Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Review

Review – 2012 World Cruise – Sun Princess – 16th May 2012 – 29th August 2012 – 104 nights
This review represents our experience before, during and after our cruise. It does not reflect the views of others who were on the cruise with us. I have tried to be as objective as possible, although there were things I was so excited about that I may have been over generous with in my assessment. Similarly there may have been things that really irked me, where I may have been overly harsh in my assessment. Hey that's what reviews are about huh.

The purpose of the review is not to sway the thoughts of others, but to give us an accurate assessment of the cruise, based upon our experience, to enable us to reflect upon, as we look back on the holiday at a later date.

Our over-riding ethos on this journey was that we would not allow anyone or anything to spoil our holiday. We were on the dream holiday of a lifetime, and so it would be, from the day we left until the day we got back. There were some days, and some people who would challenge this ethos on occasion, but it did hold true, and we are so pleased that our positive frame of mind enabled us to extract the maximum enjoyment from this holiday.



We booked through Just Cruises, and online agent based in Queensland. We found them to be efficient, courteous and professional in every way. At the time of booking they had second cheapest price on offer, after we sought quotes from over 20 agents around Australia. We elected not to go with the agent that had quoted the lowest price as we had used them before, and we had found them wanting in both service and professionalism. We were more than happy with Just Cruises, and we would book with them again, with confidence.
The Booking

We will never-ever-ever-ever pre-book a cruise again. We booked a low inside cabin 14 months ahead of the cruise. The list price for the cabin was $21k, but nobody ever pays that. Once final payments were completed in February 2012, we watched the price of the inside cabin drop from $19k to $14k to $11k to $9k over the period of about 8 weeks.
Now we all understand Marketing101, and how supply and demand works and how the price of a product will be reduced if you want to clear your unwanted stock – in this case empty cabins, and good luck to the folk who got a 104 night World Cruise for $8.7K, they were rewarded for their last minute purchase with a very cheap cabin.

What really stung many people, and irrevocably damaged the relationship that Princess Cruises had with many past loyal passengers was that they rubbed salt into a very open wound by giving upgrades to the people who only paid half price. So the very clear message that we got from Princess Cruises was (a) If you book ahead you will pay a premium,  (b) we will save our free upgrades for the late bookers, and therefore (c) we do not value your loyalty like we say we do, it is effectively lip service.
This subject was really hot around the ship for the first 3 or 4 weeks, it dominated conversations, and Princess did a lot of damage by their actions. Cruise Critic members had by and large accepted and got over it before we boarded, as there was quite some discussion on the boards about it before we left, but it re-ignited on board once it was discovered that cabin upgrades were denied to full price Captain Circle payers and given to the half price payers.

So from this day forward we will not book a cruise until final payments are in, and the last minute prices are on offer, it may mean that there will be an occasional cruise booked out, but now that we have done the 'holy grail' of cruises, it does not seem so important . Princess have made a rod for their own back, and I will be comfortable to play by the rules they have put in place:)

We spent quite a bit of time debating what our approach would be with communications, both, back to back home, and with each other when we were separated. So what worked and what didn't?

Obviously the blog updates on a daily basis kept interested family and friends in the loop about where we were and how things were going. I did wonder if I would have the commitment to do the blog for the whole cruise, but once I got started, it actually became an enjoyable exercise each day. I had not intended to do daily updates, but they seemed to just roll that way at the start, and I kept them going, although there were some that were a day or two late in publishing for various reasons. I put a link to the blog on both Donna's and my Facebook page each update, so keeping family and friends updated was achieved successfully.
Internet & Email:

Due to the Internet being reliant upon the ship's satellite, connection can be very problematic, so we used our Facebook for keeping up with what was happening at home. Real time contact was able to be achieved using Skype to Skype calls, but that was reliant upon folks at home being online, which did not happen a lot due to time differences.
As well as using the Bigpond email, I setup a Gmail account, which was a good back up as there were times when Bigpond was Bigdud. We were able to send and receive emails throughout most of the trip, but only text as videos and photos were just too time consuming, and ship Internet minutes are very expensive (although we did have a good free allocations)

We elected not to get a travel-sim or similar, as we had seen crook reviews (which were confirmed by the experiences of friends on this cruise). We elected to have a few different approaches.

(a) We would buy a local phone-card in port that can be used in a public phone in port. We did this only once, in Singapore, because it became awkward to find either the card, or the public phones to take them, or be able to understand how to use them.

(b) We took a couple of Nokias with us so that we could buy a local SIM in port and use that to call home - never happened, usually because we were unable to convey to the shopkeepers, in their language, what it was that we actually wanted to buy

(c) Use our iPhones using International roaming. Did not work for the few weeks because incompetent Telstra did not do what they had said they did (Thanks again Katherine for fixing for us). Once working, it worked best, although bloody expensive.

(d) We should have tried Skype to Mobile calls earlier on in the holiday, as it worked really well, and was relatively cheap, but reliant on an Internet connection.

Again what to do with currency, decisions, decisions, decisions... cash or travellers cheques or credit card or travel card, and if so, which one??? We were guided in the main by the experiences of previous world cruisers, who were kind enough to share what their approaches were, and what worked and did not work for them. We went cash. Simple, easy, always available and flexible in the main.
So prior to leaving we exchanged AUD$1,000 into US Dollars. Another AUD$1,000 into Euro. AUD$250 into British Pounds, and AUD$250 into Singapore Dollars. We also took AUD$2,500 cash with us. So at the start of the cruise we had $5,000 in the cabin safe. Now I am aware of stories about cabin safes not always being so safe, but you go with what your comfortable with.

The logic of the cash approach was that in the main we usually only take ashore the equivalent of about $100. That is usually enough to buy snacks, drink, transportation and small souvenirs in the one day we have in a port. We would use the credit card for larger value purchases. The US Dollar is widely accepted, and the Euro cash would cover all the European ports. There were quite a few ports where only the local currency was accepted in taxi, or shop, or stall, and as we knew which ones they were in advance we would just convert $100 into what ever the local currency was as soon as we got off the ship.
Cash offered the flexibility and convenience that is important when you only have one day in a port, as it was all about maximising our time ashore. There were only 2 out of the 39 ports where we needed local currency, and there was not a currency exchange on tap as we got off the ship, so we just used the ATM, which does have pricey exchange and transactions fees, but it was only a couple of times, so small fry in the scheme of things.

If we were to do a similar trip again, we would use 28 degree MasterCard, no fees, no currency conversion charges etc etc. On board friends did tell us about this card before we left, and we saw the value of it afterwards.

On Board

We had E328 on Emerald Deck 6. We usually book an inside cabin up top on deck 11 or 12, and have always enjoyed them. On our last cruise we decided we wanted to try a lower deck cabin. Probably not a good idea to be trying something new for a 104 night cruise huh :) We were absolutely delighted with our cabin, it fitted with our on board lifestyle perfectly. We usually only go top deck for a swim and spa once a day, most of our on board life is lower where the theatres, lounges, bars are, as this is where all the activities and our main dining is.

When we looked at the deck plan and saw that our cabin was under the Wheelhouse Bar, and directly under the band, we thought oh-oh, but it was not a worry. We occasionally heard the soft muffled tones of the band when we went to bed early, but it certainly did not inconvenience us at all. Because the cabin was located low on deck 6, the movement of the ship was not an issue for us.
As there are only a small number of cabins on Emerald deck, it was only very rare did we not have use of the laundry whenever we wanted it. It is a quiet deck, with very little foot traffic, again as there are so few cabins. So the low inside cabin worked a treat for us.

The staff on board are in the main, friendly, professional and very helpful. Our cabin steward, Marvie, was just the best. We had him for most of the whole journey, from Singapore onwards, and he looked after us so well. The dinner waiters that we had from Sydney to New York, Eduardo and Edgar were fantastic, so attentive, and never once during that whole time was there any issue with our meals. Their replacements from New York onwards got off to a shaky start, with dinner orders mucked up for the first few nights, but they settled down and did a serviceable job.

The Captain for the whole cruise was Andrew Froude. He is a good captain, kept passengers informed each day on location and progress, with clear announcements with a touch of humour. Above all, he was professional, and we always felt that there was a safe pair of hands managing the ship. When things were happening that passengers needed to know, he made timely announcements and informed everyone the whats , whys and whens. From port cancellations to helicopter medical evacuations it was the Captains voice that you heard, and I am sure most passengers appreciated that.
We had two Cruise Directors over the journey. Tim Donovan was Cruise Director for most of the first half of the cruise. He was a nice enough chap, but I found it hard to 'connect' with him, his communication style was a little too self absorbed for me. He had to leave the ship due to an injury, and was replaced by his Deputy, Dave Webster. Initially Dave was like a 'mini Tim', and it did not seem to suit him, but over the next few weeks he was much more relaxed, became more engaging, connected with the passengers.

The Cruise Directors staff, who ran most of the activities around the ship were all friendly and engaging, some more than others, but they were all nice folk who did a good job. Jen (whole cruise) and Paul (first half) were two that really stood out in terms of their engagement with passengers, and were very popular.
The Pursers Desk staff were friendly, bar an odd exception, and were able to service our few needs. We are low maintenance passengers, so we don’t need to go to the Pursers Desk very often. The Captains Circle Host, Bernadette is in the wrong job, she is better suited to a job that does not have contact with customers. She is unwelcoming, rude and aloof.

The Tour office staff were friendly and pleasant, however  many folk took issue with miss-information, or lack of information,  that conspired to get you to use Princess transportation at inflated prices. A classic example was the Barcelona shuttle. We were told that it was a 20 min drive into town. So as we waited in the queue for buses that had not arrived at the terminal yet, we were told by friends walking past that it was an easy 20 min walk into town, and sure enough it was. When we got back to the terminal at the end of the day there was no end of cranky people venting their spleen.
As regular blog readers would know, I had cause to visit the Medical Centre a number of times. I always found them to be courteous, and professional. It is comforting to know that when your are out in the middle of vast oceans, that there is a quality medical attention at your fingertips. Yes it is expensive, and some folk go crook about the cost, but it is not government sponsored or subsidised health care, and it is not surprising that it is expensive. The travel insurance motto holds true – if you cant afford travel insurance, you cant afford to travel. The travel insurance  claim ($1800) was processed and paid very promptly (we used RACV).

The professionalism shown by the Sun Princess crew, combined with the skill of the US Coast Guard in the medical evacuation of two passengers was first rate, and worthy of special mention.

One thing that constantly amazes me is how cruise ships are able to produce mass meals and maintain quality. So it was again on this cruise, the meals in the main are just fine. I am not a food critic, but all I want is for meals that are fresh, tasty and hot, and in the main, that is what I got.
I much prefer dining in the Regency Dining Room, not just for service, but the ambience, and there is some modicum of portion control :)

I dont find the Horizon Court dining to my personal liking as it is a noisy place, people are pushy, rude and display rather unhygienic food handling practices. I also dont like hot food out of a bain-marie, never have, on land or sea, as it is just not hot enough for me. Having said that when we wanted something quick, or wanted to catch up with folk, that is where we went.

The pizzas are still as good as ever, the pasties up on Terrace Grill are to die for, and we would be guilty of the odd visit to the Ice Cream kiosk :)


Mmmm, now I come to probably the only item that consistently disappointed over the journey. I dont know if Princess have adopted a new approach to their entertainers criteria, but they had quite a few on this cruise that you would not feed.
There were some great individual entertainers, who were very very good, but they were in the minority. There was many a night when there was no entertainment at all on in the Princess Theatre, sometimes they would run a movie as a filler.

I am sure many of the entertainers did not find out the demographics of the audience prior to their shows as they just missed the mark completely. We had teenage toilet block humour, American gags using American characters on a predominately Australian/New Zealander audience fall flat. Jugglers and other one trick ponies that padded out a 45 minute show with inane profanities.
We had three comedians who were quite good, interestingly they were the only ones who did not resort to swearing and cursing in their jokes. What is it with some of these comedians, is there some unwritten rule that you must say f**k at least three times in your show??

The Sun Princess band were quite good, and they 'saved' quite a few shows where the individual performers were clearly has beens, or never would bes.
I have often raved to my non-cruising friends about how good the production shows on cruise ships are. Well not this cruise I'm afraid, We had two troupes for our productions shows. The first troupe from Sydney to New York were so disappointing. Their shows were amateurish productions performed by singers and dancers who were just going through the motions. Not having sets on stage did not help them put together a single show that was top rate.

All hopes were on the new troupe that joined in New York. The standard of the shows had a marked improvement, and we actually had stage sets used. The singers and dancers did have more energy and professionalism than the first troupe, although still not up to the usual Princess standard, they were fine I thought.

The house band , Derringer, were very good. They were on board for the whole cruise, and maintained a consistently good performance all the way round. They were used on deck for the sailaways, and at night for dancing in the Wheelhouse Bar. Here was an example of a band that looked the demographics of the passengers, and played music that appealed to the majority. They really engaged with the passenger group very well, and were enjoyed by everyone I think.
David Crathorne held court on the piano in the Atrium each evening, and had a good following throughout the whole cruise, so that is an endorsement in itself. He also co-ordinated the passenger choir , which was really really good. There were various instrumentalists playing the pre dinner music in the Atrium, and they were all very good.

 There was a pretty good stable of movies being played on deck, in theatres, or looped on the TV, and there were some very good documentaries played , that were topical to the particular region that we were sailing in at the time. The Movies Under the Stars is a great innovation, and a marvellous piece of technology. However, it should used for exactly that...under the stars. During the day they play nice relaxing videos, with soft relaxing music, that fits in nicely with the ambience of the pool deck, with folks relaxing in the sun, reading swimming etc.
Then for some reason , mid afternoon, they completely wreck the ambience by playing movies, or concerts at full blast. It is as if there is someone in charge who has been trained by Bastards Incorporated who has determined that passengers relaxing on pool deck, drinking from the bar and generally doing all the things that the pool deck is designed for, is a bad thing. So we will blast those bastard passengers outa there, send them back to their cabins, stop them spending their money at our bar. To rub salt in, they play often kids/cartoon guess how many kids are doing the World Cruise?

There were no shortage of activities, arranged, and adhoc across the ship. Trivia always had a big following, with the Vista Lounge very full for the morning session, and there was also an afternoon session for the diehards who competed in a sector competition. Bingo had a full house on the final jackpot session of each sector, but it was almost empty on the lead up days. I think the great challenge of a 104 day cruise is to have enough variety of activities and I think Princess do have a lot set up, but we humans are always looking for something new and fresh, and that is always going to be a tough ask over such a long cruise.

I like the Sun Princess. It is a mid sized ship, so the passenger numbers are around 1900, which makes for a busy ship, but I never had a problem finding a quiet spot to myself when I wanted it. I think it is a well maintained ship, yeah it does have it signs of wear and tear about, which are the subject of continual maintenance. The paintbrush is always out and about trying to keep it looking fresh. Given the ships age (1995) and given that it is has been at sea almost every day since its launch (barring refits) the ship is in remarkably good nick, and I would have absolutely no hesitation in jumping back on again today – it is still a very fine ship.

Sensational, simply sensational. 28 countries, 39 ports (was to be 40, but we could not tender at Mykonos). The itinerary was the great attraction of this World Cruise, as unlike some other 'world cruises' it did do a full lap of the globe. It will be impossible to select a 'best port' and I am not going to even try, as there were so many fantastic locations.
For both Donna and I every port we visited after we left Penang was new to us, we had never been to any of them, so every port was a new adventure, a new culture to absorb, a new treasure to witness. Clearly there were some real stand out individual items, like the Pyramids, the Lost City of Petra (for Donna),  Suez Canal, Anzac Cove, the moonlit gondola ride in Venice, St Peters Square,  Pantheon, Colosseum, Acropolis, Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Times Square, Panama Canal etc etc

Visiting so many cities was just a wonder. The 'big ticket' cities , Rome, Venice, Paris, Athens, London, New York all lived up to their reputations, but there were some real surprises in the list that we just took a real shine to, like Mumbai (yes truly), Istanbul, Dubrovnik amongst them. We had an overnight stay at Venice and New York, which was just fantastic. The decision to jump ship at LA and fly to Honolulu was a pearler, as we had just a great week there.
The thing about cruising is that you dont get the time in each location to 'experience' them, you are usually only in port for one day, so with logistics, and transportation time, you get to see them fleetingly and then move on. So we now have a very long list of places that we will be returning to so that we can really 'experience' them. We feel so very very lucky and privileged to have seen all  these places, which I am sure we would not have done, had it not been for the cruising format of travel.

Weather and Seas
        We were just so fortunate with the weather. We did not experience any rain, land or sea, until we reached Paris, and then it was only patchy. Similarly in London, patchy rain. The only real 'wet' day that we experienced was our first day in New York, although the evening was clear, and the second day there was fine.

As usual, Asia was warm, and slightly humid, but not uncomfortably so. Egypt was bloody hot, no two ways about it, the day at Valley of the Kings will be etched in our memory as it was 45C in the shade and 56C in the open. The European summer was what we had hoped for, warm fine days.
After we left Dover, and headed north things cooled down considerably, as expected, with our day at Shetland Islands being the coldest of the cruise. Iceland was not the cold spot we expected, it was surprisingly warm and sunny, as was Halifax. Of course once we left New York and headed south towards the Caribbean the weather was stunning again, and stayed that way all the way home, so we were just so fortunate.

The sea gods favoured us all the way around also, bar a few days as we transited the North Atlantic where it got a bit heavy and tossed the ship around a little, the seas were generally just as you would hope for from a cruising comfort perspective. Again, having the cabin on the lower deck made for a very comfortable ride, and we will probably always cruise down low now.

Shore Excursions

We did a mixture of Princess Tours, Independent Tours, and our own thing. We enjoyed them all, although if given our time over again we would have done more Independent, and less Princess. Not that there was anything wrong with the Princess Tours, they were all fine, but when you do Independent tours you are usually travelling with people whom you know, everyone gets back on the bus on time, and they were cheaper for the same and in may cases, better product.
On Princess tours you were stuck with selfish couples who would hog the window seats by sitting apart, and therefore force other couples to sit apart – this happened every single Princess tour, and on one occasion Donna and I were made to sit apart –  selfish bastards. At almost every stop there was someone who made the bus full of passengers wait, and if you have a lot of stops it gets a bit tedious. This was not Princess's fault, just the nature of the beast, human behaviour being what it is. This did not occur at all on the Independent tours that were organised by Cruise Critic colleagues.

When we did our own thing, we usually caught the ships shuttle into town and went from there, and on a few occasions we shared rental cars with friends which were just great days.
Cool Cruisers

Most cruisers would know of a website called Cruise Critic. This website has some great information resources available to assist folk planning a future cruise. It also has forums where people exchange cruise related information. One of the boards on the forum is for what is called 'Roll Calls'. Folks who are going on a particular cruise look up the roll call relevant to their cruise, introduce themselves, and perhaps agree to meet up once on board.
When we booked the cruise in January 2011, a roll call had not yet been started for this cruise, so I started one. Over the next 14 months the roll call grew and grew and grew, to the point where we had 140ish people starting the cruise in Sydney joined. There was another 40 or so who were joining at other sectors around the journey.

We had collectively decided to call our group the Cool Cruisers. Some of us who live within striking distance of Brisbane caught up for a lovely pre-cruise lunch, organised by a fine gentleman in Ross Anderson. There was a similar pre-cruise catch up arranged by the lovely Marie Callum, for those who lived, or would be in Sydney a few days pre-cruise.

The lovely Pam Ryan from Tuscon Arizona, was kind enough to organise our first meeting on board, which was just the best. We had the Shooting Stars nightclub packed out, with officers (including the Captain) attending. It was just an amazing afternoon meeting all these people who you had communicated with pre-cruise. This was the start of what would be an amazingly social and enjoyable cruise that would last close on 4 months.
We met so many wonderful people at the catch ups, and lunches arranged by Pam, and later by Anne, and some close friendships have been struck. Some with folk who live in USA, some live in various parts of Australia and New Zealand, and some who live in the next suburb from us.

 We did tours with some of the Cool Cruisers, we dined with some, we drank with many, and we chatted with nearly all. It was such a wonderful thing to meet so many lovely people, and if I had to name the highlight of the whole holiday, it would be  meeting and befriending such a fantastic group of men and women.

No surprises with disembarkation from a process point of view. Given this was the end of an epic journey around the world I was expecting a little ra ra from Princess, Welcome Home thingo, but nope.

Ahhh, the dilemma of luggage. Well as it turned out we did not exceed our flight allowance home. However, we took far too much to start with. We did need to cater for all weathers, and we did, but we took too much (although Donna will probably not agree J) We had a flight allowance (Bris to Syd) of 4 x 23 kg cases, and we used every bit of it on the way home.

Home again
In summary – UNREAL. It did not seem real that we were going on a World Cruise when we left home. It still did not seem real when we got on the ship in Sydney that it would be home for 14 weeks. It did not feel real that it was at an end when we came through Sydney Heads when we arrived back. It certainly did not seem real when we were back home , sitting in our lounge, sleeping in our bed and doing all those household things that we all do.

We have had some catchups with friend who live in Qld since we have returned, and we really do feel so lucky to have met so many wonderful people. We are even travelling with some of them again on a Xmas Cruise on the Diamond Princess leaving in two weeks on the 14th Dec.

We had a marvellous time on a fine ship, with wonderful people, visiting sensational cities, seeing famous locations on the dream holiday of a lifetime. We travelled in comfort and style around the world. There was many a day when we just pinched ourselves, we felt so lucky and privileged to be doing what we were doing, being with who we were, and going where we did.

It was a very special way to spend 14 weeks overseas. Having said that we probably would not do a full world cruise again. I think somewhere around the 10 week mark on a cruise would be our maximum in the future. We love sea days, but there were such a lot on the last third of the cruise, after we transited Panama Canal. There was just a few too many blocks of 4 and 5 sea days at a time, and whilst they are very relaxing days, it was a bit too much end on end for us. This is not a criticism, just a personal preference.
The fact that all the ports after Penang were new to us, really added to the enjoyment of the whole cruise for us, as we always had a new location coming up. Our appetite has really been whetted now, and we have all these places that we want to return to, and spend time at, plus new ones that we have not been to.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

A few of the Qld based Cool Cruisers caught up for a post world cruise lunch at Mado's in South Bank, Brisbane. A fantastic lunch, sharing all our post cruise activities :)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Well hello Sydney, long time no see

Daybreak sail into a smokey Sydney Harbour

Farewell Drinks - Cool Cruisers 2012

Some of the Cruise Critic members who did the full World Cruise got together for Farewell drinks on our 104th (last) day