My significant other and I just returned from this cruise. It was my 1st on Princess/6th overall, and his 2nd on Princess/20th+ overall, so we are reasonably experienced cruisers who know what to expect. We booked the cruise with a large group of friends, and most of us range in age from mid 30s to 50s. Quite a few of us flew into San Juan a day early, but a few of those who had Sunday morning flights ran into weather-related travel problems. Their flight was cancelled and they had to re-book on another airline and drive to another city for the new flight, which was obviously a hassle. We were happy to already be in San Juan, and will continue to always arrive a day ahead of time! We stayed at the Stellaris Marriott Resort and Casino, which is about mid-way between the airport and the Pan American cruise terminal. The hotel is nice, but way overpriced.
EMBARKATION Embarkation was the best I have ever experienced. We had read and heard that we could not embark until 2pm, and to wait until after 3pm or it would be crowded. However, with nothing to do after checking out of the hotel at noon, we went ahead to the cruise ship terminal and were able to walk right onto the ship. Checked the bags, walked right up to a counter agent with no waiting whatsoever, and were onboard by 1pm. Our staterooms were ready as well, which isn't always the case, so we were able to drop off our carry-on stuff and head straight to the pool area after grabbing a quick bite at the lunch buffet.
STATEROOM We were booked on the Dolphin deck in a mini-suite. The mini-suites are long and narrow, with a sitting area beyond the bed. The sitting area had a full sized couch and another chair, and opened to the balcony which had plenty of room for 4 chairs and a small table. Plenty of room to have a few friends over for drinks before dinner. The room had plenty of storage, although as always, there was a shortage of electrical outlets...our desk top was a jumble of cords and wires for the laptop, ipod speakers, cell phone charger, camera charger, etc. Our cabin steward, Luisa, was wonderful. We met her immediately after boarding, and she quickly swapped out the cokes and sprites in our fridge for diet cokes, as we requested. She always kept our ice bucket filled, and brought the extra towels and robes we requested. Several times we left sticky notes for her with other miscellaneous requests and she always took care of whatever we asked.
THE SHIP ITSELF The ship has just recently (January) been through a renovation, and while everything seemed very clean and new, there were a few problems. Apparently they really rushed to do such an extensive renovation in a short amount of time, because a member of the staff happened to comment to friends of ours that the ship really should have stayed in dry dock several more weeks. All renovated areas were open, which I read was not the case of the first couple of cruises after dry dock. Our stateroom temperature was fine, but others in our group had serious problems with their stateroom AC not working adequately. Some of the public areas seemed quite warm as well, and we were told that the AC issue was affecting the ventilation in the casino. At times the casino was so smoky on one side that we couldn't stay. I don't smoke, but can tolerate a reasonable amount of smoke if the air is ventilated, but this was ridiculous. My guess is that when they moved the casino to its new location, they moved it to a place that was previously smoke-free and therefore hadn't require extra ventilation. Given the relatively few people who were actually smoking, Princess would do well to simply ban smoking in the casino. The other issue I had was the layout of the ship. I can't really put my finger on what the problem is, but I found it extremely difficult to get my bearings and stay oriented as to where things were, and others in our group made similar comments. I always felt like I was travelling through a maze and didn't know what was going to be around the next corner. Even on the last day of the cruise, we were walking in circles trying to get to various places on the ship.
DINING Our large group was booked for the "anytime" dining option, but 14 of us had previously switched to the traditional plan with late seating. We did this, because we enjoy dining together and didn't want the hassle of having to coordinate dinner reservations every night, so it worked well for us. Early in the cruise we made a group reservation for Sabatini's on the last night of the cruise, and enjoyed a very good dinner there. My boyfriend and I tried mid-week to make a dinner reservation at the Crown Grill for just the two of us, but were told that they were booked solid for the rest of the week, which was disappointing. We asked about Sabatini's, and were told that was also booked for the rest of the week, with the exception of Saturday night, when we already had a group reservation there. So then we tried Plan Cultimate balcony dining, and yes, that was booked solid for the rest of the week as well. We wanted one night alone, (and didn't want buffet style food) so we went down to Vines. We had a fantastic bottle of wine, a cheese plate and some sushi. It wasn't crowded at all, and we would have had a wonderful meal had it not been for the corny entertainment taking place in the atrium/plaza area. When we first sat down there was just some nice background music, and then all of a sudden that ended and some very, very loud music started blaring from the speakers and a guy in costume went out and juggled, then did a mime routine of sorts with another "actress" etc. It totally ruined the atmosphere for us until they finally finished their performance. On another note, one of the members of our group who had the anytime dining tried for 3 days to get through to the Crown Grill to make a reservation but couldn't even get anyone to answer the phone. If you want Crown Grill, Sabatini's or Ultimate Balcony Dining reservations, I would suggest making them early on in the cruise. Also, definitely try the international cafe in the atrium/plaza area! They offer a limited selection of sandwiches, salads, and bite-sized desserts, but everything we tried was delicious. There is a charge for the chocolate-covered strawberries ($1 a piece) but I think everything else was complimentary. Several times we stopped and got a snack before going ashore. They won't package the sandwiches and other items "to go", but we had some ziploc bags with us, and packed our own little "picnic" to take with us one day. Room Service: We ordered the continental room service breakfast every day so we could relax in our cabin or on our balcony. The only problem was that they usually delivered it earlier than our requested time. I guess that's better than having it delivered late though. On one night we invited a group of friends to our cabin for a little cocktail party. We called room service that morning to order a couple of buckets of beer and some mixers and hors d'oeuvres. We told them what time we wanted everything delivered and they showed up right on time, set everything up, brought the extra glasses we asked for, and brought plenty of ice even though we had forgotten to ask for that.
ENTERTAINMENT The two of us don't generally participate in much of the staged entertainment on cruises, so I can't comment on most of the shows/auctions/contests etc. We went to Skywalker's a couple of times, and it's kind of cool to be way up on the top of the ship like that. We watched a little bit of karaoke, and heard from friends that the comedian was good, and we saw a fair number of people enjoying the outdoor movie screen both day and night.
SPA/FITNESS/SANCTUARY Most mornings we went up to the fitness center to use the treadmills and weight machines. We didn't go up there on the one and only sea day, so maybe it was crowded that day, but on all other days it was nearly empty, so we had our pick of the equipment. (Granted, we slept in and didn't usually go up there til 9 or 10 am so it may have been crowded earlier in the morning before people started going ashore.) We enjoyed a couples massage in the spa one day, and spent an afternoon in the adults-only "Sanctuary." If you enjoy peace and quiet, I recommend the Sanctuary! Comfortable lounge chairs and double lounge chairs, some in the sun and some in the shade, and the "serenity steward" gladly turned one around for us so we could face outward with a view of the island. Speaking of the serenity stewards, or attendants, they stay in the background. They are there if you need something (you can order lunch or a cocktail if you like), but they don't come around constantly hounding you to order things, which was nice. It was $10/person for a half day, which seemed very reasonable to me. We were there on a port day and it wasn't crowded at all; we had our pick of where we wanted to be and spent a very relaxing afternoon, reading and napping and enjoying the quiet atmosphere.
EXCURSIONS We are not big excursion people, so only did one planned excursion with our group. It was a catamaran ride in Barbados, that included a chance to swim and snorkel with sea turtles. It was actually very cool to have huge sea turtles swimming right underneath us, and we saw some big puffer fish as well. Later on the catamaran stopped at a beach for a while before heading back. They served plenty of beer and rum punch after the snorkeling, but no lunch, so we brought some sandwiches with us from the ship. On the other days we chose to go ashore, and wander around on our own or maybe get a cab to the beach. We usually just stayed ashore long enough to get a souvenir or lunch, and then went back to the ship, to lounge by the pool.
DEBARKATION We had a late flight so didn't rush. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the dining room, then found a semi-empty lounge and waited until our designated time to leave, went quickly through customs/immigration, found our bags right away, as the majority of the bags had already been claimed, and headed to the airport.