The New Pacific Princess From French Polynesia to Australia
The new Pacific Princess was formerly the Renaissance R3. We really enjoyed cruising with Renaissance a few years ago on a sister ship to the R3, the R6. Princess has made a good ship even better with its renovations.This was our seventh cruise with Princess, and our greatest Princess cruise to date. We felt like we were cruising with Seabourne or Crystal, both high-price luxury lines. The service was absolutely superb! The accommodations were great. Each cabin category offered spacious staterooms or suites compared with other Princess ships or ships of other lines.
This is a small ship by today's standards -- only 670 passengers -- yet it has most of the comforts of the larger ships and none of the disadvantages. We became acquainted with many fellow passengers during this 16-day cruise. They were an international mix, with lots of Australians, Kiwis, Brits, Canadians, Europeans, and a lovely group of native Hawaiians who serenaded us during sea days in the Casino Bar with melodies from the islands. Additional details about the ship, deck plans, etc. can be seen on the Princess web site.
We were always met with a friendly greeting by the staff and crew. The only exception I noted was the Captain. He seemed to dread being around or talking with the passengers. Otherwise, the atmosphere was similar to an exclusive resort. The staff members seemed to enjoy their jobs and took pleasure in pleasing the guests. Add to that the idyllic setting of our ports, and this was certainly a dream cruise. The weather was great most of the time too. Sunsets were spectacular and the seas were mostly calm.
Operation of this ship is shared with Princess' partner company, P&O Cruises. At the end of this journey, P&O will operate the ship [with largely the same staff and crew] mainly to the Australian cruise market until spring 2004, when operation will revert back to Princess for the summer and early fall.
The entertainment on this ship was fabulous. All of the cruise staff and entertainers are from New Zealand or Australia. The cast presented five full shows, and the lead singers shared two additional shows with other entertainers. One of the featured entertainers was byrle Davis, who began her career singing with the Glen Miller Orchestra in World War II. Obviously she is no spring chicken but she was nevertheless fascinating. In earlier days, Ms. Davis sang with old-time greats including Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, and others. She related interesting antidotes about these famous stars between some of her numbers.
The ship had some enrichment lectures and computer classes, provided Internet access 24/7, and conducted bingo games and lots of other activities. The Lotus Spa and Fitness Center were both well equipped and well attended. The library is spacious, nicely appointed, and well stocked with reading materials. The bars and lounges are also nicely appointed; the top-deck nightclub was a place for late-night partying and great views of the sea during the day.
Princess advertises "Personal Choice" dining with open seating at the various dining venues. That wasn't the case on this small ship. Only the traditional main and late dinner seatings were offered in the dining room. The ship has two alternative restaurants: The Sterling Steakhouse Grill [$8 cover charge per person] and Sabatini's, an Italian gourmet restaurant [$20 cover charge per person]. We found the beef entrées in The Grill to be delicious. Sabatini's was open only on certain evenings but not many passengers felt the menu warranted spending the extra charge. Your $20 got you an elegant and very leisurely seven-course meal. The Panorama Buffet offered something to eat from 4 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., and room service was available 24/7. No one suffered from hunger on this ship.
We noted some changes in the dining room since previous cruises. There is no longer a sommelier or wine steward. The waiter now serves this function. Princess used to offer a separate pasta course. You can still have pasta nightly as an entrée but no separate course. Tureens with hot vegetables are no longer offered either. Some evenings we ordered more vegetables and received a nice variety. A tray with dessert samples is no longer brought to the table after the entrée for viewing. Salad selections in the luncheon buffet were not as varied as in the past. These changes have enabled Princess to serve more people with less wait staff. Fortunately the quality of the food and presentation remains great. The pastries on this cruise were especially nice and the homemade [on board daily] ice cream was delicious.
The casino offered penny and nickel slots as well as the traditional 25-cent and dollar slots. It appeared that the odds on the cheap slots were dismal. All of the slot machines were the same type. One could bet up to 20 lines per spin. Video poker was not offered. The tables for blackjack, poker, and roulette seemed crowded together.
The dress code for this entire cruise was 'smart casual' except for three evenings when formal wear was optional. Lots of the women wore fancy outfits on those evenings, but most gentlemen stuck to the 'smart casual' with a jacket. A few passengers decided not to dress up at all.
Gratuities are now added to one's shipboard account, $10 per day. I was concerned that this method might result in less attentive service but the opposite was true. I guess the staff felt more confident of not getting slighted with this method than the old way where passengers handed out envelopes at the end of the cruise. The service in all departments was really super. The Cruise Director, John Clelford, encouraged additional gratuities for exceptional service. That seemed a bit tacky. The official policy for additional gratuities is that the recipient may retain the extra gratuity if the passenger did not reduce the standard gratuity charged to the shipboard account. Otherwise the extra gratuity was to be submitted to the pool.
A negative aspect of Princess' departures from Papeete, Tahiti is that getting to Papeete independently by air is expensive and flights are infrequent. The Princess air program offers non-stop charter service from Los Angles. This system is unpleasant because passengers must move their baggage from connecting flights to the charter departure gate at the far end of one of the LAX terminals. The charter gate opens only three hours before flight time so there are long lines and the entire check-in and security check process has to be endured again. Then one gets the typical feeling of being a sardine once aboard the aircraft. Maybe that is why the ship cabins/staterooms seem so spacious.
Nevertheless, in summary, the new Pacific Princess offers luxurious cruising at mainline prices. The atmosphere is refined and relaxed. The food is tasty, the entertainment and shipboard activities are plentiful and varied for a ship of such small size, the staff is always cordial and attentive, and this itinerary offered a great chance to see the South Pacific, a bit of New Zealand, and Sydney, Australia. We traveled 4,459 nautical miles during the cruise and visited nine ports in five countries. If you want to cruise on the Pacific Princess before April 2004, you must book your cruise through P&O, the partner company to Princess. I believe that Princess is offering a similar itinerary on the Pacific Princess in 2004. The French Polynesia ports are offered almost year-round on the sister Princess ship, the Tahitian Princess, which does 10-day itineraries from Papeete, Tahiti.