We were looking forward to travelling on a Princess ship again after a 5 year break during which time we had 2 cruises on P&O's Azura. It was our perception that Princess were better than P&O purely based on our experience. Sadly we can now say that Princess's standards have slipped when it comes to food in particular and to some extent on service although that decline is not so marked.
The departure from Southampton was smooth and efficient and our mini suite was ready and spotlessly clean. Our luggage took a long time to appear as did that of others on our deck to the extent that I was beginning to get just a little anxious as to whether it was actually on board.
This was our second cruise since the Costa Concordia disaster and it was good to see that attendance at the Muster is now monitored by 'zapping' individual cruise cards. A second drill was held 30 minutes later for those who had missed (deliberately or otherwise) the first and this was completed before the ship sailed. This was in contrast to a previous cruise we were on where those who missed the Muster had to attend the next morning which as we now know would have been too late for the passengers on the Concordia.
We had opted for Anytime Dining which has become very popular but were not at all impressed with the choice of meals and the standard of presentation which at times showed obvious signs of the food having been plated well in advance and having sat under a hot lamp. Silver service has also disappeared. The Horizon Buffet also did not impress us as it had before. However as with everything there are exceptions. We had two evenings dining in the Crown Grill and one at Sabatini's and the food in these venues was fantastic. Also, mention must be made of the International Café which became our favourite place for a light lunch or, if we fancied, one of their delightful cakes. The only problem here was that it is so popular it was survival of the fittest to grab a table!
Entertainment on all cruise ships now seems to be increasingly 'in house' using members of the Cruise Directors team. Daytime activities seemed to range from the very juvenile (bean bag tossing competition - for adults!!!) to that which might be found in care homes specialising in dementia care (name these tunes from the 1960s). You could understand why one of the two guest comedians (both very funny by the way) kept referring to his audience as patients rather than passengers! Those on board who joined the Princess Choir clearly enjoyed themselves but it was obvious that while she did her best the leader was not at all musical judging by her style of conducting! I must mention Kelvin the Cruise Director with his Deputy side kick. They were so funny during their morning tv show with just the odd inoffensive and subtle innuendo thrown in. Also Kelvin's throwaway lines at the end of theatre shows were very much on my humour wavelength although I'm not sure many folk 'got' them. Lines like 'tomorrow we are not in port so please don't get off the ship'! On that showing I guess I should have enjoyed the 'juvenile' entertainment more!
In general the ship's crew were very friendly especially the room stewards and the waiting staff but some people in positions where they should have been customer friendly were anything but. One lady whose job was to promote future cruises was not a good advertisement for Princess with her aggressive attitude.
The ports we visited were all delightful but it seems that courtesy shuttle buses are now relegated to history. I do think that if the ship visits Venice then passengers have a right to expect free travel in to the city instead of the $25 charged. Of course you could look round Venice docks if you wish as it seems that is where Princess wipe their hands of you!
As you may have read there was a Norovirus outbreak as in all probability there is on most cruises. It did not affect us and I must say that Princess did step up precautions to counteract the possibility of further infections. It is open to discussion as to whether some of these precautions should already have been in place as standard procedure anyway. I would say though that as much as the Captain and the Ship's Doctor urged people to use their private facilities we witnessed many, many passengers who chose to ignore that advice. Time after time the cruise ships get the blame for these outbreaks but in all honesty there are many passengers who should carry much of the guilt and who no doubt are their own worst enemies.
We returned to Southampton an hour or so early presumably so the ship could be deep cleaned. We were given a time to meet for disembarkation (which incidentally is still so much better organised than P&O) and returned to our room 30 minutes before that time to collect our hand luggage to find our names had been removed from the door and had been replaced by the next passenger's. Nothing like making you feel they'd had your money now off you go - a little thing I know but it grated.
In spite of what might seem some criticism of our cruise we did enjoy ourselves and accept that there will always be things about any holiday that could be improved depending on everyone's expectations. For us cruising is definitely a pleasurable experience and the ability to avoid airports is a further plus. Sadly Princess have cut back on their UK departures for 2015 and are doing more fly-cruises - one wonders if they have shot themselves in the foot with that as the UK market appears to be very lucrative. Time will tell.