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Cruise Ship Review

Ocean Princessfont color=#C81D00 - Refurbished!/font - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

For someone who's traveled on Princess' bigger ships -- like Sapphire Princess and the still-sparkling Crown -- I boarded Ocean Princess, one of the line's two small vessels, not knowing what to expect. Immediately, it was clear I'd left the cookie-cutter world of mega-ships for something unique. Burgundy carpets and dark woods dominate the decor throughout the ship, creating a completely different feel than the peachy tones on newer mega-ships like Crown and Sapphire Princess. Sitting areas on either side of the reception desk feature sedate blue couches around a coffee table on Oriental-style carpeting. In a strange way it felt like coming home (or staying at a friend's very large English country house).

Ocean Princess, which, despite offers some of Princess' more exotic itineraries in Asia, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa, has its own story to tell. Princess acquired the 30,277-ton, 680-passenger ship and sister-ship Pacific Princess in 2002 from now-defunct Renaissance Cruises where it was one of eight near-identical mid-size ships. Its one of two "R-class" ships in Princess' fleet. (Pacific Princess is largely identical.)

On Ocean Princess, the exterior received the bulk of the changes: The ship was outfitted with Princess' trademark blue-tinted windows and a fresh coat of white paint. However, the interior went untouched. The lobby resembles that of a boutique hotel, with a grand staircase reminiscent of the Titanic as a dramatic focal point with wrought iron railings. Even some of the signage remains from the ship's Renaissance days. The oval plaque outside Sterling Steakhouse, for example, reads simply the Grill; if you are looking for Sabatini's, Princess' Italian eatery, well that's labeled Italian Restaurant.

Once inside, however, the experience is distinctively Princess. Menus are in line with the same eateries elsewhere in the fleet. Indulging at Sabatini's brought back memories of my first experience at that restaurant, on Sapphire Princess in Alaska -- just the same, you choose your main entree only, and a parade of hot and cold appetizers, salads, and pastas are served automatically. It's truly an event, and a Princess trademark I was glad to revisit.

The ship is elegant and gorgeous ... and intimate. There's only one pool (really all it needs) and a cabaret lounge takes the place of a main theater. Only one public space -- the Tahitian Lounge -- really feels Polynesian, with murals of tropical flowers and dark-skinned women gracing the walls. What's sometimes odd about a cruise on Ocean Princess is that menus and entertainment do not spotlight the itineraries it cruises. Aside from sailaway, the onboard atmosphere is generally very different from life on the other side of the gangway (or tender).

Having sailed on modern Princess ships including Sapphire and Crown, I found that the size of this gorgeous ship made it possible to get to know the staff onboard; almost all would stop what they were doing to say hello, whether I was passing by with my laptop and coffee first thing in the morning, or coming back onboard from a day ashore. It's that personal interaction more than anything else onboard that sets Ocean Princess apart from its larger fleet mates.

Dining

There are two major differences in dining between Ocean Princess and the newer, larger ships in the fleet. The first is that there's no Anytime Dining option for supper. There's only one main dining room -- the Club -- and this operates on a set-seating basis; there are early and late shifts at 6:15 and 8:15 p.m. The second major difference is that even though there are two specialty restaurants -- Sabatini's (Italian) and Sterling (steakhouse), both Princess trademarks -- they do not operate simultaneously due to the small size of ship and staff. Each evening, just one is open for alternative dining based on a rotating schedule throughout the cruise.

The Club Restaurant serves open seating breakfast and lunch. Breakfast menus changed daily and throughout the week offered items like eggs Benedict and pancakes. It is possible eat just as much at lunch as at dinner if you get appetizers and sweets; order anything prepared with Princess' hearty tomato sauce.

Dinner is served here on the aforementioned fixed schedule. Our service was attentive, maybe too much so; our server always seemed to hovering behind me to refill my water glass! If you've dined with Princess before, you know exactly what to expect -- the usual suspects are back (lobster night, beef Wellington) along with some more adventurous fare like rabbit and frog's legs. Steaks were brought out at the requested temperature, and most dishes were good to very good -- but my favorite course here was always dessert.

The rich, dark Club Bar at the entrance is the place to be for a before-dinner martini (try the trendy, tasty pomegranate variety); it's lively and there is plenty of cozy seating. Afternoon tea is also served in the Club Restaurant, and includes scones, small sandwiches, cookies and, of course, tea.

Sabatini's is a multi-course love affair with Italian food (per-person charge, $20). Olive oil and balsamic vinegar are poured at the table for dipping bread, and a variety of hot and cold antipasti are served tableside, including Mediterranean olives, cannelloni and fried cheese. All you have to decide on is your soup and your main entree; options include butter-brushed lobster and a veal chop that was nearly the size of my head (I still managed to eat almost the whole thing). Desserts are decidedly Italian; we love the tiramisu.

At the other alternative eatery, Sterling Steakhouse (per-person charge, $15), servers bring around a tray of tempting cuts of beef to help you make your choice. Menu items include New York strip, rib eye and filet mignon, to which you can add several sides, from creamed spinach to baked potato. There's also a fish entree offered -- on our cruise, tuna -- and BBQ-style chicken for folks who don't eat steak. Caesar salad is prepared tableside (but didn't taste much different than what's served in the main dining room, to be honest); other appetizers include brie and papaya quesadillas, which were delicious, and shrimp cocktail. If you have a sweet tooth, try the chocolate pecan pie or the peach turnover, which tasted like state fair funnel cake stuffed with warm fruit (yum).

Ocean's lido dining option is the Panorama Buffet, which is open for self-service during breakfast and lunch. A Continental breakfast begins at the very early hour of 4 a.m.; a full breakfast buffet opens at 6:30 a.m. and is available until 11 a.m., where you'll find oatmeal, cream of wheat, various pastries and breads, cold cuts, and hot items like pancakes and sausages.

For made-to-order eggs and omelets from 6:30 until 11 a.m., visit the grill on the pool deck, just outside the starboard entrance to the buffet. Ham, vegetables and cheese can be added to eggs, Egg Beaters or egg whites; surprisingly, we never saw it very busy, and if there were a few people ahead of us, it was fine to sit first and enjoy the fresh air. The grill switches to burgers, plump hot dogs, grilled chicken, knockwurst and bratwurst between 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.; French fries come standard.

A buffet lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.; cold cuts and salad fixings are always available, as well as hot items and a carving station. A sushi bar was set up once during our cruise. If you are late coming back from port or just want a pre-dinner snack, visit between 3:30 and 6 for the "create your own sandwich" station, complete with panini press. Fruits and desserts are available throughout the day. There's an outdoor dining section all the way aft; you can also help yourself to coffee here 24 hours a day. There's no self-serve ice cream or frozen yogurt station.

The Pizzeria is open from 11:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. for lunch by the slice, and then reopens at 6 p.m. for sit-down service until 11 p.m. -- Ocean's only casual dinner alternative (the rest of the buffet is closed aside from a soup, salad, bread and dessert bar). At dinner, a section of buffet tables are set with wine glasses, printed menus and cloth napkins; you can order pizza by the pie -- and wine, beer, soda and bar drinks -- via waiter service.

This was a nice break from the formal dining room and specialty restaurants; I enjoyed my meal with a glass of Chianti in Capri pants, a polo shirt and sandals followed by a walk on the lido deck. Selections range from cheese and standard pepperoni to a Hawaiian-style pie with ham and pineapple, which was surprisingly tasty even to a discerning Italian palette; a calzone is also on offer. Each day there is a specialty pie utilizing ingredients like artichokes, olives and anchovies.

Ocean's specialty coffee bar is located on the port side of the Panorama Buffet; hot and cold coffees are available, from cappuccinos (from $1.50) to iced mochas and lattes (from $2.95). You can purchase a King of Cups coffee card for $24.50 good for 15 hot beverages. Your barista or server simply punches out a crown each time you order a coffee concoction.

A late-night bistro of sandwiches and light fare is available at the Panorama Buffet from 11 p.m. until 4 a.m. Don't expect drinks service, though; when we passed through at 1 a.m. there wasn't a soul to be seen, crew or passenger. Room service is available around the clock, though the options are limited to just a few cold sandwiches, including tuna and roast beef, and salads (Continental breakfast items are available via a door-hang card). Select wines and champagnes are available for purchase via room service, as well as several liquor-and-mixer specials for $15, and 6-for-5 beer and/or wine packages; canapes and snacks are available for purchase. We would have liked to see more, better late-night options -- like pizza past 11 or something a little bit more exciting on the room service menu.

Guests with balconied cabins have one additional dining option -- private balcony meals. The Ultimate Balcony Breakfast is $25 per couple and includes pastries and muffins; a half bottle of Champagne; juice and coffee; crab quiche; smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers and buttered bagels; and fruit salad. It's quite a feast and a very special way to start your day.

At $100 per couple is the Ultimate Balcony Dinner, which is alternative restaurant quality cuisine served course by course in your stateroom (the breakfast is a little less labor-intensive -- everything's dropped off at once, and we found ourselves running back and forth from balcony to cabin with plates). A staffer will contact you the day before your dinner is scheduled to go over the menu; the meal includes crab cakes, a spinach salad with goat cheese and walnuts, and your choice of lobster, filet mignon, or lobster and filet mignon. Of course there's dessert: a collection of mousses in chocolate, vanilla and pistachio.

An hour or so before your dinner, a team will come to set up your balcony table with linens, plates and flatware, glassware, bread and butter, and a flower arrangement that you can keep in your cabin for the duration of your cruise. A photographer will also come by to take photos and one 8x10 is complimentary (check at the Photo Gallery the next day). The meal is served with a half bottle of Champagne, one cocktail or glass of wine each of your choice and water (still and/or sparkling). It's very romantic, but leisurely with much time between courses -- so don't expect to do much else that night but fall into bed stuffed.

Public Rooms

Passengers enter the ship via the very homey lobby on Deck 4, where you'll find the purser and shore excursions desks. Just atop the main staircase are the Atrium Boutiques -- a shop selling perfume, souvenirs, duty-free liquor and various sundries (we kept them in business with our purchases of things we forgot to pack including Band-Aids and tweezers), and a fine jewelry store. Also on Deck 5, which is the main thoroughfare between the Club Restaurant and the Cabaret Lounge, is the Photo Gallery.

On Deck 9 there's an Internet cafe with eight computer stations; the cost to connect is 50 cents per minute, though your first minute is free so that you can test the waters, so to speak, of connection speed. Not fast enough? Come back later. There's also a wireless signal at the same rate in the lobby area (no in-cabin access is available). The Card Room next door with green felt covered tables is the space for hosted and casual games of bridge.

The ship has one laundry room for passenger use.

Cabins

There are just five types of staterooms onboard Ocean Princess: Interior Double, Oceanview Double, Oceanview Double with Balcony, Mini-Suites and Owner's Suites. What's important, though, is that size may vary even within like groups. Oceanview Doubles, for example, clock in between 146 and 206 square feet -- that's a pretty big range (Categories CC on Deck 7 and G on Deck 6 are the roomiest); likewise for the Owner's Suites, which measure approximately 786 square feet to 962 square feet with the verandah (figure an average of 874).

I popped my head into cabins across several decks and the differences in size within each of the five types were not apparent to my eye; however, since this is home for 10 days, you'll probably appreciate the extra inches here or there -- and will obviously want to snag the most square footage you can! Be sure to ask your travel agent or Princess for dimensions specific to your stateroom when booking. Note: Categories GG and G are obstructed-view; Category F staterooms come with just portholes, not picture windows.

There are 334 staterooms in total, and a whopping 92 percent are outsides (there are only 26 inside cabins at 158 square feet), 75 percent of which have verandahs. Moving up the scale, there are 76 standard outside cabins (again, these measure between 146 and 206 square feet), 170 outsides with private balconies (216 square feet with the balcony), 52 mini-suites (322 square feet with the balcony) and 10 top-of-the-line Owner's Suites (again, from 786 to 962 square feet with the balcony -- most are approximately 874 square feet).

My Oceanview Double with Balcony was not as cramped as I expected on a small to mid-sized ship. There was a tight spot rounding the corner of the bed closest to the door (two twins combine to a queen), but any sense of claustrophobia was squelched by a decent sitting area between the bed and the balcony. There was a loveseat, a small table, and a desk under a large lighted mirror for doing makeup or writing postcards. Balcony furniture consisted of two plastic chairs and a low plastic table (the verandahs are not completely private -- there are gaps between the dividers and the iron railing).

Amenities across the board include a private safe; a telephone; a bureau/closet with a rack of hangers (wide enough to store two standing rolling suitcases), shelves and plenty of drawer space; and a mini-fridge. In-cabin televisions are not interactive -- i.e. you can't check your folio or book excursions -- but feature programming from CNN, ESPN, TNT and Discovery Channel; there are also stations broadcasting recently released and classic movies, shipboard events, and various genres of music. My bathroom had the essentials: a toilet, a sink and a narrow shower stall with a curtain. Packets of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and moisturizer are provided and replenished as needed.

All staterooms are also equipped with a hair dryer, though I hesitate to even call it that as it was probably the worst contraption I've used at sea or on land. It is mounted above the toilet (so you have to stand and style in the tiny bathroom) and resembles a vacuum cleaner hose. I can't understand how the air came out so pathetically lukewarm while the hose itself got so hot I had to create a makeshift oven mitt out of a washcloth so as not to scorch my hand. Moral of the story: BYO.

Besides the extra size, Mini-Suites add robes, a bathroom with a tub and a shower, and a sofa bed. The Owner's Suites are the most luxurious with a wide verandah that occupies a full forward corner of the ship (it's not the best view, though; the ocean is beyond an exposed pointy deck at the hull). These feature an entertainment center with two televisions and a CD player, a guest bathroom and master bath -- the latter of which has a whirlpool tub.

Entertainment

Despite its smallish size, you'll find plenty of activities onboard Ocean Princess, including dancing classes, art auctions, cooking demonstrations, shopping seminars and onboard films. Though there's technically no Movies Under the Stars (the huge LED monitor found on newer ships like Crown Princess), movies are shown indoors and on a projection screen on the pool deck. On sea days, ScholarShip@Sea courses are offered, mainly in photography and computer technology; some lectures are free and others levy a charge, from $10 depending on course.

Princess' signature Ceramics@Sea program is also offered on sea days; a section of the lido deck is set up with a cart of paints and ceramics ranging from coffee mugs to picture frames. Passengers can come by at scheduled times (check your Patter), purchase a piece (prices fall in the high teens and low twenties) and paint away. Items are fired in a kiln onboard and delivered to your cabin before the cruise ends. Third time's a charm: While I've hidden my "art" -- and I use the term loosely -- from my trips on Sapphire and Regal Princess, my teal and yellow lidded box is proudly displayed on my dresser.

At night, entertainment is concentrated in three areas of the ship. The Cabaret Lounge is Ocean's main show venue; on our sailing production shows ran twice -- before first seating and then again before second seating -- and there was always pre-show dancing. Tip: Because this is more of a lounge than a traditional shipboard theater (there's no elevated seating or raised stage), you'll want to arrive early and get seats up front for a view of the performers rather than your fellow cruisers' heads.

Generally, expect Princess' usual combination of comedians, magicians and Broadway showtune medleys. Live piano music can be enjoyed every night in the Casino Bar, a cozy spot with antique-style furniture and a (faux) fireplace. The adjacent casino offers table games and slot machines.

Finally, the Tahitian Lounge is the top-of-the-ship observation lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows; though the late-night disco was never packed (we imagine that most of the older passengers and even the honeymooners turned in early), the tunes bumped into the wee hours for the few partiers. This was also the venue for game shows like Love and Marriage, which never fails to generate laughs. One rather feisty couple -- I blush to share their stories here but I will say they won -- got a lot of high fives the next day in the elevator and on tenders ashore.

Because of the intimate size of the ship, activities tend to blend together. If you sit at the bar outside the casino, you can hear the piano player, the clanging slots and the chatter of folks buying their formal portraits from the hallway studio. While painting ceramics on the lido deck, you can also watch pool volleyball or the sexy legs competition ... and you'll definitely want to look out for stray Ping-Pong balls! It's not necessarily a bad thing; I only participated in the activities that interested me most because let's face it, you can't do everything -- but I enjoyed feeling as if I got to sample more than I had.

Fitness and Recreation

There's just one pool flanked by two whirlpools (and a busy pool bar), but deck chairs were nearly always readily available. There's live entertainment at certain times of the day.

Editor's note: The hard deck surface gets scorching hot beneath the daytime sun, and there's even a sign posted to warn passengers of this fact; walk barefoot at your own risk!

Princess' signature Lotus Spa is located on Deck 9. Aside from a Zone Diet seminar, there was nothing on offer that struck us as brand-new or inventive. Here, expect to find facials, massages, teeth whitening and body wraps; there are specials on port days. The adjacent salon offers haircuts, coloring and styling, manicures and pedicures in portable footbaths (no fancy remote-controlled chairs here).

The Lotus Spa has just five basic treatment rooms, though the one located off the salon has a gorgeous view through a floor-to-ceiling window. The staff is small, so it's common to have the same therapist for multiple treatments, and all were very friendly and helpful. I was not pressured into making a Steiner purchase (though items were recommended), nor was I rushed at any point to make room for the next guest. After my reflexology treatment, my therapist patiently answered my questions about the parts of the feet that correspond to different areas of my body -- and where she worked out the most tension. Because of the personal attention the experience felt closer to that of a small town spa than most facilities at sea.

One nice modern touch is a partially covered private spa deck, forward, with teak padded loungers and a therapy pool. Only passengers who've paid for this special privilege have access; you can purchase day passes for $15, or book the entire cruise for $100, and come and go as you please throughout that time period. Anyone who is receiving a treatment, however, can utilize the adjacent steam and shower room. If extreme privacy is what you crave, it's worth it; we never saw more than one or two people lounging here.

The Fitness Center connected to the Lotus Spa is also small by today's standards, but sufficient for the number of passengers onboard, well equipped with weights, treadmills, elliptical machines and an open area for exercise classes; some are free and others (like Pilates and yoga) levy a $10 charge. For al fresco fun, there's a jogging track (13 times around equals one nautical mile), a golf cage, a well-frequented Ping-Pong table and shuffleboard courts.

Family

There are no dedicated children's facilities onboard Ocean Princess. If there are 20 or more kids on a given sailing, a special counselor will be assigned to run youth programs (this happens most often during the holiday season: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's). This was not the case on our cruise, though the few kids we did see onboard were well behaved, enjoying the pool by day and shuffleboard by night. If your kids are content to play board games after a busy day in port, this ship may work; however, we wouldn't recommend this ship for families accustomed to the extensive facilities onboard today's mega ships.

Fellow Passengers

The majority of Ocean Princess' passengers are in their 40's, 50's and 60's, with the average overall age falling somewhere between 50 and 55. On our sailing, there were also a few kids and a handful of honeymooning couples; most guests hailed from North America (the U.S. and Canada), though there was also a decent showing from Europe and Australia/New Zealand.

Dress Code

During the day, most passengers conform to a casual, country club-style of dress. I was surprised by how many passengers donned sparkly gowns and tuxes for our trip's two formal nights, but plenty of others went a little more casual, wearing shorter dresses or light suit jackets. I made a nice sundress (floral, but black, so somewhat "formal") and high heeled shoes work, leaving pantyhose behind altogether.

Gratuity

Gratuities, which are automatically charged to onboard accounts, are $11.50 per person (including children), per day, for passengers staying in standard accommodations and $12 for passengers staying in mini-suite and suites. A 15 percent gratuity is added to beverage purchases onboard, including wine at dinner. Spa and casino staff members do not share in the gratuity charges -- if you use these services, tips are advised.

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