Updated on 4th Dec 2017 A review of a cruise ship, namely the Sea Princess, is a tad unusual for a self-sufficiency blog… I admit that – but, this is no ordinary self-sufficiency blog. And, since a large readership of our website are nature lovers, retirees, people approaching retirement from the workforce, and also people who like to practice lifestyle living no matter what age, I thought my cruise ship review might be a useful read for some.
But what has a holiday cruise on the Sea Princess got to do with self-sufficiency? Well… If you are the type of person who enjoys the “slower” things in life and love tending to the vegetable garden or strolling around the orchard observing the chickens scratch the mulch for worms and bugs, then you’re probably also into easy-going holidays and if you have never been on a cruise you just have to read this article.
The Sea Princess Cruise Ship overlooking the Sydney Opera House (image above)
The other question I need to answer is how can a person (like me) just up and leave their self-sufficient working property and go cruising for two weeks? The answer is, quite easily, because if you have set up your lifestyle property correctly it shouldn’t be too hard for someone to maintain it for you whilst you’re away (for a short time).
In my case, my 63-year-old mother popped-in to our property whilst we were away and ensured our 100+ birds and three acres of fruit and vegetables were all cared for and apart from a python getting into our chicken coop (and eating a chicken) everything went well whilst we were away.
One of the main reasons our animals and gardens could survive our absence was through good preparation before we left. Things like automatic watering systems for plants and animals and automatic feeders to ensure our poultry had plenty of feed dispensed when they needed it.
Keep self-sufficiency fun and have a break sometimes
Life is here for us to enjoy and living a self-sufficient or semi-self-sufficient lifestyle in the plus 2000’s shouldn’t mean becoming a martyr for the cause and being a slave to farming in order to survive. Self-sufficient living is the opposite! Sure there is hard work to do occasionally; however, most of our time should be dedicated to crop and animal maintenance and not “working the land” like the early settlers or some Amish community (not that there is anything wrong with the Amish). Modern self-sufficiency or self-sufficient culture should allow for plenty of downtime to enjoy our existence (before time or bad luck renders us unable).
Allowing time to "smell the roses" is important in life and self-sufficient culture
And part of enjoying life whilst we can is doing some other things which make us happy and in this instance, I’m talking about going on a holiday – specifically, a cruise holiday. So, if you’ve set-up your self-sufficient property (big or small) correctly and have someone to visit it whilst you’re away there’s no excuse not to have a vacation.
I myself, “Googled” the Sea Princess when I was researching the ship and found very little information about her apart from self-promotion, which isn’t always reliable. Fortunately, I knew people who had been on the same cruise and I could rely on them to give us a candid and educated critique of the ship. However, other people might not be as fortunate to have insider information so I thought a full review could be useful for them.
Just to explore the lifestyle angle a little further, there is no doubt the phrase “cruising” refers to a person taking it easy and was derived from the relaxing venture of travelling on a cruise ship, which whether you’ve been on a cruise ship or not, everyone can relate to as being generally slow and tranquil. Therefore, when I was given the opportunity to go on a cruise I jumped in with both feet because the reason I changed from city living to a country setting was too slow life down slightly and going on a holiday via a cruise ship seemed to be right up my alley.
Sea Princess Cruise Ship anchored in the Bay of Islands New Zealand (image above)
Naturally, not all cruise ships are designed to be tranquil voyages of scenic delights, but I’m not interested in them and frankly if you want a review about an 18-35 P&O cruise where the bar rocks all night and the accommodation smells of pee and vomit then you’re reading the wrong article, about the wrong ship… lol.
Nevertheless, was a cruise the right option for me? And, did the Sea Princess live up to my expectations of what a cruise holiday should be like? I’ll be answering these questions and a whole lot more in this article. Plus, if it’s the Sea Princess you’re specifically interested in cruising on, then this review should help immensely because all the images and much of the information has come from the Sea Princess herself.
Resource: Search for cruises on Trip Advisor – it has thousands of options!
An evening party on the Sea Princess (image below)
Helps if you have some independent information about the ship
Luckily for my wife and me, we were accompanied on the cruise by veteran cruisers Doug and Sandra (my in-laws) – yeah I know, don’t roll your eyes because it happened to be a great experience and I do get along with my in-laws… Fortunately. Doug and Sandra have been on 16 cruises during their travels and it was them who had a huge influence on our decision to travel on the Sea Princes. Lifestyle living is very important to Doug and Sandra; in fact, they both are self-sufficiency veterans and they knew how important it was for us to have a voyage which suited so I was confident their choice of cruise ship would be appropriate.
Our cruise on the Sea Princess circumnavigated New Zealand with seven port stops allowing shore trips. That said, I don’t want this review to be about where I went because it’s about the ship, suffice to say, the Sea Princess travels to many destinations worldwide.
Since the original writing of this article, the Sea Princess has been given a makeover and significant renovation returning to service in December 2017 (according to media reports). I've since been on a second cruise (with my wife, Nina) but on a different ship touring the Mediterranean this year (2017) in July and we had another terrific holiday but I'll detail that trip in another post. However, what I did want to say was in hindsight we noticed that our latest cruise ship (The Royal Carribean's Freedom of the Seas) was notably in better condition than the Sea Princess was although that has probably changed now since the Princess' upgrade. Having said that, the food/catering on the Sea Princess was far superior to our recent stay on the Freedom of the Seas – in our humble experience. Anyway, the point is, the Sea Princess has been given a facelift so no doubt it's even better than it was when we travelled on her.
The Sea Princess herself is part of the Princess Cruisers fleet and British-American owned with most of her time spent based out of Australia. She is part of 16 other vessels cruising the world and a sister ship of the famous Pacific Princess from the hit TV series “The Love Boat.”
There are so many features and points to write about that I could easily turn this post into a novel so I’m going to cover the main things I think are relevant but if I miss something feel free as always to ask a question at the end of this article or post a thread on our forum for an in-depth discussion.
Random statistics – 50 ltrs of mayonnaise is consumed daily on the ship; over 2 tonnes of meat is cooked per day; 1500 sandwiches are made daily; 3 tons of fresh fruit is served daily onboard, and 1700 fish prepared daily for meals.
Some more information about the Sea Princess as shown in the ship's own Princess theatre (images below)
The first notable occurrence after submitting baggage and before embarkation or proceeding through customs is to sign up for a plastic key card. These cards are issued to each passenger upon embarkation and are called a cruise card. The cruise cards are similar to a card you would usually get issued to unlock your door at a major hotel these days and it does provide access to your room with the added features of being able to use it as a pass to get on and off the ship (for shore trips) and to purchase goods and services onboard as it’s linked to your credit card.
Before alarm bells ring, no, the cruise card does NOT replace your credit card (as such) by debiting your bank account for every transaction you make. The linking of your credit card to your cruise card simply is an insurance that you’ll pay your account at the end of the trip.
Also, only the cruise card/s you nominate to link to your credit card are actually linked; thereby, having an option to have a card as a security and door key only. For example, our children who both had their own cards weren’t able to purchase anything with them as they were not linked to my credit card but they could use their cards to unlock our room door.
So whilst on-board you really don’t need to carry a wallet or handbag around for monetary reasons and many passengers simply hang their cruise card around their necks with a lanyard. If you need to make a purchase your card is swiped and you’re given a receipt to sign and a copy of the receipt to keep. At the end of the cruise, you review your account with the lobby staff and approve the lump sum of your spending to be debited to your credit card.
If you would like to see or check how much you are racking-up on your cruise card there are machines, similar to ATMs, situated in the lobby (mid-ship) where you can swipe your cruise card and obtain a free printout of your account to date.
Food, beverages, restaurants, and cafes
There are numerous places to eat and drink on the Sea Princess and that is such an understatement it’s ridiculous. A better way to describe the food and beverage experience on this ship is to say it’s sheer opulence to the extreme and 5 stars without the price tag – yes it certainly has impressed me!
One of the two formal restaurants on the Sea Princess (image above)
It’s like Christmas dinner every day and night on this cruise and it is difficult to understand how they can make a profit by what they charge for the overall ticket – obviously, they do though. Of course, all the food and restaurants onboard are free/inclusive with the exception of a few like their steakhouse, which does cost to dine but why would you when you can get all the steak you like from several other restaurants on the ship for “free” (included).
Flaming Meringue Bombe on Sea Princess cruise ship (image above)
You can eat at any time of the day or night and often we returned to the ship from onshore trips and ate onboard rather than paying tourist prices on land.
I shouldn’t really disclose this, but one night in the main restaurant lobster was on the menu so we all ordered lobster even for the kids and some of us ordered double helpings (cause you can). Due to the children not eating much of theirs and my double helping, I must have eaten close to four lobster tails on my own – piggy me, but Geez it was good…
And, here is my single serve of lobster (image below)
Sweets/cake display in Sea Princess bistro restaurant (image below)
Entry to bistro servery on Sea Princess Cruise ship – German theme night (image below)
Sushi lunch (image below)
Bistro seating with ocean views (image below)
Large cakes and lots of sweets were always on offer (image below)
If you decided not to eat in the formal dining rooms or bistros there were other eateries to grab a meal or snack from like: the pizza restaurant; outside deck BBQ (which served pies & chips or several kinds of burgers); an ice-creamery; and coffee shops with sandwiches/sweets.
The food was not only plenty; it was professionally cooked, presented, and served. All the entertainment, food, and beverage staff were fantastic!
Bars are scattered throughout the ship and the prices for drinks were reasonable with a standard bottle of beer $5.50AU and a cappuccino around $3.00. Of course, they had umpteen cocktails to choose from and other swish drinks if you wanted something more dynamic to drink.
Three decks of bars and grills above pool area on Sea Princess cruise ship (image below)
There were several other autonomous bar lounges or jazz rooms on the ship and a dedicated nightclub with disco lights, modern music, dark corners, and fluorescent setting – there weren’t many oldies found in this club and it seemed to be a definite safe haven for the younger passengers on the ship.
Jazz lounge bar on Sea Princess cruise ship (image below)
The Sea Princess caters to all age groups but she does seem to be friendlier towards the older demographics (retirees etc) and also families with younger children or couples without kids. Single adults 18 – 35 may find the single scene a little “light on” depending on their idea of party-time. Not that I mean the Sea Princess isn’t a fun ship to be merry and meet people in that age group it’s just that from my experience she is more easy-going relaxing cruiser rather than a “doof-doof, drink as much as you can, adventure holiday. Still, if you’re single, young, and prefer a “slower vacation” with the occasional party and overindulgence, the Sea Princess will certainly deliver and maybe you’ll even get lucky.
Entertainment and activities on-board
There is literally too much entertainment and activities onboard to describe everything on this ship in this review; coupled, with how the entertainment program changes daily and how it can be incorporated into your onshore plans, we always felt like we had something to do. Having said that, it was easy to just choose to do nothing and recuperate if the batteries needed recharging after a late night or strenuous day tour.
Below are just some of the things you can do onboard:
- Swimming – There are several areas to swim or sit in a spa bath. At the forward and rear parts of the ship (or bow and stern) there are pools designated for adults only just in case they want to escape the children from the main pool located mid-ship.
Main pool swimming areas on Sea Princess cruise ship (image below)
- Movies – There are movies under the stars, movies in the cinema (Princess Theatre), and movies in your room, so if you're a movie buff you'll be in heaven. The Movies Under the Stars entertainment features big time movies in a setting exactly as it sounds “under the stars.” Passengers can lay back on a deluxe cushioned beach chair out on mid-ship in the evenings to watch an array of recent movie releases. If it gets too cool the staff provide blankets and it wasn’t uncommon to see a few dozen people all rugged-up and quietly engrossed in their film as they munched on the free, constant supply of warm popcorn provided.
Pop corn machine for the movies (image below)
- Sports – Tennis court (half court) and basketball; golf driving; table tennis; walking track, and sauna to relax after a game.
- Gym – Along with sports, if you are wanting to be active on the cruise and do a few workouts there is a sizable gym with treadmills, stationary bikes, free weights, and more. On top of that, the gym staff organise group sessions like aerobics, Pilates, yoga, and personal training.
- Hair salon and beauty treatment centre – The ladies could (and did) book in for beauty treatments and to have their hair done. Everything was on offer from nails to massages and I was told by my wife the experience of her $150 beauty package was splendid!
- Casino – The casino area is large enough for about 70 poker machines (slots) and several tables like roulette, blackjack, poker etc. The casino is only open whilst at sea (after an hour of leaving port) so gambling can’t be undertaken whilst the ship is docked probably for legal reasons. But, the casino isn’t just for gambling as it has an active free games room opposite the sports bar where people come together and play cards and other board games. If relaxing in the sports lounge with a drink whilst watching the sports channel on the several big screens is all you want to do then there is a large lounge area specifically designed for that purpose.
- Theatres – There are two theatres on the ship (one at each end) and the seats are generous. In the Vista theatre, the setting is outstanding and it has a real “lounge room” comfort feel only with a large cocktail bar at the back. The Princess theatre is more geared towards movie screenings but it is quite adequate for live entertainment as well, like dancing, singing, acting, etc.
Shopping – the Sea Princess has several duty free shops mid-ship and again most prices were reasonable with some exceptions. Often the retail staff would hold sales and this became especially evident towards the end of the cruise as an obvious way to clear stock. There was a convenience store also selling everything from basic toiletries, sea sickness medication, sunglasses, to duty-free alcohol.
- Internet + Library – There is an internet café on the ship – quite sizable too and comfortable, which adjoins onto the library if you would like to read or borrow a book. Internet access is also available from anywhere in the ship by syncing a portable device (like a laptop) to the ships wireless satellite broadband. However, internet usage is not free and is actually very expensive and charged on a time usage plan rather than download. Plus, their satellite broadband connection is awful! Pages take a long time to load and there are plenty of dropouts – I actually had a difficult time trying to run Self Sufficient Me from the ship and ended up just using the internet on occasion to check on emails instead.
- Organised ship tours – I found the ship herself fascinating and I was stoked they had specific ship tours to see how stuff works. I found the lecture about the Bridge and ship navigation interesting and the tour of the massive kitchen was amazing. Did you know onboard the Sea Princess there is a total of 47 dishwashing staff working continuously to maintain the enormous about of dishes and cutlery used daily?
What about the kids? My wife and I could not get over how good the included child minding service was onboard the Sea Princess – we still can’t get over it!
If you want, children can be cared for in the ship’s child minding facility from early morning until late at night. There’s no excuse for a married couple with children not to enjoy plenty of time to themselves on their “family” holiday and we certainly took full advantage of the service.
Shockwaves kids club (above image)
Not only that, but the children loved going and it was difficult sometimes to convince the kids to go on a day trip instead of the kids club. The staff were professionally trained childcare teachers and they worked hard to ensure the children under their care were entertained with different and interesting activities daily. Towards the end of the cruise, the staff organised a talent concert with the children to be held for the parents to watch.
Besides the staff organised activities, the children had access to computer games, game equipment, and other toys/books to read and play.
There were three separate child minding facilities/centres catering for different age groups: teenagers, 7-12-year-olds, and 6 and below.
Timings for the kids club were varied and sometimes revolved around day trips and meal timings as parents were expected to take their kids to meals (there were exceptions such as formal dining nights where the child minding staff took care of arranging dinner for the children whilst the parents had dinner). Generally, children could be signed into the centres from early morning to lunch, then after lunch until dinner, and then from after dinner until 10 PM.
Entry to the kid's clubs was strictly controlled and doors were locked at all times. Parents had to "buzz" to get inside and sign children in and out of the facility (image above)
All costs associated with the child-minding service on the ship were included in the overall fare; such as writing material, craft gear, free toys for winning competitions, and a free Princess teddy bear (great quality) at the end of the cruise.
We love our children, however, to be able to “dump” them and have some “us” time throughout the cruise really made our fantastic holiday even fantastic…er (it’s in the urban dictionary).
The Sea Princess was organised when it came to getting passengers on an off when in port or anchored in a bay. A custom brief was given over the PA system, full directions and timings about leaving the ship and coming back were printed in the daily program guide, broadcasted through the PA, and displayed on large signs when leaving the ship.
One important note about timings is if a passenger was not back on board from the day trip (missed sail) by the time stipulated it was their responsibility to catch the ship at her next scheduled port stop. Whether that meant, hiring a car or flying to the next port to catch the ship was up to the passenger including paying for all travelling expenses – so don’t miss the boat!
Sea Princess docked in port for a day trip (image below)
Organised tours – the Sea Princess has organised tours and packages for each port stop for passengers to book either before the cruise (pre-book as part of their holiday package) or as an elective tour (pending spare positions) whilst on the ship. Packages/organised tours not pre-booked need to be booked onboard by at least the night before.
We found the ships organised tours were very expensive and so decided to do our own thing and went onshore then found our own tour guides if required. For our cruise, we not only found this method cheaper but it was also better because we could choose where we wanted to go rather than follow the set tour from the ship.
Often busses to get from the port to the town/city centre return are complimentary and if not, are reasonably priced with lots of vehicles available to reduce waiting times.
Tender boats used to transit passengers from ship to shore when the cruise ship was anchored in a bay and unable to dock in port (image above)
Every day the staff produce a printed guide called the Princess Patter and this 8 page A4 sized booklet provides information on all the activities planned for the day including timings for meals, planned activities, onshore visits, evening entertainment, etc. This guide was located at major flow points around the ship such as notice boards, bars, meal areas, and a copy was also placed in passengers letterboxes each morning (fixed to the outside of their room doors).
If that wasn’t enough, each morning the Sea Princess conducts a morning TV show called “The Wake Show” hosted by two of the main onboard entertainment MCs. The show goes for about 30 minutes and discusses the program for the day, what’s on etc, and gives insights into the history/background of the visiting city, town or port. The Wake Show program is then repeated on a dedicated channel for the rest of the day so people who have had a sleep-in or missed the show can find out what is going on if they can’t be bothered reading the daily guide.
Morning TV show detailing the days activities and entertainment (image below)
The Captain announcements
The Captain and Bridge crew all give plenty of information throughout the cruise on technical aspects, sea conditions/weather conditions – seas rough or clear, and departure times etc. We always felt well informed and had a sense the Captain was always in control.
As you would expect the Sea Princess is extremely security conscious (almost obsessively so) but I’d rather that then the opposite. Your cruise card is swiped when you disembark and embark and your hand luggage is x-rayed each time you return from a day trip onshore.
However, due to the security staffing and process, these security measures are not intrusive at all and are in fact streamlined and comforting.
Security staff checkpoint for returning passengers on board Sea Princess (image below)
Upon initial embarkation, all passengers are assembled in their prospective "Muster Stations" and given a safety brief and life jacket demonstration. Throughout the cruise, the staff also conduct further safety drills and exercises/training obviously ensuring they keep qualified and drills honed in case of an emergency.
In line with security, the Sea Princess is manic about hygiene and enforces a wash-your-hands policy ad nauseam with the expectation all passengers disinfect their hands upon entry to food areas by using the many hand disinfectant dispensers strategically placed around the ship.
Ships; like any other confined area where people live closely and eat communally are susceptible to spreading germs from person to person real fast so personal hygiene is a major focus.
There is never a shortage of staff or waiters to help on the ship. In a forever decreasing service poor and staff deprived world we live in, thankfully, this economic trend has not hit the Sea Princess. There was never a long wait in a cue or an issue when trying to catch the eye of a staff member to ask a question, get some help, or find out information on day trips, shopping, or whatever.
All staff we came across onboard the Sea Princess were actively seeking to help and serve passengers and this to me was one of the most special memories I took away with me when I left the ship. Too often, in my home country, customer service is left wanting in the service industry no matter what the intentions of upper management; however, whatever the management style the Sea Princess employs sure works and it’s obvious their staff not only “toe the line” but seem to really enjoy their jobs.
The staff on board the Sea Princess were highly professional (image below)
Tipping on Australian based ships when you buy a drink, for instance, is not required but there is an option to tip the waiter when you sign for payment. Generally, I tipped occasionally rather than often and I tipped more at times when I felt I would like to have the waiters concentrate on us a little more (like if we were having a few more drinks then normal) and it definitely works.
We were surprised at how roomy the accommodation was for a ship and how good the facilities were within the rooms. Our room was the absolute basic; yet, we were quite comfortable and felt like we had all we needed. I can only comment on our room which was an ocean view room. The "no view at all cabins" were cheaper than ours and above us were the "balcony suits", then about them were "suits with balcony", and so it went.
Honestly, (and from what we were told from my seasoned cruiser in-laws) the more expensive rooms aren't worth the extra money and our standard room gave us all we needed. Another point to note is the higher up you go on a cruise ship the more "sway" or movement you get; therefore, if you are prone to seasickness then a cabin lower down is better.
The rooms were cleaned twice daily (at least) and one staff member was allocated as our room staff member for the entire trip. We had a guy called Arnold who was an absolute gem of a room host and seemed to always be around when we needed him. Along with making beds and cleaning the room, Arnold took care of drying our clothes and folding/putting away (after we’d washed them) plus he was able to be called directly from the room phone if we had any questions.
This image (below) shows our standard ocean view cabin (top bunks fold into the ceiling when not required)
Bathroom and shower (image below)
View from our cabin window in ocean view class (image below)
The ship has an extensive medical centre and theatre for emergencies. Whilst on our cruise an elderly lady suffered an emergency where she needed donor blood. A call came over the ship’s speakers for volunteers of a certain blood type to please attend for a medical emergency. It so happened, my wife (Nina) had a compatible blood type and is also a Red Cross Blood Bank Nurse. Nina volunteered to give blood and help and meanwhile she had a good chance to survey the medical centre, which according to her experience in the medical industry, she claimed was impressive!
For volunteering, Nina was given a free bottle of wine to the value of $45 and a special “thank you” letter from the Captain – the Moscato went down a treat…
Unfortunately, some of us are prone to seasickness and my wife and I are equally as bad as each other – once, I got seasick in a dingy 5 yards off the shore in 2 feet of water!
The truth is cruise liners don't sway too much and are designed with massive stabilisers to ensure the ship never moves sideways more than 1 degree. However, no boat or ship big or small is seasick proof, especially in bad weather. Therefore, if you think there is the remotest possibility of you becoming crook on board then you should take appropriate precautions.
I don't like to offer medical advice about medication because I'm not a doctor, so please check with a pharmacist or doctor for precautionary motion sickness medication suitable for you. What I can say is our family purchased a common off-the-shelf motion sickness medication and took it as directed when we were sailing over open seas.
The worst any of us felt on our cruise was a little queasy but after topping up with a motion sickness tablet we were soon feeling great again.
For a holiday cruise at this standard of service, accommodation, and food, we felt it was great value indeed. If you are a returning passenger, rebooking discounts and rewards, bonuses, free stuff, and vouchers are used by the Princess company to entice further cruisers and these incentives can be quite generous. Thanks to my in-laws, they booked our tickets for us and were able to secure significant discounts on our fares due to their frequent cruising rewards.
Generally, expect to pay around $150 – $250 an adult per day; however, this price will fluctuate depending on where you stay, the type of room, the season, any specials, location, length of trip, and a range of other variables.
Straight-up it may not seem like great value but factor in airfares, transit fees, taxes, meals, and the stress a typical flying vacation can often have, and a cruise holiday starts to become more appealing. Add the costs of staying in a hotel, if you do your sums, you’ll soon see like I did and realise how good value for money it really is to be taken to your holiday destination, accommodated, and fed 24/7 for potentially only $150 a day!
Internal stairs and lifts in the foyer area mid-ship (image below)
What I absolutely loved about the cruise was the "hotel moving with us" on our holiday. No checking-in or checking-out of expensive hotels, frantic runs to the airport in foreign countries, or lost baggage. It was like our floating hotel docked at our destination, let us do the tourist shuffle, and then we were back in our hotel room ready to be entertained until our next stop… it was tremendous.
All in all, if you have never been on a cruise and you like the sound of what I have written in this article then make arrangements and do it! You definitely will not be sorry and you’ll have terrific memories for the rest of your life even if you never go on another one. Or, you’ll be like Nina and me – planning our next cruise as soon as we can save the money.
Sunset across the Tasman on the Sea Princess (image above)
For those self-sufficient people among us, remember to “holiday proof” your self-sufficient property so you can go away for extended periods. Let your fruit, vegetables, and animals be self-sufficient whilst you’re away and you’ll enjoy your holiday so much more without the worries of your plants and animals doing it tough.
If you have further questions about this article in particular or even generally feel free to leave a comment below or visit our forum at Self Sufficient Culture and discuss this subject in depth in the created thread.
Look, and see the Earth through her eyes
Mark Valencia – Editor SSM
Disclosure: Information in this review is as accurate as possible and correct as at the date of release; however, we can not be held responsible in any way for any information contained in this review that may become or be: outdated, incorrect, misleading, or misinterpreted. We recommend individuals check and research their own cruise independently before making a decision to travel.