We had sailed with Princess in February for a 14 day Panama Canal Cruise and were please so when planning a "girlfriends" cruise I was excited to be able to go on Princess out of Houston. I had cruised out of Galveston on Carnival with family and thought that Princess would be a nice experience. What a disappointment.
The boarding experience was long and unorganized possibly due to the fact that this one of the first departures out of Houston. Once on the ship we were not greeted by staff but rather herded on like cattle. Our rooms were ready and our luggage was there. Our room steward was friendly and did keep our rooms in order during the trip but with NO extra touches that we all had been used to on other lines (i.e. towel animals, chocolates on your pillow, etc.) We also notices that the chairs, etc. were very worn and upholstery dirty (this ship is definitely showing it's age). At one point the towels in our bathroom were actually torn. The bathrooms are very small and showers tiny. The bathroom door in my veranda stateroom would not close when we got on board due to screws needing adjusting. It took several days to get this repaired. We heard from another passenger that many cabins on deck 10 had no plumbing for three days. We did notice on one evening that there were NO public bathrooms on the Promenade that worked. They were all backed up. One morning the entire buffet area was extremely hot because the A/C wasn't working. This ship needs some work.
As for bar service. It is very clear that the bartenders prefer you have a server come to you. They are slow and tend to ignore passengers at the bars. While on board we found (as did every other passenger we spoke to) that the mixed drinks tend to contain very little alcohol. The only exception to this rule is the bar in the Casino. All in all if you do want a drink you are better off getting beer or wine. Also, bring your allowed bottle of wine from home if you like it. On board you will be charged $32 for a $7 wine (at home price). While I understand a mark up, this seems really out of line for budget wines. As for the entertainment, don't bother. It is all geared for the sitting crowd. No energy anywhere (even in the "big" shows) on the ship. Other than late, late at night in the disco on the top deck the ship is pretty sedate. During the day it is a snooze fest of lame, low energy activities...such as a knitting forum, card making, and bingo. Thankfully they did offer a Zumba class on the three sea days. Otherwise there is very little to do if you are active other than swim in the pools. Unless you want to pay to go to a Wine Tasting or some other activity that there is a charge you are out of luck. Along those lines, I have never had so much "selling" aimed at me on any cruise. Everywhere you turn, at all times of day...even during your dinner in the dining room, there are crew members trying to get you to buy, buy, buy...and your room is covered with "shopping" flyers every night. It is very hard to "Escape Completely" (to use Princess' slogan) when you are being solicited constantly.
As for food. Not much to write about there. The presentation was usually well done however the flavor is just not there. While I usually can't wait for dinner in the main dining room each night because the food is usually exceptional, that was not the case on this ship. The menu was uninspired and I found myself ordering the Salmon many nights (offered every night) simply because the nightly specialties were odd and unappetizing. One night they even had Tripe on the menu? Odd offering we thought. Other than the lack of flavor many items were served at the wrong temperature. Dessert items that should have been cold, were room temperature while items that should have been warm were as if they had been made earlier and taken directly from refrigeration. Huge shortcoming in food service. Usually the wait staff is attentive and friendly. Not on this ship. If one of the head waiters had not recognized us each evening (probably because we were a group of women traveling together sans men - not hard to remember on a ship with mostly couples) we would have not had any conversation with any of the dining room staff. The service was there just impersonal and rushed. Many evenings our conversation was interrupted repeatedly so we could be moved on through the courses and out of the dining room faster. Not a pleasant experience at all.
We went to the specialty restaurant, Sabatini's, one night and paid the extra $25 per person they charged there in the hopes of getting an exceptional dining experience. This was a huge mistake. The food was actually no better and may have even been less inspired than the main dining room. One in our party ordered the steak which was so tough she couldn't even chew it another ordered a seafood trio which had a lobster the size large prawn. I fortunately had a shrimp dish that was okay. Again we were not greeted at the door. Our table was not ready (even though we made reservations 2 days ahead and the restaurant was not busy) and we were rushed through our meal.
The port experience was fine. We had booked excursions in Cozumel and Belize independently. I was glad we did as the passengers who booked through Princess were standing in huge lines on dock in Belize for a very long time waiting for buses. It was poring rain in Belize and our Cave Tubing excursion was cancelled for safety reasons so we just knocked around the dock and had lunch. There is not much going on at the port in Belize. Diamonds International seems to be buying all the local shops up and taking over the space but for now you can find some local artisans still selling their wares. In Cozumel we went to a beach resort and had a beautiful day. We just wandered in Honduras. The port there has some good shopping and a beautiful beach resort within walking distance or you can ride an aerial tram (quite unique) to the beach.
To sum it up...Princess is cutting corners. Too many corners! To make up for the reduction in fares they are adding fees to everything on board and reducing the quality of the included items, i.e., food, entertainment, etc. I have seen this in the airline industry (my background) and it is a shame to see it in the cruise industry. It leads to one place...markedly lower standards and satisfaction. I sincerely hope that the cruise industry doesn't go down that same path.