Background: Mom / Daughter travel team. I, the DD, wanted to show my mom Alaska, before she gets too old to endure the trying travels of an Alaskan 9 day land package and 7 day cruise. Alaska is not an easy vacation...if you do the shore excursions! Worth the effort but far from just kicking back in the Caribbean!
We were booked in the Grand Suite, September 1, 2012, just for reference purposes.
Weather was basically horrible (rain, fog, wind) the entire 7 days. The very last day, debark day, was nice! Glacier Bay was socked in with fog...total disappointment. Visibility was about 3 feet, at best, most of the day. Boo hoo!
We embarked in Whittier. There was no line for suite guests, so we had the 'pleasure' of waiting nearly 30 minutes. Not the end of the world, but Princess states that a priority check in is part of what a full suite guest is paying for. At check in, the Princess rep informed my mom that she did not 'exist'. Not good! Then, after we got a supervisor involved (and yes, we had all of our boarding documents pre-printed and in hand, so we most definitely DID exist!), we discovered that either Princess or our TA, had my mom classified as a Mr. instead of a Ms. or Mrs... This was a fairly big deal, that added another wrinkle to an already challenging embarkation.
Finished up with security and voila! We were on board and headed to the Grand Suite. It is on deck 11, completely aft. Normally, I enjoy an aft view, but for the purpose of wildlife viewing, a side balcony would have been much, much better.
Grand Suite: In a word... PERFECT! The only improvements that Princess should make to this wonderful layout is a 2nd toilet. We were only a party of two, but I know that a lot of large groups reserve this suite. A true 2nd bath, like most of the other major lines offer, would make the suite perfect! The bed linens were very good. The master suite bed was a bit FIRM, but with an egg crate topper, things were better. I had the sofa bed and our wonderful steward, Roel, put a TempurPedic (or Tempur-Like!) pad on the sofa bed for me. Wonderful! Warning for future grand suite guests...the shower STINKS! No, I don't mean that it's bad (quite the contrary with its 9 jets!)...I literally mean it smells like the oldest, nastiest kitchen sponge you could ever imagine. Be prepared! Also, there is a small pillow menu. Be sure to look for it in your 'Suite Benefits' book. It is sort of hidden but is definitely there. For room service, please note that you can order basically ANYTHING that is offered on the ship. Just be nice when speaking to the operator and she will work hard to make you happy. If there is something specific you want for breakfast, just write it in on the door hang tag. It will be brought without question. Like I stated earlier, staying in a suite definitely makes for a nice experience.
TV: In a word... AWFUL! Since this is a very big election time for our country, we were interested in following the news. Not going to happen on Princess. They could never keep any of the national cable news channels going. Now, you will be relieved to know that they were able to keep the annoying Princess 'sales pitch' channels running at all times! Seriously, if we could get cable news more than 1 full day, it was cause for celebration!
Breakfast in Sabatinis: Wonderful! This is a wonderful perk that Princess offers its' full suite guests. The brioche french toast is truly Heaven! More! I want more!
Unlimited internet is GONE for suite guests and this is a shame! Princess 'replaced' the perk with a complimentary night in a cover charge restaurant. This is no replacement! I hope that Princess brings back this benefit, as it was one of our deciding factors when selecting which line we were going to spend our 'suite' dollars on!
Room Steward: I normally do not have good Room Stewards and sit and stew in my own envy, over the cruisers that constantly brag about how they wanted to adopt or kidnap their stewards... Not this time! Roel, our room steward, was truly amazing! He made our 7 days wonderful...greeting us every day with a giant smile, rushing to open our stateroom door when he would see us walking down the hall, offering to help us unpack, etc..etc...All requests were met with a big smile and the word 'no' did not ever happen!
Food: We ate in Sterling Steakhouse for dinner... C+ at best. Waiter (Christian) was argumentative, food was only so-so, service (not including the arguing!) was OK, but honestly, I have had better at Denny's! Also, what's up with putting a 'high end' steakhouse in the Horizon Court Buffet area? I guess that us dumb passengers are just toooooo stupid to know da difference, huh? Our friends had a dinner at Sabatinis and said that it was soooooo much better, on all fronts, than Sterling.
Horizon Court Buffet: I give it a strong "B" grade. Food was not very hot, salad bar selection could be better...but all in all, no one went to bed hungry. I will give Princess high marks for always having the buffet open, breakfast/lunch/dinner. When we would return from a busy shore excursion day at 3:00 PM, unlike Celebrity, there was plenty of food for us to select from.
Entertainment: The singers/dancers on Princess were excellent! Costumes were in good shape and you could tell that the performers had practiced their routines thoroughly. The jugglers tried hard, but were just 'flat'. The one juggler that performed sword swallowing merely grossed out the audience and ALL of us hated it! The illusionist played to a standing room only crowd, so that gives you an idea how truly GREAT he was.
The bands around the ship were barely OK to truly awful. When walking by the bars at night, you would cringe when hearing the sounds being sung by various performers. Not all were terrible, but overall, it was just bad...
The classical music/piano being performed in the Piazza was lovely and well done.
Casino: Smokey! Ick! Another shameful moment for Princess! Casino must be non-smoking or patrons will simply not stay there. I refuse to play the uber tight slot machines and get lung cancer! No thanks! Based on the tightness of the machines and their lack of payouts, this would be a losing proposition, for certain!
Debarkation: Shame on you, Princess! So many of our friends had their trips nearly ruined thanks to the way that your porters treated their luggage! So many broken bottles of wine in their clothes.... expensive pieces of luggage destroyed... Why must the porters be so rough? Is it really necessary? Porters will keep on until NO ONE will tip them, ever again. Personally, after seeing my FUL duffel (if you have seen these Duffels at Costco and the hard core way they are constructed to stand up to any abuse, you will understand why this is a big deal) destroyed by Princess, I am probably DONE tipping these porter jerks! If they take my money and then still destroy my luggage/belongings, then they can play someone else for a fool. I'm done! The laundry room was very busy on the 1st night with people desperate to wash the wine from their clothes. Sad....
The debark process is OK, but if Princess isn't going to allow us off the ship until 9:45 AM, then why kick us out of cabin (that we paid for!) at 8 AM? Senseless... Give us at least until 9 AM to not be going like a frog in a blender, on such a busy day. Yes, I know that the rooms have to be cleaned and turned around, but other lines allow 9 AM so Princess can, too.
Summary of thoughts: Princess does a lot of things right, and as with anything, has room for improvement on others. The food was better on this cruise, than on previous cruises. Entertainment, overall, was a strong 'B'. Suite was wonderful! Wish the balcony would wrap a bit, around the side, in order to not ONLY have an aft view.
On board shopping has gone downhill. Merchandise is becoming more and more super high end. Who the heck goes on vacation to purchase a $100 Tommy Hilfiger shirt? What happened to the more reasonably priced items in the shirt's clothing/general merchandise store?
Will I sail Princess again? Maybe to probably.... I prefer Celebrity and I constantly heard while on board, that HAL gives a much better experience, so my first vacation/cruise dollars would most likely go to one of those lines.