My family have most recently cruised with Royal Caribbean, and NCL which we enjoyed. I had heard good things about Princess Cruises and we enjoyed this cruise overall but there were aspects that could be improved to make it a better experience.
Parking at the port was very easy. Although we waited a short while for a space, it was painless. This was our first ex UK cruise and if you are willing to sacrifice the instant sun that you often enjoy in Barcelona or Rome for example, it is a worthy alternative.
Embarkation was slow. It took us an hour to get from check-in to getting on board. The staff were friendly, but the system wasn't working for the agent checking us in, so it slowed things down a lot. I don't really understand why the agent didn't stop checking people in until the system was fixed.
Once on board we found the new atrium/piazza to be a pleasant space. This ship doesn't have the wow factor of some others, but we enjoyed the many spaces to find a place to sit and enjoy a drink or read a book. I wonder if the abundance of lounges and public areas is because they haven't succumbed to the craze for so many additional fee dining options.
Our stateroom was on deck 12 (Aloha). I didn't choose this deck and wouldn't recommend it because the pool and buffet is directly above. You could hear noise from above pretty much all day, although it wasn't unbearably loud. The only reason we accepted this cabin assignment was because we needed 2 rooms close together and one was required to sleep 3. Our midships location meant we could have 2 balcony rooms about 6 doors apart. Our agent did ask Princess if we could have adjoining staterooms, which were available at time of booking, but they wouldn't allow it because both were triples and we would not be using the 3rd berth in the second cabin. Personally, I felt this was a bit mean spirited but I suppose that's how business is done these days.
The stateroom seemed smaller than those we enjoyed on Liberty of the Seas (and Navigator). We missed not having a small sofa that Royal and NCL offered too. As stated by other reviews, the beds are very hard. I did ask for a mattress topper but so does everyone else who reads cruise critic, so out stateroom attendant never managed to find one for me.
One thing that I did notice is how the ship looked a little grubby in places. The inside of our stateroom door was stained, we had to ask for the bedding to be changed because there was a stain on it, and I removed a few hairs from the sheet. So not the best of welcomes. Our 12 year old daughter also complained that something in the mattress was digging into her and when we investigated, the mattress was studded with small, plastic ties. We thought this might be solved by turning it over, but the problem affected both sides. We explained the issue to our stateroom attendant and he put a quilt between the sheet and the mattress. This was on the pull down bed, so I can only imagine that it is not regularly used.
One annoying feature of this ship is there are no central (midships) stairs. We don't like to take the lift for one floor to get to the buffet, but the only alternative was to walk all the way forward or aft to use the stairs. I would not recommend a midships position unless you are happy to wait on the slow lifts, which inevitably stop at every floor due to the way the banks of lifts work independently of each other (this means people end up calling both banks of lifts at the same time).
We did enjoy the food on board. The fact that each dining room has its own kitchen meant the food was always piping hot. Most of the wait staff were very friendly except for one waitress who upset my mother by referring to her weight a couple of times when she tried to push her chair in one evening. I tried to explain this as probably being a cultural thing and she didn't mean anything by it, but my mother was upset nonetheless. What I did miss is how the wait staff on Royal Caribbean really made an effort to build relationships with passengers. Princess staff were friendly but not really interested. In fact, our waiter forgot to take my order on 2 nights and we only had a table of 5. I think he must have been overworked. He was very apologetic and tried to make up for things by bringing extra dishes for the table to try for the rest of the week.
I did feel the Horizon buffet was too small for this size of ship and it didn't offer the variety of dishes that I have enjoyed on Royal or NCL. However, the pastries and desserts were very good and better than other cruise lines. Afternoon tea was a nice experience too, if a little rushed.
We enjoyed the Movies Under the Stars on deck and although you don't go on a cruise to watch TV, Princess offered the best movies we have ever experienced on a cruise (widest choice and newly released features). The live entertainment on board was generally good, but I think the production shows were better on Royal. I did enjoy the port lecturer and I think other cruise lines could benefit from following Princess' lead in this area. She wasn't there to direct you to shops, she was there to help you make the most of your cruise itinerary.
The ports of Zeebrugge (for Brugges), Copenhagen, Helsingborg (Sweden) and Oslo were all very good and the 2 sea days made the week feel suitably relaxed.
Would I cruise with Princess again? Yes, if the price and itinerary were right. But I wouldn't rush back and I don't see them as superior to other mainstream cruise lines.