Although my husband and I have cruised twice before, this was our first cruise without the kids. We were celebrating our 25th anniversary - more on that later.
Embarkation - We were in a mini-suite, so no priority boarding. But we ignored Princess's recommendation to arrive late and arrived early instead, around 10 AM. We were able to walk right in and through security quickly. We waited in the air-conditioned waiting area, comfortably seated, until 12 noon, when they allowed us to board.
Room - One word, FANTASTIC! But would be tight with more than three. Actually, it's truly perfect for two people who like to spread out. The deck is average and uncovered. We only had a problem once, when a bottle cap shot out of the pool deck, we think, and missed my head by inches. It was windy and that's probably what caused it to move like it was shot out of a gun. It would've cut me if it had hit me.
Our room steward, Gil, was incredible. We did tip him $20 when we first met him and I'm sure that helped. But we wanted exemplary service on our anniversary cruise and we received it. We also tipped him an additional $10 on the last day.
Communication, or lack thereof - We didn't like the way Princess gave us all of our excursion tickets at once; and how they provided zero information about them. The same went for our vow renewal, which was planned on our third cruising day. What we realized later was their method is to take care of everything and inform you an hour or two beforehand. OK - that method doesn't work. For example, we had pre-booked a clamshell, a floating chair, and snorkeling equipment for both of us at Princess Cays, their private island. Since we had no idea how it would work or where to pick any of this up, we walked in blind. Well, snorkeling was far away from the very first set of clamshells we came across. We checked into one of those and got the floating chair. Only now we were trapped. It was just the two of us and we didn't want to leave our stuff, our floating chair, our clamshell. We didn't realize there were the same set of stuff available by the snorkeling too! But by then it was too late. More on the disaster that is Princess Cays later... Another example - we weren't sure if we would get a corsage and boutonniere for the renewal, so we purchased one of each. Well, we learned later, like an hour before the ceremony when it arrived, that there was a corsage included, but not a boutonniere. We also got two sets of canapes this way. And worst of all, we couldn't get a confirmation of time and day for the ceremony itself until the day of. Guess what? By then, it was too late to book the Crown Grille, the specialty dining venue we wanted. We ended up not doing specialty dining - Actually that was a blessing in disguise.
Dining - As I said above, we didn't try either Crown Grille or Sabatinis. But we had Anytime Dining, and after the first night, the Maitre 'd figured out we were on a celebration. He'd been short with us about the reservation for a table for two the first night. But then, we had Hemant: he wore both a black and a white jacket at different times on different days, so I guess he was an assistant Maitre 'd of some kind. He appeared to oversee half of the dining room at dinner. But we'd met him during our very first luncheon, which we had in the Coral Dining room, and he was our waiter. Of course we told him of our special celebration. When we ran into him at dinner the first time, we weren't sitting in his area. He saw us and came over with a special plate of goodies not on the menu. AND he made sure we were seated on his side of the dining room from then on. Thanks to Hemant, we were treated like royalty - special courses, sometimes two and three at one seating - we couldn't finish anything, but what fun! Special treatment too by the staff and the higher ups. One time, I distinctly remember the couple seating next to us complaining that we received our food so much faster than they did.
We also loved Vines. We did a wine tasting and met the ship's sommelier. She was very informative and truly a charming lady. Afterwards, she would come by our table every night at dinner. I think we were on the same schedule, around 8:30 each night, as her and the purser and others, who ate with an entourage at a large table nearby. Now that I think about it, we were always placed close to that table... The vines tapas and sushi were awesome too! And the wine selection - amazing! We were buying CDP's by the glass for under $8. Seriously! We hung out one night, I think it was after Curacao, and didn't bother going into the Dining Room at all. Nan - our awesome Vines waiter fed us tapas, sushi, and cheese until 11 PM, all washed down with fabulous wine! We got to know him well too - an incredible person.
Our favorite breakfast and lunch place was the International Cafe. We got the coffee card, which folks - you can share as a couple, so just get one - and the coffee was quite good. The pastries, which we learned were made each day, were out of this world! The shrimp salad at lunch was to die for! The sandwiches were super fresh and the desserts were amazing. Yes, International Cafe is all that! But most would go to the buffet, right?
The buffet, both Horizons and Cafe Caribe are sub-par to awful. Don't bother - period. Even Trident Grill by the pool had better food. The pizza wasn't too bad either, but then again we're from New Jersey, so we have world-class pizza on every block. We did the buffet once for breakfast - sub-par; and once for lunch - awful. It was pasta day at cafe caribe, and every plate looked like a version of Hamburger Helper - swear to God. I picked at a salad while my husband tried a couple of dishes. In a matter of two minutes we realized none of it was edible and we ran back downstairs to our Cafe and ate shrimp salad and toasted prosciutto, mozzarella, red pepper sandwich on a panini roll, all washed down with the Blue Moon from the bar right there. Yup - you get small plates and you have to go back up if you want more than your hands can carry, but hey - that's a small price to pay...
Princess Cays - We will never do this again - ever. First of all you stand in lines for everything. Last tender is 2 pm (I think) so if you get there by 10 am and you stand in line for the wrong clamshells, and then stand in line for mediocre barbecue, and then stand in the sweltering heat in a mile-long line to get back on to a tender, you have, like, two hours to actually enjoy all the overpriced stuff you pre-booked. Well, guess what? After you barely survive the beach, where submerged boulders are everywhere underwater, ready to break a toe or twist an ankle - we personally saw/heard three injuries near our clamshell - you have barely enough time to catch your breath and drink a beer before you have to get in line for something again. We didn't use everything we pre-booked. DO NOT PREBOOK anything, unless it's the cabanas. Oh and BTW - the cabanas are a joke, unless you have babies or the elderly who can't sit in the sun. There beach access is a narrow and steep path down about ten feet - straight down - to a tiny strip of land. Then fun with underwater boulders begin again there too. Princess Cays = not worth the time or the money.
Curacao - Awesome! We prebooked the Sunset Cruise and it was a blast! Free drinks and an awesome sunset. The ride to the harbor and back was in a large air-conditioned bus, very comfortable.
Aruba - We went to Eagle Beach in a cab shared with another couple, who we met on the sunset cruise the prior day. The beach had palapas set up, but only for the use of the guests at the resort across the street. We had to fend for ourselves with rented chairs and shade from the trees. But the beach - the water - the beauty... Yep, it was awesome! The lunch at the resort across the street was awesome and relatively cheap too. They allowed us to use their restroom and so, what more can you want when you're at the beach?!?
The last two sailing days were great. Good food - because we knew by then where to go and a great balcony, the only place we got any peace outside. The poolside lounger hogging was insane. And the Sanctuary is at the front of the boat and it really rocks and rolls. We checked it out and decided it wasn't worth the $$ - not when you have a large deck midship to go home to. When we did go poolside, we ended up at the Terrace Pool or the Neptune Pool. Both were ok. But we never stayed for more than a couple of hours.
Movies Under the Stars - If you can snag a lounger from under the hoggers, which we managed one time, it was wonderful! We didn't get popcorn and used pool towels as blankets, but it was a cool experience nonetheless.
Our vow renewal - Truly special, after initial glitches. Like I mentioned up front, there was zero communication. Basically, they take care of everything but you know nothing - ha! Once we went up to the chapel, I was handed a gorgeous bouquet, which I was allowed to keep afterwards. They set up a row flanked by flowers and tulle bunting. Cameras recorded everything. We walked down the "aisle" hand in hand and recommitted ourselves to each other with the most beautifully worded vows I've ever heard. Our captain, a regal Italian, was the icing on the cake! The vows were barely discernible through his thick accent, but it sounded so good we didn't care. The lady who oversaw the ceremony, I believe she was in charge of Passenger Services, was very nice and conducted the entire process like a symphony. We were given: a bottle of good champagne, a large box of Swiss chocolates, the bouquet, a framed photo of our choice from the ceremony, a scroll with the vows written in beautiful font, and a certificate of the renewal, signed by the Captain. All of that is included in the Basic Renewal Package. We added some canapes, which they delivered twice, and my darling husband had a bouquet of roses and lilies delivered to me at the room.
So you see - we had a grand time, despite a few obstacles, Princess Cays and the buffet being the worst of them. And also, I have to wonder, had we not been on our anniversary, and spent quite a bit of extra money, would we have received the same service? I would like to think yes; but I have a feeling, on Princess, you get what you pay for. And paying the considerable sum for the cruise alone isn't going to be enough.