This was our 18th cruise(4 previously on Princess) and somewhat unscheduled. Our Chicago brother-in-law asked us to join him and his wife celebrating her significant birthday the week after Christmas. Upon contacting Princess we were told the ship was full but we could be put on a wait list for $200 (fully refundable). Two weeks before setting sail we were notified of an inside cabin availability on the Baja Deck. We are strictly balcony cruisers but decided to go for it. Must admit, for the price, it was just fine.
EMBARKATION: This was probably the biggest negative. The lines to register and board were incredible. Took us two hours to finally get on the ship. Reason was the compressed time to board (12:30 to 4pm) and the limited number of agents issuing ship cards compared to other cruise lines. Express boarding, forget it!
SHIP: The first thing I attempt to do is learn the layout of a ship. This is a challenge on the CB. The design and flow is very confusing. Room numbers do not conform to deck numbers. Going from the front to the rear of the ship generally requires the use of two decks. Many dead ends, Deck 7 is the main avenue while Deck 15 is very chopped up with pools, buffet area, etc. Elevators are poorly marked. The Excursion Desk and the Cafe Caribe are hidden while the library/computer area is adjacent to the main floor Piazza generally offering considerable noise and distraction. The ship felt crowded, unlike most ships we have been on. Special numbering procedures were necessary just to disembark in Curacao As for appearance, I wouldn't describe it as beautiful but well maintained. We did note many of the railings were in dire need of varnishing.
SERVICE: In general, we were impressed with all the staff. They worked hard and were generally friendly. As always, several stood out. Our cabin steward, Maria Molendes, did an outstanding job. She was always cheerful and kept our cabin very clean and organized. She assisted us in getting my suitcase repaired, a 12 inch gash damaged by the crew from dock to ship. Apparently my tip was too small to the arrogant dockhand who proclaimed he was personally responsible for our bags. Yeah right!!!! We always request late seating in the dining room. This allows for relaxing time after an on shore excursion and to take advantage of several drinks before dinner. Much of cruising is developing new relationships. We communicate with several staff from previous cruises. Our waiter (Prawit from Thailand) and assistant waiter (Jonathan from the Philippines)were exceptional. Very attentive and honest regarding the menu. They knew their product which prevents disappointments and complaints from their customers. In addition, every good cruise has a memorable bartender. This cruise, it was Jack in the Crooners Bar. Not only was he a good mixer but he remembered his customers on a first name basis after the second day. Ask for his Captains Bounty drink. Awesome!
FOOD: The food in the main dining room (Palm)was above average. Certainly better than our Nov Holland America cruise. Menu selections were less but what we ordered according to our waiter's advice was tasty and well presented. Those who do not rely on their waiter (if they are any good)end up with complaints. Food in the Horizon Court is typical buffet food which is not our choice except for breakfast. They surpassed the main dining room for breakfast. We always seemed rushed or the food was definitely subpar. The design in the Horizon Court is better than HAL. Less congestion. We didn't discover Cafe Caribe until the second last day. Food in the International Cafe is a nice addition.
ENTERTAINMENT: Overall, the entertainment was very good, some outstanding. The production shows are just that, production shows with marginal interest. The first CB show was the best, others I slept through. Scott Wyler has a good comedy show. Keeps you laughing about your experiences on board. Small groups such as Temp Quatro (outstanding), Sugarcane(very good Caribbean combo) and Solutions (good) are worth hearing. The most outstanding talent is Tom Franek, a one man piano player, singer and magnificent entertainer that packed the venues wherever he performed. He is a must!
DISEMBARKATION: Was a breeze. Very well orchestrated. Good job Princess.
In conclusion, we enjoyed ourselves on our 18th cruise. We will cruise again with Princess, but our preference is still with Celebrity. They are still the class line. If you are considering Alaska, Princess should be your choice.