Our second cruise with Princess was also our second cruise on a Grand-class ship, having sailed on the Crown Princess in 2011 and now closing out '12 on her Caribbean sister. While there were many factors that earned our return visit, and the accompanying credit card, a couple stuck out from our first voyage that sealed the deal when we saw a price and a schedule that worked for us for Princess.
Princess Mini Suites may be the best room value in all of cruising. If there's a better one, someone please tell me and that's the next cruise we're going on. Mini Suites give you two rooms, two tvs, an ACTUAL sitting area and a FULL-SIZED TUB to soak off the day's funk. All for the same price (or just slightly more) as a regular balcony room on most lines. They're truly awesome.
We spend a LOT of time in the cabin when we're cruising. We both have high-pressure jobs, and we really kind of devolve into the next thing to upright walking hillbillies on a cruise. Yes, we still bathe and present ourselves in a non-threatening way, but we take our relaxation seriously. For example, two of our big accomplishments on this cruise were that we watched a season and a half of "Homeland" AND finished a giant 400+ page Batman graphic novel. That sort of commitment requires a serious room to do your work in, and the Mini Suite is just such a place.
On those rare occasions we ventured out, we'd head to another one of out favorite parts: The Relaxatorium. actually called the Thermal Suite, for about $250 for the whole week, couples get all day every day access to various thermal treatment rooms, high-tech showers, steam baths, and hot rock tile lounges where you can pretend you're an iguana until someone chases you off. Again, worth every penny.
Food) Had some amazing things and some not so amazing things, which pretty much describes the food experience at any meal, anywhere in the world. I'll preface this by saying that in 15 years of cruising, we've NEVER gone to a dinner seating. We're buffet people. Not because we weigh 430lbs each *we don't), but because we just can't be bothered to alter our busy TV and hot rock schedule enough to actually put on pants and go to the dining room. We also like the privacy in the evenings at the more sparsely populated buffets.
Here's the secret: If you're wondering if something is good, ask the guy standing behind it. If it's something they tried to fake from a failed experiment at last night's meal, they'll be happy to tell you. And it if came out better than it had any right to, they'll tell you that, too. The staff is proud and honest about the food. When in doubt, ask questions.
Pizza and burgers were also quite good. Pizza exceptionally so, with the caveat that it was so thin it had no half life. Eat it there or have a soggy mess in 10 minutes in your cabin.
MUTS is always fun, especially as the NFL season winds down and cross deck rivalries ignite. Neat concept, mostly well executed.
Embarkation is always the same process, but that process speeds up exponentially once the initial rush dissipates, which is usually about 1:30. If you can wait, it's worth it. We parked off-site and got their earlier than we expected so we had a bit of a line, but it was whittled down fast and professionally.
Perhaps the best reason to fight the lines to get on early is the Princess Ultimate Ships Tour. This could get a review in itself, so I;ll sum it up by saying, if you're on the fence about it, just do it. You WILL NOT regret it. If you have any interest at all in engineering, seamanship, logistics or marketing, you will be fascinated. Heck, just to see the struggles of running a massive power generating station under a massive self-contained hotel, that, oh, just happens to do 20+ knots in the ocean... it's breathtaking, and the best episode of anything you've ever seen on the Discovery Channel.