After a brief excursion into the fleet of sister brand P&O Cruises (where it was known as Adonia), Sea Princess reverted to its original name, rejoined her original brand and is sailing varied itineraries -- including Australia/New Zealand, Hawaii and even a world cruise -- from its homeport of Sydney.
The ship, launched in 1998, is mid-sized and offers traditional features that make it a good choice for cruise travelers who want to feel like they're onboard an oceangoing vessel rather than a theme park at sea.
True, Sea Princess needs a bit of cosmetic work in parts -- particularly its exterior, which is starting to show significant signs of rust -- but it's due for a 10-day dry dock in Singapore in 2015. (The line hasn't announced what, specifically, will be done to spruce up the ship.) It also received new upholstery, carpets and bedding in minor refurbs in 2009 and 2012.
But even without a lick of paint being applied, it's a cozy, welcoming, lovely ship whose atrium area and Vista Lounge are among the most attractive at sea.
There are two virtually identical main restaurants, Rigoletto on Deck 5 and Traviata on Deck 6. Both are attractively presented with large windows on two sides, wood paneled walls, elegant red-and-gold and blue-and-gold color schemes (respectively), and ceilings which, though very low, are glamorously studded with twinkling lights.Food is fairly standard mass-market cruise fare (with sprouts featuring rather too frequently for my taste), but meat cuts are very good quality and puddings generally high standard; salads could be crisper, but the fresh-baked specialty breads and cream soups are delicious.Traviata operates a traditional set-seating system with pre-assigned tables, while Rigoletto offers "anytime dining," allowing passengers to dine when and with whom they please. The Princess traditional and anytime dining policy allows passengers to switch from one to the other at 24 hours' notice.Generally speaking, this is an excellent system, as it removes the old bugaboo of cruise passengers being forced to sit with strangers, but it does cause a few problems. On the first night of our cruise, there was an extremely long line of passengers waiting to be seated (though you can avoid this by making a reservation as soon as you board).
However, similar problems beset the system when we sampled a sit-down breakfast two days later: passengers willing to share tables had to wait around 15 minutes, and those who preferred to eat by themselves (not an unreasonable request at breakfast time) faced an even longer wait. Waiters, though friendly and efficient, seemed overstretched and harassed at times.
There are two alternative dining venues: the lovely Cafe Corniche on Deck 8, which offers a good selection of pizzas and a more limited range of Italian antipasti, pasta dishes and puddings in a very pleasant setting; and the Sterling Steak House -- part of the Horizon Court buffet on Deck 14, which is screened off and dressed with snowy tablecloths every evening.
Sterling charges a $20-per-person supplement and offers good service, terrific sea views and an excellent range of steak cuts, though the choice of starters was disappointing. You should take a jacket or wrap if you're planning to eat there, as the air conditioning is ferocious.
Horizon Court is the ship's indoor/outdoor buffet restaurant, offering a full breakfast from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., a substantial lunch buffet after that, then afternoon snacks (from 5:30 p.m.) and dinner.
Like most of Sea Princess' public areas, Horizon Court is beautifully designed, with a pleasing garden room freshness and substantial solid teak outside seating overlooking the ship's pools. However, at peak times, it does get crowded, and tables are hard to come by.
Because the buffet is arranged into different islands, there are no long lines, but waiters wielding tea and coffee pots could be more extensively deployed, as the self-service drinks machines do tend to log-jam during busy periods.
For casual meals out on deck, the Deck 14 Riviera Grill provides burgers and hot dogs from 11 a.m. to midnight, while on Deck 12, Sundaes ice cream parlor offers complimentary soft-serve ice cream. br>
And passengers in balcony cabins can dine in solitary splendor with the ship's Ultimate Balcony Dining program. This costs $32 per couple for a Champagne breakfast, $100 per couple for dinner, and meals are served course-by-course onto a balcony set up with a white-clothed table and flowers.
Seaboard life revolves around the sweeping black and white marble staircases, glass lifts and gently curved contours of the ship's four-deck-high atrium, which lies midship and contains the Reception and Shore Excursion desks. Deck 6 holds a substantial parade of shops; one deck up is the bay-windowed Crooner's Bar -- complete with cosy sofas and white grand piano -- and on the top level (Deck 8) next to Cafe Corniche is the Monte Carlo Casino. Opposite the casino's roulette and black jack tables is an old-fashioned but curiously charming "007"-themed card playing and drinks area, complete with squishy black leather sofas, a James Bond silhouette mural and navy padded wall panels straight out of an "Austin Powers" movie.
One level down, Deck 7 is the main passenger deck, with the lovely peach, blue and gold Vista Lounge at the aft end and the one-tier Princess Theatre at the prow. The Wheelhouse Bar, just behind the theatre, is an intimate watering hole marred only be streams of passengers walking through en route to the theatre. Part English pub, part gentleman's club, it has stylish leather sofas, brass lamps and nautical paintings on wood-½panelled walls. Just outside this bar, on the ship's port side, you'll find a lovely small seating area and a fascinating display of memorabilia purchased from Marlene Dietrich's estate.
Also on port side is the Razzmatazz Nightclub, with steel walls and bar and deep red "wave effect" sofas. Opposite this is the walnut-panelled, large-windowed Champagne Bar, where Mimosas, Bellinis and Champagne cocktails cost $5.75.
Next door is a substantial photo gallery and just off here, up a short wood-panelled corridor, find the ship's Internet Centre and Library. Quiet, large-windowed and equipped with flat screen computers on smart green leather-topped desks, the Internet Centre is stylish but expensive compared to shoreside facilities. Pay-as-you-go costs a hefty 75 cents a minute but there are cost -- saving packages for heavy users, ranging from $55 for 100 minutes to $75 for 150 and $100 for 250. Computer lessons are bookable for $25 per adult, $10 per child (though I suspect the average eight-year-old could teach the instructors a thing or six ... )
Next door, the pretty wood-panelled library doubles as a venue for onboard weddings, which can be conducted by the captain while the ship is actually at sea, thanks to its Bermudan registry. (A major clue as to when a wedding is on is that an archway of white flowers is placed at the library entrance.)
Accommodations range from N-grade inside twins to AA deluxe suites with verandahs, and there are 19 cabins equipped for disabled passengers.
Each cabin is equipped with a TV, radio, a hair dryer, safe and mini-bar; all have individually controllable air-conditioning and (with the exception of three- and four-berth staterooms) beds that can be arranged either as twins or doubles.
Top-grade suites and mini-suites have substantial balconies; balconies on outside double cabins are partially enclosed and more compact -- with room for just a low drinks table and two sit-up chairs -- but they are attractively presented in clean white with nautical blue flooring and chair seats.
Our cabin was cozy and comfortable, with a fresh cream, blue and peach color scheme and a well-designed, if small, triple wardrobe that provided adequate storage. The bathroom was tiny and cramped, though -- so much so that we had to stand in the shower cubicle to dry off after a shower.
Room service is available around the clock, with hot drinks offered alongside a substantial selection of sandwiches, salads, burgers, hot dogs, croque monsieur and pastries. Service is free, but you can sign for a gratuity.
Mini-bar drinks range from beer to liquor, and room service will bring you a bottle of Pouilly Fuisse or a fine Chianti Classico. Bear in mind that all drinks prices are subject to an additional 15 percent service charge.
Passengers can save some cash by purchasing one of several alcohol packages, ranging in price from $17 (for liquor) to $181 (for Dom Perignon Champagne). Beer packages (six bottles of beer for the price of five) cost $23.25. Soda and coffee packages are also available; unlimited soda costs about $5 per person, per day, and 15 specialty coffee beverages will set passengers back $31 per person.
Gratuities, which are automatically charged to onboard accounts, are $11.50 per person (including children), per day, for passengers staying in standard accommodations and $12 for passengers staying in mini-suites and suites. A 15 percent gratuity is added to beverage purchases onboard, including wine at dinner. Spa and casino staff members do not share in the gratuity charges -- if you use these services, tips are advised. Note: Prices for things such as spa services and alcoholic beverages are listed in Australian dollars, the official onboard currency. We noted that prices for wine and mixed drinks range from $7 to 11 AUD, and alcohol-free mocktails will set you back $4.50 AUD. Milkshakes are available from any bar for $3 (U.S.).
|Fitness and Recreation|
The Lotus Spa is up on Deck 12 and offers the usual range of facials, massages and body treatments priced from $131 for a Swedish massage to $329 for a series of three Ionithermie detox wraps. A salon, just across the hall, offers everything from waxing, nail treatments and hair-styling to teeth-whitening and shaves (for men).
Look out for special offers when the ship is in port.
Sea Princess' spa contains a well-equipped, large-windowed gym, a sizeable aerobics room (Yoga, Pilates and cycle classes are for-fee) and a small outdoor area containing two whirlpools and small circular pool.
In all, the ship has four pools -- three on Deck 12, one on Deck 15 -- six whirlpools and a ball games court (also up on 15 at the top of the ship).
Princess' signature adults-only Sanctuary features lots of thickly cushioned loungers, massage cabanas, signature beverages, light meals and on-call stewards. Enjoying the area comes at a price: $10 for a half-day and $20 for a full day, plus there's a $3 service fee for dining orders.
"The Fun Zone" on Deck 12 is home to facilities for children and teens, giving them access to Wii, PlayStation3, X-Box and board games. Themed nights -- including Survivor Night, Battle of the Sexes, Pirate Night and Princes/Princesses -- are hosted for the various age groups.
Those younger than 18 are divided into three groups: Princess Pelicans (ages 3 to 7), Shockwaves (8 to 12) and Remix (13 to 17). Children younger than 3 are welcome to play, but they must be under the supervision of their parents at all times. Children 3 and older must be out of diapers to participate without parental supervision.
Kids club facilities operate from 9 a.m. to noon, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Group baby-sitting is also available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. at a price of $5 per child (ages 3 to 12), per hour, and children are invited to a kids dinner from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. -- useful if parents want to dine alone. In-cabin baby-sitting is not available.
Compared with some ships (including the newer, bigger ones on the Princess fleet) children's facilities are limited to a couple of rooms, but the youth staff are enthusiastic, and the activities -- from hat-making to cooking demonstrations (for a fee) -- are quite imaginative.
Other than Ping-Pong tables, a ball court and splash pool up on Deck 15, and the large outdoor Riviera pool on Deck 12 -- which they tend to monopolize at times -- kids have no dedicated outdoor areas. Although the ship no longer has a dedicated arcade, kids have access to the aforementioned video games, as well as air hockey and foosball, right in "The Fun Zone."
Because Sea Princess sails primarily from Sydney, most of its passengers are Australian with a mix of those hailing from New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. You'll find plenty of young families on shorter sailings, but the passenger base on longer itineraries generally comprises those in the 55- to 70-year-old range.
This is a somewhat casual ship; even on formal nights, smart suits with ties are as acceptable as dinner jackets, and passengers who dislike dressing up can dine casually at Cafe Corniche or the Horizon Court buffet.
Even there, though (and quite rightly), a reasonable degree of smartness is expected; slacks and polo shirts are fine, but T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops should be confined the daytime out on deck.
This largely consists of old-style variety acts with a modern twist. It's imaginative and generally excellent.
On our cruise, a professional Liverpudlian comic, a splendid tenor, a stylish illusionist and a hilarious musical impersonator kept audiences happy, so much so that it was usually standing-room-only at twice-nightly show times in the ship's 600-seat Princess Theatre. The Sea Princess program was well thought out and perfectly suited to the clientele.
By day, films are shown on the Movies Under the Stars screen, which overlooks the pools on Deck 14; recently released films are also shown in the afternoon in the Princess Theatre or the Vista Lounge, and the ship has an array of daily classes and lectures to keep passengers occupied. These range from fairly traditional activities such as cooking demonstrations, napkin-folding and origami-making sessions to special-interest talks and computer lectures. These activities are free to join.
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