We are long time cruisers (HAL, NCL, RCCL, Celebrity, Viking, Uniworld). This was our first Princess cruise. Below are thoughts on the ship. Will not review the ports (leave that for Tripadvisor).
The first part if where Princess almost lost us. Port of Houston facility is not used very much. It has good parking and porter service. The building has a small pre-security entry area and a larger post-security check-in and waiting area. We arrived at about 11:45 and there was a line outside the facility of about 200 feet. The line moved quickly and in about 20 minutes we were inside at the x-ray machines. And then everything stopped. Apparently no one was being allowed aboard, which mean the waiting area was full, so the line stopped. With no explanation. For an hour. Then someone from Princess came out to talk to use (I assume by this time the line outside the building was huge) and told us sailing had been delayed for two hours. With no More
explanation. Then silence for anouther hour. Finally after a hold up of about two and 1/2 hours (nowhere to sit, many people out in the cold), the lines moved. There was never any explanation of what happened (rumors were that they could not account for a debarking passenger) and no apologetic attitude for the delay. I hate sitting in an airport for a delayed flight when the airline does not keep you updated. I hated this even more. Would have taken very little effort to tell us what was up and what progress there was (even regularly telling us no progress would have been better). I even called Princess customer service from the line to ask what was up, and they said they had not been advised of any delays. Just a total failure of customer relations 101. Once we got past security, check-in and boarding was OK. Getting off at the end was a breeze. We were in an early group, and were off and through customs/passport in about 10 minutes. Seemed to be a reasonbale number of border protection folks for the size of the crowd. Might have been more crowded as later groups got off, but seemed well organized.
The ship is a bit worn about the edges. Things like rust and stains on cabin balcony areas, chips on doors, iffy repairs on bathroom grout. But it was fine for its purposes. The decor is what I would describe as "old club style". Lots of dark paneling in the public spaces and leather-like chairs in the lounges. Exercise facility seemed decently equipped (more below), but was very crowded on sea days (more so than any other sailing I can remember), so maybe not big enough for a very full ship. The ship has three formal dining rooms, all one story, so a different feel from many ships. Buffet rooms seemed a bit cramped, both in the seating and food service areas. Public rooms are well-sized except for the atrium area, which I thought was not as well proportioned or perhaps not as well laid out as on other ships -- again seemed cramped and perhaps more stylish than useful.
Before sailing I had seen complaints about the food in some recent reviews. Perhaps it is because I went in with diminished expectations, but I thought the food was fine. We did anytime dining, and found that if we ate relatively early or relatively late, there was no waiting. Sometimes shared, but other times got a table just for the two of us. I will say that the food did not seem as upscale as on some other ships (e.g., not as many big red meat options), but there was always somehting I liked. And it seemed that the list of "always availbale items" was more extensive than on some other lines. I was worried that service would suffer in an anytime dining room, as you get different staff each night. But it was actually pretty good except for the first night, when the service was rushed and impersonal and we were told that we could not order a glass of wine from the wine list -- only the house wine. Wonder if that was because of the first night crowd aboard, as did not have that issue any other night. On another night the menu called for a mid-dinner sorbet, and we did not get it. Doubt that happened with any of the set time diners. The buffet food was -- well, it was buffet food. Did not try the specialty restaurants other than for the pub lunch, which was tasty. The small sandwich, salad, dessert counter restaurant in the atrium area had a nice selection, and we snacked there a few times. I did think the wine and drinks prices reasonable for ship -- cappucino only $2.50 which is actually pretty cheap and they were large and very good.
This is where Princess shined, in our view. First, I thought the lounge entertainment was the best I have come across in all of my sailings. Solos, duos, groups -- there was a lot available and it was good. The main theatre entertainment (ship's company -- two good shows, one very good show; magician - not my thing; comedian - entertaining) was good overall. Cruise director's staff was very good. Did not know this in advance, but Princess is big on trivia games, so trivia two or three times a day. We loved this -- fun and a good chance to meet people. Pools were crowded as expected, but always somewhere to sun if you did not need to be near a pool. Small adult pool area at the rear. Nice but crowded. Exercise facility had good equipment (about 20 treadmills, 6 ellipticals, 4 bikes), decent set of weight machines and small set of freeweights/bells), but was crowded on sea days.
We stayed in a minisuite on deck 9. Room layout was good - large bath with tub, good storage, lots of hangers. Only issue with this deck/cabin set is that the deck width is the widest on the ship (that's how they get the extra space), but that means the balcony is futher outboard than the balocnies on the decks above, which means people can look down onto your balcony. On the upside, it means the balcony gets better sun. We did not find this configuration to be an issue. Our cabin was very close to elevators/stairs, but hall noise was not an issue. Cabin service was good, but not superior. We got an extra blanket when asked, but room service never came through with a requested fruit plate. Bed was pretty soft, but good pillows. Beds are fitted only with bottom sheet and duvet - we see this a lot in Europe and don't like it. Probably could have gotten a second sheet if we had asked. Less
Caribbean Princess Cruises to the Western Caribbean
We stayed in a minisuite on deck 9. Room layout was good - large bath with tub, good storage, lots of hangers. Only issue with this deck/cabin set is that the deck width is the widest on the ship (that's how they get the extra space), but that means the balcony is futher outboard than the balocnies on the decks above, which means people can look down onto your balcony. On the upside, it means the balcony gets better sun. We did not find this configuration to be an issue. Our cabin was very close to elevators/stairs, but hall noise was not an issue. Cabin service was good, but not superior. We got an extra blanket when asked, but room service never came through with a requested fruit plate. Bed was pretty soft, but good pillows. Beds are fitted only with bottom sheet and duvet - we see this a lot in Europe and don't like it. Probably could have gotten a second sheet if we had asked.