This was my 3rd cruise, but first with Princess. Also on this cruise was my boyfriend, and this was his first ever cruise, and my parents, who have a few cruises under their belts to say the least!
Getting to the port from Fort Lauderdale Airport was a bit of a mess ... the layout and traffic flow leaves a lot to be desired, but we eventually got in there! We paid for a transfer through Princess from the Airport to the port, but I don't think a cab would have cost any more money. We made independent arrangements coming home because we were going to a hotel for a night before our flight home.
Getting on the ship was easy enough, no big lines and our luggage got to our room just after dinner (we had the early seating).
Overall impression was good. We had a fantastic time. Our room could not have been better, we were right need the elevators, had a fabulous balcony room on the 14th deck and just loved the view! My parents also had a balcony room a few decks down midship (but we liked ours better). Our Room Steward was very pleasant and always greeted us by name when he saw us and would stop and chat for a few minutes, we really enjoyed him. He took great care of our room and we never had any problems.
I would suggest to future cruisers that if you know what shore excursions you want to do, you book them even before getting on the ship. Virtually ALL of the shore excursions in ALL of the ports were Sold Out before we got on the ship, which was disappointing because there were some that we would have done if they had been available, so Princess lost out there in my books.
The entertainment on the ship was also pretty good. We didn't get to all the shows but did enjoy the ones we did go see. Our favourite was the comedian, Rollin' Jay Moore ... he had us laughing and crying from almost start to finish! We enjoyed the Casino (really liked the Smoke Free Nights), would have liked to see the Texas Hold'Em on a real table with a live dealer, we don't play video poker. We took a few of the beginning dance classes and watched a few. All of the entertainment in the Piazza was wonderful and you would stop to watch or listen. There were a lot of choices for watching movies which was really nice, we did watch War Horse under the stars, but couldn't really hear the movie and we watched the Descendants in the Princess Theatre and it was quite good.
The food was a plenty to say the least. We had a formal dining room reservation, but didn't go that much, I would say only 3 of the nights. We just found the menu to be too over the top for us, maybe we are more simple, but we couldn't pronounce half the stuff on there, let alone know what it was. They only had a steak one night (last cruise I went on it was on the menu 90% of the time). We also thought there would have been more seafood offered, and they did have fish almost every night, but it was just so "fufu fancy" that it didn't appeal to us. We ate most of our meals in the Horizon Court or Caribe where it was simplified and buffet style and it was quite good. All the food was good, don't get me wrong, but a lot of the dining room items were just over our head and not appealing to us and what we are used to.
Our Ports were fantastic! We went to Princess Cays and tendered in and didn't have any issues. We bought a soda package and were disappointed that we could not use it on the Princess Cays, which stuck us as odd, since it was owned and operated by Princess, but that was our only real "complaint" about our experience there. The water was a tad on the chilly side, but I don't think Princess had any control over that .. LOL! The beach was beautiful and people seemed to enjoy themselves.
Curacao was my favourite place I have ever cruised to ... we just fell in love with it! The people were super friendly. We didn't book any tours or excursions in any of the ports, instead we just got off the ship and walked around, finding very quickly a 2 hour tour in an A/C van that hit all the tourist attractions and then dropped us off at the beach for the afternoon. Our guide was good, gave us a lot of information about the Island, its history, its current way of life and we had lots of time after the tour to go to the beach and then hit the town and check out the local vendors. This is definitely a place we will return to!
Aruba was our final destination, and it was also a beautiful Island. We did the same thing as we did in Curacao and got a 2 hour tour with a beach drop off ... both of which were only $20 per person .. which we found very economical for the 2 of us and really gave us a chance to "see it all". The beaches were gorgeous and the water was warm. We wanted to buy some of their coin currency before getting back on the ship from the local vendors, but none of them would sell us any which we found as odd and disappointing and by that time the bank was closed. Overall, Aruba was beautiful and all of the Islands were hard to say goodbye to!
The ship itself was very nice. Our only complaint is that we tried to go up to play the mini putt a few times and there were never any balls to play with, but overall it was a very nice ship, easy to get around. We went on a kitchen galley tour which was pretty cool and their kitchen was in impeccable shape and very, very clean. We also tried to watch one of the movies "Under the Stars" but we could not hear the movie, so we only tried that once, but they had plenty of movies running throughout the day for entertainment.
We did not travel with any children this cruise, but there were plenty of them on the ship!
Getting off the ship was pretty easy, we had one of the later times to get off, but it was a pretty good process and the only hiccup was actually getting transportation out of the port. There was a big lack of taxis (cars and vans) getting off and we had to wait quite a while to actually get a taxi that we could fit into. Cost about $40 to get to our hotel (which I found a bit steep) and from there we flew out the next day to Tennessee.
So, overall we had a great vacation. We really enjoyed ourselves, had plenty to eat and drink. We LOVED our room and the ship was great. We didn't care for the formal dining room menus, had too much on it that we didn't know what it was and the menu just wasn't that appealing to our tastes in food. The staff in the dining room were good, just not very personable, friendly yes, personable no. We just felt they came off stiff, they didn't talk to us much other then to get our orders and deliver our food. My boyfriend expected to see more seafood options on the menu then there was and I would have liked to see steak, more then the 1 time it was offered. I do have to say that I had the very best Cheese Ravioli on the dinner buffet that I have ever had! It was also a nice treat to see Biscuits and Gravy on the breakfast buffet 2 mornings, made my boyfriend feel a little more at home.
Our overall impression of the crew was ok. Alina in the Casino was very good with the customers and was the most interactive with the passengers. Our Room Steward, Richard, was also very enjoyable and friendly. Outside of that, the crew was there, but just "stuffy" ... I just didn't get a real "fun atmosphere" feel from them ... I just didn't get a real vacation vibe from the crew in general. I have previously cruised with Carnival and Royal Caribbean before and the general vibe or feel on those ships were just very different ... Princess just seemed to lack the "fun feel". Would have liked to see an Alcohol Drink Package offered and a Drink of the Day ... would have made it feel more like a vacation.
Their unlimited Soda package for $49.00 (unlimited sodas, juice and mocktails) was a great value. The coffee on the ship was awful ... no matter how much sugar and cream I put in it, I still couldn't choke it down, however we did have a few fancy coffees and they were quite good!
So, would we sail with Princess again? Probably .. would they be my first choice? Not for our next cruise probably. We are looking to book Alaska for 2013, so I am starting my research now.
My parents who were on the cruise with us have sailed with Princess previously and had the same thoughts as we did, especially about the food and coffee. I believe they will be sending Princess a personal review.