We’ve just returned from a five night cruise around Tasmania aboard the Dawn Princess. We left Melbourne last Thursday and sailed to Burnie, Port Arthur, Hobart then back to Melbourne. Even though we’ve been back for a day, I still have that sensation of the floor moving. Urgh! I will confess right now that I didn’t want to go. The day before we were set to depart, we got notified about a norovirus outbreak and we were now to depart hours later because the ship was being disinfected. It didn’t help ease my mind about a cruise where I knew I would be feeling sick anyway! I get terrible motion sickness, I can barely watch children on a swing without feeling dizzy. Husband was all “on such a large ship you can’t feel the motion as much”.
Well, he lied. I can tell you folks that you can absolutely feel the motion! Husband tried to comfort me by saying “this motion is nothing, on my cruise the drawers were falling out of the desk”. And he told me you can’t feel the motion? Lies! I had brought along some travel sickness tablets which didn’t help much.
Apart from feeling a little sick, the cruise was pretty good with great weather. Following now is my review, but it is from the perspective of a vegan traveler.
Embarkation involved joining a looong queue at Station Pier in Port Melbourne. Fortunately the queue moved relatively quickly, it took us fifteen minutes and there were lots of staff members at the desks. We were able to leave our suitcase and have it delivered outside our stateroom.
Stateroom sounds rather fancy. In reality, we had interior cabins (DeeW and I in one, Husband and Arthur next door). You know, the cheapest cabin possible with no window:
That’s the room before we messed it up. That’s a luggage mat on the right bed. Below is the bathroom, the shower is on the left (not shown):
We had a room steward meet us and he was our friendly contact for anything we needed. Our room was made up beautifully every time.
Arthur and DeeW had fun riding in ‘the great glass elevator’. You can see the band stand and chairs for the string quartet in this photo. There was also a pianist so we had music many times throughout the day. Lots of Christmas trees and decorations around too:
There were many scheduled activities and we would receive a newsletter every day letting us know what was happening. The entertainment staff did a great job and you could see they clearly enjoyed themselves! Here’s the Vista Lounge where many activities took place:
I went to trivia style games hosted by cruise staff. Husband and I won a bottle of champagne on one night, on the second night I was solo but was invited to join a team of four elderly people. Thanks to me knowing the answer to “which singer’s hips don’t lie”, we won. Everyone else answered ‘Elvis’ There was line dancing, a 70s night (people REALLY get in to this stuff. You know the whole ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ thing? Lots of solo people doing just that), some musical theatre-ish shows (I really enjoyed the Moments To Remember show), a cooking demo by the executive chef and lots of activities geared towards elderly passengers, who made up most of the cruise. Gotta hand it to the senior travelers, they sure now how to dance and have a good time!
Arthur and DeeW had the Kids Club and to be honest I thought it would be some kind of watered down playgroup scenario in a small space. Boy was I wrong. It was fantastic and the staff were really good. The kids loved it:
The pictures above show the main room for the younger kids, where DeeW spent all her time. Not shown is the older kids room where Arthur went. Every time I had my camera, the room was full of kids so I didn’t want to take pics. That room had gaming consoles, booths and couches for activities. Arthur wanted to try every activity they had scheduled such as yoga and country western (involving Wii games and crafts like making cowboy hats and bandanas), badge making and other fun stuff. DeeW mostly did crafts, played some Wii games with other kids and they also had a pizza lunch party. There’s also another space for teens. A word of warning though, some of the activities and games put on by the staff were basically casino style betting games. I know not all parents are comfortable with this. Also, there were some arcade style games and one was a rifle game where you hunt animals– obviously being vegan this is something I was unhappy about, though some of the non-vegan parents were unhappy about a shooting game too.
I can highly recommend the Kids Club, we had no hesitation leaving Arthur and DeeW there. Parents must sign the children in and out and pagers are available. You need photo ID to sign your child out. Older children can sign themselves in but not sign out. Arthur and DeeW both say they loved Kids Club. Arthur in particular surprised us by trying everything. He even had a turn at karaoke, something we would never have thought he’d try! The staff member in charge used to be a school psychologist and she told me she now has the best job in the world. I believe her, given how involved she was with the kids and how happy she was to be with them!
There is of course the pool deck, with two small-ish sized pools and jacuzzi. You can get towels in your stateroom or from a table near the pool. There was a big screen above the pool area so you could watch the movie and swim at the same time if that’s your thing. There were some scheduled pool deck games. For those of you who grew up watching the Love Boat, yes there really is such a thing as shuffleboard!
It took me four days to locate the library on deck 7. Turns out you have to go in past the Internet cafe:
There was an art gallery, with a silent art auction:
There were bars and lounges scattered around the ship, some with live music and dancing:
There was an exhibition of old Hollywood photos and other memorabilia:
I used the gym facility. There are a number of cardio machines like bikes, cross trainers and treadmills. There are dumbells but no barbells or kettlebells. The dumbells were in pounds and in 5lb jumps. From memory the machines are chest press, cable machine where you can do a variety of moves like chest and triceps, straight leg press, preacher curls, leg extension and a lat pulldown machine, though the bar was up so high I couldn’t reach it! The gym had a water fountain and towels were supplied. Outside the gym is a small pool and jacuzzi. I planned to use the gym again but felt too sick, so I only got to use it once. Although it’s obviously not a fully kitted out gym, it is suitable enough if you are confident with changing your routine to match the equipment available. There were also scheduled aerobics classes but unfortunately these clashed with other things we had planned. Like sleep: some of the classes were very early morning before DeeW and I were up!
Now let’s talk about the food! Welllll in general I wasn’t really that happy but other times I appreciated the staff trying to help me. I’ll break this down in to the Horizon Court buffet and the main dining room. Please excuse some of the photos, I sometimes used my phone in low light conditions!
Horizon Court Buffet
I was told beforehand, by a Princess cruises employee, that the servers at the buffet would not know what was in the meals. I found this to be true, though some of the servers were, I believe, sous chefs (dressed differently to the servers, though I didn’t always get to read what their badges said) and were able to tell me if something had butter in it.
Well, butter was pretty much in everything. I was very disappointed (and to be honest, damn annoyed) that the healthier options like steamed vegetables or baked pumpkin were coated in butter. Green beans? Coated in butter. Asian stir fried vegetables? Butter. Indian pulao rice? Butter. I was happy to see a label saying channa masala but knew better than to think I could get lucky and have it be vegan. Sure enough, butter and cream.
This means that vegan travelers, or those who can not have dairy (like me) had to pretty much eat plain salad and fruit with a dressing of say balsamic vinaigrette. Even the bread rolls had a shiny top which may have been a non-vegan glaze. Health conscious travelers who don’t want all the high fat dishes were also doomed to the salad bar. There was a pasta with tomato sauce which would have been great, had it not been for the parmesan mixed in to it. Husband isn’t vegan but he hates parmesan with a passion (the smell makes him sick) so this ruled him out too and other diners who hate parmesan. Even as a non-vegan it always bothered me when pasta arrived with parmesan on it. Not everyone wants that!
So here are some photos of what I ate from the buffet. Look, it’s a little depressing. But looking at the bright side, I’m still following a nutrition plan where I have to basically eat healthy wholefoods. So for that reason, I did actually feel glad there were no big temptations for me because I can tell you now that if there was a cashew alfredo available, I would have fought people for it.
Hello breakfast! And dessert:
This was a special day because there were ROAST POTATOES. Can you imagine seeing roast potatoes after days of fruit?!
Some snacks around brunch and early afternoon. I was so excited to see chickpeas one day and beans the next. That is what boring salad and non-vegan hot food options does to you:
Another happy day for there was macaroni in a plain tomato sauce!
The salad with sneaky ham at the bottom. Yay.
The vegetable salad label said it was tossed in oil but I had one bite and couldn’t rule out butter, so I didn’t eat it:
Hello raw dinners. I never want to see you again:
This was a special gourmet dinner. They had plain beans! Roast potatoes! Cherry tomatoes! And I took along my raw olive herb crackers from Life To You (who were at World Vegan Day Melbourne 2014):
The tables in the Horizon Court Buffet were torture. They look like slabs of tofu:
The carpet gave me a giggle though:
Main Dining Room: The Venetian (with one dinner in the Florentine)
We chose the 5:45 early dinner sitting. Before the cruise, I exchanged email with a Princess employee about my dietary requirements. I was told that there has been positive feedback by vegan passengers and that I should speak to the Head Waiter or Maitre d’ to discuss my meals. Easy enough.
Unfortunately there was a bit of confusion. On the first night we had to eat much later because the ship was being disinfected and we weren’t able to board until 6pm. I spoke to our waiter and asked if there was anything that could be done for me. I explained I was vegan with a dairy intolerance (I clearly explained what vegan meant). The waiter went back to the kitchen to see if I could eat the Moroccan Vegetable stew, which was the only main meal on the menu that sounded vegan. He brought it out, after being told it was okay apparently, but it was obviously a cream dish. The waiter took it back to ask the kitchen again and this time he said yes it contains cream. I also ordered the salad with the non-Caesar dressing and was given the Caesar dressing. Not a promising start at all and I got that awful sinking feeling many a vegan has experienced. I ended up getting the only vegan option which was the chilled fruit plate. I was starving and even handled the ‘chilled’. I have sensitive teeth and don’t like chilled anything but damn, I was so hungry:
The Head Waiter then came to chat to me and again, I explained the whole vegan thing. He wrote down my requirements and said he would pass it on so I was relieved. I ended up eating another fruit platter, DeeW asked for plain mango and I asked for some too.
The second night was the formal dinner. We all got dressed up, Arthur in his little Doctor Who bow tie and DeeW in a beautiful dress. Aaaand we sat down, I was given a menu and again, nothing for me but more chilled fruit. I spoke to the Head Waiter and told him the previous night I had spoken to another waiter (in the different dining room). This Head Waiter told me “I only have one request for a special meal but it contains meat”. I even saw my meat-eating Husband’s face sink on my behalf. The Head Waiter asked the name of the person I’d spoken to and I said Pete (not his real name, obviously) and went to chat to him. Apparently Pete had no idea what I was talking about. Two days later, I learned that there was another employee there called Pete and they had gone to the wrong Pete to confirm my order. Argh! I went to the buffet, got a raw salad again then at the end I saw a piece of ham on my plate. So back I went to the stateroom, turned on the TV in a big show of defeat and at least got a grin out of The Love Boat reruns. But really, I felt like this:
The third night I went back to the buffet, again feeling that kind of sinking feeling of “they just don’t get it after all the assurances when I booked”. To be honest I felt really ripped off. Husband went to the dining room for dinner and was given a copy of the next night’s menu to pass on to me, so I could decide on what I wanted. But I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it– rock up on the night and ask “okay I’ll have this but can you make it vegan?” Husband wasn’t told what we were supposed to do so we just assumed we could go to dinner and the kitchen could modify something on the menu.
On the fourth night, we met another family for dinner as our daughters had made friends. I ordered more chilled fruit plate:
I think I’m getting this out of order and mixed up with another dinner, but here’s a cauliflower and pickled onion salad I ordered off the menu, which I think was already vegan:
The other little girl ordered plain pasta so I asked for that too with some tomato pasta sauce if they had any as they had some in the buffet kitchen earlier in the day. The Head Waiter came over and asked what my specific requirements were. It went like this (and by this time, I’d explained the vegan thing to a handful of different staff and had no confidence whatsoever):
Me: I don’t eat meat so I’m like a vegetarian but I also don’t eat eggs, honey, gelatin or dairy and I have a dairy intolerance. Basically I don’t eat anything that comes from an animal.
Head Waiter: Oh, you mean vegan?
I promise you I could have jumped up and kissed this guy. I looked at Husband, he had a big look of relief on his face too. I know vegans reading this can imagine the feeling of wanting to run around the room with your undies on your head, you’re that happy that someone in a restaurant GETS IT. Even the people we were eating with were relieved for me (one ate a gluten free diet so she understood where I was coming from!)
The Head Waiter went through the menu telling me what I could have had, saying things like “you can’t have the risotto because it has chicken stock but if you were here for lunch yesterday you could have had the vegetable risotto because it was made with vegetable stock”. All I could think was I WANT TO KISS YOUR WIDDLE CHEEKS. Anyway, my pasta dish was essentially a little plain but after living off (mostly) boring salad and fruit for the cruise, this was heaven sent:
They even had a green apple sorbet! This was delicious, you could really taste green apple:
Now this is where the miscommunication and confusion happened. Apparently I was supposed to have put in an order and by that I mean someone had to write everything down for my dinner the next day (there was no writing down of anything in the dining rooms, the staff just remember everything). That’s what I had done on the first night, but there was the confusion because of two employees with the same name and I had given up trying. But at no point was I (or Husband) told “you must make sure a waiter writes it down to place your order”– when the Head Waiter was discussing the menu with me I was saying “that sounds great, yes I’ll have that”. Husband and I (and the other diners) all thought this was me making the order, as I was saying what I wanted! I didn’t know they had to formally write it down and so on (and I had been given two lots of different information by two different people, so it was all a bit confusing, with one telling me “just tell the Head Waiter what you want and they’ll tell the kitchen”. This is what I did in our conversation, which obviously wasn’t enough).
To be fair to the Head Waiters and other staff, they really did try to accommodate me and make me happy. But I felt like a big fat vegan pain in the arse and didn’t want to trouble them. Vegans, you know that feeling right? The Head Waiter then told me “there’s a linguine on the menu tomorrow that could have been made vegan but the linguine is an egg pasta. But you can have the spaghetti because that’s all wheat and we can throw in some broccoli, whatever vegetables you like, a pasta primavera”. WIDDLE-CHEEKS MAN I WANT TO HUG YOOOOOO. So this time the order was taken (but I don’t recall seeing it be written down!) and so the final night I was able to have a really nice, simple but tasty pasta dish. Look, they even cut up the zucchini and carrot nicely. *CRY*
This was the appetiser I’d ordered, the orange grapefruit cocktail. I don’t like grapefruit but if there was something vegan on the dining room menu I WAS GOING TO GET IT:
I got to have dessert again! Pine orange sorbet:
We did get to see some dolphins from our table:
DeeW also had her seventh birthday while we were on the cruise. The staff bring out a mini chocolate layer cake (with the Princess logo on the side) with a candle and the waiters gather to sing happy birthday. DeeW didn’t want the singing but she was very pleased with her special cake. These little cakes are for birthdays only, you can’t order them off the menu.
It was unfortunate that I only found the ‘rules’ for ordering special meals at the end of the cruise. I think Princess should provide more specific instructions in email correspondence as well as in person. Also, all staff should know what vegan means (some didn’t). I think these days, there’s no excuse for not knowing this especially on a cruise ship that claims to cater to vegans.
My advice would be that if you need special diet meals that require 24 hours notice, be very specific and ask “what do I need to do to make sure I get my meal”. Ensure an order is taken down on paper and take note of the person you have spoken to and their job title.
If I ever go on a cruise again, I will follow my own advice here. I could have had a greater variety of vegan meals in the main dining room and I had really been looking forward to seeing what the chef would come up with. So it was a bit disappointing but the Head Waiters and the Maitre D’ were great.
For the buffet I was really disappointed that most things that could have been vegan were loaded with butter and/or cream. I asked a sous chef why they did this and he said it enhances the flavour. Sorry guys, but throwing butter and cream in to dishes that don’t really need it is not ‘enhancing’ in my eyes. It’s just making it unavailable to people who can’t eat dairy and there are loads of options already there for people who can eat dairy! Give vegans (and dairy intolerant) people a fair go. Please don’t relegate us to the raw salad ingredients– it seems like people wanting to eat a low fat or plant based diet are not considered at all. Given all the high fat high calorie stuff on offer (and I get that buffets are places to go all out), I really don’t think it is too much to ask that there be a vegan curry or lentil dish (the curried lentils in the buffet had cream). We all know these days that vegan dining can indeed be ‘fancy’. We’re not all rabbit-food eaters and the lack of one proper 100% plant based hot meal is something that I think needs to be rectified. My meat eating friends and family say they don’t want meat all the time and they like to throw in vegan meals when they can. In this age of information about the benefits of a plant based diet and the dangers of the animal-based foods like those in the buffet, surely there could be one flavourful plant based option. Hell, if I could get that kind of meal from a mom-and-pop cafe down the road that has people queuing up, I would hope to see such a dish on a cruise ship that claims to cater to all special diets. As for desserts, all they need to do is a quick Google search to find the most amazing vegan desserts. There are blenders on the ship: there’s your vegan cheesecake right there.
So in summary, the buffet was a let down for vegans/plant based eaters in my opinion.
Other ‘free’ food options on the Dawn Princess include the Sundaes ice cream bar. Think cheaper ice cream served up in cones or cups from a dispenser. A small selection of toppings were available for either chocolate, vanilla or mixed choc-vanilla ice creams. Non-vegan of course:
There was the La Scala Pizzeria with your standard pizza toppings. I asked about the ingredients in the bases and was told “I don’t know sorry, we don’t make the bases ourselves, they’re packaged”. Come on guys, tear off the ingredients panel, stick it up in the kitchen so that at least kids with egg and dairy allergies can know if they can order pizza! It bugs me when people put egg and/or dairy in pizza bases (WHY???) and I really think the pizzeria employees should know what’s in the bases so they can advise customers:
There was a bar and grill by the pool and a patisserie on another deck which I never saw with pastries, though Husband went a few times.
The staff were all incredibly helpful and friendly. We chose to go on this cruise when school kids are still in school, so although there were children on board it wasn’t crowded. We learned that the staff can be on the ship working for up to nine months (some still get sea sickness after all that time). The decor of the ship is a little dated here and there but that doesn’t bother me and it certainly didn’t bother the kids and after all, this was really a family trip. Having a windowless room wasn’t a problem either as we only went there to sleep. There are many things that were exceptional such as the dining staff in both the main dining rooms and the buffet being quick with your orders and refilling drinks. And yes, I did get up and give a big cheer for all the dining staff when they did the baked Alaska parade. Had I not been holding a camera I would have joined in with the enthusiastic waving of napkins. There was even the chicken dance but I was too busy taking photos
Disembarkation for the ports was quick and efficient. You have to present your cruise card at all times (best to wear it on a lanyard) and in some cases photo ID. In Burnie we had buses to take us in to the town, in Port Arthur we had to take the ship’s tenders. In Hobart we were able to walk straight in to the Salamanca area whenever we wanted. In Melbourne the final disembarkation was easy and we had a short wait for a taxi home. We didn’t go on any pre-arranged shore excursions but everything seemed very efficient.
If you don’t mind a smaller (by cruise ship standards!) ship, or decor that’s a little dated, then I’d happily recommend the Dawn Princess. If you’re a vegan traveler, please take note of my suggestions about the main dining room!
If it wasn’t for me feeling sick, especially for most of the final day which was an at-sea day, I would go on another cruise. Five nights was more than enough for me though as I don’t like being confined to small spaces. Husband is now talking about a longer cruise that goes up to Fiji and thereabouts but they’re too long for me. The kids had a good time, though they overloaded a bit on junk food and didn’t really have many options in the main dining room.
Thank you to all the crew on the Dawn Princess!
Have you been on a cruise? What can you recommend?