Normally we holiday with P&O, we like the fact that we know what we are getting & it??s ideal for us as a family with a toddler. That being said having cruised with them for many years I would be lying if I thought that certain things had maybe started to slip. Not enough to stop us cruising with them but enough for me to wonder what maybe other companies were offering and what we might be missing out on.
These are just a few observations I made whilst I was on holiday for the first time with Princess, On-board the Caribbean Princess in May when we came across a bargain too good to miss for the British Isles.
Upon arrival at Ocean terminal the ship looked lovely and well maintained. She is very similar structurally in appearance to Ventura and Azura. We entered the ship on deck 5, by the international caf?? in the Atrium which is very much the heart and focal point of the ship. It very similar to Oceana in terms of D??cor but on a slightly larger scale. Although the ship didn??t look tired; in my opinion the overall d??cor was slightly more dated than I expected for a princess ship. The d??cor is quite traditional, when compared to Ventura which was only launched two years later. I suspect this wouldn??t be the case on the one of the newer ships like Royal or Regal, and didn??t detract from our overall enjoyment.
I guess because it was a British Isles Cruise it had a real mix of nationalities, wanting to see the sights of England, Ireland & Scotland. The majority of guests were from America, Mexico, Australia and the far East, with only a few English on-board. This was a refreshing change and the atmosphere was a lot livelier, the bars were always busy with people mingling and making friends, and to be totally honest a lot less moaning!
It would be hard to guess the average age on-board, there were lots of multi-generational families, ranging from teenagers to great grandparents. There was a lively group of single travellers on board who looked to be part of pre organised tour group from America where the cruise was just part of a much larger organised European tour. The ship offered daily get together, advertised in the Princess Patter (In cabin Daily Newspaper), and full programme of events including, singing dancing and themed lectures, Stargazing, and talks building on their Discovery at Sea program.
It was clear to see from the amount of coaches waiting in each port that the shore excursions were very popular and I would say most guests on-board took advance of the extensive princess shore excursion programme. This again was probably due to the itinerary and the fact that most famous sights & landmarks were not situated around the port area. They were a reasonable price and the seemed especially popular with guests from overseas who really liked the security and comfort that that they were on an organised excursion.
The ship is excellent for families with good facilities for children. There is a lovely large age appropriate children??s area at the aft of the ship, this is split into three age groups – Pelicans 3-7 – Shockwaves 8-12 – Remix teens 13-17. The youth director advised that although younger children are not allowed into the older groups, occasionally on quitter numbers the groups may be merged due to low numbers which happened on this cruise due to very low numbers. The kid??s area was lovely but I think p&o kid??s areas are slightly brighter and more modern, and let??s not forget the amazing free p&O night nursery! that being said Princess have a fantastic educational programme which links up with their partnerships with the discovery channel and animal planet. The kids are also invited into the galley to make & decorate cakes with the chefs which are then served to the parents at the end of the day, which is a really nice touch. On this particular cruise unfortunately, the weather was so bad we couldn??t use the outside play areas or the swimming pools but these would be fantastic for families with children in nicer weather. There was a children??s tea offered daily in the buffet restaurant and they would also go out of their way to accommodate children in the main dining room also.
Something that I wasn??t really aware of prior to joining the ship was this new philosophy of “Come Back New” which Princess have recently introduced. This is embraced throughout the whole voyage and across all departments.
Discoveries at sea include a fantastic entrainment & shore excursion program which partners with the Discovery Channel & animal planet, and star gazing in partnership with the science channel.
They have an immersive cultural programme ??local connections? which offer cultural talks, dancing & evening entertainment that varies depending on the countries they are visiting. Whilst in Dublin they welcomed a local Caleigh band on-board and a dance workshop to lean Irish dancing which provided lots of laughs.
My personal favourite part of their ??come back new? programme was the Chocolate Journey, which is offered on every Princess Cruises Journey. It is run in partnership with the Master Chocolatier Norman Love. The chocolate Journey is offered throughout the ship in forms of signature chocolate cocktails, premium chocolate and wine tasting experiences, chocolate spa treatments, complementary Chocolate lollipops at the Champagne waterfall and a signature chocolate journeys desert on every menu. who doesn??t like free chocolate?! Whilst mentioning the food it was excellent!! I managed to have a chat with the Head chef on a behind the scenes tour of the galley he stated that they cook everything from scratch unlike other cruise lines he??s worked for including P&O and this was apparent in both the flavour & taste of every meal on-board. I would definitely recommend the behind the scenes tour if you ever get chance, not cheap but definitely well worth it!!
They also have a very good loyalty programme, where they really do reward & look after loyal passengers. I know it??s quite a common complaint and I??m not the only one to feel like the P&O Peninsular society is cutting back and the benefits are not what they used to be; I would suggest that you look at Princess Cruises where your peninsular points move over to the Captains Circle Club, and meaning that even though it was our first time with Princess we automatically went in at Elite level, and enjoyed a free mini bar set up, 250 minutes free Wi-Fi & free laundry!!! (not sure how I will cope without this on my Cruise on Britannia in September!!)
I guess overall The fabulous service, and excellent food through all the restaurants is what in my options sets princess cruises apart and we will definitely be back, although this time I think I??ll pick a slightly hotter Destitution, than the very wet British Isles in May!