I've cruised multiple lines in the past and on my last cruise I thought I'd try a Princess ship after viewing them across the ports of call (most people check out the other ships, right?). They looked like good ships and indeed they are. The Star Princess with a few exceptions is pretty well laid out (I'll get to the exceptions in a moment). The Star Princess was clean and in good repair. It was not uncommon to see maintenance crews cleaning and painting. The mini-suite had more than enough storage and the large suitcases easily slid under the bed. The mattress was full-size; not two beds pushed together (a very nice surprise). The buffet wait staff was quick and friendly. The tables were rapidly bussed as soon as people vacated; very well done. We ate breakfast and lunch in the dining room as often as time allowed and never had a problem getting a table for two. We opted for traditional dining, second seating, and our table was always ready when we arrived. On formal nights, there were multiple photo stations with multiple photo backgrounds (not everyone wants a Titanic staircase scene) so the lines were relatively short for those wishing to get photos taken.
I also want to mention the pasta dishes. The Italian chef prepared some of the best pasta dishes I have ever tasted; kudos! These were some of the high points.
Now to the things which weren't so great. One of the reasons we chose to sail with Princes was their smoking policy which prohibits smoking in staterooms and on balconies. Being strongly anti-smoking, we wanted to cruise without being assaulted by cigarette or cigar smoke. Imagine our distaste when we smelled cigarette smoke very strongly as we boarded the ship and went to the central elevators. The cruise staff responded the smell was coming from the cigar lounge. Well, it was always present when we were in the central area and on the mid-ship and forward stairs (the lounge is on the sixth floor forward-ship and the doors are left open so the smell freely enters the central part of the ship). Now we expect to avoid the casino at all costs due to the smoke smell, but to have it be that pervasive was a real issue. Furthermore, we often had to come in from the balcony due to the smoke smell (we assumed it was from nearby balconies). Many times you could smell smoke as you passed cabin doors (so much for the policy). There also seemed to be a liberal number of places where smoking was allowed. That made it pretty difficult to avoid second hand smoke. One of these days, I hope the cruise lines will get the message that this is not just a personal preference, but is a significant health issue and ban tobacco from ships. Smoking is not something you can "escape completely" from on a Princess ship. Be forewarned.
One of the things I've most enjoyed while cruising has been the relationship with the room steward. It's always been a high point of service, but not this time. Although the room was kept clean, the steward lacked people-skills. He addressed me by my title, but usually ignored my companion to the point where it seemed rude. He would not respond to her even with a simple hello. In addition, he never brought us any ice, did not do towel sculptures, and did not bring any wine glasses until the last day even though we had bottles sitting out. At one point, the top sheet on the bed was not being replaced (a note to him remedied the issue). My goodbye to him was not the usual exuberant parting. I wonder if this is a result of an automatic gratuity. There is no incentive to provide service beyond the basics.
Another issue revolves around the buffet. Considering the frequency of norovirus outbreaks, everything should be done to avoid cross-contamination of food utensils. Why any ship would allow unrestricted touching of the serving spoons by the passengers is beyond me. Yes, they had a monitor by the Purell dispenser, but once you were past that, anything could happen and did. I purposely avoided several selections after seeing the person in front of me contaminate their hands (sneezing etc) and then touch the spoons. There was also an additional serving line which had no Purell and no monitoring. In my opinion (as a doctor), all serving should be done by the staff. This would be much more hygienic than splashing a little sanitizer on people and hoping for the best. About mid-cruise, the salt, pepper, and sweeteners disappeared from the tables. We were informed it was due to passenger illness and a desire to avoid spreading germs (I rest my case). People waiting in line to touch the Purell also created a single-file bottleneck which doesn't make sense when trying to get thousands of patrons through a line. On the subject of buffet food, the "hot" selections were usually lukewarm at best. The selection and variety of offerings was very good.
Now, I rarely get even faintly seasick. My companion, however, was not so furtunate. There were two sea days which had her feeling nauseated. When we tried to move to a calmer part of the boat, though, we quickly discovered how few common restrooms are available. On many floors, there are none. Fortunately, there was a service cart in one of the hallways and I was able to grab a towel and avert disaster during one episode. Had I not found a quick remedy, there would have been a carpet cleaning issue and a very embarrassed companion to console.
A few more points:
Don't opt for the expanded soft drink package. The shakes and malts were terrible. They looked great, but lacked flavor.
Take your own seasickness medications. The cheapest ones on the ship were about 90 cents a pill.
There were no drink specials at all on alcohol. The cost for drinks was 7.95 plus a 15% gratuity. The math on that stinks. How about a 2 for 1 deal or a happy hour? Wouldn't the ship make up in volume what it lost in price?
Speaking of gratuities, if you order room service, there is a line on the receipt for the tip and it seems to be expected. I ordered room service one time, and yes I tipped even though the order was incorrect, but did not use the service again.
The ship has an adult only area which is a great feature. Unfortunately, it is a fee-for-use area. There is no way to escape the kids without an extra charge.
The mini-suite balconies are not covered and can be viewed from above. That means there is no shelter from the rain or prying eyes. Know before you book.
There were several art auctions and I usually like to attend these. On this cruise, I only went to one. The reserve prices were outrageous (including an item for $70,000) and the few items that did sell only had a single bid. The majority of items were priced between $500 and $2000. Auctions should be fun and play on our impulsive nature. At those prices, most people seemed to pause.
After every purchase using my cruise card, it would no longer work to open my stateroom door. After waiting in the customer service line for a new card once, I decided it wasn't worth the wait to get another card. I just never went to the room without my companion. I don't know why the problem wasn't corrected the first time.
We had 2 television sets in the mini-suite. Unfortunately, almost every channel was either blank or running advertisements for the ship's offerings (spa services, etc). It would have been great to have a little more selection.
Some shipboard announcements relate to activities and others offer important news. Unfortunately, we were not able to hear the announcements without opening the stateroom door. Since the muster announcement was given over the room PA speaker, couldn't there be a way to opt for the announcements in the room when desired? We did discover that some of the announcements could be heard on the ships forward camera channel, but this did not always work.
Finally, the design and workings of every cruise ship is a balance of compromises; some will work out and some won't. My comments about things which could have been better should be framed in that light. I offer these observations as a help to others seeking to learn about a ship before spending their hard earned money. It's my way of paying back those who've done the same for me. I love to cruise and will do so again. Despite the drawbacks, it is a great way to travel.