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Thomas Gibbs

Age: 68

Occupation:Retired

Number of Cruises: 8

Cruise Line: Princess

Ship: Sun Princess

Sailing Date: November 2nd, 2004

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean


The Princess Claim:
A couple of weeks before going on the Sun Princess, Princess Cruise Line made an unexpected promise in an advertisement in the London Daily Telegraph - October 2004. The travel writer giving his experience of a Princess cruise claimed that regardless how many times someone had cruised with another line, they would find that a Princess cruise the best they’d ever experienced. That was an interesting claim as we had been on seven previous cruises. One with Royal Caribbean, two with Celebrity, a two-week back to back with Costa and three cruise and stay with Thomson (UK). None of these had been a disappointment. Taking up the challenge of a comparison I split the cruise into the various aspects:

London hotel to hotel in Miami:
The hotel and flight was booked through Princess as was the hotel in Florida. This was the first time we’d booked an UK hotel through the cruise line, and as an add-on extra, Renaissance was a good value purchase. The airline was Virgin with a direct flight from Heathrow to Miami in economy. The Princess representative was great, the check-in procedure dreadful, taking 1 hour and forty minutes. The Immigration at Miami took 1 hour and ten minutes. The collection at the airport and transfer to The Inter-Continental Miami West was good and the Princess representative at the hotel helpful.

Collection from the Miami hotel to the luggage arriving in the cabin.
The benchmark on this is Thomson who got us onboard and our luggage into the cabin in twenty minutes. The transport to the Sun in half an hour and this was good.

The cabin:

The balcony cabin on Caribe was portside aft (on the left at the back) just behind the escalators. The cabin was adequate but not the very best we’d experienced. The balcony was typically small. The travel agent said it didn’t matter where the cabin was located because the front was for entertainment and the back for food, which is generally correct for cruise ships. However, the access to the food was from midships, so we had to walk along a long corridor to forward lifts to get to the food! This was similar to the sister line ship Costa Romantica and can be considered a disadvantage as it can involve crowds waiting for the lifts.

The general facilities of the ship:

Having watched a Princess video a few times we were generally aware of the type of ship and what it had to offer. We had expected ‘American style glitz’ rather than ‘European subdued’ and we were not disappointed. We have been on smaller, same size and larger ships and each has its advantages. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, just more facilities – if you want them. We liked the larger Celebrity Infinity but we weren’t displeased with Sun Princess as it was very similar to Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas – which we also liked. The Sun didn’t seem that much different to the Costa Romantica – same owners as the Sun Princess, much the same size and age.

Food and service:
The comparison here has many challenges. The dining room on the Vision of the Sea was fabulous and the waiters were perfect people; the European menu on Infinity was excellent; the Italian food and dining room staff on Costa Romantica…Mama Mia! Fantastico! On the Sun Princess we choose set evening dining as we’d found that the sit anywhere with anybody on our most recent Thomson cruise meant that for the first time we’d not met a very pleasant couple or two at the table to share some ship and shore friendships. The Sun Princess set time restaurant proved to be a disaster and we eventually moved to the anytime restaurant. As a refuge we ate one evening at Verdi’s pasta and piazza restaurant and we were pleased. The Horizon buffet restaurant for breakfast and lunch was excellent.

Entertainment:
An essential aspect of cruising. The ability to chose a lounge, dance area or theatre after a meal makes for the sense of luxury…and beats hotels hands down. However, the co-ordination of the meals and shows were poor and we didn’t get to see many of the shows and this disappointed us. We were not impressed with the overall standard of the entertainment. It was the poorest we’ve experienced.

Port of call and trips:
For us the area for cruising is the Mediterranean with its historic and interesting calls– what can beat Florence, Rome, Venice, Dubrovnik and Barcelona? It also has good beaches, places to swim and water-sports. But that is in the summer and we were going in November! Hello Caribbean!

Wherever you are, a tropical beach is golden sand, blue sea, clear water, great views and palm trees…(see also Hawaii). The Caribbean offers Islands with a little local cultural flavouring of whatever. We were fleeing the grey, damp, chilly UK of November for sun and warmth and the Sun Princess cruise provided it.

We had researched the various ports on the internet and had some idea of what to expect – but it never is, is it? Having been to Jamaicia, Aruba and Williamstadt previously, we had a vision of what the islands might be. But being surprised, rather than disappointed is always the best. Top visit for us was St John’s USVI. For the first time on a cruise we didn’t take a cruise line organised tour. The local taxi services on the Islands are so well organised that we used them, saved money and had more time ashore. Bargaining helps!

Dis-embarkation:

We had chosen to stay on in Florida for a week and Princess had kindly agreed without additional charge to schedule our flight to the UK for a week after disembarking. We had booked a hire car and only needed to get off the ship and take a taxi to the airport. The disembarkation was well organised and we were off the ship earlier than we’d expected.

Anything else:
The staff was, as on all the other ships, excellent and very helpful. The staff at the Patisserie bar in the atrium was very friendly.

The pool area at the stern of the ship was good - we enjoyed that. The Vista lounge was particularly nice.

Final thoughts:
We never expected the Sun Princess cruise to be the best ever, because each cruising area and ship offers different things. More or less, except for the restaurant, we got what we wanted and expected. The primary reason for the cruise was sun and warmth in November and that was outside the domain of Princess. What we wanted from Princess was a pleasant, safe, comfortable and enjoyable voyage– and we had that. Even if it had been the best to date, it wouldn’t be the best ever, because the best is yet to come! And who knows it could be the next cruise. (In Sept 2004 – before we went on the Sun Princess- we had already re-booked a Thomson cruise in the Mediterranean for June 2005.)

Evaluation:
The cruise on the Sun Princess was good value for money – research and hard bargaining with travel agents ensured that. We enjoyed the experience.

Was the Sun Princess the best cruise ever? No! It did not fully meet our expectations and we are unlikely to choose Princess again - the restaurant experience and entertainment facilities were disappointing. This doesn’t mean that many others didn’t enjoy the Sun Princess – first time cruisers thought it was fantastic. We know that some passengers while on the ship rebooked for a future cruise. For us, at the price we paid, we have had better experiences on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity.

Advice…read the brochure, read the reviews, negotiate the best price you can and enjoy the cruise!

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