So, a little background on us and the group we were cruising with. Our family consisted of myself (37), my wife (36) and our two small children (both boys, one 2+ and the other 11 months). We also traveled with my sister, her husband and their almost 4 year old daughter. My parents, and my wife's father and his his wife. All together we were a group of 8 adults and 3 kids.
We flew into San Juan on Friday and stayed at the "Beach House" hotel. My sister booked the hotel after changing the reservations from the Travel Agent. This hotel is a disaster. No elevator, horrible rooms, disgusting continental breakfast. Do not stay there for any reason. The night we were there, the hotel was hosting a party in their "courtyard". They had the music blasting well into the morning (around 3:00 AM). We are seeking a full credit from Travelocity.
Embarkation: Getting on the ship was pretty much a breeze. From hopping off the shuttle to stepping on the ship took less than 15 minutes. There was a sign for people with "Preferred Boarding", which we had, but we did not have to use that line as there was virtually no wait even at 12:45 when we arrived at the terminal.
Room: We booked a full suite on Riviera (Deck 14). I did read some reviews where people complained about the noise from the deck above, and while we did hear some traffic, nothing beats being able to take the stairs up 1 flight to go to the pool, or the buffet, without having to wait for an elevator. The suite was great, and our cabin steward was even better. They took care of mostly everything we needed in a timely fashion. The free laundry service was a nice, and much used service. A note to anyone booking a suite: Our particular room (R415) is a handicap accessible room. It does not have a bathtub, but the door is super wide which came in handy with our double stroller.
The ship: The ship is nice enough. We mostly hung out at the rear of the ship where the kids pools are. They are really annoying to get to though. You have to get to deck 15, walk all the way to the back, and then go up 2 flights of stairs. Not easy with two kids and all the gear. All of the public areas of the ship are well kept.
So let's get to all of the issues: The food SUCKS. We had a standing reservation in the Di Vinci dining room because of the size of our party. While this did eliminate the wait that most people experienced with the Anytime Dining option, we all found that we were never looking forward to dinner. Princess tries too hard to provide an "upscale" dining experience but fails miserably to deliver anything that tastes as good as it sounds on the menu. I honestly can not recommend ANYTHING I ate at the dining room.
The service is OK, except when the waiter got mad at my father-in-law. The waiter was trying to sell us on a wine tasting they were holding in the dining room the next afternoon. When my father-in-law asked what kind of wine they were offering, the waiter opened with a Kendell Jackson offering and my father-in-law laughed and started to walk away. Well, unfortunately the waiter said something like "so don't come then" under his breath a little to loud. Needless to say we did not give him any additional tips.
As for the buffet, the breakfast offerings were decent with very little variation from day to day. The buffet lunch was again a miserable experience. I kept having hopes that there would be something appetizing, but found that I was disappointed and ended up getting a burger and fries almost every day.
The pizza is also a sub par offering (of course we are from New York originally and may be skewed by the fantastic pizza) and hardly ever fresh. Right next to the pizza is the "pay ice-cream". Like most people, I think that charging for vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry ice-cream is disgustingly cheap of Princess to do. And speaking of being cheap, they also try to sell you a glass of "fresh squeezed" orange juice (from a plastic pitcher, not really freshly squeezed) for $2.75.
Now, this next gripe may seem petty, but it annoyed the hell out of me. We purchased some of the pictures that we took, and when we went to pay for them (at $24.95 a pop) they offer you a "frame deal" for $10 a piece. When we said "no thanks", the ass behind the counter said that "we would not find a deal like this on shore", to which my wife replied, "um, have you never heard of Michael's or Marshall's?" It just really annoys me when they treat you like an idiot.
All tips are included on everything. Order a drink at the bar, the tips are added to the bill. You are charged $10.50 per person per day for room services, etc. ($11.00 per person in suites). In my opinion, when a service person does not need a tip, the service is no good. The bar staff is never in a rush to take orders.
All of the islands were nice. Aruba was fantastic. We did not take any excursions.
Disembarkation was fairly easy. GET A PORTER to take your bags from the baggage area out to the shuttles. They let them, and you, pass through a different line with no waiting.
Summery: We have been on the Celebrity Millennium, and the RC Radiance of the Seas and both were a much nicer experience. I do not think that we will be cruising on Princess again. And we are going to look at other options to replace our yearly family cruise, at least for the next few years.