When Sun Princess was launched (way back when!) in 1995, it was not only Princess' largest ship but also the industry's biggest-ever vessel. Along with Sun-class vessels that followed -- such as Sea Princess, Dawn Princess and the former Ocean Princess (now P&O's Oceana) -- the ship was outfitted with innovative features and amenities, created a revolutionary impact on the industry, and served as a precursor to Princess' later introduction of Grand-class ships like Grand Princess.
These days, the ship, which is now one of the smallest in the fleet, is promoted with the "big ship choice and small ship feel" moniker. Is it accurate?
On a recent cruise aboard Sun Princess, it was clear that despite its handsome ambience, the ship has been a bit bypassed by more contemporary Princess innovations. Personal Choice Dining was unveiled long after this ship was designed and so the concept of flexibility isn't as smoothly incorporated into the restaurant scenario. Standard cabins, while efficiently appointed, can be a tight fit for two, and balconies (which number 400) are less than plentiful when compared to newer ships in the fleet. Kids' facilities -- particularly Off Limits, the teen center -- seemed anachronistic.
And, finally, the ship always seemed crowded. There are lines for every buffet, sale and activity. Comparing Sun Princess with the newer Island Princess and Coral Princess, which are 14,000 tons larger yet carry a similar number of passengers, it's pretty clear why the vessel consistently felt crowded.
On the plus side, Sun Princess is welcoming and well run. Princess still provides terrycloth robes and fresh fruit upon request. Boarding passengers are met at each stairwell and directed to their cabins, which is nicer than having to find your own way. Turndown service with chocolates is provided in the evening. And we love that wooden deck chairs with steamer blankets are available upon request.
The ship spent two weeks in a dry dock in Brisbane in the beginning of November 2007 prior to commencing Princess Cruises' first-ever year-round deployment from Australian ports -- mainly Sydney but also Fremantle. (Prior to the refit, furniture in some areas, such as La Patisserie and the adjacent atrium, looked well worn.)
Sun Princess was built before "Personal Choice Dining," and it shows. The Regency Dining Room offers fixed sittings for dinner at 5:45 and 8 p.m. and open sitting for breakfast and lunch. The identical Marquis Dining Room is open for dinner from 5:30 until 10 p.m. and passengers can make reservations by telephone or show up at the door.
The ship's buffet restaurant, the Horizon Court, faces forward on Lido Deck; this large space (but not large enough at peak times) is accessed by two buffet stations, port and starboard. Additional buffet service is available in the main room, but it is difficult to access without previously passing through the buffet lines. Aft of Horizon Court is the Terrace Grill, an on-deck barbecue.
The location of Horizon Court in the forward part of Deck 14 means that there are too few seats outside to provide adequate seating as the deck around the pools is mainly taken up by sun beds. If you want to have breakfast at around 9 or 10 a.m., lunch around 2 p.m. and/or dinner at about 7 p.m., be prepared to find the Horizon Court congested. And yes: The buffet dinner option is popular as many people seem to like the casual option.
A full breakfast buffet is offered, ranging from cereals and meats to egg and waffle stations. After breakfast and lunch comes a sandwich buffet, dinner, a la carte bistro dining after midnight and early breakfast. Breakfast and lunch are crowded, but there are stewards to find tables and carry trays.
Room service breakfast is limited to continental, but selections from a 24-hour menu of cold and hot items are delivered promptly (and free) to your cabin.
Verdi's Pizzeria, decorated with tile floors and tables and wrought iron chairs, is open for lunch. In the evening it becomes a casual trattoria with a limited menu of pastas.
The biggest culinary disappointment is the Sterling Steakhouse, carved out of part of the Horizon Court. For $20 AUD, diners may order from among entrees of beef, seafood, lamb or chicken. The food and service are fair. This was the first ship in which I have sailed in which the dining room food and service were actually better than that in the specialty restaurant. The first night I dined I ordered cheese instead of dessert and was given sandwich slices. They were prepared for my second visit and gave me real chunks of cheese, but on my third visit I was back to sandwich slices.
Sun Princess is organized around a four-deck atrium, which is inoffensively decorated with light woods, chrome and glass, and connected by two glass elevators. At the entrance level on Plaza Deck are the Marquis Dining Room, reception area, shore excursions desk, and Patisserie for a la carte coffee and confections.
Note: Verdi's Pizzeria, like other spaces off the Atrium, functions as much as a corridor as a public room.
Ascending to Emerald Deck one finds the shops -- logo goods, liquor, perfume, jewelry and sundries -- and the Regency Dining Room. Both single-level dining rooms face aft with views over three sides of the ship. While large, they are divided into smaller areas by serving stations and banquettes.
Promenade Deck features a wide, wraparound walkway, protected from the weather by overhanging decks. The rest of the Promenade Deck is devoted to public spaces. The Princess Theatre, forward, is a steeply sloped show lounge/movie theatre with excellent sight lines, theater seating and small stands for drinks. Aft is the Wheelhouse Bar, a clubby, dark-paneled space, decorated with paintings of P&O and Princess ships. (The future cruise sales office is tucked into a corner of the bar.)
The Atrium Lounge is the deck's other full service bar, but it is a noisy thoroughfare. Rendezvous is the ship's intimate wine bar, but it lacks distinctive decor, while Shooting Stars, the disco, is fitted with an excellent sound and light system and is an effective space for late-night dancing.
The ship's library offers paperbacks for trade, which include many novels (in English only) and a good selection of Alaska travel guides. The ship's photo gallery is long and well lighted. The aft Vista Lounge is the ship's secondary show lounge, featuring the ship's largest dance floor and a second stage for cabaret acts. The floor is not as sloped as the Princess Theatre, and the sight lines are not as good.
The ship does not have a dedicated card room. On a recent trans-Pacific cruise, bridge classes, which are very popular, were housed in the Shooting Stars nightclub and at least in one of the dining rooms. Some of the Scholarship@Sea arts and crafts classes needed to occupy part of the Horizon Court or even a hallway in front of the library. The new Internet Cafe offers 22 stations with a flat charge of $100 AUD for 250 minutes or 75 cents per minute pay-as-you-go. There's no food or drink.
Sun Princess is essentially a warm weather ship. It has a rather good supply of outdoor deck space, but if you cruise to chilly climates, a serious problem arises from the fact that none of its three swimming pools has a sliding glass roof over them. In bad weather everyone congregates indoors and the ship definitely feels crowded -- so much so that you may find it hard to find a seat in a room where you would like to sit. The situation improves in the evenings, when entertainment comes to full swing in the Princess Theatre and the Vista Lounge, and many people make their way to these venues.
Except for suites, cabins are a uniform size and configuration, the only difference between inside and outside cabins being a window/porthole.
The standard cabin is inoffensively finished in blond wood with pastel colored spreads. Two twin beds can be put together into a (scant) queen. There is ample lighting. The desk/vanity stool substitutes for a breakfast table. There is adequate closet and drawer storage for a one week cruise. Other features include a room safe and mini-refrigerator. Cabin television features satellite broadcasts, reruns of ship lectures and commercials for Princess' services.
The compact bathroom (shower only, save for suites) features a small stall that could be awkward for larger passengers. Toiletries are from Princess' spa and include shampoo, conditioner and lotion in cardboard containers.
Suites include large balconies with metal dining tables/chairs and loungers, bathtubs with whirlpools and a sitting area, separated from the bedroom. There is no concierge lounge.
If you are a light sleeper, then you should avoid the cabins on the lowermost passenger decks, i.e. Decks 5 and 6. In certain weather conditions, the waves will slam against the side of the ship and this will echo into the cabins on these decks -- much like a door being slammed somewhere at frequent intervals.
Princess recommends $8.50 AUD per day. Fifteen percent is added to wine and bar bills. Tipping in the spa/salon/gym is left to the individual. Passengers may raise, lower or eliminate the service charge, but tips given out in cash are pooled up to the standard service charge. Only above that amount do stewards and stewardesses get to keep their tips.
|Fitness and Recreation|
On the main pool deck there are two central pools (these get crowded in good weather). A third, a splash pool, is located behind the fitness center, surrounded by sunning decks and serviced by an outdoor Splash Bar (open in good weather); there are ample sun loungers. The topmost passenger deck, Sun Deck, is divided into two portions. The aft portion of Sun Deck is available for sports activities like shuffleboard, basketball and paddle tennis. Other recreational features include a golf simulator and quoits.
The Lotus Spa, with its attractive Asian themed decor, offers numerous treatments for men, women and even teens. The adjacent workout room features the latest machines and weights with piped music and (silent) TV screens. There is a carpeted space for yoga, aerobics and Pilates (extra charge).
The gym on the port side aft on Deck 12 has modern and well maintained machines for resistance training plus dumb bells and benches for weight training. It also features several exercise bikes and treadmills, also in good condition.
The gym gets very busy in the morning and remains so well into the afternoon, so if you want to enjoy your training session in peace and quiet, it is worthwhile to get there early (say before 9 a.m.) or late (after 4 p.m.). Sometimes tissues used to swipe machines after use for hygiene reasons ends up on the floor rather than in the bins provided. Due to its location high up in the stern of the ship, you will feel the ship's motion quite well in the gym if the weather is bad or the ship is riding a heavy swell. If this is the case, take extra care if you want to use the dumb bells.
The promenade deck (Deck 7) runs around the ship and is surprisingly used for exercise by many people. It is wide enough to leave space for sun beds for most of its length, but at the stern it narrows significantly -- so if you are a brisk walker, this is not the place to overtake those on a leisurely stroll.
My cruise had hundreds of children onboard, but I was aware of them only rarely (I came upon the younger group coloring in one of the stairwells and upon the older group at a pizza party).
The Fun Zone is divided by ages between 3 and 7, and 8 and 12. Off Limits is for teenagers 13 to 17 and features a video arcade, soft furniture and foosball. I stopped by several times, and it was always empty. I did, however, see well-behaved groups of teenagers at many of the adult activities.
Children's activities are scheduled morning, noon and night, but parents are expected to take their children for meals. Princess does not provide private babysitting, and group sitting ends at midnight.
Sun Princess, which arrived in Sydney in late October 2007, now caters to the Australian market. As a result, most passengers are Aussies and the Australian dollar has replaced the U.S. dollar as the onboard currency. Announcements and television programs are mostly in English.
Casual dress is the rule. The ship's newsletter suggests attire for the evening. On a weeklong cruise, there are generally two "formal" nights, but most passengers do not wear black tie, suit or long dress; five nights are "smart casual." Shorts and T-shirts are prohibited in the dining rooms for dinner, but welcome in the Trattoria and Horizon Court.
There are three indoor bars. The Rendezvous Bar serves only wine and sells appetizers such as caviar and pate. From the Atrium Bar you can hear the string quartet play light classical music and Broadway show tunes. The Wheelhouse Bar, a signature room and easily the ship's handsomest public space, was usually empty in the evening -- in a misguided attempt to appeal to younger passengers, Princess had given it over to rock musicians.
Activity-wise, Princess provides something for everyone. During the day on our Alaska itinerary there were lectures by the ship's naturalist. A small library offers English-language fiction and nonfiction with Alaskan guidebooks, games and free playing cards. There are trivia contests, Name That Tune, Newlywed Game, bingo, horse racing and art auctions.
The Grand Casino features slot machines that take Australian currency (5 cent, 25 cent, $1 and $5) and roulette, black jack, craps and Caribbean stud tables.
At night, Sun Princess has two show lounges. In the Princess Theatre, the Sun Princess Singers and Dancers may put on a production show while in the Vista Lounge there is a cabaret act (juggler, comedian, singer).
Movies Under the Stars (M.U.T.S.), the big-screen outdoor theater that's proven so popular with the line's newest ships, will be installed aboard Sun Princess in April 2010. Passengers can enjoy movies, concerts, sporting events and other special programming throughout the day and evening.
The Atrium Lounge now features live piano and violin music that brings a more pleasant atmosphere to an area that is otherwise the main junction point of traffic on the ship. On some evenings, diners at the Horizon Court will find a jazz quintet playing, which makes the experience of a casual dinner much more enjoyable.
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