Our cruise on Princess was a wonderful holiday treat. We would give it 5 stars.
Princess is a conservative line with very traditional cruises. There are no transparent showers, or blue man shows, just a traditional cruise done very well.
It is the friendliest line we have cruised on. I am not referring to fixed smiles, or cheery good mornings. I am talking about a professional staff that really seems to like the passengers and their jobs, and does their best to be compassionate and helpful. We saw the same thing on a Med cruise on Princess several years ago. It is not as rigid or formal as most. For tours, you did not have to meet in the theater, and be marched off in lockstep. You just walked ashore at the right time and tour personnel were waiting to show you where to go. The captain was more willing to wait for late passengers returning from tours than most lines, and we had that same experience with them in the Med. It is really more "laid back" than most.
The mix of passengers was truly great. Americans may have been a "plurality" but were not a majority. There were many, perhaps more, Canadians. Also a number of Brits, with some Aussies and even a family from New Zealand. We had "shared table lunches and breakfasts in the dining rooms, and met folks from all over including Switzerland, Germany, and Eastern Europe. Ages ranged from several infants to some very senior citizens. There were a lot of preschooler, grade schoolers, high schoolers, and young adults. Everyone, children included were very well behaved, friendly, and made a Christmas cruise so much better for us old folks.
The food and service in the main dining room was the best we have seen in some years; at least as good on a 6 star Crystal cruise in the Baltic 8 years ago. The menu was quite varied. We had one night of lobster and two nights of excellent prime rib, and a couple of nights of small steaks. If you wanted a large rib eye, however, you needed to go to the Crown Grille. There was beef, chicken and sea food every night. Appetizers, soups and salads ranged from standard to exotic and were excellent. The MatreD was very helpful and they did the best job of accommodating my wife's gluten intolerance. They even had gluten free pancakes. They had sugar free and gluten free deserts every night. The breakfasts and lunches were also fine, and service was great for all three meals. We ate most meals in the dining room. We used traditional, but folks using anytime said they got seated with only a short wait at worst.
The International Cafe, their coffee shop (extra cost) was excellent, and had a good light meal (free) three times a day. We used it at lunch; they had several excellent salads, a quiche of the day, and several small sandwiches. The only discordant note was the Lido deck. The food was fine, and they had lots of happy diners with plates filled high enough to make me slightly ill, but the selections were somewhat more limited than most. They had no "deli counter" to make sandwiches. They did have an omelet bar. There was a separate Pizza place, soft serve ice cream station, and a trident grill for burgers and dogs.
Our rooms, ocean view unobstructed, was one of the smallest we have seen but very well designed and comfortable. No couch but the excellent flat screen TV was well positioned to be seen from the bed. Plenty of storage and closet space, and a decent bathroom with shower. We like the room very much but there was one problem. Our cabin had fold down bunks over the regular bed. If the cabin is made up as a double, access along the sides of the bed is partially blocked by the bunks, making access rather difficult; I had to face and hold on to the bunk while side stepping. I guarantee you will bump your head more than once. Bad design. The solution is to have the cabin made up as twin beds with the aisle down the middle. The room then works out very well.
Entertainment was traditional but good. The production shows had four excellent singers and 11 quite good dancers. On non show nights, there were the usual range of comedians, singers, jugglers et al. All fine but I did tire of flatulence jokes. There was also good entertainment in the lounges, and in the main atrium (the Piazza) there were often musicians or performers.
We were on a Christmas cruise to the Southern Caribbean. Aruba and Bonaire have good snorkeling and/or diving, with the usual overprice shops, and very little else. Never want to go back. Grenada is a great stop with both historical sites and some great natural scenery. Dominica is the most primitive and most beautiful of the windward/leewards, and a great spot for eco tours. St Thomas is St Thomas. Princess Cay is very well done but quite standard. We have done all of the lesser Antilles on sailboats and know the islands. The alternate Princess Souther Caribbean itinerary is better, but we wanted to go over Christmas. Interestingly, we saw few activities, only a game room, for the kids. There may have been more but they all enjoyed the lovely pools. The pools could not be covered but that was no problem in the Caribbean.
Enrichment activities were a bit limited. A number revolved around the spa. There were French lessons from the Assistant Cruise Director. The best was a series of lectures by a lawyer. It may sound like an improble subject for a cruise line, and likely to be boring, but Michael Beshay was very interesting and very enjoying. He was not lecturing on the law, but using legal cases to entertain. Don't miss him if you have chance.
One disappointment was the loss of the traditional afternoon tea. There was tea served at 3:30 in the main dining room, with background music, and all the sandwiches, pastries et al you could eat. However, the afternoon tea served in an intimate lounge setting with musicians playing classical music is apparently dead. Actually, there were no classical musicians aboard. Second year on two different lines we have seen this. Victim of the economy?
I read the reviews on the Emerald before we left, and saw everything from one to five stars. I was a bit worried, but then I saw the same pattern for all th other lines. Different people want different things and that partially explains it. I do think some folks would give only one star to heaven, and others would give five stars to a garbage barge. Be interesting to see a graph drawn by Cruise Critic showing number of people giving each star rating. Certainly a bell curve, and the area under the curve would show the relative performance of each line. I would give Princess five stars.