This was our sixth Princess Cruise. Booking last minute we found an incredible bargain ($1329 for a $3799 balcony; interior cabins were sold for $599). We are Platinum members, and hence boarding was very easy, as was disembarkation. Our Cabin was R718, aft on the ship, but perfectly comfortable and convenient.
Good things: We've always had pleasant experiences with crew, dining hall staff, stewards, and this was true on this cruise as well. Crew worked to be very attentive and helpful, with only one invisible exception I'll mention later. Always found if we are courteous and respectful of crew, they'll be likewise to us. We have liked Princess for social dancing, more floors and venues, space in general for dancing than we have found on Carnival or Royal C. That said, often live bands played very short sets (30 to 45 minutes) and then were wisked off to another venue. The ship has four dance venues. They make generally poor use of the Skywalker Club at the top of the ship, and the objective there didn't seem to be dance but selling drinks.. They kept a band in Wheelhouse Bar regularly most evenings capable of a wide selection of music. Only problem there was length of time between selections, waiting for computers to pull up their music. Explorer's Lounge was underutilized for dancing, bands starting late and leaving early so one of the over-done cruse staff games could be shuffled through, and those well worn performances were eternal, never ending. Club Fusion was mostly DJ music,and often slow without much being offered for dance, just an empty room. It is used some, but could be used much more effectively without huge overhead.
I've read some downer reviews on food. In regular dining rooms, two things helped for anytime dining. First, don't ask for a table for two or you will wait a long time. Be willing to mix with others, and you are seated quickly. This cruise was very international, and we always enjoyed meeting others, Brits, Israeli's South Africans, many Asians, Aussies and New Zealanders. One of the great aspects of the trip was only about half of of the guests were American. The second thing that helped was to ask the waiter for a recommendation. A couple of times I went on my own, a steak, or a seafood item I had attraction too. Usually, if it was an every night available or if it was beef, it tended to be a bit ordinary. When I followed wait staff recommendations, I always got a good entree. On desserts, creme bulee is always a good choice. We found food to generally be a bump better than Carnival or RC.
Some of the Excursions on this cruise were a mistake. Getting the more expensive excursion where you depart in the morning and meet the ship at Geiranger was a mistake. . Lots of down and wasted time, and the best sites can generally be seen from the Geirnanger side. We opted for a rental car in Bergen, a mistake (use Hop On Hop Off bus). For Flaam, buy railway tickets in Bergen the day before and save a few bucks. Stavenger is a walk on your own city, everything in good proximity of the ship; called that one right. Use public transportation in Tromso (we walked too much)..
We were generally disappointed in the shows. Couple of weak entertainers, a magician and comic who brought no energy to the show and the audience was unable to generate any either. Because there were 3 shows each night (limitation of seating in theatre), shows were short, about 45 minutes. On this cruise, four or five times 45 minutes was actually enough. Sameness about them, lack of creative choreography. If not for midriff and sexual inuendo, there wasn't much else to carry them. Nice string group that was used in very limited capacity. A good group where most of the band was from Barbados, but again they were under utilized.
My disappointment came in the Admin officers and his staff to help correct an error I made. I use a CPAP machine at night. In packing it, I had inadvertently left the silicone portion of the mask behind, the piece that sits directly upon one's face. I realized my error on the plane before landing at LHR. As soon as I boarded ship, I went to the Purser's desk and asked for an address to have the missing portion of the mask shipped too. We were in Bergen, Norway's second largest city following a day at sea, and I was told that if it were shipped there it would be delivered to the ship. I was provided an address, we called home and my daughter was off to the UPS Store with the address provided within the hour. She paid UPS Global $140+, had them box the item ship it out on overnight delivery. Upon returning to ship, an hour and a half ahead of departure, I asked if the package had arrived. At second request, a call was made to the port agent, who said he hadn't received the package. I was told there would be an effort to get the package traced, and they were certain it would be delivered possibly at North Cape, but certainly by either Tromso or Stavenger. I went by the Medical Office. Staff there was wonderful. We tried to take a regular oxygen mask, which cost about $200, and amend it to work. Good effort, but unfortunately it was $200 down the drain. Doctor there and staff were very responsive and polite. We checked in every couple of days to see if Admin officer had located the package, and answer varied as to whether the mask was in Oslo or Bergen. It never showed up. Six days into the cruise, UPS called my home phone in the states and left a message that they didn't have a deliverable address. UPS offered to ship the package back to my home address for another $170. Upon returning to the states, and running tracking info, there had only been one inquiry with UPS (other than the two I made by internet), and outside of about three crew packages, I don't think any other packages shipped to passengers could have ever happened given the lack of address, and the poor communication between crew and the largest American shipper. I tended to be more angry about this problem with UPS. My wife was more upset with Princess, as she felt there was no link or possibility for success put in place by Princess. With 1300 Americans on the ship as passengers, it seems to me that Princess should have in place a probablilty for successful delivery of a package from the states on a twelve day trip. They clearly did not.
I would still recommend this cruise, and taking it with Princess. Holland America typically runs the same route, perhaps a day longer every summer. While a Princess fan for most of the past 20 years, I'll tell you we have generally had good cruises with Carnival, one great cruise on Pride of America in Hawaii, and we are giving RC Liberty of the Seas a shot next month. Our only terribly disappointing experience in cruising was with RC ten years ago, and their fumble made me reluctant to return and had Princess not been screwing up pricing and mismanaging their website this February, my wife would still not be open to returning to RC.
Our view is for the money, Carnival offers a good cruise; Food not quite as good, unless one uses pay dining. The ships are gaudy, but crew nice and a fun experience. RC likes big ships, tends to herd passengers around like cattle, lots of unique on ship activity sometimes difficult to access and good shows, but from mid management up service is terribly lacking. Norwegian tends to have fewer frills, but good service; lots of not bad on NCL from my conversations with their cruisers. Hear very good reports on Disney and Cunard, but neither have offered a cruise to the right place and the right price for me. All the older people I know love Holland America, one couples' comment the hubby says "they have the nicest suites and most comfortable beds on the seas," but wife commented, "yeah, but you always walk around the ship feeling like you are going to trip on somebody's oxygen line." In short, if one goes with a good attitude, not aiming to be critical, and makes no mistakes on their end, you can have a good cruise at a reasonable price with a half dozen companies. Each has a target niche.