This was our second Princess cruise, and we went into with high expectations. As the title of the review says, they were exceeded. By a lot!
We arrived in San Francisco the day before embarkation, and did all the usual tourist stuff. We stayed at the Tuscan Inn, about four blocks from the pier. Rooms were small, but very nice. Service was great. We would be happy to stay there again. On embarkation day, before boarding, we took the antique fire truck tour of the Golden Gate Bridge. Kinda hokey, but a lot of fun anyway. Embarkation was a breeze. We had heard a lot of horror stories about embarkation/disembarkation in San Francisco, and we found them to be inaccurate, at least in our case. We had no problems whatsoever.
Our cabin was an aft-facing balcony, and it was fantastic. It was great to sit out there and just watch the wake and the sunrise/sunset. We had no issues with smoke, vibration or noise. It was a dream!
We found the staff to be friendly and eager to please. In fact, one comment I had made was "How can so many people always be smiling, and never seem to have a bad day?" It was like that the whole trip.
We had traditional dinning in the MDR, and really enjoyed it. Every meal was very good to great. Didn't have a mediocre meal the whole time. There might have been an entrée or two I didn't care for, but that was more because I did some experimenting, not that the preparation or presentation was not first class. The shows we went to were ok, nothing to get too excited about, but were well done. As I am a musician, I tend to have an overly critical ear, and the bands in the lounges left me wanting much more. The quartet that played in the piazza in the evening was outstanding. MUTS was nice, and not at all intrusive as some have said. Overall, we felt the ship was in great shape, even given her age.
Were there some problems? Certainly. I only bring these up to show that I'm not blind to any shortcomings, but these things are really quite minor. Once in awhile, an elevator may have gone out of order, but seemed to be fixed in short order. The food in Horizon Court was generally good, but the hot foods should have been hot. Most times they were lukewarm. There were a couple times when workers could be seen doing maintenance. (I consider that to be a plus, not a minus, but some seem to think it shows problems on the ship.) Was there a stain on a rug, or a little rust someplace? Of course. There were also people constantly doing cleaning, painting and general everyday maintenance. Did any of this affect any part of our cruise? Absolutely not.
We did a couple excursions through Princess, a tour on Oahu, and a really nice substitution excursion of Volcano National Park (VCN closed due to govt shutdown). Both were well run, the substitute VCN tour being totally first rate. We did a luau on our own at Paradise Cove on Oahu. Show was very good, but the food not so much. We heard that comment about a number of luaus, though.
Our big splurge was what Princess calls Ultimate Balcony Dinning. We did it as a birthday party for our friends. All I can say is that it was, well, the ultimate.
We even got off the ship in Ensenada, just to take a walk. We probably walked 3 or 4 miles, opting to walk into town, rather than take a shuttle. Even that was enjoyable. Ensenada is not my cup of tea, but we have the Jones Act to thank for that port visit. I'm sure Princess would do something entirely different if they were not required by law to make that stop.
Overall, this was the best cruise, by far, that we have taken. We've done two with Princess and one with RCCL. While all have been good, this one was great!