My husband and I are experienced cruisers with 20 plus cruises each. We are Elite on Princess and truly enjoy the perks that go along with being Elite; Internet package and free laundry service particularly. Although this was our 16th cruise with Princess it was our first time on this class of ship. It was definitely a different experience.
We flew into Rome one day early after what we knew would be a hectic weekend visiting family in Atlanta. We didn't plan to sightsee in Rome this time so we chose the least expensive hotel option for us which was the Marriott Roma Park Hotel. The hotel is really a convention hotel in the "middle of nowhere". There is a hotel shuttle to Rome that is 6 Euros each way and unless you take a cab in and out of the city the shuttle is your only other option as the hotel is not near any train station. As I said we hadn't any intention, this trip, to go into Rome so for us it was a satisfactory option. The hotel has a great pool; rooms were well appointed; but again there are no other restaurant options or even a store to buy provisions or a coffee pot in the room.
We had arranged ahead of time to be picked up at the airport by Domenico (Roma Taxi) who was waiting for us upon arrival. Domenico was also going to pick us up on the 25th to take us to Civitavecchia. All of our arrangements worked out great. My first task once onboard the ship was to have our dining switched from main to late seating. We are big fans of anytime dining but if we have to choose set time it would be late seating. I had good luck in that while I was waiting to see the Maitre D, I happened to be seated next to someone who was given late dining; when we had the chance we went to see the Maitre D together and he switched us. I think the whole process would have gone faster had they announced (while many people were waiting), to find someone to switch with. It was amazing to see that there was a seat map of the dining room with cabin #s penciled in next to names.
Frankly, there are two changes I would make to the "experience" on this size ship. One would be to have "anytime" or open seating at dinner and not just breakfast and lunch. The other would be to not have "formal" nights. While there were very few tuxedos and dinner jackets on formal nights people seemed to dress for dinner each night. On port intensive itineraries and luggage restrictions these days it seems that "formal" night gala dress is unnecessary. Also, formal dress was not enforced so you saw a little bit of everything! I think this is one of the differences between Princess and other lines like Oceana and Azamara. The other is price point where Princess has the edge. The food seemed to improve as the cruise continued. We do not eat in the buffet but did try the grill on the pool deck one day for lunch and it was excellent.
One very pleasant surprise on this voyage was to have a port lecturer that gave excellent information on the ports both for those taking shore excursions as well as independent travelers. Hutch was always at the gangway when we entered ports to help with directions and answer questions. It was refreshing to have him as opposed to the "stop and shop" variety of port lecturers.
We arranged for independent shore excursions with other Cruise Critic members from our roll call and everything worked out great. We used Nile Blue Tours in Egypt for an overnight; Avitours in Israel for two separate days of touring; Ekol Tours in Kusadasi and Paul's Taxi in Athens for a trip to Cape Sounion and our airport transfer. All other ports we did on our own.
While our service on board was attentive it was not nearly as outstanding as it was on our Star Princess Round the Horn cruise in January. Whether it was because this cruise seemed to be the "end of the contract" period for many or just the nature of their personalities. Our cabin steward needed to be reminded of basic requests several times and the waiter for our table left a great deal to be desired; he really seemed like it was a chore to wait on our table of six.
The attempts at production shows were also not up to prior Princess experiences. Perhaps something fresh needs to be designed for the smaller ships. Lounge music was fine and pleasant. Sabatini's was not up to par on this cruise; Sterling Steakhouse was. Having been to the "most traveled passenger" lunch I know that the food can be excellent; it was a wonderful lunch.
We had a balcony cabin on deck 7. The balcony was adequate for two but you really could not have guests. We are used to balcony cabins on Caribe deck on the larger ships which are very spacious. On this ship unless you are in a mini-suite, or full suite I think all balconies are the same size.
On sea days the pool deck was always crowded; there were many families on the ship so our balcony provided a pleasant retreat.
We choose a cruise by the itinerary. As I said earlier this was our very first cruise on this size ship but we have also been on several Windstar cruises which are smaller as well as Celebity's Expedition. I think I would like this size ship experience better if formal nights and set dinner seating were both eliminated. Disembarkation went smoothly; sort of. You could not hear the announcements except in the two designated lounges. If the announcements were broadcast though out the ship it would have been less confusing. Would we sail on this size ship again? Already booked on the Royal June 1,2009; again itinerary made the decision.