This was the first cruise for our family - 36 and 38 with 2 kids 9 and 6. I will start off by saying that it was a wonderful time, and we are already looking to book our next cruise(s) with our extended families.
Embarkation. It went pretty smooth. We arrived right at noon, so the line was extremely long. Being first-time cruisers we really had no idea what we were doing. We just sort of followed the masses. My husband has Elite status and remembered while we were in line that we could get preferred embarking. So, we got out of line and were rushed to the front. Much better - because the line was very long!
Our cabin. It was small, but it was doable for the 4 of us. We had twin beds and both kids were on the top bunks that come out from the wall. The have a bar that comes across but just where the heads are. Both of kids are MAJOR movers when they sleep, so I was worried about them falling out. I did find them both a couple of times close to falling off and had to readjust them. The bathroom was very small as was the shower, but we were expecting that going in. The cabin did have a TON of storage space, though. There were plenty of hangers and space to hang up our dress clothes and plenty of shelves to hold the rest of our clothes. There was also plenty of storage to hold all of our luggage. Our cabin steward was OK. He was very good about spiffying up the room and the turn down service and always seemed to know when we were away to do these services. He was not the friendliest guy and seemed annoyed by our questions. He also did not respond to his page very quickly, took him over a half hour to come to the room. We also found out that Princess does not do towel animals. Myself and the kids were bummed about this!
Ship: Very nice, the piazza area was absolutely gorgeous, and the whole ship itself was extremely clean and nice. It did have a lot of "can't get there from heres" but we were expecting that when we got on the ship from previous reviews. You learn pretty quickly that deck 7 and 15 are your friends because those are the 2 decks you can get from the front to the aft of the ship by just walking. The elevators were extremely crowded and you did have to wait for those for a while, but considering the ship was booked to capacity, this wasn't even really that bad.
Dining: Very nice. I really like how they post the menu outside the dining hall in the morning to help plan your day. I am not a seafood fan, but there was also another option or 2 on the menu, but there was plenty of seafood options for my husband and kids who are big fans. We chose any-time dining and I really do think you lose the whole personalization experience when you don't get the same wait staff every night. However, the servers were friendly and were more willing to answer questions (which my husband loves to do)! The buffets were really nice. It was sort of confusing as there were 4 different buffets and you never knew which was open. One time we went right around 5:30 and we went to the side that was open. The choices were VERY limited and there didn't seem to be any "main meal" options. We came to find out that this was the "snack" buffet - and at 5:30 the "dinner" buffet opened up on the other side. I know that several people got confused by this because when my kids brought back a plateful of shrimp, we had many people ask where we got it. The pizza and ice cream stations were a big hit. The pizza was really, really good. The ice cream was good as well. We knew about the grill and hit this up on the last day and was very impressed witht his too. The International Cafe was just down the hall from our room and was delicious - great selection of pastries and sandwiches and salads available all day.
Pools: We were actually disappointed in the pools. We specifically picked this ship because we read that Princess pools are one of the best. They were nice, and the one under the movie screen was neat - but they are deep. The smallest is 5 feet. This is over my daughter's head, and she isn't that strong of a swimmer yet, so we had to be in there with her at all times.
Ports: This made the whole trip for us. We had a GREAT time at all of the ports and highly recommend the Eastern Carribean if you are beach goers. St. Maarten was my, my husband, and daughter's favorite port. It was ours because the water taxi to the beach was reasonable and fun, the prices were remarkably fair and even to the point of GREAT bargains. My daughter really enjoyed the trampoline in the water and getting her hair braided by the locals. The major downfall here is that since you are on a public beach, you do get asked A TON if you want to buy merchandise and services from the locals. St. Thomas was my son's favorite beach because the waves were HUGE. We went to Megan's Bay and the view was absolutely gorgeous. This didn't rank as our highest port of call, though, because the taxi ride to the beach was $9 per person each way. then it cost $4 per person to get into the beach! The taxi ride itself was scary - we are talking VERY old trucks, very hilly terrain, and fast drivers. We wanted to get to town to do some shopping but after spending all that money to get to and from the beach we weren't going to spend it again to get to town. Princess Cays was very nice. Big plus was the lunch at port. Very good, the food was cook-out variety, and was very tasty. The fruit bar was outstanding! We did the 4-person paddle boat here - fun and pretty easy to do. The downfalls here were that the beach floor in the water was pretty rocky - and sharp. It was challenging getting into the water deep enough to get past the rocks. The line for the tenders back to the ship was extremely long and in the hot, hot sun! Grand Turk was also a good time. We took advantage of the resort-style pool near the Jimmy Buffet restaurant. We liked this pool because our daughter could reach and we didn't necessarily have to be with her at all times.
Kids Centers: My daughter had an absolutely BALL in the Princess Pelicans room. She literally would ask us the minute we stepped back on the boat from the ports if she could get there and would ask us to keep her in there until it closed. She just loved it. She spent pretty much all sea days in here too. Now, my son, went into the Shockwaves room a couple of times, but he didn't seem to enjoy it as much as my daughter. However, my son is a very, very shy kid and doesn't like being put into situations where he doesn't know anyone. However, he had a great time coming around with us to all of our activities, though. The staff in the Pelicans room was WONDERFUL and they got to know my daughter by name by the end of the cruise.
Entertainment: Pretty much if it was offerred, we took advantage of it. We wanted to experience as much as we can. In hindsight, I think we will probably be a little pickier as to what we pick on our next cruises. However, David Cats the magician/illusionist was pretty good. My daughter really, really got a kick out of him. My husband and I really, really enjoyed both comedians on board. I'm drawing a blank on their names but they were extremely talented and had us rolling! We also saw Berte with an "e" who calls himself the Jim Carey of music. He was good. He was a little weird at times, but I think that was his whole act. At the end, he took requests from the audience for various musicians and played little snippets from everyone. That was really neat. Movies under the stars was what I was really looking forward to. I don't know if they do it on purpose, but in the night/evening time when there are actually stars - they offered a lot of concerts and non-popular movies. I'm thinking they did it on purpose because there is not too much seating available there. I did go see Iron Lady so I could just enjoy the experience. I really like this option and wish they would offer more modern/popular movies. They did offer MoneyBall on the last night but this was at the same time as the illusionist/comedian act, so we couldn't take advantage of that movie.
Being first-time cruisers, we did struggle with the first day. Cruising seems to be such a vacation that many people go on over and over again, and once you experience it, it is a lot better. However, if you haven't experienced it before, it can be very intimidating. Like I said, my husband likes to ask a lot of questions and he likes to know about things before he is comfortable. He spent a lot of time on the first day on deck 6 at guest services getting his questions answered. However, since we were sorta of "thrown into the fire," so to speak, we did get the know the ropes pretty quickly and were enjoying ourselves much better by day 2 and on.
The only other disappointment that I can think of was the whole beverage service. On the first day we bought the soda card and the kids beverage package which included soda, milkshakes, and mocktails. The kids really enjoyed the mocktails and took full advantage of those. However, if you just wanted a soda, you would have to go to a bar and wait in line behind those buying all those specialty drinks and specialty coffees. It seemed really inconvenient to have to wait that long for a beverage that literally took 30 seconds to fill. Also, when you would go to the buffets, you would had to wait for your beverages, and you could be almost done with your meal before you finally snagged someone to get your drinks for you. There were plenty of wait staff ready to take your drink orders at the bars and shows, but they really need a station or two just for sodas, lemonades, etc. that you can get to during the day while you are wandering around the ship.
Overall, we had an absolutely wonderful time and look forward to being a part of those who have cruising experience now! :)