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Robert Folli

Age: 49

Occupation:Sales

Number of Cruises: 14

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Diamond Princess

Sailing Date: February 13th, 2006

Itinerary: New Zealand to Australia


This is our 14th cruise and third with Princess.

Getting there:
We took the direct flight from L.A. to Auckland. We had never flown Qantas and before. The check in was a bit slow and they should use business and first class desk personnel to help with coach, especially when they are standing around waiting for people to show up. The flight was full and overall their service for coach was very good and we managed to get caught up on the most recent movies that were up for academy awards. The crew was pleasant and the food is what you expect for a coach flight: OK but not great. However we did not go hungry. We also took Qantas from Sydney to Cairns and even their domestic 2:45 minute flight had a hot meal and ice cream dessert. Remember when US airlines did that?

We are lucky that we do live in the L.A. area and have direct flights to NZ and AU. If you do live on the West Coast it takes about the same amount of time as going to Europe, or just slightly longer – not too bad really.

Embarkation:
We decided to get to the ship a couple of hours after the initial check in time. As some of you may have experienced, checking in 2650 passengers (the ship was full), is no easy task. Even at that time there was some waiting and a slight delay in getting on board. I wish they would STOP trying to take pictures upon boarding, especially since it slowed the line down.

The Ship:
This is our first time on a ship of this size. As you can probably guess, it does have its pros and cons.

Pro:
Since they can be much more efficient on such a large ship, it does reflect in the price and value for such an itinerary. We paid a great price for a mini-suite with a “walk-in” closet, full bath, two section rooms, and a comfortable larger balcony. The only complaints about the room were the drawer space. Most of the drawers are open face and below the TV in the bedroom section. The two TVs are a good touch. The bathroom does have a bathtub which is a bit high to step into. We had no problems with getting in and out of the shower, but I can see some elderly people or people with limited mobility having a problem; if not being a bit dangerous for them. There was frig and our cabin attendant did a good job keeping everything clean and the ice stocked. There was a safe and plenty of room to store you luggage.

The public spaces are fine and the overall décor and feel is that of a good hotel. There are plenty of areas to go hang out throughout the ship, although some can be a bit crowded.

The ship staff is very friendly and the service was great. No complaints about the food either. They managed to accommodate our party of 10 upon boarding the ship and the waiters, dining room management, and their assistants were very attentive to our needs. The food was good quality: great pastas, meats, fish OK, and the overall selection was very good. We had cold water lobsters four times during our trip. Our dining included one night at Sabatinis – one of their specialty restaurants. We do recommend that you try this restaurant at least once during a cruise. Sabatinis is an Italian theme as you may guess from the name. The food was absolutely great: the desserts excellent. the service fantastic, and overall it is well worth the small extra charge you pay. When traveling on such large ships you need to set you expectations accordingly and you will not be disappointed. We have been on Silversea cruises in the past, and you cannot compare a 350 passenger ship with an almost one to one ship/passenger ratio, to a mega-ship of 2650 and a 3:1 ratio. You will not get the quality and service that will on a larger ship in comparison to the smaller and much more expensive ships such as Silversea, Seabourn, or Radisson, for example.

One thing that seems annoying at first, is the constant hand washing liquid you are forced to use before going into any dinning area. Once I thought about it, and having a microbiology background, I totally agree with this practice. It is at least one more safety precaution against unsanitary practices by passengers, especially since I noticed some people going to the public bathroom and not washing their hands before exiting. I think this is a very proactive practice and hope all ships are following this measure.

The golf putting course is a waste of time and space. I am not sure why they have one. It would be best to use that space for something else.

The activities on board are typical of big ships: mostly money making events for the cruise line.

We have been a few cruises and the shows start to look pretty much alike at times, so we only went to see a couple of more unique ones. The first few shows of this trip were extremely crowed as well and it was hard to find a seat.

The ship does have a fair number of layout areas and pools, which is fine for this trip since most of this crowd is not the laying out type. Besides, the air temperatures, even in the summer, for NZ are not too high. AU is a bit better, so more people did venture out.

The average passenger age is a bit higher, as it is for all longer cruises and places like the Alaska. No problems there other than the lingering in the dining public areas that made it hard to find a seat. We do enjoy people of all nationalities and ages, that is what makes travel more fun anyway.

Con:
As we mentioned, the embarkation was a bit of a problem with that many passengers, especially slowing the line down for pictures.

Dining in public areas (buffets) is a definite problem. The food is good and the choices are fine. The main complaint, especially the days at sea with so many people, is that people linger in the dining areas and it is hard to find a table. Often you will need to ask to share a table, or people will ask you if you are lucky enough to find one. We even had someone sit our table without asking at one point; a bit rude. We solved this issue by going to the sit down breakfast when were able to make it, and the sit down lunches. That way you are given a table and served. With a full ship you always had many people in most public areas and it does seem a bit crowded at times.

The shopping on board is fine, but typical of most cruise ships. The prices are OK, but we found some better prices on-line when we got home on a Men’s watch that we were going to purchase at their shop. It helps to know your prices, but generally you can find better prices on the internet when you get home. Liquor prices are OK, but not worth the couple of bucks you save (sometimes) to lug all that stuff around on your flight back. Shopping in NZ and AU is not great. We can get better quality and better prices at home for most things.

Tours:
We visited the following ports: Auckland, Rotorura, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hobart, Melbourne, and Sydney.

Since we have been on a few cruises and usually travel with a group, we tend to mix some ship tours and our own private tours – lately more private tours. We found that most ports have private tour operators that you can set-up prior to getting there. These are much better since you always pay less, do not have to be cattle carted onto buses and meetings in public areas prior to departure which cause you to loose time, but they are also more flexible than ship tours and often you have time to see more sights. Most operators will offer the same itineraries as the cruise ship if you want to follow the same routes. Don’t let the ship scare you into thinking that if anything happens during a self-booked tour you are responsible to get back to the ship on time and that they will not make exceptions for you. That is true, but you always have enough time to get back should you have any delays, private tour operators use very new vehicles, and we have never experienced any problems. Just do you homework on-line, read the reviews and recommendations on private tour operators from personal experiences, and you should be fine.

Auckland:
We did our own tour with Wine Trail Tours. Phone: 64-9-630-1540 or www.winetrailtours.co.nz or contact john@winetrailtours.co.nz

It was a combined sight seeing tour and winery tour. We paid $150 NZ, or about $110 US for this tour. This was a great way to see the local sights and taste some good NZ wines. I recommend the NZ white wines. I think their climate is too cold for good reds.

In Tauranga/Rotorura we also booked a private trip with EliteAdventures. Phone: 64-7-347-8282 or EliteAdventures@xtra.co.nz

They were great. Kim and her husband run this operation. They are from Rotorua (Kim is from the US originally), and they pretty much followed the ship’s tour itinerary that we wanted to do. The best thing is that the avoided the bus loads of people from the cruise and we were able to see the sights at a much easier pace and see more than they do on the ship tours. This was probably the most interesting tour we did on this itinerary. The landscape and sights were wonderful and unique. Their vans are comfortable and an exceptional value for the party of 10 that had on this one. Even though you pay the entrance fees to the parks and your own lunch at local places, you end up having more choices and we paid much less than the ship tours, again, without the hassles of larger buses, and with more time to do things.

In Hobart we did our own trip to the Bonorong Wildlife Park and a city tour. As you get off the ship there is a bus operation about three or four block walk, where you can book just about any tour the ship offers. We had a van take us to the park and back in plenty of time for a city tour. Again this saves you money and is more flexible.

Dunedin we did take the ship’s Tairi Gorge Train ride. They fully book the train for the day, but it is worth it. The scenery is great and the train ride in the classic old rail cars is a good experience. They provide drinks, lunch, and snacks with the trip.

In Christchurch three of us guys decided to do the Jet Boat Safari offered by the ship. These are the boats that travel at high speeds through on one of the larger scenic rivers (the name which escapes me at the moment) and only needs three inches of water to operate. The guide was great and this is a good experience with a bit of a thrill ride. That particular area is where some films have been made. A good experience all the way around.

In Melbourne we also booked a private van tour to the Yarra Valley for wine tasting and a tour of the city on the way back. This was through Victoria Winery Tours. Phone: 54-28-8500 or www.winetours.com.au

Two people in our group had pre-booked the ship’s tour to this area and they did not do a much as we did. We had a group of eight and had a great time in Yarra Valley tasting some good wines. The best place we went to was the Chandon winery. They make excellent sparkling and other wines. Our trip included a choice of lunches at one of the wineries and we only paid $100 AD each (about $75 US) for this trip. The ship’s trip did not include a choice of lunch, and they only visited one winery. We went to five wineries and also had a great city tour with a great guide.

Sydney was our final destination and we had been there before. I suggest at least a couple of extra days there to enjoy this wonderful city if you have never visited this city before. We went on to Cairns to visit some friends. That is probably not the best time to be there: it is humid and hot, and can be very rainy. Otherwise, it is also a great place to see some great things.

Disembarkation:
This was a real problem. First, it took almost three hours to get us off the ship. We had four bags and two of that tags were lost. The lost bags did eventually show up at the waiting area, but not in good shape. When they have probably 5000-7000 bags to deal with, don’t expect care in dealing with your luggage. The process for us almost took four hours! To boot, they did not have enough private transportation for people to take into the city, so the lines were extremely long and people were getting very uptight and short-tempered waiting in the line. I guess if you only need to go to the airport do book the ship’s transfer. We were lucky to have gotten a big van, only because we sent someone out to make the arrangement before we got our bags and exited the port building.

Overall, we think everyone should experience that part of the world at least once. The people are friendly and easy-going, and it is like no other place on earth. We will definitely go back at some point.

We will probably opt for a smaller ship on our next cruise next year to the Orient.

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