Tahitian Princess (Part 1) - March 14, 2003


PART 1–Costs for the Trip, about Us, General Info about the Ship, Our Itinerary, Getting to the Ship, Overnight in La, Omni Air, Notes on Cost for Princess Transfers to the Ship Vs. Doing Your Own Transfers, Air Deviation, Description of Our Mini-Suite Cabin

PART 2–Dining, Including Alternative Dining, Cruise Critic Folks, Formal Nights, Taking Lunch with You off the Ship, Norwalk Virus, Muster Drill, Liquor, Entertainment, Casino, Casino Bar, the Princess Patter, Wine Tastings, Platinum Club and the Internet Café, Money Exchange, Snorkeling Gear, Weather

PART 3–PORTS!!! General Suggestions for Adventures Ashore in French Polynesia, Tendering, Elevators, Papeete, Moorea, Including Dr Michael Poole’s Dolphin Excursion, Rarotonga, Pre-ordered Shore Excursions, Raitea, the War in Iraq, Huahine, Bora Bora, Bloody Mary’s.

PART 4–Second Day In Bora Bora, Cameras and Film; Final Day, Baggage Handling, Day Room at the Sheraton, The Debacle at the Airport, Final Thoughts.

This is our trip report from the March 14, 2003 10 day sailing of the Tahitian Princess, sailing round-trip from Papeete, Tahiti on the Cook Islands itinerary. Be aware that the Tahitian Princess has at least 3 different itineraries sailing from Papeete, so make sure when you look at your dates that you are getting the itinerary you want. One itinerary, in particular, has two days in Samoa and 4 days at sea and I do not really consider it to be a Tahitian cruise, since so little of the time is spent in the Tahitian islands. This report will be extremely long and I doubt very few people will want to read the entire thing, so I will try to insert headers for each subject so that folks can skip those subjects which do not interest them, as opposed to having the report arranged chronologically. Despite the somewhat negative connotation to such an abbreviation, I will hereafter refer to Tahitian Princess as “TP”. However, no such negative connotation should be inferred, as we loved the ship, the islands and had a fabulous time. Be aware that I will occasionally be extremely critical of Princess for some of the things they are doing. However, I feel that a review which mentions ONLY the positives of a trip does a dis-service to the reader. Would I book the ship again for the same itinerary??? In a heartbeat. And for twice the price we paid. Let me say once again, despite any negative comments in this review, we absolutely LOVED OUR trip and I would do it again in a second. Eric has a very hard time getting off from work for more than a week at a time. If that were not the case, I would have seriously considered trying to re-book the same ship again for some time next summer. We booked the ship very soon after they announced she was purchased from Renaissance and paid $1200 per person for the cruise portion of the fare for a mini-suite. Prices now seem to be higher. And, BTW, if and when we go to French Polynesia again, we would again go on a cruise. Prices for land accommodations in French Polynesia are absolutely astronomical. Most of the decent over-water bungalows go for around $700 per night (and up), PLUS the cost of your food and drinks. There are some packages which are somewhat cheaper though. Prices for food are expensive and prices for drinks (other than French wines) are astronomical. (Think of your average mai tai as around $10). Setting aside the cost for the airfare–which would be approximately the same whether you did a cruise or land vacation–the cost for 10 days cruise (which is effectively hotel and food and some free entertainment mixed in) was $2400, for 2 people, or roughly $240.00 per night. Hotel ALONE in an over-water bungalow for 10 nights would be approximately $7000.00, without ANY food, or any entertainment. Well, disregard entertainment in FP, as there really is not much going on at night anywhere except in Papeete.

We are 49 and 47, professionals from Northern Virginia, and this was our 30-somethingth cruise. Most folks were 5 to 10 years older than us. There were probably 3 or 4 honeymoon couples (seemingly most from South America), but otherwise, very few young people. This was our 6th cruise on Princess–significant from the standpoint that we are now Princess Platinum Club members. More on Platinum Club later. All of our cruises have been in the Carribean, except for one in Alaska and one in Canada. We have also traveled by land vacations quite extensively in the Caribbean. Other cruise lines that we have cruised on, in addition to Princess, include Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Costa, NCL, Regency, Dolphin, Cunard Crown, Crown, and Star Clipper. We own and operate Traveltalkonline.com, which is an internet bulletin board, which focuses on all areas of travel, with a big emphasis on land vacations in St. Martin and the British Virgin Islands. While travetalkonline does have a (small) cruise section and a worldwide section, I did most of my research prior to the cruise on www.tahiti-explorer.com and on www.cruisecritic.com. Do yourself a favor and do some research on the islands before you go, on the internet and buy yourself a book, like Jan Prince’s Tahiti & French Polynesia Guide, which we bought at the local bookstore for around $20. We had never traveled to French Polynesia before and still have not gone to Hawaii.

The Tahitian Princess is the former R4, from Renaissance Cruise Lines, now bankrupt, of course. The ship was built in 1999, as one of the 8 virtually identical Ren ships, each holding approximately 680 passengers and 373 crew. Therefore, this is a small ship, as compared to most of the mega monsters sailing today. Entertainment and some other services are thus more curtailed than on a bigger ship, but the ship is superbly suited to the Tahitian cruises she is sailing, as a mega ship would totally overwhelm these ports. The physical ship is beautiful, all cherry woods, beautiful furniture, just lovely. The grand staircase is kind of a mini version of the Titanic grand staircase, the library one of the most beautiful rooms at sea, the casino bar and adjacent room, just wonderfully outfitted, supremely comfortable and beautiful. Recognizing that there was very little that one could do to improve such a beauty, Princess changed virtually nothing about the ship except for the sports bar on deck 10, which they converted to “The Nightclub”, with some beautiful furnishings, devoted to a Tahitian motif–a truly beautiful room. The pool deck was nice, and although the pool was small, it was rarely crowded. The pool had a shallow ledge all the way round, which was lovely for lying in the water, and there were two jacuzzis beside the pool. Be careful of the decking on the pool deck, as it gets extremely HOT!!! Do NOT try to walk across the pool deck during the day without shoes on, or you will likely burn your feet, as I did. We did not really have a problem with chair hogs, as others have reported, saving chairs around the pool and never using the chairs. In fact, on the first sea day, we came out to the pool around noon and were able to get two chairs in the shade without any problem.

Tahitian Princess sails a couple of different itineraries, but the one for our cruise was as follows–(Be aware this was the actual itinerary sailed on our sailing, but not the precise itinerary in terms of times that had been previously published for the ship. I would assume, without knowing, that our itinerary and times are the actual current norms for this sailing, but don’t know.)
March 14–Arrive Papeete
March 15–Docked in Papeete all day till 5 AM next morning
March 16–Sail for Moorea at 5 AM. In port in Moorea 8 AM to 5 PM
March 17–At Sea
March 18–Rarotonga–8 AM to 5 PM
March 19–At Sea
March 20–Raitea–8 AM to 5 AM next morning
March 21–Huahine–8 AM to 5 PM
March 22–Bora Bora–8 AM overnight
March 23–Bora Bora–Leave 5 PM
March 24–Papeete–Disembark the ship

Do not expect traveling to French Polynesia to be easy, as it’s not. The flight is 8 hours from LA, and there is very little that one can do to make that long a flight even semi-comfortable, short of first class. There are several flights a week from LAX non stop into Papeete, but the air lift situation is not the same as, say San Juan. There are a limited number of flights into and out of Papeete, and in most circumstances, you will have very few choices on the specific dates you want to fly. Airlines that regularly fly into and out of Papeete include Air New Zealand, Air France, Air Tahiti Nui and Corsair (which is strictly a charter flight). ATN is a cooperating partner with AA, so if you have lots of FF miles, you might consider using them to book ATN, although I would assume that you would need to do so a long time in advance of your cruise. And if you REALLY have a lot of FF miles, try to book first or business class on ATN or AF or ANZ. Princess has, in addition, chartered planes through Omni. Omni has no first class option, being a charter, and I would assume, without knowing, that neither does Corsair. I do not understand the timing of flights in and out of Papeete, but for the most part, you can expect that on one end of the trip or the other, or both, you will fly at an awful time. There are several flights that arrive in Papeete at around 5:30 AM and almost all flights leaving Papeete do so late at night–around 10:30 PM to midnight.

You can book Princess air either all the way from your home base to Papeete or only from LAX. The airfare from LAX on Omni was approximately $700 per person. Booking Princess air only from LAX seems to offer a significant savings in most instances over what one can book independently, but most people can probably do better on their own from home to LAX. Be advised, however, that if you do decide to book air on your own to LAX, that Princess is not responsible at all for making alternative arrangements for your travel to Papeete if you miss your connection. (Not that they would necessarily do anything for you even if you DO book Princess air all the way, as their contract says that they are not liable, but they would at least try on your behalf.) As I said above though, airlift to Papeete is not that large, so if you miss your connection and don’t get onto your scheduled flight to Papeete, you could literally miss the boat. My advice therefore is to, if at all possible, get yourself to LA the day before your scheduled flight to Tahiti. This also would hopefully cover the circumstance of YOU arriving OK and your suitcases being in never-never land. It appears that Princess places people either on ATN or Omni, rarely on any other airlines. Be advised also that I have heard that there is often a significant problem with Air Tahiti Nui over-booking flights going into Papeete, which they apparently did by about 20 people on the March 14 flight to Papeete. I have no idea what you do about that, other than going in a day or two early, which is often not an option, as it was not for us.

I cannot stress this strongly enough, as being a great investment of $150 in peace of mind. You’re spending probably $4000 on this trip–probably more–so why wouldn’t you put $150 into trying to make yourself feel a little more secure that you get there??? How air deviation works is as follows–Have your TRAVEL AGENT call Princess and request air deviation. Princess will tell your TA what flights are available for your cruise, at what times, and at what additional airfares, if any. You do NOT pay anything extra unless you decide to go with air deviation and have Princess lock in particular flights. If you do decide to accept air deviation, there is a $75 per person air deviation fee, which is NOT refundable, period. If you cancel the whole cruise, regardless of when you cancel, you do NOT get the air deviation fee back. In some cases, for particular air routings, there is an additional airfare fee, in addition to the $75 PP fee, but usually it is fairly small. Be aware that if you book Princess air and you do NOT request air deviation, you will NOT find out your air routing until between 30 and 60 days prior to your cruise. Therefore, if you are booking your own air to LA–for example, from the East Coast, as we were--it could be very hard to determine when to book your flight out and especially your flight back, if you don’t know what your air arrangements are going to be, in and out of Papeete.

I will go off on a small tangent here regarding folks who book cruises themselves, directly through the cruise line. DON’T do it!!!!!! You have NObody to help you or to smooth out small problems if Princess (or any other cruise line) tries to screw you over on something. You also have nobody who’s looking out for you in case the price drops. If the price drops on your sailing, I don’t know whether Princess will automatically notify you or not and give you the lower price. Also, say you want to know about air arrangements or to get a pad for your VERY HARD bed on the TP??? One phone call or email to your travel agent, and THEY stay on hold with Princess for 45 minutes to get the answer for you. And just what exactly does all this service cost you?? Nothing... The TA gets paid by Princess and you get the same price as if you had booked it directly with Princess. Duh.. BUT–if you’re getting a travel agent, get ONLY a cruise only travel agent, preferably a certified cruise counselor. General TA’s generally don’t know squat about cruises. We’ve been on 30 some cruises, and we could do a good job of booking our own cruises and we would never consider it. We book our cruises through Bonnie Buchanan, at CruiseOne travel at 1-888-700-0295. She does a great job, cares about her clients, and gives you great individual attention.

We had bump tickets from US Air which we wanted to use for transportation to the West Coast, so we knew up front that we would do Princess air only from LAX and that we would want to do air deviation. As soon as we booked, we had our TA call Princess and see what was available for air. According to Princess, our choices to Papeete were ATN arriving at 5:30 AM on the 14th, or Omni (charter) arriving at around 8 PM on the 14th. ATN has a flight which leaves LA at around 1:15 PM(about the same time as the Omni charter) but it was supposedly full in the fare class which we could book through Princess. We knew that we both would have to work on the 13th and thus we would be very tight to make connections to get us to LA by 10:30 PM on the 13th, when the ATN flight left, AND we felt that we didn’t want to arrive in Papeete at 5:30 AM, as we knew that they would not be able to take us directly to the ship at that time. Therefore, although we had heard positively horrible things about Omni in the past, we decided to accept air deviation for the Omni charter on the way out. For the trip home, we had the choice of Omni or ATN, Omni leaving at 10:30 PM and ATN leaving at 11:45, so we chose the ATN. There was an ATN flight that left at around 10:30 PM, but we were not offered that flight. I guess it was already full also. Thus, about 6 months before our cruise, we were able to lock in our exact air arrangements from LA to Papeete, so that we could make our own arrangements to LA, which we did. Since bump tickets are the equivalent of FF tickets, we had to do that.

The day we left home, Eric took the metro directly from work and I drove home and left my car at home and supposedly was to have a van pick me up-along with our huge assortment of bags–to go to the airport. The van ended up being 45 minutes late picking me up. After about 10 frantic (increasingly profane!!) phone calls to the van company and a harried quick trip up Interstate 95 to Reagan, I met Eric at the airport and we were OFF on our adventure... We traveled US Air from Washington National to Pittsburgh, then Pittsburgh to LAX, non-stop, on the 13th. There were no appreciable delays or problems in the flights, which were both totally full, and thus somewhat uncomfortable.

We arrived in LA without incident around 10:30 PM LA time on the 13th and called our shuttle for the hotel, the Quality Inn LAX Airport. We booked it online through Hotels.com for $69 per night, primarily because it had free airport 24 hour shuttle. I would not stay there again. They did indeed have a free 24 hour shuttle, which was the only good thing about the hotel, other than the price. It was old, moderately creepy, although reasonably clean. Since US Air had deigned to serve us a horrible cold sandwich on a five hour transcontinental flight, we were hungry upon arriving in LA, and since the Quality Inn had no bar whatsoever and what passed for their restaurant was already closed at 10:30, we walked to the Westin (a REAL hotel with a bar–and very expensive food!! We stayed up until around 12 midnight LA time, which helped us get on LA time. In the morning, the only other advantage of staying at the Quality Inn surfaced, as we got a cheap breakfast at Mickey D’s before heading off to the airport.

We had heard positively ghastly things about Omni before we left–stopped up restrooms, running out of food, surly flight attendants, non-working video monitors, filthy planes, you name it. Therefore, we were more than slightly apprehensive walking into LAX on the 14th to board our flight. Since there is apparently no viable way to book seats ahead of time on Omni, we decided to arrive early at the airport in order to receive (hopefully) good seats. We arrived at about 10:15 AM and the check-in lines were already open. We were extremely impressed with how organized everything was, with Princess folks outside at the Delta International area, where you check in, to help with the bags, etc. There were around 10 couples in line in front of us and we were through the check-in line within about 10 minutes. We were originally assigned seats in row 7. It appears that Omni assigns seats based on when folks check in. Their plane is configured 3 seats–aisle–4 seats–aisle--3 seats. It appears that what they do is to keep groups together, initially anyway, even if it means skipping seats. So, what they did in row one was to put 2 people in the 3 seat section, then 2 sets of 2 persons in the center section, then another 2 people in the 3 seat section, in each case leaving the aisle seat in the 3 seat section open. After they filled the whole plane that way, they went back and filled the aisle seats that they had left open.

We had our suitcases opened by the TSA both on the way to Papeete and once we arrived in LA on the way home. Do NOT lock your suitcases, or they will break the locks. You will most likely be bringing strange things, like snorkels and masks, etc., etc., and other stuff which may cause the TSA to open your suitcase, so if you lock your suitcase, they will break the lock and open it. We have hard sided Samsonite luggage that we have had for years, and they have a tendency to spring open if not locked. Therefore, we taped over the locks with strapping tape, which worked fine. They opened the luggage and were satisfied, re-taped the locks and afterward, the bags stayed shut with no problem.

Since we had arrived at the airport so early to check in, we had a couple of hours to kill, which we did by eating and drinking our way to oblivion... Anyway, when we got back to the departure gate and went to board the plane, they had changed our seats for some reason. It turned out there was another family of “Hills” onboard and they ended up screwing up our seat assignments with theirs. We looked at the new seats, and saw we were in total opposite ends of the plane and said “no way”. Back to the lady at the counter, where we took a look at the seating chart for the plane and saw that there were approximately 20 empty seats on the plane, virtually all of which were aisle seats, in the 3 seat sections of the plane. We were able to get aisle seats behind each other, which was acceptable, as when we had tried to have our TA request seats for us, we had requested aisle seats across from each other, so right behind each other was fine. The seats themselves were OK as far as leg room and physical size, from side to side. Not huge, but not really much different than on any domestic flight we have been on.

We took off on time and enjoyed three movies over the course of the flight–Analyze That, Die Another Day, and the Sum of all Fears. Since we had only seen the Sum of all Fears before, we enjoyed the movies. Omni provided blankets and pillows in every single seat. All the arm rests went all the way up out of the way, even including the arm rests on the outside of the aisle seats. The aisles were extremely narrow, though, and you had to be careful when the stewards came down the aisle, to prevent losing an arm. Food and beverage service consisted of a beverage service (alcohol included), then a hot meal and beverage, then a cold sandwich and another beverage service. The food was EXCELLENT–the best airline food we have had in years (recognizing we don’t ever pay for first class!! We were unfortunate enough to be seated in rows 22 and 23, which are the exact center of the plane, and since they start serving from the front and the back, we were the LAST to be served, and thus had no choice of meal, but what we had was excellent (for airline food). The only real complaint that we could have is that it was extremely hot where we were. Friends in the front of the plane said they were extremely cold, so what can you say?? The only really bad moment came when the stewardi went a little whacko over folks standing up by the bathrooms. We were just minding our own business in our seats–there having been NO prior announcements regarding folks standing up–when the head stewardess came on the intercom and, in a somewhat out of control voice, announced that everyone needed to take their seats, as there were too many people standing by the restrooms, etc., and it was a safety and security risk. Well, geez, OK, just tell us and we’ll sit down. You don’t have to have a heart attack about it. Overall, other than that somewhat bizarre incident, there was nothing to complain about whatsoever. Frankly, I really think it helped our demeanor that we flew in the middle of the day, as opposed to at night, arriving jet-lagged and tired, with no sleep, as our ATN trip on the way home was MUCH more uncomfortable.

We arrived on time, just behind an ATN plane, and stood in a long hot immigration line, most of us still with clothes much more suited to cooler climes on. BTW, if you’re on Omni getting to Tahiti, you don’t have to claim your luggage at all when you arrive. It is transported directly to the ship, kind of a nice thing. After about 30 minutes in line, we finally cleared customs, walked outside and, after some milling about, discovered there was no line whatsoever for taxis, and we hopped a taxi to the ship.

We did NOT pay for Princess transfers, which are somewhat of a rip-off, unless you are on Omni on the way home. IF YOU ARE ON OMNI ON THE WAY HOME, PRINCESS TRANSFERS ARE WORTH THE MONEY. OTHERWISE, THEY ARE A RIP-OFF. Princess transfers are $50 per person, round-trip, thus a total of $100 for 2 for the cruise. Cost for a taxi to the ship was $30, which was $10 more because the ship was docked at the cargo pier, which is apparently where it is about 75% of the time–as opposed to the main dock there by the tourist bureau. This is apparently because the ship has to restock there in Papeete and the ship prefers to be at the cargo pier to restock. Being at the cargo pier is not really a big deal for the pax, as there is a free shuttle over to the main cruise pier, although it only operates until around 8 PM. When it came time to disembark the ship, we paid $15 for a cab to the Sheraton and another $17 for the cab from the Sheraton to the airport, thus the total of $62 was still less than the $100 Princess would have charged. If we had gone only straight to the airport, our total still would have only been at the most $30 times 2.

You can do Princess transfers only one way if you wish from the ship to the airport, if you are on Omni on the way home. The reason to do that is that Omni requires you to go to the airport in the morning to check in, and then you go back to the ship. Thus you have a trip to the airport and back and another trip back to the airport, at $30 per trip. Thus it costs more than the $50 for transfers for 2 one way to the airport.

There is absolutely NO reason not to book them. We had an on-time flight, no problems with dirty plane, running out of food, no problems with the movies, no stopped up toilets, no rude stewardi (except for the somewhat odd incident about folks standing up), and the food and service overall was excellent!!

As we arrived at the ship just before the busses from Omni and possibly ATN –another reason NOT to book Princess transfers–there was no line when we arrived at the ship, so we were onboard in about 5 minutes from when we arrived at the ship. The crew only directed us to the cabin, as opposed to taking us there, which is not a really big deal, since the ship is so small.

We had cabin number 8004, which is a mini-suite, category AA. Like on many of it’s other ships, Princess has created numerous categories, most of which are distinctions without a difference. Basically, there are really only owner’s suites, mini-suites, balcony cabins, outside cabins and a few inside cabins. The mini suites are approximately 300 square feet, including the balcony. The ONLY cabins on TP that have refrigerators are the owner’s suites and the mini-suites, which is somewhat disappointing for the large number of “regular” balcony cabins that don’t have refrigerators. 8004 was an excellent location, being right under the computer room, thus very quiet, and close to the elevators and stairs, which I consider to be an asset. BTW, I would be slightly careful of the cabins aft under the buffet restaurant, as sometimes you get noise from above from the buffet.

The cabins on TP continue through with the basic decor of the ship, which is rich cherry wood tones, and beautiful classic, comfortable furniture, decorated in blue and gold tones. Our cabin was spacious and very light, as the whole end of the cabin was glass, with an oversized sliding glass door in the center. Balcony doors that slide, as this one does, gives one much more room on the balcony than on some ships like Carnival, where the doors swing. The bathroom was to our left as we entered, just past a small reception table. There was a very good amount of storage in the bathroom, with two mirrored cabinets, one to each side of the mirror, each with three shelves, and under the sink there were two large storage spaces, all with doors, for a tidy look. There was a hair dryer, which I did not use, as other folks had reported previously that it was severely underpowered. The bathroom featured a tub, which occasioned our first near miss of the cruise. The tub is somewhat narrow and the bottom is not particularly flat, pretty slick on the bottom, and there was NO plastic bath mat in the bottom of the tub upon embarkation. I was taking a shower the first afternoon, slipped in the tub, fell OUT of the tub and hit my head. It scared the living daylights out of me, you can bet!!!!!! After a few minutes, I determined that my head was not broken, nor any other body parts, so I resumed my shower. NOTE TO THE WISE----GET YOUR CABIN STEWARD TO GET YOU A PLASTIC BATH MAT FOR THAT TUB BEFORE YOU STEP FOOT IN IT!!!!!!!

Just past the entrance to the bathroom was the refrigerator, inside a door made from the same rich cherry wood finish cabinets throughout the cabin. The refrigerator was really small and didn’t keep things terribly cold, but it was certainly better than nothing. Under the refrigerator was another small storage cabinet.

To the right in our cabin were the closets, which were more than ample for this 10 day cruise. There were two full length hanging closets with lots of wooden hangers, with a shelf above, then a separate door with 4 drawers in the bottom, with the safe on top of the drawers, and another half length hanging closet above that. The safe was a combination job, large enough for a small camera and your travel doc’s. Next, continuing on the right hand side, there was a large vanity, with four large drawers to the right hand side of the desk and four large shelves to the left, again, both inside doors for a neat appearance. Continuing on the right hand side, was the couch (which apparently was a pull-out, although we didn’t try it), and then you finally arrived at the windows. In front of the windows, facing toward the bed, were two armchairs and a coffee type table. On the left hand wall was the bed, below a mirror, which ran the length of that wall. BTW, the beds are still hard as ever. You can order a bedding pad prior to your cruise and have it already on the bed when you get there, which is what we did. I read somewhere that one of the cruise lines that had picked up one or two of the Ren ships had replaced all the bedding. Pity Princess didn’t do likewise. And, maybe I’m crazy, and not that it really makes that much difference, but the beds seemed awfully close to the floor. Our large suitcases did fit (just barely) under the bed, so that was good. There were bedside tables to each side of the bed, with doors on the compartments.

Next–to the BEST part–the balcony!!!! I’m kind of bad with measurements, but I would guess the balcony to have been around 5 feet deep by 12 feet wide. At the time that we boarded, there were two small chairs and a small table on the balcony. When we first saw him, I asked our cabin steward, Gil, for a chaise lounge for the balcony, which he produced in record time. Frankly, I don’t know why they don’t just have chaise lounges on all balconies, as there certainly is ample room for one chaise lounge and the two small chairs and a small table on the balcony. BTW, the last morning, they took the chaise lounge away again. The floor of the balcony, unfortunately, was that blue plastic stuff which isn’t terribly kind to the feet, but not particularly hot. Teak would be nice, but doubt Princess will do that. The balcony rails are metal, with openings, not plexiglass like some of the new Princess ships. One good feature of 8004 is that the side of the balcony to the right was a solid wall, as opposed to the balcony dividers on the left hand side, which was the normal divider between cabin balconies. The solid wall provided a lot more privacy from the next balcony. The mini-suites are DEFINITELY worth the extra money over the regular balcony cabins, for the space and comfort and the refrigerators.

Our cabin steward was Gil, and he was great! He got us the chaise lounge for the balcony, extra towels for the bathroom, wine glasses for the stateroom, the bath mat, whatever we wanted, with a smile and a great attitude. BTW, bathrobes and fruit bowls are not automatically provided in staterooms any more. You have to request them, although there is no problem getting them if you want. We gave Gil an extra tip, on top of the recommended amount, as he was excellent.

On the last morning onboard, we snuck into one of the owner’s suites aft, as well as a regular balcony cabin. Just going from memory on the OS, but as you entered from the hallway, there was like a little reception hall, then a living room with TV and stereo with CD player, then the bedroom with another TV, then on around to the bathroom. The cabin had a huge wrap around balcony, with two chaise lounges on one part, and then a table with 4 chairs on another part. Unlike the regular cabins, which all had that icky “eco-conscious” shampoo, etc. in paper packages, there were small bottles of toiletries in the OS Bathroom, which also featured a whirlpool tub. I didn’t notice whether there was a plastic bath mat provided in the tub, though. :)

The regular balcony cabins were nice, although they looked really small, as compared to the mini-suites. They reminded me of standard balcony cabins on the Celebrity Mercury, which have a very small sofa in them, although these were a little bigger and supposedly the square footage was around 200 square feet. The balcony had the same two small chairs on it as the mini-suites, although again, I think you could possibly get ONE chaise lounge on there, in addition to ONE other chair.

After traveling all day that first day, we were tired and were grateful for having the buffet restaurant open that evening until 11:00 P.M. The dining room was also open until 10:30, but who wants to deal with the dining room after having traveled all day??. We got a few things, walked around a bit, then headed to bed.


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