Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Pacific Princess (New)
Sailing Date: February 2nd, 2006
Embarkation: We arrived at Sydney’s Wharf 8 at 1:30pm and encountered a painless check-in procedure. After collecting our cruise cards and going through the security procedures, we were onboard by 2:00pm. It was best to arrive at the terminal a half an hour after embarkation commenced to avoid the initial rush.
Caution: Please be weary of the unlimited soft drink offer presented to you when you board, as they are a bit vague on the details. The offer entitles you to unlimited soft drinks throughout the cruise in all the bars, at a price of $AUD5.50 per day.
Accommodation: We occupied stateroom no 7050 on deck 7 which located just of the main corridor. We were welcomed by our friendly cabin steward, Samron, who always kept the cabin clean and tidy. One nice touch was that he learnt our names by the second day. The cabin measured a decent 14.5 square metres and was quite roomy for two people. However, this cabin featured two upper Pullman berths which would be a bit tight if all four berths were used. The bunks are well designed and fold up flush with the ceiling to allow more space during the day. The mattresses were comfortable although we found the pillows too soft. The cabin featured a small lounge, coffee table, writing desk, direct dial telephone, hairdryer, safe and a small refrigerator. The bathroom was quite small, although the shower with hand-held showerhead was of a decent size, although watch out if you are over 6ft tall.
Note for first time cruisers: Since inside cabins do not feature a window or porthole, the cabin is in twenty-four hour darkness which can feel odd.
The Ship: As we explored the ship, it felt as though we had stepped back in time. The beautiful mahogany panelled Grand Atrium was reminiscent of Titanic’s grand staircase. All of the public rooms on deck 5 continued with this theme. I will start with the cabaret lounge. Although this main show lounge is not as large as aboard bigger ships, it still feature comfortable tub chairs as well as banquette seating. The show lounge features a large wooden parquet dance floor for when there is pre-dinner dancing at this venue. Besides from the main shows, this lounge also features movies, bingo, cooking demonstrations, and other activities during the day. Continuing aft is the casino and the intimate casino bar. The bar is modeled like a nineteenth century gentlemen’s club and the pianist, Ian Mason, plays here nightly on the baby grand piano. The casino bar also hosts karaoke and ‘James Bond Night,’ which is held on one of the formal nights. The small casino features a few dozen slot machines and a few gaming tables. Further aft is the atrium and surrounding it, two boutiques. The shopping and range of products is quite good for the size of the ship, and during the cruise one of the shops was being extended. Each sea day during the cruise, stalls were set up outside the shops where they would have a sale on either watches or jeweler. Adjacent the Club Restaurant is the Club bar which has a hand painted ceiling and a marble fireplace. This bar is used in the morning as a coffee bar and as a cocktail bar before dinner. The club restaurant is a beautiful room, which features comfortable armchairs and seats about 350. Up at the top of the ship on deck 10 is the pacific lounge, which is decorated with an ‘island’ theme. This lounge has large windows on three sides and overlooks the bow of the ship (although it is obstructed by the private spa deck one deck below.) During the day this lounge features quizzes and art auctions, although at night is transformed into a nightclub, where two live bands rotate playing at this venue. Also on deck 10 is the jogging track, (13 laps makes 1 mile) which overlooks the pool area. Further aft are the two ‘premium’ restaurants, Sabitini’s and the Sterling steakhouse. On deck 9 is the Lotus spa which has a large gymnasium, two steam rooms, a hair salon and a few treatment rooms. There is also a spa deck which has teak deck chairs and views of the bow. To use this area costs $15 a day and includes access to the thalossotherapy spa. On deck 9 is the card room and internet café which has 8 terminals. The internet costs 0.50 cents a minute and can be slow at times depending how good the satellite reception is.
The large pool area has a bar and bandstand, although the pool itself is a bit small. This area can get busy on sea days so it is wise to get a deck chair early (particularly if you want one in the shade.) Also on the pool deck are two table tennis tables and a BBQ area. Further aft is the panorama buffet which also has alfresco seating with the only view of the ships wake.
The ship is very clean and well maintained and the crew are forever painting and making minor repairs.
The food: The food from all the outlets onboard was excellent and definitely the high point of the cruise. Service was excellent in the Club dining room and we particularly enjoyed the baked Alaska parade featured on one of the last nights of the cruise. Lobster Thermidor was also featured once on the menu which was delicious. The five course dinner menu’s were always varied and well presented and featured a different theme each night. The menus offer two choices of appetizers, three soups, a salad, four entrées (usually two seafood, one beef or lamb and one pasta dish) and a range of desserts. In addition, there is always a selection of ‘always available’ entrées and desserts. There is also a separate Lotus Spa menu for the health conscious.
Food from the panorama buffet was always hot and fresh and table clearing service was excellent. Themed luncheon buffets were held here including Italian, Asian and Mexican. The only bad thing about this venue was that it was always very busy and sometimes hard to find a table. Some nights this venue was transformed into an alfresco Italian Trattoria for a cover charge of $8.00 which stayed open until after midnight. Adjacent to the buffet on the pool deck was a BBQ area which offered Burgers, fries and hotdogs during the day at no extra cost.
Although we never dined at the two premium restaurants, Sabitini’s and the Sterling Steakhouse, we heard from other passengers that the service and food (lots of it) were excellent, particularly at Sabitini’s. Sabitini’s required a $25 cover charge while the steakhouse required a $15 surcharge.
The entertainment: Four lavish production shows (give my regards to Broadway, shake rattle n roll, bonsior Paris and words and music) were featured on the ten night cruise, all which were performed by a cast of five enthusiastic dancers and two excellent vocalists. Although the shows were a smaller scale on what is featured on much larger ships, they still featured excellent choreography, colourful costumes and superb lighting.
Two other Cabaret artists were featured onboard, including the excellent vocalist, Lisa Crouch, who received a standing ovation at the end of her performance. Lisa had a great strong voice and a left the crowd in hysterics with her witty sense of humour. Illusionist and magician, John Taylor, was also excellent.
Besides the main shows, the Pacific Princess also featured two excellent live bands, ‘Elegant Touch’ and the duo ‘Inspiration’. I enjoyed listening to them by the pool deck during the day and at the Pacific Lounge at night.
Once each cruise an ‘Island night’ is held on the pool deck, which featured both bands, a dessert buffet and the champagne waterfall. The Island night was a lot of fun and I’m told that it finished up at around 4am.
During the day there was never a shortage of things to do, even though this cruise featured five sea days. Some of the activities included bingo, art auctions, quizzes, dance classes, table tennis tournaments, ceramics and t-shirt painting.
The Ports: The first port of call was Emerald Bay in New Caledonia, although the tours running to the nearby township of Poum (pronounced Poom) were cancelled due to the destruction left by hurricane Jim. Instead, the passengers were taken ashore by tender to Divine Island where Princess put on a beach BBQ. The next port of call, Wala, in Vanuatu, was fascinating as the history of this tiny island of the island extends hundreds of years when the locals used to be cannibals. The island also offered excellent beaches and snorkelling. The next port was Mystery Island, a tiny islet of the southernmost island of Vanuatu, which offered the best snorkelling of any of the islands. We were welcomed by a local band and a market was set up in the centre of the island. To walk right around the island takes only about forty minutes and the towering coconut trees made this the most picturesque of the islands. Our last stop was Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, where we went on two of the organised tours. The first was a brief tour of the City which took us to two viewpoints. The other was a ride on a glass bottomed boat which was great as we saw dozens of colourful fish and abundant coral. The tours were all left on time and came back at the specified time.
Overall experience: I had a wonderful time on the cruise and I would certainly recommend it to anyone. I’m not the sort of person who likes to laze on a beach all day but the ports were still excellent and offered something for everyone.
The onboard staff made the cruise particularly special and the seas were mostly calm. I can’t wait to go on my next Pacific Princess cruise, but next time I might go on the larger Diamond Princess to New Zealand.