November 2016 - Pacific Princess to Transatlantic
. We spent a month on the Pacific Princess, a TA---started in Venice, did the Balkans, Greece, Italy, Spain Gibraltar, Madeira, Bermuda and then Florida. For us we passed the 600 total days of sailing landmark on this cruise. Excellent ship, confirms my preference for the smaller vessels. We both agree we like ships this size best, doubtful if we do much cruising in the future if all we have are the gigantic's to choose from. Princess may sell this one as it is much smaller than anything else in their fleet. They are really keeping it up nicely though, don't know if that is because they want to sell or what, they are still booking it through 2018 however. A most enjoyable cruise over all. Good going Princess. Although this cruise occurred very late in the season, basically a repositioning 29 day cruise from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, it was jazzed up with extra ports and a romantic name attached "Mediterranean Grand Adventure". Some though, booked it as two "Back to Backs" or only took one segment.
---The ship--The smallest in the Princess fleet, a little over 30,000 gross tons with approximately 650 guests. In my opinion, more staff per guest, more space per guest and much less pushing and shoving than we have seen in quite some time on the high seas, plus much more quality and personal service. The ship is well taken care of, in fact I thought our cabin, 8000, must have recently been refurbished as it was in perfect condition and the heating-A/C system worked like it should. Crew members are constantly chipping away old paint and renewing woodwork everywhere. I saw no patches of rust anywhere. This "Pacific Princess" was one of the three, out of eight, relatively new "R" ships Princess acquired after the Renaissance Line went under around 2000 (R-3). These vessels are still all in service but Princess has only this one left now. It is too bad that Renaissance didn't have stern thrusters installed when these were manufactured as those would eliminate a few difficulties and need for tugs, even though they do have "Becker Rudders", when getting into tight ports under severe wind conditions.
---Our stateroom was a mini-suite and one of the finest if not the finest we have had. A five by fifteen foot balcony with drapes that, when pulled back, presented the spacious living area with a huge picture window. Very quiet location forward on Deck 8. The bathroom was not large but average by today's standard dimensions, the shower was in the tub, however, the vanity cabinets were more than ample and each had cupboard doors with mirrors on them which we haven't seen for a while, so all one's cosmetics, etc. aren't sitting out in the open ready to fall off the trays. The closets, at first, appeared to be a little short on space, however that wasn't the case, true, they aren't walk in, but they handled all our stuff easily and I had two tuxes and wife had the equivalent fine dress for our five formal nights. Nice refrigerator and an excellent room steward who had the fridge constantly full of fresh ice, perhaps one of the best if not the best room Stewart (Ginno) we have had in over 600 days of sailing. Balcony---In addition to being quite large the balcony has a teak top rail and three bars below it instead of plexiglas or some other barrier. Plexiglas often is clouded due to scratching, UVs, or covered with salt crust and or water spray, so you actually have to stand at the railing in order to get a decent, not distorted, view of the ocean below. Not with these railings though, as you can sit in your deck chair or your cabin and enjoy a clear view, this is the same type of railings the ships of yore had.
---The library on this vessel is outstanding. The largest and quietest we have ever seen on any ship. Truly a library for a vessel engaging in lengthy exploratory voyages.
---Thank you Princess for the free laundry and free dry cleaning. We used it all the time, very good, prompt and no rationing. First time I have ever had creases in my cargo pocket Wranglers.
---The main dining room "Club Restaurant" was very good, the first time I've been able to give a MDR an "A" rating in a long time. Didn't start out that way though. When we first booked we were # 24 on the wait list for a table for two at 6:00 PM. About 4.5 months before sailing we reached "confirmed" status in that category, however, there was caveat small print language that indicated the table for two wasn't a certainty. When we boarded we discovered instead, our seating was at 5:30 PM and we were at a table for eight. This ship only offers traditional dinner seating, we always use anytime dining as traditional times are way too late or too early, but anytime dining on other ships is usually a mess as well, since the waiter and kitchen staffs aren't adequate and the lines for anytime dining are usually over 30 minutes long as everybody wants to eat around 6:00 PM, it seems, and guests in those lines are usually not of good temperament. On recent cruises we have began taking dinner in the extra charge Specialties or other venues rather than the MDR. If we go early we miss one of the best aspects of cruising, the "Sail Away" times. It also pinches us time wise on long shore excursion days and also limits our time to enjoy our Elite lounge special price cocktail and free Ore' hors d'oeuvres time, beginning at 5:00 PM. So this time, at the start, we made due without going to the MDR the first 13 days of the voyage. Dinner during that period was at--Ultimate balcony dining (1), (Thanksgiving), Sabatini's, extra charge (1), Sterling Steakhouse, extra charge (1), Buffet-(Panorama Buffet) (10). Hey, we were still happy, sort of, as the buffet on the Pacific Princess is much better than that on the larger ships and not near as crowded. Plus, we weren't rushed and were enjoying the rest of the voyage. But after our visit to Rome and thanks to Maitre d', Oscar Perego he got us set up at a table for two in the MDR, with seating anytime between 5:30 PM and 6:30 PM. From that point on eating in the MDR was like the days of yore. Good wine service, good meals, great waiters and atmosphere in a not over crowded dining room. We then ate dinner in the MDR most of the rest of the cruise (15), Sabatini's, extra charge (1).
---The Internet worked pretty good everywhere we voyaged. It slowed a bit in the afternoons sometimes as more logged on, but I had no trouble loading and sending 7 or 8 Face Book pictures with each of my posts outlining our journey for family and friends back home. Fortunately, due Elite status, we received 1000 free Internet minutes (between the two of us) and 800 more at a very low rate, for the entire cruise. The internet cafe is quite large for the size of this vessel and the manager is congenial, knowledgeable and usually available. Right next door is the card room with 4 large tables, (The card room is right above our cabin, how's that for quiet?) where one with a laptop can get better and faster signals than in many cabins.
---Captain Domenico Lubrano was a real great and safe seafarer. In addition, he has excellent demeanor and went out of his way to keep us informed as to what was going on. He even speculated far in advance as to changes that might have to take place due weather, etc. We had a few pretty rough days, one day and two nights in the eastern Mediterranean and at least two real choppy days in the Atlantic. Some long time cruising guests were displeased, even got sea sick, but we've seen worse seas, after all, a TA on winter solistice?
---Princess still has formal nights, we had five this cruise, we love them. I understand a lot of the other lines are doing away with formal to satisfy the preference of the average cruiser today, consequently confusion and anarchy in dress practices is causing degradation in the quality of the cruise experience for many.
---Ample deck chairs available all the time. No battles over "chair hoggers" on this ship.
---Two of my best liked experiences on board are watching the "Sail Away's" and the Enrichment lectures. Both have been good this voyage. Of course, during the first two week segment it was almost impossible to have viable enrichment lectures since we were ashore about every day. There was some decent destination lectures squeezed in though. It is well worth one's while to take in a destination lecture before arriving at the port. However, during the second segment the enrichment lectures were excellent and on point with respect to our sailing across the Atlantic. Provided by an historian, David Sisler, who got into the theme of the voyage with lectures dealing with the spice trade, world navigators, points of ocean geography and pirates. I understand some of the majors are doing away with enrichment lectures. That would be terrible, when we sail to the remote areas of the globe there is nothing like having somebody knowledgeable about history, geography, naturalism, provide a series of lectures pertinent to the part of the world in which the voyage takes place.
---I like the theatre on this vessel (Cabaret Lounge). We had previously quit attending showband dance productions and other individual entertainment shows, since the theatres in the newer vessels are a nightmare due the long rows located too close to each other where early arrivals take the closest seats to the too few isles, leaving other guests to try and squeeze by as many as a dozen who fail to stand up and let you by. So, this was the first cruise out of the past five cruises where we attended such events and really liked it. On the first segment a singer named Philip Brown from Britain had a three octave voice and could really sing, he did a stint one time there with the theatre in the "Lion King". I watched both his performances and loved them. The Pacific Princess Dancers deserve extra credit. I have heard some of the mega-ships on other lines even give tickets out for extra charge productions, ugh, I don't know if they assign seats or not.
---There are three hot tubs on this ship. Two of normal size and design on the pool deck on each side of the main swimming pool. One very large excellent one just below the bridge and available for extra charge. To gain access to the big tub one must go through the "Lotus Spa" area. Along side this hot tub are Lotus Spa provided extra comfort reclining deck chairs and lemon water refreshments. My wife negotiated some sort of deal for a 29 day Lotus Spa package wherein we got access to this hot tub and the two steam rooms in the men's and women's dressing areas. When the large tub was down for maintenance I used the smaller public ones which were never over crowded and most of the time I was by myself in them. My wife used the steam room all the time and I love the hot tub. Plenty of towels available at every location.
---The television was adequate but it sure would be nice to have a larger one like the new ships have with a large selection of on demand movies to chose from. Comprehensive TV news programing was very good, especially MSNBC and BBC---reception was available for each channel 99% of the time near the Continent but sporadic at best in mid-Atlantic and even non-existent for more than three days there.
---Buffet-(Panorama Buffet) was a lot more enjoyable on this ship than on the larger ones. Not near as crowded, hardly ever had a difficult time finding a table at lunch and at dinner there was always many empty tables. On warmer days there was a lot of outdoor seating, particularly on the fantail immediately aft of the buffet. In addition, the food and service was a lot better, there were more staff per guest and the quality of meals superior. Fresh squeezed orange juice every morning, all you want.
---In general, the average passenger on this vessel was much more congenial than those we run into on larger vessels, in particular those involving short cruise segments. Courteous conversations all the time, no arrogant political mouthing off anywhere that I witnessed. During meals when sitting with others we always found good and interesting companions to talk with. However, we still had our share of the pushing and shoving type that gives cruising a bad name. For instance, those with no mobility issues who sneak ahead before excursions are called in order to get on the coaches first and gobble up the front row seats. If and when we somehow end up in a front row seat I can't live with myself as I watch others with canes and crutches limp their way to the far back seats.
---First time in quite a few cruises there was plenty of staircases and the elevators not jammed packed all the time
---Shore excursions. We took only ship sponsored shore excursions. We purchased 18 of them this voyage, but one port was canceled, so 17. The shore excursion office did an excellent job of keeping track of individual excursions, for instance, in addition to the one canceled there was a substitution for it which also had to be canceled due wind, there was also another port substituted for another which did take place, so, changes had to be made which must have been difficult and confusing for the staff to do. All of our knowledgeable guides spoke English well, I could understand everyone of them. Some excursions were better than others and some were somewhat repetitive for us as we had taken similar excursions years ago when on other cruises, but all in all they were very good, not one bad in the lot. Buses were well maintained and modern, some were even brand new. Since we had never been in the Balkan states before excursions there probably stood out more than others. I was impressed with the cleanliness of the Balkans and the quality of excursions. They have a lot to offer and I expect that the cruise industry well take advantage of this in the future. One very good one was where the Postojna Caves were included in Slovenia (Koper). Even though we had taken gondola rides before in Venice, this time we took a night ride and it was memorable.
---For the first time in many cruises the Captain and staff kept us well apprised of what the ship was doing, where we were and what was ahead. They did this by having a marine navigation chart (This is the first marine navigation chart we have seen posted in our last 6 cruises) posted on the pool deck along with weather forecasts, etc. Also the ships TV had three channels devoted to weather, sea conditions, current location of the vessel, speed and heading. All this in addition to the Captain's frequent announcements and updates.
---We booked our Venice hotel with Princess, for two nights before getting on board our ship, once on board we had a third night in Venice before sailing late the next afternoon. We also booked transfers from the airport to the hotel and hotel to ship (Sure is nice to have a Princess representative waiting for you with a sign when you get off the aircraft, additionally, on our recent Princess cruises we have immediately been provided transport to our hotel, sometimes by limo, no more waiting in a bus with a crowd of others for a few stragglers on late arriving flights). On disembarkation day we also had ship to airport via a Princess shore excursion. The Cron Plaza Quarto D'altino hotel has to be about the cleanest if not the cleanest hotel we have ever stayed in. Our room was fairly large and immaculate, we liked it a lot. It is on the outskirts of Venice on the mainland, about 7 miles from the cruise ship pier. I'm not certain how much we paid but it was a lot, since our transfers to and from the ship are cranked into that charge. We had to be wait listed by Princess before they could get the hotel to guarantee our second night. This was off season too, and it certainly did not appear to be near full during our stay. One guy told me he made reservations directly with the hotel for $126.00 per night which is probably half what we paid per night. If one is planning to go into Venice during the day this hotel location is ideal since it is a 3 minute walk to the train pickup. The hotel is located in a residential area so the only places to eat are at the hotel. The dining room is good, the cuisine mediocre. The bar is pretty reasonable and offers a variety of dining choices. The bar will also sell you canned sodas you can take to your room. There is one ice machine on the 3rd floor just down the hall from our room (the hotel has only three floors). The liquor in the hotel refrigerator set up is very limited so bring your own liquor and mix. We ate dinner at both. Part of the Princess hotel package included two full buffet style breakfasts at the hotel in the dining room, which were pretty good. The hotel doesn't exchange currencies and tell you that you have to go into downtown Venice to do that. So, my two mistakes were not bringing some Euros and not bringing an adopter for our US 120 volt AC laptop battery charger from European 220 volt. Wi-fi in the room is free and very good. The TV is also excellent with hundreds of different channels, but we could find only two in English, CNN International and CNBC International. In summary, we would book the hotel again but would prefer a better rate. The hotel did serve our purpose in that we were relaxed and anxious to board our ship beginning a month long cruise.
---Specialty Restaurants.---Actually, good in most respects, however, definite slippage in meal quality there over the last couple of years or so, on the larger vessels they do a better job. Plenty of good waiter staff as service is very prompt and kitchen staff not understaffed either, so that isn't the problem. However, overall quality not up to what it has been. Not really worth the $29.00 per person extra charge anymore. MDR has the Specialties beat on this ship, that is if you can get into the MDR at a decent time. There are two main Specialties, "Sabatini's" and the "Sterling Steakhouse". The kitchen and wait staff for both are the same but the dining areas are in different locations, albeit close together. Both have excellent ocean views from most tables. Don't be misled though, they are never both open at the same time. The Steakhouse is apparently more popular than Sabatini's so they open the Steakhouse for three consecutive days then two days for Sabatini's. We like Sabatini's best.
---Fitness Center---Excellent location for workouts, Deck 9, with wonderful vistas. Downer is that it is in need of more equipment. In particular, at least two more elliptical's and one or more treadmills. Treadmills and elliptical's have notices on them requesting guests to limit their workouts on each to 20 minutes during busy periods. Doesn't work, many guests are not disciplined enough to honor this requirement.