This was my first cruise on Princess. While not a luxury liner, I have to say, it was quite delightful.
We had a suite, and Princess made arrangements for certain preferences to the people in suites. It wasn't quite the distinction Cunard makes with the Grills classes, but it was definitely in that direction. Suite residents had preferential boarding, an exclusive cocktail lounge almost every night (in Skywalkers), preference for dining reservations, and preference on tenders when needed to go into port. Also, breakfast was served in the Sabatini's restaurant space -- very calm and the staff were always attentive. One of the best perks: No internet charges!
Our accommodation was really fabulous. We were in the center of the ship in the St. Maarten suite. Dare I say it, but the layout was better than Cunard. The living area was more separated from the bedroom area, and there was a curtain to draw if you really wanted to close it off. The space was large and open-feeling with two sets of sliding glass doors onto the balcony (one set from the bedroom area, and one set from the living area). The bathroom was well thought out. The toilet and sink were in a separate "room" from the shower and bathtub "room." The shower was really quite large -- at least 3 and a half feet square. The tub had whirlpool jets. The closet space was rather tight. Also the lighting could have been brighter there. Our steward was wonderful. He was attentive, but not intrusive. Five stars here.
Dining was not as special. The food was very rich, and I did notice quite a few "heavier" people with plates piled high with amazing quantities of food. I did participate in the Chef's Table. I highly recommend it. The attention to detail by the Master Chef and Maitre D' and staff was commendable. The foods were prepared with great care and beauty. Sabatini's was quite good.
I noticed that Princess effectuates rationing of services and extras by charging. Princess charges extra for wine and liquor (not too surprising), but also for bottled water, sodas and specialty coffees. They charge for a "day-pass" to the quieter adult-area called the Sanctuary. Of course the Grill and Sabatini's are extra, too. A tip -- if you can, bring a case of your own water on board, and wine. There is a corkage fee for the wine, and limitations on quantity, but the price and selection by bringing your own is worth it. One nit: when I bought a post card stamp (32 cents), the staff member insisted that I buy a $1 air mail stamp "because they had to use the old-rate stamps up." Not cool.
Medical Center. Unfortunately, my mom got to experience the medical center. Fortunately, the medical center is quite outstanding. It is really a mini hospital - quite something with ability to x rays, blood work on the spot, and of course, provide IVs and medicine. I was very impressed with the skill & service.
Spa services. The spa services are quite good, and they feature Elemis products (they do try to push them a bit). The hair salon was very nice and pleasant, and they did a good job.
Other stuff. They had a golf simulator, and an area with artificial grass to practice your putting (or bocce ball). They had the "movies under the stars" -- where you could sit by the pool and watch a movie. I found this to be quite odd to walk through and see "Pearl Harbor" being bombed (loudly) on my way to the putting green.
Shopping. Here, Princess gets a low score. The shopping on board was pretty bad. The clothes were shop worn, and frankly, designed for the over-75, over 150-lbs, and under-fashionable set. They didn't even have a cute "Princess" sweatshirt. Also, no bookshop.
Ports. Embarking was a mess. We had priority, but other folks were forced to sand outside down the block for several hours. Disembarking was better. I am not sure whether this was a function of the difficulties of the SF Port or Princess (I think the former).
The ports in Hawaii are always wonderful. Tendering in Lahaina was easy, and the staff were very organized and knowledgeable. I have to say, I love this itinerary: roundtrip SF (or LA) to Hawaii. Flying in and out of the same place makes it easy -- especially for west-coasters, and the tour of the islands is just enough of a break from your cruise-ship destination! I am just amazed Princess is one of the only savvy cruise lines to make this a regular trip!
A special note about Princess and my mom's service dog. Now, I have been through getting my mom's service dog on board a cruise before, and to Hawaii (no simple task). That said, the service and accommodation we received was commendable. The advance team was generally helpful in facilitating our departure. The Chief Purser was very helpful in arranging to smooth our entry in and out of ports (even when the port staff were clueless). Most of the staff on board were delightful to us all, and my mom's service dog received lots of affection and attention. The passengers were almost uniformly delighted to see my mom's dog (although we took special care to not be intrusive). Note that travelling with a service dog is doable, but not a trivial task. I wrote a blog giving practical tips about cruising with your service dog, and the trials of dealing with governmental regulation in Hawaii. Please see www.travelindog.blogspot.com