This was our second cruise on Princess and our first on a smaller vessel (600 passengers). Universally the crew were wonderful!
Dining: Maitre'd Carlos and his second, Daniele, went above and beyond to make our dining a pleasure while on board. Our main waiter seemed quiet and a bit non-engaging at first, but we quickly discovered his shyer nature barely concealed a clever wit and his service was excellent. I had never know about a Princess Chef's Dinner before this cruise. but shipmates encouraged us to sign up for this rare treat. And treat it is! Not only was the food and wine pairings a cut above the ship's usual fine dining experience, the opportunity to see the kitchens and see the behind-the-scenes ballet by wait staff was amazing. Overall, the food very good and was better than we'd had aboard the Star Princess earlier in the year, perhaps because of the smaller ship venue. Dining areas are seemingly more elegant aboard the "R" class ships and it makes for a more pleasant experience. The aft outside dining area right off the buffet was one of our favorite spots to eat, drink and chill. The buffet food was good but typical and one could always find something of interest. Still, if one expects to have **** dining every night, cruising is not for you! There are always some hits and misses and the more tolerant one is, the more one will enjoy their overall dining experience while on board.
Cruise experience: I learned that smaller ship sailing has its advantages and its disadvantages. Certainly it leads to a more intimate cruise experience. We met many more passengers than past cruises and one feels a bit like a family by the end of an 18 day cruise. While smaller in size, the public spaces proved more than ample for a pleasant time. The Pacific Lounge was large and comfortable and totally underutilized by passengers late afternoon and evenings. We were always able to find seating by the pool, or an appropriate place to play a game or a quiet and comfortable place to read. Hot tubs were in good repair (note earlier reviews) and large enough to accommodate ship passengers. Service by the pool attendants, bartenders and wait staff was excellent; especially an always sincere and smiling Bojan and Alexsander. So, the drawbacks of smaller ship cruising? See above. Dining venues can feel limiting by the end of a longer cruise even though every effort is made to change up menus. It is harder to avoid unhappy or unfriendly fellow passengers, and, face it, there are always some. The usual cliques for trivia, games and lectures seemed to exude a more exclusive and aggressive following. Not totally unpleasant but not exactly welcoming either. Deputy Cruise Director Jason was exceptional and made every effort to keep all entertained and events moving well. However, this passages main cruise director came across as complete sycophant. However, as with most afflicted by this trait, he was easily avoided since he was always rushing to his next self-important task or "performance". These are minor grievances that are meant as comments and not complaints.
Cabin steward Andres was excellent. Always available and always making every effort to ensure a wonderful cruise experience. He has the rare gift of being on hand but never intrusive. Our cabin was, like the ship, in good repair but felt small and in need of a remodel (entering dry-dock soon we were told). While we had everything we needed it certainly didn't feel the least bit luxurious. By the end of 18 days, the space seemed a bit claustrophobic even with a balcony. I noticed most passengers spent considerable time in public areas and not their cabins. I have never seen a more utilized library (great space)! Two complaints, and shared by many fellow passengers during talks on board, were the quality of mattresses and the absolutely terrible pillows! On no other sailings have we had such base quality linens, mattresses and pillows--nothing luxurious about any of it. The pillows were in such poor shape they were useless to support, even with three or more in use. Several fellow passengers shared this same complaint and the ensuing neck and back pain. Princess: are you trying to drive business to your overpriced spa at sea? We managed our temptation for our usual hot stone massage which is now a whopping $200 without gratuity (or the typical add-ons sales pitch). Captive audiences don't appreciate price gouging. Still, our cabin was acceptable even if any sign of luxury and elegance was missing.
Conclusion: While not for every cruiser, the exclusivity and size of smaller ship, fosters a relaxing and intimate setting for meeting wonderful people and seeing fabulous smaller ports. Nothing beats the ability of this size ship being able to dock directly on Front St. in Bermuda! Food quality is somewhat better than larger ships and the crew to passenger ratio is delightful. Remember fellow cruisers, one stands out more while on board a smaller ship so mind your manners! 95% of us did and those making up the remaining percentage were perhaps more apparent.
Best guide ever! British lady who gave great insight into past history of the rock and what life is like today living there. Apes are cute and mischievous and residents are rightly protective of them. The tunnel tour was informative and inspiring. We spent an extra day here due to high winds and we wish Princess would have arranged buses for us the next morning to tour the town.
Trapani: Is not listed as a choice but was universally praised by passengers. We toured the old walled city at the top of the mountain overlooking this beautiful city and were transported to another time and place. Great shopping and pastries await as does a peaceful way of life. I did have a scam played on me when getting a coffee but I got up the courage to go back on my own, and when confronted, the shop person finally admitted to his deed and made it right even apologizing.
Nothing beats docking right on Front St. in Hamilton. We shopped and walked for the first hour and then, along with some fellow passengers, hired a taxi that took us on a 2 1/2 hour tour of half the island. We saw spectacular beaches, Gibbs Lighthouse and the Dockyard all while receiving an informative narration of past and present Bermuda. Beautiful and we will be back. I was last here over 20 years ago and a less formal feel is evident. I would also say that Port officials took far too long clearing our disembarkation and also allowing us to embark again. All this did was take away valuable time from their shopkeepers and potential revenue from their citizenry.
Fast tasting, rush in and out but good wine at an acceptable price sold with willing and knowledgeable staff. We left immediately after purchasing to walk the best Christmas market of the entire cruise!
Would be excellent but our guide was abrupt and rather hostile at time. This is also the only tour I've ever been on where it was essential to keep track of the guide. She walked without regard to ability (we are fit and could easily keep up) but many were left to be picked up "on the way back". She would always as the obligatory, "Are there any questions. (note the period and not a question mark)" and would immediately say "Good" and turn away. One passenger said, " I don't think we are allowed any questions." which prompted a round of laughter. If it had not been for the caring interest by tour members, people would have been lost along the way and left alone on the bus. Very hard to understand. The content of the tour was fun and beautiful. The toboggan ride was a blast and we highly recommend.
Our guide was informative, in fact, too informative. The best description was made by a fellow passenger whose quote is something like "I was looking for a 30,000 ft. tour and he was giving 2". the first 30 minutes at Pompeii was spent standing in place at the entrance. We were chaffing to get inside and see things first-hand. Showing and explaining good; lecturing without example not so much.
We also walked some of Naples close to the ship. Certainly the weakest port of call; it felt, even with and overwhelming police presence, completely unsafe. Pick pockets and snatch and grabs are the norm here. Vigilance was essential. Still, we made a couple of purchases from both shops and the open air Christmas markets. Don't think crime is only while walking as shipmates spoke of grabs attempted through cab windows and other passengers, having set a firm price with a cab driver for a tour, were told far from the ship that it was now four times the price to return to the ship and he expected a tip as well! You read about these kinds of things in other reviews and think, it won't happen to us (and we were lucky it didn't) but it was startling how many people related similar experiences while in Naples.
Vacation highlight: Fabulous Fabio who, not only instructed us how to safely operate a Segway, gave us a packed and informative tour of ancient Rome. It helped that he is an archeologist but his absolutely sunny demeanor and obvious pride in Rome is what made it so special. Worth every penny!