My wife and I are in our sixties and are frequent cruisers - our only other Princess cruise experience included a tropical storm, so we wanted to try again. We cruised from Ft. Lauderdale to the Southern Caribbean from 12/17 - 12/27/12. We had never been to Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada or Dominica, though St. Thomas has been a port on our previous cruises. We are lucky to live in Miami, so hotel accommodations are not an issue for us.
Embarkation went very smoothly; we were on-board within an hour of arrival. Our balcony stateroom was small, but well designed with plenty of closet space. The tiny bathroom and shower were functional but far from attractive and had stains in the shower. The mattresses on the beds seemed old and tired - a little hard, and while sleepable, not as comfortable as on other cruises.
The food choices were excellent. We opted for set time dining in the Botticelli dining room, and found both the food and service excellent. The Horizon Court and Cafe Caribe offered a nice variety of very good dishes and had some evenings with a regional focus (Mexican, German, etc). We visited two of the specialty restaurants. Sabatini's was OK and the Crown Grill was outstanding.
In general, we found the staff friendly and helpful, service was prompt. We used room service and it was consistently delivered quickly and on time, although if we called for room service, there was a lengthy wait for the phone to be answered.
The ship is beautiful with numerous pools, some of which are adults only. The ship was decorated nicely for the holidays, and staff kept it very clean.
There were some activities offered, but most did not appeal to us. Many focused on things that seemed geared to getting passengers to use or purchase spa services and products. It would have been nice to have some more variety, cooking demonstrations, celebrity chefs, computer or photography etc. We did not see much of the evening entertainment, since Princess has usually come up short compared to other cruise lines, we preferred to roam the ship at night and retire early.
We did not use the Princess Shore Excursion services, instead choosing dockside island tours; Aruba was beautiful, with many beaches, but our favorite tour was on Bonaire with a local Dutch couple who gave us an insightful, delightful tour of the island, complete with the local wild donkeys. Grenada was interesting, the tour guide was a local who gave us a history of the island, including the '79 revolution and the U.S. "rescue". We did not take a tour of Dominica, preferring to check out downtown shopping. We were saving our energy for St Thomas, which was futile, as we found out.
Despite our careful attention to hand washing, using antiseptic gel, etc. the norovirus struck us like a Tsunami the next night. We have never been so ill. I spent Christmas Eve day in the tiny bathroom going at both ends simultaneously and my wife got ill the next day. We had been astounded on day one of the cruise that there were not hand sanitizing devices in public bathrooms and our dining room and wonder if that contributed to the spread of the virus. We were disappointed in the response from the Medical Office. They seemed understaffed, exhausted, and overwhelmed. We reported this to the Medical office, but 4 hours after our call, when there was no response, my wife went to the Medical Office area to request assistance. They said they were "working down the list" and would have a nurse call us, and medication delivered as soon as possible. Sadly this was another 3 hours later (total of 7 hours response time.) Consequently, we spent the last few days entombed in our cabin, ill and weak. Once home, we noticed on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website that Princess has a higher percentage of reports of Noro-virus like outbreaks compared to other cruise lines, in spite of having excellent CDC sanitation scores. Disembarkation was difficult, probably because we were weak and dehydrated as a result of the norovirus symptoms.
In summary, norovirus ruined our Holiday cruise. We will be checking the data for Cruise outbreaks before we book again, but we probably won't be considering Princess.