Flew from LAX to Sydney 2 days prior to cruise and arrived in Sydney just in time to feel the effects of the remnants of a Level 1 Cyclone. Landed early Sunday morning, and flight was one of the most turbulent we have ever flown. Upon landing in Sydney, the pilot asked that everyone remain in there seats until health officials came on board to interview a passenger who had vomited during flight. We had a concern that we could possibly get quarantined on cruise ship due to coronavirus, but never thought we might be quarantined on flight and never make it to the cruise ship. Health official boarded the plane in full protective gear and luckily determined that passenger was apparently just suffering a stomach alignment.
Pre-cruise, we stayed at the Hilton Sydney, which was centrally located in city but a distance from Overseas Passenger Terminal. Very nice hotel and would highly recommend. We were stuck in hotel room Sunday due to heavy rain and strong winds from cyclone remnants. However, Monday was clear and sunny. We pre-booked for a Hop-on / Hop-off bus tour, which also included a harbor cruise on Captain Cook Cruises. Red line tours the city, which takes you down to harbor next to Opera House. Also took Blue line which took us over to Bondi Beach where we had lunch; reminded me somewhat of southern France ports.
Embarkation: Ruby Princess was docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, which was located across inlet from the Opera House and adjacent to ferries. Bag drop is available at terminal if you arrive early and want to tour city before boarding
Embarkation went very smoothly. Make sure that you get and complete medical survey from staff before entering terminal and have your New Zealand ETA (visa) available for inspection. Separate line for passengers who obtained Ocean Medallion before cruise. First impression of ship was not positive; could have referred ship as the “Rusty Princess” due amount of rust visible on ships hull and outside balcony. However, crew did a good job of painting over major areas of rust as we arrived at ports during cruise.
Went to Di Vinci dining room for lunch rather than buffet, which we generally tried to stay away from due to coronavirus concerns. Cabins were ready early just after 12:30 pm.
Cabin: We booked a Club Class mini-suite on Deck 9 (Dolphin), and were very impressed with the spaciousness of cabin. Had a separate closet area for hanging up clothes and shelves for storage. Only drawn backs were: (1) shower head was meant for a person 5’ 5” (I’m 5’ 10” and had to bend over backwards to wash hair); and (2) baloneys on decks 9 and 10 were open (no overhang from deck above) so very sunny and lacks privacy. Cabin Steward was aways proactive in servicing room.
Entertainment: This was our first Princess cruise, and we were impressed with numerous entertainment venues: Club Fusion, Explorers Lounge, Wheelhouse Bar and Crooners, all of which had various musical entertainment. Band called “Emerald Tide” was excellent, playing a blend of Irish and soft rock/country; sessions became very crowded as cruise went on and a final session was arranged in the Princess Theater.
Production shows in the Princess Theater were very good, but arrive early to ensure you get a seat for popular shows. We don’t care much for comedians and solo pianist shows, so we focused on music playing at other venues these nights.
Dining: Three formal dining rooms: Di Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli, which offered a variety of fixed and open seating options. Since we had a Club Class mini-suite, we dined in a separate area in the Di Vinci dining room, which had a separate entrance and wait staff. This was one of the highlights of the cruise. Cannot say enough about hostess and wait staff, which were excellent and made you feel like family. Head Waiter (Nicoli) offered a specialty pasta dish made table side in dinning room for almost every lunch (sea days) and dinner.
We went to both specialty dining restaurants: Crown Grill and Share (by Curtis Stone). Decor in the Crown Grill that of a forma steakhouse with heavy wood accents. Meat and seafood at Crown Grill were very good, and selected dishes form Crown Grill were also offered in other dining rooms for an upcharge. Share was very unique offering multiple courses with manageable portions. Décor was more open and casual feel. Definitely worth a try at least once; however, I don’t believe the menu options changed. My wife an I got separate offerings and “shared.” Carmel cheesecake for dessert was fantastic.
Major concern voiced by numerous passengers was that the menu wine selections by the glass were not available in the dining rooms and an alternate was not offered until later in cruise due to complaints raised. This was definitely a concern is you purchased the beverage package. Otherwise, numerous cocktail drink options were available and various bars. Vines Wine Bar on Deck 5 (Plaza) in the Atrium was excellent but often crowded by passengers obtaining food from International Café since seating in Atrium was limited. I would recommend Old and New World wine tastings in Vine Bar; however, your need to inquire with bar staff on dates/times since they did not appear in daily. In addition, various wine tastings in various price ranges are offered on sea days in Botticelli Dining Room.
In addition to main and specialty dining rooms, made to order hamburger and hot dog options were available on the pool deck (Lido, Deck 15) at the Salty Dog Grill and various pizzas offered at the Slice Pizzeria. Gourmet hamburgers were also offered at designated times for an upcharge in the Wheelhouse Bar. Horizon Court was very large and had standard cruise buffet fare.
Fiordlands National Park – Crew advised us that our cruise was only the 2nd of 10 cruises to be able to enter the Milford Sound and cruise passages due to weather. We were lucky and the clouds cleared early providing a wonderful viewing experience. Since it was late Summer, we did not see many waterfalls and field were not as green.
Dunedin – Ship docked in Port Chalmers and required you to take excursion or shuttle (at cost) out of port area. We booked the scenic Taieri Gorge Railway through Princess, and we were seated in one of the historic rail cars with a volunteer steward. I would highly recommend this tour. In addition to the scenic views, service was excellent. We were initially offered a beverage (coffee, tea, juices) and a cookie, then provided a snack which included a selection of wine, beer and sodas, and finally a very nice box lunch. Wine and beer were served at no extra charge throughout trip
Akaroa (tender) – We booked the Wildlife Cruise by Sailing Ketch. Historic sailing vessel, which we always prefer over powered boats. Again, very scenic with numerous wild life sightings. Captain played music to attract dolphins! At end of dock, turn right for various restaurants/ bars and walk to beach area; turn left for more local scenic walk (lighthouse).
Wellington – Docked away from city center in cargo port area but continuous free shuttle bus service was provided. Simply but, this was a big city port call, but had various historical buildings as New Zealand’s capital. Weather was cloudy with light rain/mist later in the day, so me merely took shuttle bus into city and rode cable car up to botanical gardens. Gardens were a disappointment since being late Summer there was very little flowering plants except in one area. We definitely would like to tour again in late Spring.
Napier – Booked a 4-hour winery tour to Hawkes Bay. Visited the smaller Abbey Winery, which we enjoyed very much. Casual with outdoor seating area and a nice cheese plate offered. Second stop was the larger and oldest Mission Winery. This was very disappointing, since we were shuffled into a small room with 2 large tables and no air conditioning. Winery guide was entertaining, but wines sampled were disappointing. I would definitely book a private tour if I returned to Napier. Ship also left at 1:30 pm, which did not provide an opportunity to tour city and view Art Deco architecture.
Tauranga – Ship actually docked in the Town of Mt. Mauganui, which was a 5-10 minute walk directly off ship. We did a self-tour of town and walked up Mt. Mauganui. Ensure that you walk to the other side of town to see and walk a beautiful beach area. Very few passengers took shuttle over to the city of Tauranga.
Auckland – Ship docked right in city center so you can simply walk off ship to tour city; however, beware that extensive road construction if underway near port. City is also preparing for America’s Cup Yacht Race! We booked the Auckland Wine Trail & Tastings Tour and again visited 2 wineries. Thoroughly enjoyed 5th generation Soljan’s Winery, which was very casual and inviting with enjoyable wines. Second winery, which was a more established winery (can’t recall name), was disappointing. Sat us outside (picnic table set-up like set-up) with small sample charcuterie plate. However, wine samples were very meager and generally disappointing. Several passengers we spoke to took the 5.75-hour Waiheke Island & Wineries Tour and highly recommended it. I would book a private tour if we returned to Auckland.
Bay of Islands (tender) – Very scenic! Booked the Bay of Islands Cruise & "Hole in the Rock". Leisure and laid back cruise for our last port call.
Debarkation: Surprisingly, debarkation went very smoothly. Various mustering areas were identified to assemble to various times (self-assistance, international flights and domestic flights). It was less that 30 minutes from the time we left assemble area in Princess Theater until we had boarded bus to airport. Only issue was that the baggage hold area was small and, therefore, very crowded when trying to find your suitcases.