.
On the morning of December 18 we gingerly traveled through a break in the coral reef surrounding the islands of Raiatea and Tahaa, then spent about two hours traveling within the lagoon to reach the town where the ship docked. This was the only island that had a dock other than Papeete. Two groups of porpoises greeted us along the way. After docking, we went ashore and visited several shops near the dock. Most of the merchandise carried by the stores was very cheap and junky stuff imported from China or some other Asian country. The only items of any value were the jewelry items and pearls produced by local artisans.
While we were walking toward the town from the ship, we saw a tornado over the water several miles away. We were so startled to see it, that we forgot to take a picture before it disappeared. I thought it might hit the island a little later in the day since the clouds were traveling toward us, but it never did. If anyone reading this review was on the cruise and took a picture of the tornado, I would like to have a copy of the picture.
In the late afternoon, a group of children came on board and put on a dancing show. The ages of the children ran from 4 years old up to teenagers and they all did a really fine job. I was amazed at how the little ones could move their hips almost as well as the older kids. Towards evening, a group of adult entertainers came aboard to provide a show scheduled for 10 PM that night, but we went to bed early. We heard the beginning of the show on the deck that was right above our cabin, but fell asleep anyway. As much noise as they made with their drums, we heard nothing.
Bora Bora was the next stop on the cruise. We arrived there at 8 am on the 19th and took a tour that went all the way around the island. Bora Bora is supposed to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world. I thought Raiatea was prettier, but Bora Bora did have some very beautiful water.
On the last day of the cruise, we arrived back in Papeete. We were asked to leave our cabin by 9 AM, but we were allowed to stay on the ship until our bus left for the airport at 7 PM. We also purchased a tour of the island and were on that from 1:30 until about 5 PM. This allowed us to eat all our meals on the ship before departing. We were able to check our carry-on bags on the ship until 6 pm.
Papeete has a much larger population than any of the other islands we visited and it is evident from the number of large buildings at the harbor and the very heavy traffic that is constantly passing through this area. The tour took us to the home of the author of Mutiny on the Bounty and several other books. We also visited a waterfall and the cove where one of the Bounty films was made. We had an American guide who had lived in Tahiti for many years and he did an excellent job of describing the sites and culture on the island.
Later in the day we took a bus to the airport and arrived there at about 7:30 PM. We had to wait on the bus until the people from the previous bus picked out their luggage, then we had to do the same. After that we got in line and waited almost 2 hours to get up to the check in desk. Luckily, they still had two seats together on the center isle. The flight home was good, but we ran into bumpy air several times.
When we arrived at Los Angeles, we had to wait almost an hour for our luggage to arrive on the turnstile. After picking up the luggage, we had to go through customs. Then we had to take a bus to the last terminal at the airport where we were to check in at United Airlines. Arriving at United, we saw hundreds of people lined up at the check in area and asked an employee if we could be moved up in the line, because we were short on time. They refused to help us. When we got to the check-in area, we were told that we were too late to board the plane and would have to go to another line and wait again for new tickets on a later flight. We did this and again waited for about half an hour. Then we had to wait about 20 minutes for the agent to create new tickets. After that, we were told to go upstairs and go through security. We did this and found a line going out the door and onto a walkway going to the parking lot. It took almost another hour to go through this line, and then we had to walk almost half a mile to the gate. When we arrived at the gate I noticed that we did not have boarding passes and asked the agent why not. She said we were on standby. The other agent did not tell us that. Luckily, we made the flight and arrived home about 4 hours behind schedule. Considering that we were flying during the holidays, I guess the trip home could have been worse.
SUMMARY The ship was nice, although it is showing some wear and needs repairs in several areas. The food was about the same quality as on most Princess cruises. As usual for Princess, the desserts were excellent. Restaurant and cabin service was very good. Breakfast and lunch in the main dining room had very attentive waiters and assistants. The shows were about average for Princess. There was one comedian/juggler that was excellent. We did not attend the production shows, so have no opinion about them.
I recommend that you try to reserve land tours on-line before leaving home. There are very few alternatives available when you reach port. Some passengers rented scooters, but the cruise line does not recommend that you do that. They can be very dangerous. If land tours are not available, perhaps car rentals can be arranged on-line.
My husband and I sailed one of the Tahiti cruises on the Tahitian Princess out of Papeete this May. This was our eighth cruise, and it was one of the most enjoyable we've ever been on! I don't even know where to start my raves.
First, these islands are truly breathtaking. The warm blue water is crystal clear and absolutely magical. We saw stingrays, dolphins, angelfish, and all kinds of colorful fish that we'd never seen anywhere else. And the tropical foliage was just like a travel brochure.
The ship itself is small and well appointed. We enjoyed the fact that we were able to find our way around by the second day. The public areas are all very tastefully decorated, and our stateroom was spacious. The service all over the ship was top notch. The dining room experience was akin to a gourmet restaurant! We were spoiled by our waiter, who made us feel like royal on a nightly basis!
The evening entertainment was quite good, and above what we expected on a smaller cruise ship. The comic magician, Greg Moreland, was the absolute highlight of the cruise! He had the audience doublingover with laughter for the entire 45-minutes he was on stage. I thought my husband and the people around us were going to pass out laughing! (I actually don't know whether to call him a magician or a comedian!) And then there was this bonus: Mr Moreland put on 2 afternoon classes called "Easy Magic Tricks You Can Do." He was a thoroughly enjoyable teacher, and we all learned some wonderful magic tricks!
The various afternoon speakers were informative, but nothing to write home about.
Another bonus these smaller ships offer is the camaraderie you get from seeing so much of the same people from day to day. My husband and I made more wonderful friends here than we ever have on any other ship.
French Polynesia/Marquesas Itinerary:
Most important part of the whole story ... Our cruise was wonderful! I wish we were still in French Polynesia!!!!
Our flights to Tahiti were long, but uneventful. ATN was fine, no complaints there. Upon arrival in Papeete at 0550, we cleared customs without incident, met the Princess Rep and found ourselves on a bus bound for the Sheraton Tahiti. We expected to check our bags with the front desk and have to return hours later for check-in, but were pleasantly surprised to find they had our room ready for us, even at that early hour.
We had 3 days to spend in Tahiti before boarding our cruise. The first day, we walked downtown to explore. I wouldn't especially recommend this walk, as it's not scenic at all walking through this particular area, and we were dodging traffic at each intersection. We took the Le Truck back, and relied on the Le Trucks for all our future transport in Tahiti. For 130 XPF each, we were able to go as far as we wanted within the Faaa district.
Shortly after getting back to our hotel, we realized we were hungry.By this time, we were both tired and only wanted to eat and then get some rest. We knew it was a mistake, but we went ahead and had dinner in the Sheraton restaurant. Everything on the menu is Ala Carte, and just as overpriced as I'd heard. $96 later, we finished our mediocre meal and went to bed. This mistake was not repeated, as on each of the next 2 nights we went downtown by the pier and ate off the roulettes (trucks), where the 3500 XPF bought an excellent meal for the 2 of us.
We took the ferry to Moorea on days 2 and 3. We took the fast ferry (Aremite 4), and then hopped on another Le Truck for 300 XPF to check out the island. By combining 2 Le Trucks we were able to give ourselves our own "circle island tour". We loved the Sheraton's beach in Moorea, beautiful and good snorkeling right off the beach. My wife and I are both water nuts, so most of our activities involved snorkeling and/or swimming. I'd love to be able to dive, but medical conditions preclude that as an option for me. Fortunately snorkeling is something we both enjoy. Additionally, Greta is a certifiable animal lover. Every single port we've ever gone to, she finds the local stray dogs and they have a friend for the day. This cruise was no exception!
Our cruise embarkation day finally came, and we got onto the Tahitian Princess. What's to say, she is a beautiful ship. Now I know why those Renaissance cruisers were so much in love with her when she was the R4. After checking in, we left again to walk to the Marche and get those flowers for Greta, and then returned to start enjoying our ship.
Our first stop was Moorea, and we did the snorkeling again. Beachcomber and Sheraton were both good choices for this activity.
Nuku Hiva was next. Not much going on here. We explored on our own since I didn't want to risk my bad back with one of the 4-wheel-drive tours. In retrospect, I wish I'd taken the chance and done one of the tours, since those folks got to see a lot more than we did.
The following day found us in Hiva Oa. I'd been led to believe that this island was even less commercialized than Nuku Hiva, but you couldn't prove it by me. I definitely thought there was more going on in Hiva Oa. There were no ship's excursions available here, and we didn't see any being offered on shore either. Again we explored on our own, and basically enjoyed a lot of great scenery and the knowledge that it was freezing back home in Connecticut.
Next in the hit parade was Rangiroa. I thought I was clever by finding the local dive shop, and asking to go along with them to snorkel above where the dives were taking place. We agreed on a price of only 2000 XPF for the two of us, and the lady told us to return at 1030 for the boat. Unfortunately, though she "said" 10:30, she was "thinking" 9:30, and it just came out wrong in the translation. So we missed the boat! My own fault, my father always told me I should learn French! Not the end of the world though, at that point I just paid 5000 XPF to the water taxi to take us to an atoll for snorkeling, pick us up to visit the village and have a walk around, and pick us up one last time to return us to the tender pier. At first, the skipper was going to leave his son with us snorkeling, since there weren't any other people in the area. But I assured him it wouldn't be any problem to leave us alone, and we both had our own snorkel vests in case we should run into trouble, so he left us on our own. Snorkeling was excellent here! About every 20 minutes or so, one of the 4 water taxis would swing by and see if we were ready to quit. We just kept waving them off until we'd finally had enough a couple of hours later. The village itself probably only took 30 minutes to explore, since by the time we finally got there things were closing up. Our day in Rangiroa was actually a holiday for them. (Arrival of the first missionaries)
In Raiatea, I wholeheartedly recommend the Princess Advanced Drift Snorkel excursion. I was never able to connect with Bruno as so many others have done, and I booked the Princess excursion online before our cruise. This drift snorkel was hosted by a couple, Tony & Marie, originally from South Africa and living in Raiatea for the last 4 years. Wonderful experience!!!!! Nice couple, and just for excitement, we rescued a stranded kite-boarder on the way back. After our excursion, we once again explored on our own. (I know that sounds boring, but that's what we like to do!)
Bora Bora was the one port we had some rain on. We decided to leave the snorkel gear on the ship, and venture off with umbrellas in hand to explore once again. Of course, this virtually guaranteed that the skies would clear once we stepped off the tender on to dry land, and they did just that. We did see snorkel excursions being offered right off the dock, but I didn't feel like using rental gear, and I was too lazy to go back to the ship to get my own. So on to another Le Truck we go, and start exploring again. Among other places, we enjoyed seeing the famous Bloody Mary's. We had heard it would be closed since it was Sunday, but they had the bar open. Just like in America, this barkeep couldn't resist having a few extra bucks pushed his way over the bar top!
The end of our cruise came all too soon, and we found ourselves back in Papeete and getting off the ship. We had to vacate our cabins by 1100, but were free to use the ship's public areas until leaving to catch our plane at 2200 that night. I opted for a day room back at the Papeete Sheraton, which probably wasn't worth the money, but I wanted my own "space" to operate out of for the day. We took the Le Truck back to the ship around 1730 to grab one last meal and say goodbye to our new friends before heading off to the airport. The long, hot wait in the airport was everything that others have said it was. I have never seen so many bags opened and inspected in my life. It appeared to me that just about every single passenger was having at least one bag inspected. Eventually though, we did make it through the line, and soon found ourselves sitting on the plane and headed home.
That's it folks, I'm done rambling!