Background: My husband and I are in our 30's and were traveling with our 2 daughters, ages 8 and 10. We have taken 2 cruises previously with Carnival (once out of Florida and once out of Galveston) and fell in love with cruising on those ships. We plan to take many more cruises in the future as budget allows.
Embarkation: Embarkation was simple even though it was delayed. Unfortunately, our cruise was delayed by a day after we arrived in Houston because the Port of Houston had closed due to fog. We were sent an e-mail that embarkation would begin 24 hours after the originally scheduled embarkation. Princess did their best call everyone as well. The port opened before the expected time and we were allowed to begin the embarkation process as early as 6:00 pm that evening rather than the next day, but because most passengers were already informed of the 24 hour delay, we did not leave until 24 hours after the original sailing time. Princess made sure everyone got to the ship before sailing. We received a phone call about 2:00 pm in addition to the e-mail to make sure we knew.
We arrived in the terminal around 8:00 pm and boarded within about 20 minutes of that. They served dinner in the dining room and dress code was not enforced that night as everyone was arriving late.
Cabin: Our cabin was more or less what we expected in terms of size, although there was a bit more storage space than I expected and was pleased about that. We had an interior cabin at the front of the ship with beds that folded down from the walls. My biggest disappointment here is that the cabin did not strike me as particularly clean. There were small tar-like areas on parts of the carpet, the drain had hair or fuzz or something in it and there were stain-like marks on a few of the walls. After the first shower, there was standing water that was almost overflowing within the first 5 minutes of the shower and it took greater than 15 minutes to drain. We asked our steward to fix this and had to ask again the next day as it was still the same issue when we went to shower again. It was "fixed" (still a very slow drain, but at least we could take an actual shower) and then the next day it was slow again. I finally figured out that I needed to clean the drain of any residual hair or whatnot after each shower and it helped a little. Our room was also very noisy (probably due to where we were located on the ship). But we would often hear loud bangs with a vibration when the ship would rock. It was also very noisy at port as they were working with the equipment.
Service: The service on the ship was pretty good overall. But another disappointment was that we did not get our luggage until sometime close to 3:30 am. It's understandable that it would be a bit late because we boarded the ship so late due to the delay and everything was off schedule. But we had to sleep in our clothes that night because we were all too worn to stay up until that hour of the morning and no one told us when we might expect our luggage. After midnight we finally went to bed and I awoke at 3:30 to find it. I know it was likely close to that time when we got it because my family members in other cabins stayed up and didn't get theirs until about that hour of the morning.
Dining: We had anytime dining because other members in our party preferred it. I would have preferred traditional and we might have had a different experience if we had - I don't know. However, if you didn't get to the dining room when they opened, you were likely to have a long wait. We did have a large party (there were 9 of us), but the line was always a way out the door regardless of the party size. We compensated by eating dinner around 5:30 every night and were able to get a table in a reasonable amount of time. But I would highly recommend traditional dining if you want to eat later because there was always a long line waiting for a table.
The actual service was very good. Because of our party size, we typically ended up with the same waiter and he was phenomenal. He really doted on our youngest child and made everyone there feel welcome. His service was top-notch. Eating in the dining room for breakfast or lunch always resulted in great service as well because it was never crowded.
The buffet, on the other hand, was lacking. Having previously sailed Carnival, we didn't realize there wouldn't be lots of drink fountains. It took forever to have a waiter bring you a drink and you could almost forget about refills. There was never enough seating and we could rarely sit with our entire party. The food was pretty good and there was always a great variety, but the fancier foods were of course served in the dining room.
Entertainment: The entertainment was more or less what we expected, having cruised before. The dancing at their big show was the best dancing I have ever seen, but it wasn't bad and was entertaining. There was plenty to do on sea days, but port days were lacking in the evening. I found that there wasn't a lot more to do other than dance or hear live music on those evenings. And I was disappointed to only find one comedy show, which was the headliner that night. I had expected more shows in the clubs and lounges. We did attend several dance class sessions, and those were really good - easy enough for anyone to do.
Children's clubs: The children's area was OK, but I had though our 2 children both being in the Shockwave age range would get to be together. This ship had a different lay out which required our 8 year old to be separated from our 10 year old. Our children our very shy and do not like to be left alone, so we didn't end up using this very often. It did look like it would have been lots of fun, though, and was convenient if you needed a few kid-free hours.
General information: One notable thing is that I found this ship to sway a lot more than any other ship we've been on (not that we've been on a lot). I think the waters were slightly rougher than normal, but even when it seemed like smooth waters, there was always a fair amount of swaying.
I like, too, that the demographic was more fitting for us. It was nice to not see crazy drunk people everywhere you went all the time. I felt good having my family aboard this ship.
One general thing I did NOT like was that you could smell cigarette smoke almost everywhere you went. It made sense, I suppose, in the casino and the lounge, but it seemed to waft everywhere. I don't know if this is because it is a poor design of the ship or if smoking only in designated areas is not well enforced. Also, the main entrance to the theater was through the casino which made it difficult to avoid smoke if you have allergies or just don't like it. Also, there were smoking areas on the outside of the promenade deck which also happened to be the walking deck. This did not make sense to me at all as those who are trying to walk/jog for health are getting hit in the face with unhealthy cigarette smoke.
The public restrooms on the ship were generally clean, but there was almost always 1 or toilets out of order in any given restroom at any given time. There were a few times I had to travel to different decks just to use the restroom. That was frustrating. In general, public areas were kept clean, though.
Disembarkation: Disembarkation was pretty simple. We walked off and found our luggage easily (except for the one bag that had accidentally been taken by someone else). The lost bag was handled relatively well and was returned. Getting through customs was quick and easy. The line of passengers moved quickly.
Overall, I was just less impressed with this trip than the ones we have taken with Carnival. Maybe it was just because this ship was booked to capacity which made wait times and such longer and created more maintenance situations. However, if this had been my only experience with cruising, I don't know that I would be as excited to cruise again. I've heard very good things about Princess in general, so I don't why our particular cruise was what I would consider to be below average, but it definitely wasn't my favorite cruising experience. I heard other people on board make similar comments, so it could be it's the ship as well. In any case, I can't decide whether we will take another cruise with Princess, but if we do, it won't likely be on this ship.