Our party of 10 (2 brothers, their wives and teenaged kids, and Grandma) embarked on our first-ever Christmas cruise 12/21 and are just back. All of us have cruised multiple lines previously, including Princess, so have a basis for comparison.
Embarkation was relatively easy, and after arriving via Park And Go from our parking area, we boarded by 1:30p and met up with the rest of our party onboard. A row of 4 interior cabins and a balcony cabin at the back of the ship were our home for the duration; our cabin steward Merlito was very attentive and became known, among the teens, as the "all-seeing, all-knowing" all-powerful presence who always knew who was up and perhaps even where they were headed. The cabins were small but entirely adequate and well-organized with a nightstand per person, and shelves and safe in the closet area (with plenty of hangers) that separates the bathroom from the bedroom. Initially the A/C seemed not to be working well, but after the first day, this was better.
We had a very nice time overall and gained several pounds along the way, so we can't complain about the food. I was surprised by the relative absence of symbols/signs on the menus that would indicate "waist-watchers" choices, or calorie counts that would help guide those inclined to limit themselves. The first day, we had to petition the maitre de for a table for 10, even though we had requested this upon reservation, but once this glitch was overcome, had a good time every night with our waitstaff Tanya and Ketut in the Boticelli DR for late seating. Service was prompt and accurate, though the pace seemed to slow as dessert approached, when much of the table was eager to break free for the evening entertainment. The choices in the buffet areas were a bit repetitive, but since one can't possibly eat every item at each meal, this was not an issue. In addition, the grill and pizza were available on Deck 15 (and deemed excellent and good respectively) but the general feeling is that the pizza in particular should be served til at least 1am rather than 11p to allow for night owls with late-night cravings. The International Cafe on Deck 5 had good salad and panini offerings and was open 24/7. We were disappointed by the sushi offered in the Caribe Area, but don't know if the quality of the sushi served at Vines (when one purchases wine/drinks) is any better. No midnight buffets were offerred.
Entertainment was varied and widely available. The 2 person Cinnamoon duo in the Wheelhouse Bar were good for couples to dance to. The piano bar Crooners was convivial, but I had hoped for a piano bar where the crowd could surround the piano and join in lusty song; here, the entertainer was very talented but performed primarily solo. Club Fusion was home to karaoke, trivia, Mass, Pop Princess competition, and Bingo, though some evenings it seemed to be underused for such a large space. The Princess Theater was the venue for every evening's main entertainment and the singers and dancers were quite good; show quality varied, but they get an A for effort. Lisa and Toby, the co-cruise directors, were awesome and funny both. I was surprised by the lack of drink sales in this location, though there may be a reason for this. Explorers Lounge hosted the ventriloquist, the Marriage Game, the Bad Boy of Magic, and another fun game night hosted by Toby. The Adagio Bar, up on Deck 16 next to Sabatini's, was the quietest bar on board, but Allen was the consummate bartender every night. Skywalkers was the nightclub on Deck 18, which could really "rock and roll" if the seas were up, and the bouncers did a pretty good job of keeping the under-18s out. DJ Nikki knew what she had to play to get folks to flock to the dance floor, so I was surprised on the last night that her selections were pretty weak, with long lulls of dullness between bursts of activity. Our teens found it odd that there was no place and no effort made to allow those in that difficult age range of 16-18 to hang out together; the Teen Club allows only those up to 16, the disco allows only those over 18, so for example, if cousins who are 16 and 18 want to be together, they have nothing to do but roam the ship aimlessly! If announcements can be posted in the daily flyer for AA folks and LGTB folks, why no 16-18ers?
Activities on board could have been more in quantity. When trivia is held in Adagio/Wheelhouse and there is SRO, that's a sign that folks are looking for something to do. When 2 teenaged boys plan to attend napkin-folding, that's a sign that they need more things to do. When the Speed Sudoku held in Adagio runs out of sheets for eager participants who arrive and no effort is made to procure more for them to be able to do so, that is a lack of initiative on the part of the staff. Why is there NO shuffleboard, the iconic cruise activity? Only 2 ping pong tables for a ship this size is inadequate. The minigolf area is somewhat seedy-looking, it is unclear where to get the clubs and balls, and it's impossible to get on the course without climbing over the wall! And what's with the "jogging track" that measures, what, 0.3 miles and at the very top of the ship--a recipe for dizziness and disaster!