My family, parents with two adult children and a grand-father, took this Dec. 8, 2013 Princess Eastern Caribbean cruise mainly to try out the new ship. The overall experience was beyond our expectations, especially reading the reviews here.
We took two obstructed balcony and one inside cabins. Embarkation was very smooth, probably because Fort Lauderdale was designed to handle such large volume. The overall layout of the ship was similar to older Princess ships, so we did not get lost. Deck 7, the Promenade Deck was the one where passengers could walk from the back to the front. I heard some passengers complained that they could not get from the back to the front on decks 5 and 6. I did not think it was a big problem as all Princess ships were designed that way.
I will talk about the only minor inconvenient topic first and get it out of the way. The ship carried 10% more passengers than the Star Princess but still had the same number of elevators (4 forward, 6 mid-ship and 4 aft). Along with the 50 or so electric scooters for the disabled, there were multiple occasions where one could not get into an elevator. This was especially bad during dinner hours. In addition there was no public stairs between Deck 7 and Deck 8 mid-ship, so I could not just walk to my cabin on Deck 8 from Deck 7. Instead I had to wait for the elevator or walk to the back of the ship, walk up and then get to my cabin. Actually there were stairs mid-ship but they were used as emergency passages only. They did not open these stairs during the safety drill, so I had to take the long way to go from Deck 8 to get to the muster station on Deck 6 in the Symphony dining room.
Now for the good parts. Even with 3,600 to 4,000 passengers, the ship was not too crowded. The atmosphere was very lively all the time, with lots of activity going on. The new atrium was a great concept, moving most of the entertainment to a more open space. There were live bands, acrobats, demonstrations and solo singers all day. I saw many fellow passengers watching the action from the higher decks and enjoying themselves.
I took an obstructed balcony cabin on Deck 8 (Emerald) mid-ship. The size was adequate and the bathroom was improved. The shower was larger than before and the shower head actually worked. The cabin steward was pleasant and efficient. The balcony was small, as discussed by many fellow reviewers, but we did not spend any time out there. Instead we were busy enjoying all the other facilities of the ship. There was a minor problem with empty hangers banging against the wall in the middle of the night when there was a sway. I informed the cabin steward and she indicated that was not a new discovery. I just made sure there were clothing hung on every hanger.
The other criticism from fellow reviewers was about the food. We only ate at the Allegro dining room for dinner and the food was up to the usual Princess standard. On our first night, the service was very slow, in spite of a very hard working waiter, Bernardo. He was missing his assistant waiter and he did not get much help. All in all he had to serve 24 guests for the first seating and with that number, it was difficult for him to get to know us well. His assistant waiter showed up later but took a few nights to learn the routine. Lunch at Aflredos (pizza place) was good as well. The Horizon Court was vastly expanded and there was a good variety of cuisine.
Entertainment was one of the highlights of the cruise. The Princess Theatre singers and dancers did their usual production shows. They also featured Beatle-manics, a Beatles look-a-like band. They thoroughly got the crowd moving both in the Princess Theatre and the Atrium. They also featured Ray Cousins, the Frank Sinatra house pianist. He played in the lounge and there was always standing room only crowds listening all night. The surprise was my children in their 20's sat for an hour to listen to him.
The ship featured many new innovations, some very useful, others just so-so. The Movie Under the Stars screen was very large and bright. I could see what was showing while on shore in broad daylight. The Seawalk was interesting but how many times could one walk above the waves and still found it amazing? (two times for me!!) The electronic notice boards were great ways to inform passengers of the daily happenings.
Fellow reviews also complained about being nickel and dimed to death. I did not find it so. I bought a coffee card at the beginning of the cruse, mainly at the urging of my children so that they could get some gelato during the cruise. Besides that, I ordered some wines for dinner. There were some good deals if one knew onshore wine prices. Excursions were reasonably priced.
All in all, it was a great, do nothing type cruise and we really got to enjoy the new ship. I would definitely take another cruise on this ship to other ports.
The port call was so good that my daughter actually thanked me for taking her on this cruise after the second day. Everything was arranged for guests' comfort and enjoyment. We took the tender ashore and went to our clamshell rental. That was a good thing to have for the day since there were two beach chairs inside. We tried the 4 person paddle boat and then my children tried the paddle board. It was easy to learn. There were also big wheel water tricycle and banana boats. Everyone seemed to have fun. A barbeque was served at the beach. This was a great way to start the cruise.