Background: Between my girlfriend and I (35 and 44) we have been on 10+ cruises with the likes of RCL and Celebrity. This was our first Princess cruise.
We drove down from Dallas in an ice storm the day before departure (thanks 4x4!), but many of the people scheduled for the cruise simply could not make it due to the closing of several hub airports and the resulting delays at the smaller sites. Embarkation for us no-status people was a fairly quick and orderly affair requiring 40 minutes of standing in line (outside...in 35 degree weather) followed by 20 minutes of sitting the pre-board area. The local port parking is very convenient and I would recommend pre-paying by visiting the Port of Houston website.
The Food: The quality of the food served around the ship is below average when compared to RCL or Celebrity. The age of this ship shows in the antiquated layout of the Horizon buffet which can result in long lines and longer waits for things like omelets. The buffet is tiny compared to what Celebrity offers and still smaller than RCL and there is very little variety in the buffet as a result. Food in the dining room was also uninspired and worse, lukewarm at best. We tried both the Palm (fixed seating) and Coral (anytime) dining rooms and found no difference in the temperature of the food served. Service was rushed, but courteous. The waitstaff seemed to be spread far too thinly to provide great service as many times our water glasses remained empty for too long and there were none of the niceties such as clearing away course dishes before the arrival of the next. The escargot was a welcome departure from the mediocrity of the other dishes...we both found it to be excellent (and large!). I also had the lobster tail one evening (only served on formal night) and enjoyed it very much...looking back it is probably the best lobster I've had on a cruise. Due to the overall quality and variety issues with the food, we ended up eating the EXCELLENT pizza served on-deck most days for lunch (and sometimes dinner). Seriously, the pizza is amazing and a genius idea, but I don't think we should have to resort to eating deck pizza for several meals on a "premium" cruise line. GF tried a burger from the deck grill and found it "disgusting", abandoning it 3 bites in. We also found the mixed drinks served on deck and in the various bars to be pretty weak...and in more than one occasion we had to explain the terms "dry" and "dirty" to a server when ordering a martini.
The Room: We booked an internal room (my first as I typically get a balcony) and found it more than adequate. The room was clean, well laid-out and had plenty of storage space. The shower has the "dreaded" curtain rather than a door, but it shouldn't be a problem for people of average proportions. Our stateroom attendant was excellent and made sure we had ice every evening. Seriously, there is no reason to pay the large markup on a balcony for any Caribbean cruise. Alaska, Panama, Europe? Sure...but I don't think it is worth it for the Caribbean.
The Ship: As I mentioned earlier, it's old and it shows. The wear is pretty obvious in most public areas and the decor is dated. The ceilings seem low compared to newer ships I have been on and the overall layout makes moving around the ship a bit more difficult as several paths abruptly end in "crew only" doors. The public bathrooms were clean with the exception of the pool-adjoining bathrooms which were horrible by civilized standards.
The Entertainment: If you love bingo, this is the cruise for you. The target audience for most of the entertainment is directed toward the older crowd, so if you are looking for nightlife past 11PM, this isn't the cruise for you. We didn't go to any of the shows, but the live bands in the common areas were universally impressive.
The Ports: The ports have been described to death in every other review so I'll leave my impressions out.
Disembarkation: We experienced a 3 hour fog delay before we could enter the port on our final day. This resulted in many more people missing their outbound connections home. Up and down the boat you could hear people frantically calling airlines trying to reschedule flights. Obviously Princess cannot control the weather, and handled the delay as gracefully as possible by extending the buffet hours until everyone had left the ship, but if you read any of the other reviews from this port you will see that it has problems with weather that may impact your travels if you have a tight schedule. Actually getting off the ship after docking was a simple affair and we were thru customs 25 minutes after our disembarkation group was called.
Now for the closing...although the ship and/or cruise line did not live up to the standards set by their competition, from a pure VALUE perspective for someone within driving distance of the port, I do not think it can be beat. These Houston cruises on Princess are (currently) ridiculously cheap at ~50% less than the competition sailing from Galveston so if you set your expectations accordingly, I'd recommend checking them out. I would not recommend this line/ship to anyone flying in unless the airfare price to catch RCL or Celebrity is prohibitive.