While we've been on a few cruises, we don't consider ourselves cruise experts. We're in our late 30s, and typically prefer to travel independently. That said, we do seek out cruises for value as a last minute vacation option, a way to relax with multiple generations of family, or to see a smattering of locations in a short time that would otherwise have complex logistics (ex: Alaska or the Baltic Sea). This time, we were looking for a last minute, affordable, relaxing vacation after a few stressful weeks at work, and for that purpose, this cruise didn't disappoint.
This was easy. We drove to the port at San Pedro, parked our car and walked about 100 yards to the building entrance. We arrived around 11am, checked in with no lines, were given a boarding card (group 10) and were on the ship by 12:30 (sitting in the waiting area until our number was called). We were able to stash our bags in our cabin and grab lunch in the buffet with no line or wait. Those that arrived later had longer lines, but that was the only time we saw large queues.
THE SHIP & STAFF
The ship was a little more tired than some of the newer boats we've been on, but it was by no means shabby. Little things like missing screws in our bathroom door plate or small smudges on carpets were noticed, but not big issues. We had an inside cabin and while it was small, it was functional. The staff we met was pleasant, and we enjoyed talking with members of the staff in the martini bar. If you ever thought you work hard, talk to the crew on the ship and ask them about their work! You'll feel like a slacker.
Always plentiful, and ranged from ok to great. We had good luck at the Crown Grill for steaks and seafood($25 pp surcharge) and ate most of our other meals at the buffet as we didn't want to dress up (aka ditch the jeans/shorts) for dinner. The food was pretty standard issue buffet food, but we particularly liked their German night and carving stations. The desserts at the International Café on deck 5 seemed to be a bit more elevated as well. The grill and pizza were fine too. Overall I think Princess did a good job (though we felt like the food selection in the buffet was less appealing than on prior trips). Not a bad selection, but they used to serve the dishes from the main dining rooms in the buffet as well, and that doesn't seem to happen anymore.
We enjoyed catching up on movies like Superman - Man of Steel, Ironman 3, and Now You See Me. The comic, Carlos Oscar was excellent. We also enjoyed watching some of the cruise directors games for guests and a very "Cirque du Soleil" couple who showcased their strength and balance. We played bocce, did some mini-golf putting and played Scrabble and Ping Pong. We didn't check out the dance shows or other entertainment options. Sessions on arthritis or Smartphones weren't appealing to us (yet!) but we were admittedly younger than most other passengers and entertained ourselves, read books, had cocktails, etc.
PORTS OF CALL
The ship stopped at Catalina Island and also Ensenada. We stayed on the boat in Ensenada but enjoyed Catalina. The water is a beautiful blue, the waves were calm, and you could see brightly colored tropical fish just by standing near the water. My husband did a great bike tour (booked independently) with Randy Lewis of bikecatalina.com but I think next time we might do some kayaking or snorkeling. I poked around the shops but didn't buy anything as I'm not a big consumer of t-shirts, shot glasses and other typical tourist items. The ship tendering process was quick and painless and we enjoyed watching some sea lions "racing" our tender just below the water line. We waited no longer than 3-5 minutes to/from the ship.
This was also quite simple. We had to be out of our cabin by 8:30am, but couldn't disembark until 10:45, so we just got breakfast in the buffet and hung out by the pool until they announced they were ready for us. By that time, there were only a few hundred people on the ship, so lines at customs were quick and painless.