[Guest columnist Art Sbarsky provides his assessment of Tahitian Princess.]
There’s always been a debate as to which is more important in the cruise-making decision: the itinerary or the cruise line/ship. There’s no one answer, and almost always the ultimate decision is based on a combination.
For my recent cruise, it was clearly a decision based on BOTH the ship and the itinerary. I wanted to try the Tahitian Princess to see how the large-ship Princess experience translated to a 30,277 gross ton ship carrying around 660 guests.
And the itinerary from Dover to Brooklyn took me to nine places I had never been to before: Dublin, Greenock (a gateway for Edinburgh), Torshavn in the Faroe Islands, Seydisfjordur and Reykjavik in Iceland, Prins Christian Sund and Qaqortoq in Greenland, St Pierre (off the coast of Canada but part of France) and Sydney, Nova Scotia. What an amazing and diverse array of places to see and made available through itinerary-driven Princess Cruises.
The Small Ship Advantage
The line’s 17 ships offer more 115 itineraries reaching 350-plus ports of call. And the fact that Princess has 14 larger ships and three smaller ships gives them the chance to offer itineraries to small ports as well as large ones.
Certainly, on my cruise, there were no major name ports in the mix; rather, a great combination of medium-size and small places with scenic cruising as well.
Liners with only large ships, or those lines with a limited number of ships, may not have the option to go off the beaten path. The audience on this 18-night cruise was of the older, retired demographic (it’s hard for worker-bees to take what is essentially a three week trip).
About 80 percent of those on board were from the United States, with the UK and Canada making up the next two largest groups. Also, there were about 240 guests who had taken the previous cruise from New York to Dover making it a 36-night voyage. The only port duplicated on the two sailings was Qaqortoq.
Dining Aboard Tahitian Princess
The strengths of the Tahitian Princess experience are the two-seating main dining room, the reservations-suggested alternative restaurants and service throughout the ship. It seemed as if virtually no lunch items or dinner items were repeated during the course of the sailing.
I usually do not eat in the main dining room for lunch but on four different occasions, the main dining room offered options that were too tempting to pass up.
At night there was always plenty to choose from, and there were always-available items as well. One 82-year old gent from New York said the fettuccini Alfredo, which was one of the always-available items, was his favorite of all; and he was Italian.
The combination of Sabatini’s Trattoria and Sterling Steakhouse for the two dinner options was exceptional. The ribeye and filet mignon served in the steakhouse were as good a cut of beef as I’ve ever had at Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris. Throw in such items as shrimp cocktails and Caesar salads and lots of other appetizers as well as desserts, and it’s easily worth the $15 surcharge.
For Sabatini’s, the price goes up to $20 but for this you get an astonishing array: a selection of cold appetizers followed by a selection of hot appetizers, including four different kinds of pizza by the slice. Then there’s the soup or salad course followed by three different kinds of pasta (you can choose to consume one, two or three). Finally, there’re main course options, including shrimp, lobster tails (3 per serving!) or other options. It’s almost too much, but, hey, it’s a cruise.
Surprising to me was that only one of the two restaurants was open on any given night, pretty much alternating two nights at a time during the cruise. Apparently, this audience did not see the need or have the desire to go beyond the main dining room (major mistake in my opinion, these restaurants were too high in quality and value to pass up).
Assessing The Service And Activities
The service throughout the ship was way above what one might expect from a premium-level cruise. The staff learned names and preferences very quickly and often addressed guests by names. This too is one of the benefits of the size of the ship.
Activities during the day were somewhat limited and did not approach the level of what is offered on the bigger Princess ships. There were two lecturers; the port lecturer was very good while the geology lecturer took a dry subject and made it even dryer. But, probably due to a lack of other things to do, all lectures were much more heavily attended than I’m used to seeing.
There was a variety of other things to do, but, for example, the Scholarship at Sea program, which on larger Princess ships is very extensive, was limited to only photography classes. There was only one cooking demonstration during the eight days at sea and no computer, language or ceramics-making courses were offered. Part of this is certainly due to the size of the ship, but as there were eight days at sea, many fellow guests felt there just was not enough to do.
In the evenings, there were four productions shows presented by a talented cast of two lead singers and six dancers. The only limitation on the shows was the size of the stage.
Beyond those shows, there were three comedians, a couple of singers, a violin player, a liar’s club one night and a couple of movie nights. Some of the cabaret performers (one singer and the violin player notably) were exceptionally good, but a couple of them left the audience groaning at some old jokes.
Staterooms And Ship Size
It’s widely known that the staterooms on the R class of ships from Renaissance, of which Tahitian Princess is one, are relatively small compared to most other ships in today’s contemporary or premium categories. Quite true, but they are well designed and have plenty of drawer and closet space, even for this 18-night voyage, as well as a nice spread of bathroom amenities.
There are about five channels with free movies (pretty current and nicely rotated during the cruise) and other channels such as Fox News, CNN, ESPN and TNT — and more when the satellite coverage permits. Room service is of course available 24/7, with the only charge being $3 for room service pizza.
With a space ratio of 45, Tahitian Princess feels comfortable in terms of its size, despite some low overheads impacting tall people like me.
About the only time there were lines was at dinner were when guests felt compelled to start lining up five to ten minutes before scheduled dining hours. And since there’s only one entrance the main dining room, it creates a line the length of the ship at times. My suggestion would be to have a drink or just wait until a few minutes after the restaurant opens so that you do not have to wait.
The libraries on the R class ships (including on the R class vessels operated by Oceania and Azamara) are among the best at sea, and so it is on Tahitian Princess. It’s there for reading and resting, and not much more (Princess has not turned it into an entertainment center).
The gym is bigger than might be expected for the number of guests on board. There are five treadmills and 17 other pieces of workout equipment. Naturally, there are charges for such classes as yoga. Forward of the spa is the rentable quiet space, which went for $175 per person for the entire cruise. It’s nowhere near what is offered on terrific Sanctuary on the bigger Princess ships and on this coldish-weather cruise, it was not a factor.
Items at the grill are made pretty much to order, and it was a great option from 11:30–6 every day. Hamburgers were even made medium rare if requested, and the fries were delicious. The pizza, which I have always felt is the best at sea on the bigger Princess ships, was not as good on Tahitian Princess; oven limitations were the best reason given. Oh well, probably saved me from putting on a few pounds.
Princess has started a new service for its most frequent repeat guests — a free a la minute breakfast served in the Italian restaurant. In the evenings, there is also a cocktail hour for these same guests. While the drinks carried their regular costs, there was a nice array of complimentary snacks that varied nightly.
Before the cruise started, it was helpful on this itinerary to receive the hard-copy shore excursion guide. For every port with they were offered,shore excursions were broken down into groups such as First-Time Visitor, Easy Tour, Active Minded, Art & History and Scenic & Nature.
R Class Lives On
The former R-class of ships from Renaissance, eight in total, are now split up between Azamara (two ships), Oceania (3) and Princess (3).
While the Oceania and Azamara ships have been extensively refurbished as they became part of their new brands and are being positioned as above premium and slightly below luxury, Princess hasn’t done that much with Tahitian Princess. The company comfortably positions Tahitian as part of its overall premium fleet.
Soon, the ship will be undergoing some refurbishment, though, including a name change to Ocean Princess. It will be interesting to see how it shapes up. One difference will continue: It’s a lower price option for those cruisers who enjoy this class of ships.
[A shorter version of this story appeared in Cruise Week.]