We have never been on cruise in which we've had a bad time. Cost & value is always a consideration for us and we rarely pay for any optional services or meals onboard. We treat the ship as a floating hotel and book based mainly on itinerary. While we had a good time, comparison to last years cruise always came up for us. When reading reviews I realize they are opinions and to decipher how they will affect us is sometimes difficult. I have 35+ years experience in customer service, restaurant, & convention service so I may be more critical in those areas.
So this review will compare my Princess Grand 2012 TA vs. NCL Pearl 2011 PC and hopefully will be helpful to 1st time cruisers. I will add more detailed info on the Trans-Atlantic cruise in the regular review section.
I felt the comparisons are valid because of the following similarities:
• Size of vessel
• Length of cruise
• Number of sea days
• Passenger demographics
• Time of year
• Relocation cruises
Embarkation: This was the first time that we've had to use staggered embarkation and while I agree with it in theory, I don't believe it worked very well in this instance. We were given letters upon arrival at the pier which would dictate when you would be allowed to board. Instead of giving out letters to correspond with your staggered time it was based on 1st come 1st served. I believe this and the quantity of "Elites" caused us to board over 2+ hours after our arrival time.
Stateroom: The Grand cabin is larger and the floor plan more user friendly than the Pearl. The Grand steward was good but not as meticulous, friendly, or outgoing as the Pearl. The cabin had a phone that didn't work and I had to request a replacement. I needed the phone for wake up calls as well as weather info. No towel art on the Grand but done nightly on the Pearl.
Room service: I have never had a room service issue until this cruise. With a broken phone, I ordered room service for 6:30-7:00 delivery as a wake-up call. I just happened to get up early and waited. We waited until 7:15 and it never arrived so we left a note on the door to cancel as we had an 8:00am excursion planned. Upon our return the steward told us that room service had left a bottle of champagne and canapEs' for the inconvenience. Good recovery for a potentially disastrous day.
Buffet dining: Breakfast was your standard pre-cooked fare with the exception of Lox and a juice dispenser. Lox and juice is available on request but was a standard offering on the Pearl. The pearl also cooked your eggs and omelets to order.
Lunch and dinner quality at the buffet on both lines were good and comparable however the service was indifferent on the Grand. You were never asked if you needed a beverage, condiment, or how the food was. I asked for ketchup in the seating area at breakfast and they told me to go back to the buffet line to fill out a ramekin.
Coffee and Ice Tea was inconsistent in dispensing a quality product. Strength of the beverage varied at all times. It is my belief that the Grand uses a liquid coffee concentrate while the Pearl grinds and prepares by the batch.
Snack time and desserts were a higher quality and the selection better on the Grand buffet line.
Sanitation procedures at the buffet was very lax in my opinion as there was no enforcement of sanitizer use and the changing of thongs and serving utensils were non existent. Even when there was someone at the entrance they did not say anything like the "washy, washy" staff on the Pearl.
MDR dining: Breakfast and lunch on both lines were good and comparable. Dinner menus were not very good at the beginning of the cruise but got a little better as the cruise went on. I say this because it was not very difficult to choose an item and I did not have one dinner in which I had every course which is a cruise first for me. While most of the meals did not meet the exotic description on the menu there were a few meals that were quite memorable such as escargot, lobster tail, and prime rib. Unfortunately the lobster and the prime rib were on the same evening so one was the appetizer and the other a main course. This was my only dual entrEe evening on the cruise which is also a first for me. It is my opinion that the inclusion of at least one vegan, and one "spa" item in each menu category diluted the choices for the mainstream cruisers. I grew tired of the "1980's pepper spiel" pretty quickly.
Other Dining: Pizza on the Grand is the best that I have had on a cruise. A good tasty crust and ample toppings made to order.
The burgers are better on the pearl as they offer hot condiments such as grilled mushrooms and onions. The mustard had a Dijon flavor even though it looks like the standard yellow mustard. I was also concerned to see the cook turn his hamburgers with the same utensil he used to turn chicken. This is a "food safe sin" in restaurants
The British pub lunch was outstanding on the days that it was offered in the Crown Grill. The "steak N kidney pie" and the "bread N butter pudding" were highlights.
The Panini and salad snacks offered on the Grand's deck 5 are superior to the Pearl's "Blue Lagoon" cafe.
Afternoon tea was superior on the Grand but the scones on the Pearl are better.
Wine: Selection and pricing are similar on both cruise lines. The $25 Princess wine tastings are better than any wine tastings I've experienced on NCL. The best wine value on both lines is a French "Chateaunerf du Pape" as they are priced similarly on land. The most overpriced wines are the $25 entry levels which are triple the land price.
Anytime Dining: On my next Princess cruise I would not chose anytime dining again and would choose the second seating instead. They encouraged you to make a reservation on the day of dinner by calling a number but the staff never accepted it and told you to just show up. There seemed to be to be always a wait to be seated and they never checked to see if you had anytime or a scheduled seating. With a second seating I think I would always have a seat by 8:30. Freestyle is the pioneer!
Cruise staff: I found the cruise staff average and indifferent at best on the Grand. There were cancelled activities, no shows and tardiness to activities and a general lack of enthusiasm. I also found the arrogance of the cruise director may have set the example. The group on the Pearl was heads and shoulders above the Grand group. A failure to correctly announce a "clock rollback" by the CD almost cost us to miss an excursion and the corrected announcement came after some tours had left.
Activities and lectures: I believe the activities and the cruise staff go hand in hand. If it was not for the golf related activities there would have been some boring sea days. My wife felt 4 days at sea seemed longer than on the Pearl because of the lack of varied activities. The "scholar at sea" lectures were a joke and just selling opportunities for the art, camera, and jewelry departments.
Casino: The staff on both lines was attentive, patient, and welcoming. There were lots of Blackjack, Slot, and Hold'em tournaments during the passage.
Disembarkment: Both cruises had custom's wait issues but the went rather smoothly considering that there were 8 ships at Port Everglades on that morning.
Summary: I wouldn't hesitate to cruise either line again but was "underwhelmed" by Princess based on reviews that I have read. My opinion may change when I hit "Elite" status but as an "everyday Joe" looking for value I felt more welcomed and a better atmosphere on the Pearl. I know for sure the quality of Princess services have declined since my sailing on the sister ship Golden a few years ago.