We had taken 7 cruises with HAL on 6 ships so we were a little bored with the sameness of the ships, the venues and the senior crowd etc. Mind you, I am close to 70 and my spouse in close to 80 but we are fortunately still very active and like being with a mixed age group. Many of our friends are devout Princess fans so we opted to take a short cruise out of Houston which is only a five hour drive from home to try Princess. This review is meant to comment on the port problems and a comparison of Princess to HAL.
Port: It's the fog that is the killer. We arrived at the port around 10:30am and found out that due to fog the ship would not arrive until 11:30am. Norovirus and extensive disinfection ended up with their telling us that we might board first around 2:30pm, then 6:30pm. There are no facilities to "kill time". We had to go to a nearby town, which was kind of cute, but after a few hours headed back. At 2:30pm we found a "staging area" about 1 mile from the dock. We had prepaid our parking ticket and exchanged the print out for a hanging thing to place on our windshield. Another couple told us that they managed to get their luggage dropped off and not to take no for an answer. Sure enough, we drove to the dock and were told by a policeman that we could not drop off our luggage. On the way out we passed the area for porters and a couple of them signaled to us and asked us if we were going to be boarding that ship. They gladly took our luggage [with the appropriate tags], placed it on a cart and off it went. Unlike other people who drove and had to check bags much later, our suitcases were waiting for us when we were finally able to get on. We did not actually board until around 7 or 7:30pm. Back to the staging area around 2:30pm. About a dozen cars were in this area [we kind of created our own parking area] and we waited. At 5pm we were allowed to park. Thank goodness we checked our bags in earlier because those who did not were forced to drop off their bags and then get back in line to try to park.
The 'lucky' ones were those who flew in--they at least got off the buses and taxis and could stay inside the terminal where they had rest room facilities. So for those of you who think that Houston is great because you could drive--go to Galveston.
Norovirus: While Princess was wise with it's food handling care, we were shocked that when we came back after visiting a port not a single disinfectant device was placed on the dock. We have never had a norovirus problem with HAL. They place these stands everywhere and always, always on the dock before you get on the ship. No wonder Princess has a horrendous time with Noro on this trip. Very bad. The only place you can clean your hands on ship is before you enter the restaurant..
Princess vs HAL.
Entertainment: Princess is more vibrant and fun. Very good entertainment and they make great use of the Piazza. Guests seem more 'alive' and happy. Movies: much, much better on HAL. HAL's inside theatre is great. Wide choice of movies all through the cruise with popcorn. Not so great choices on Princess-third rate and the outdoor theater...cold at night.
Guests: HAL is getting to be like a senior center. Some said that this trip had a lot of seniors--well, they have never been on a HAL trip. Princess was a welcome change and a main reason why we wanted to try them.
Food: HAL beats Princess hands down. Overcooked meat, very, very bland food. No taste at all. Cream soups were good but the broth based soups were identical: same broth and veggies..all they did was add maybe one more ingredient e.g. chicken and they then called it chicken tortilla soup. Please Princess hire the chef at Panera for chicken tortilla. Yikes! Breads and desserts were good. We liked the availability of having the Int'l Café which HAL does not do. Seafood? Bland. Prime rib one night was good. If you want really great food, then try Holland America [HAL]
Service: HAL and Princess room stewards are excellent. The rest of the staff was hit and miss re: Princess. They all looked very tired and I really don't want to say too much bad about unfriendliness because I just don't know how management treats them. But getting a smile from many of them was hard. And I mean "all over" the ship.
Excursions: We don't really care for the Western Caribbean ports. One thing HAL does really well are port talks. Not so on Princess.You can get a lot of information from HAL especially if you like to try things on our own. HAL has a person dedicated to explaining -for example- the difference between snorkeling trips that are available so you can make an informed choice. Our snorkeling trip in Belize was cancelled due to rough seas.No problem with that. Princess should have had talks in the big theatre.
Rooms: We always have a balcony=HAL does not have mini-suites like Princess and we liked the little bit of extra room in our stateroom. HAL has tub/showers in its regular balcony rooms. I don't know if Princess had that in its balcony rooms but the mini suite did. HAL also provides you with the use of those nice white bath robes. Not on Princess, not even in their mini-suites which I thought was a negative surprise. Idon't care that Princess does not do the folded towel thing on the bed like HAL. Those attendants are working hard already especially with the virus on board.
Officer Staff Presence: On HAL you always could count on seeing an officer wandering around. Not on this ship. I think they were hiding. I was hoping to see one to suggest that they put the hand sanitizer on the dock.
Drinking water: I have NEVER been on a ship where you could not get cold tap water. Warm stuff only in the stateroom and elsewhere. Makes you wonder doesn't it?
Enrichment: on HAL you have computer classes, camera classes, guest speakers e.g. Nothing on Princess.
Bottom line: We are prepared to give Princess one more try. Not going to give up on them. But if the food, service and other things don't improve...there are too many other cruise lines.