I was originally looking at 10 day cruises but due to lack of vacation time I had to reduce it to 7 days. I looked at Princess, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise lines. I chose Princess because they were a brand that I wanted to try, I was not familiar with the Royal Caribbean ship (Vision of the Seas) that I was considering for the 10 day, it was a smaller ship and I'm not a fan of the NCL Sun although a good cruise can be had on that ship. When I booked the cruise with Princess, they had a sale on and in addition, I was given a discount because I had sailed on Carnival Cruise Line (Carnival and Princess are owned by Carnival Corporation).
On my first cruise I was so tired by the end of the first day on the ship that I missed activities. I now fly in the day before embarkation and relax. This time I flew into Fort Lauderdale and booked the Best Western Plus Oakland Park. The hotel is the type where the rooms are outside. The hotel received bad reviews on Cruise Critic and other sources. I was amazed when I opened the door to my room. It looked better than some other brands upscale rooms for almost twice the price. The free shuttle from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the port was great. The hotel had a swimming pool inside a high security fence and a bar at the end of the pool. There was also a coin laundry in the building opposite the office. The office staff was very helpful and professional. There was a hot breakfast (free) the next morning with scrambled eggs, sausage and breads (cereal was available as well as coffee and juice).
The major plus for me is that I like a hotel that is within walking distance of restaurants and stores so that I can pick up last minute items for the cruise. There was a shopping mall at the next corner (within sight of the hotel) and good food near it. The Coral Mall has a Publix Supermarket, Target and several other stores inside the mall. There was a Wendy's half a block down one street from the mall and the best sub/pizza shop across from Target; Time Square Pizza. They had the best Italian sub (great bread, filled with meat and cheese) with a drink for $8. I wish that I could have gone by there on the way to the airport but it was too far.
Embarkation was a breeze. I arrived at about 11:25am and was on the ship by 12:30pm. Princess has moved into the 21 Century by using hand held devices to check you on and off the ship. No more large machine to slide the sign and sail card into, they scan it like the devices in supermarkets. This was first time that I arrived on the ship before 2:00pm and was able to go directly to my cabin which is great because I use a carry on. I met my Steward in the hallway and went inside.
The cabin was B228 (11th floor, forward). I was upgraded to the cabin by Princess (email a month before sailing). I was originally in D716 (9th floor, aft) which I thought would be better but I accepted the upgrade because I had never sailed in a forward cabin and have considered port hole cabins on Carnival and wanted to see if the motion was any different there then the midship and aft cabins that I had occupied on my previous 10 cruises. First let me talk about the cabin and then I will talk about the motion. The inside cabin has Princess beautiful off white and wood trim with a large framed mirror over the bed (love that decor). When you first walk in, to the right is the open closet (first for me), a tall cabinet with large shelves and the safe. The bathroom is across from the closet. I had the beds in the king sized configuration since I was cruising solo. There was a round glass top wooden table at the corner of the foot of the bed. I put that in the closet because it was in the way. The bed had two night stands on each side with two drawers and about three drawers in the desk. The refrigerator was in the corner below the flat screen TV and counter. I love that Princess keeps the ice bucket in the frig to make the ice last longer. There was a large bottle of water and 4 cans of Coke products in the refrigerator. The bathroom was standard except that this was the smallest shower that I had ever used. I affectionately refer to it as the girdle. The shower head with permanently affixed to the wall and there is little room to move around in there. The closet was really big and had the most hangers that I recall on cruise. These are real hangers that come off the rack not the type that have the bottom portion that slip into a hook on the permanent part that stays on the rack. There was a hair dryer above the desk and a phone with your name on the caller ID. Your name is also on the mail box outside your cabin. There was serious motion (high winds and moving fast), more than I have experienced before in rougher waters. The drawer in the night stand kept sliding open and it got so bad one night that I took all the unused hangers off the rack because they were making an annoying noise all night. The bed was shaking at times during the night. I would not recommend this area of the ship to someone who is sensitive to motion.
The Lido deck was not crowed in the pool area (embarkation) most people seemed to be in the Horizon Court (it was hard to find a table). This is the buffet area on the ship in addition to the International Cafe (sandwiches, coffee, deserts) on deck 5. The ice cream bar was the best thing on the Lido Deck. They had soft and hard serve. You could purchase shakes for $2.00, small but good. You also had burger and fries in addition to pizza. I did not like the taste of the pizza, tried cheese and pepperoni. The cheese burgers and fries were really good.
I chose traditional dinning and was assigned to the Palm Dinning Room, first sitting at 5:45pm. My experience there was unique of all my cruises. The first night there was two couples and three ladies at the table. The second night I found only a couple (new) at the table. In short the make up of the table changed from night to night. The service was less than desirable because of the personality of my waiter. She was not the model of waiters that I have had on previous cruises (male and female). Waiters are usually very reserve, professional yet engaging. They remember any special drinks that you have each night (tea, water with lemon, etc) and address you by name. I did not experience this on this cruise. The most annoying behavior was the waiter asking me to promise to return to the dinning room on a night when I knew that my table mates would not be there and suggesting to me and the other table mates that she should receive a perfect score on the review. I have never experienced this before. The waiter's assistants were great. I and other table mates had a problem with ice cream being somewhat melted when it was served and it seemed to me that the scoops were smaller than other cruise lines.
Cafe Caribe located aft of Horizon Courts was a secret jewel. After 10:00pm, they replace Horizon Court for dinning. You can get selections that were in the dinning room earlier that evening. If you missed something that you wanted to try you get a second chance. They also had other selections that were tasty.
Activities on the ship were plentiful from card making to ballroom dance classes and a Glee type choir that passengers could participate in. There was the sexy legs, contest male contestants, at the pool and mixology competitions.
The entertainment was most impressive. There were different types of musical acts performing in several places at the same time. You have the live shows in the theater, live bands of various types and karaoke. In the Atrium there was a R&B band playing while on a upper level in a bar the Princess band was playing ballroom. I only attended one show in the theater. It was short (30 minutes) but good by the standards of recent shows, nothing like the shows that the cruise lines had two plus years ago. There was late night DJ's in Sky Walkers after 11:00pm The night that I attended there was a dedication to Michael Jackson.
Service on the ship, overall, was great. It was nice to be in the buffet and have waiters offer to get drinks (non-alcohol) for you. They would even help you to find a place to sit down.
I'm not sure if I selected it but I was designated a "Walk Off". I might have chosen it in My Princess but I don't recall. I was informed that I could leave the ship at 7:50am. I was not happy with that idea as I like to stay on as late as possible. I was ready to leave at a little after that time and was amazed. It was the best disembarkation (leaving the ship anyway) that I have experienced. There were no lines for the elevators and walked right off the ship with no problems. The only slow down was going through Customs and that process only took about 30 minutes. I was disappointed that I could not purchase a Princess transfer at the port (you can with Carnival). I took a cab which was faster and cost $7 less.