This was my first Princess cruise, so I decided to write a review. I enjoy reading detailed reviews on Cruise Critic and I find them helpful, so I will include as many details as I can remember! My most recent cruise experience was with Celebrity in Sep 2008, so I naturally compared some aspects of this Princess cruise with the Celebrity experience (mostly food and service). My other cruise background includes a RCI cruise in 2003 and a Carnival cruise way back in 1996? I am in my early 30's. I can say with confidence that I am now addicted to cruising (and Cruise Critic)!
I flew in a day early because I was worried about weather delays where I live. Luckily, I had no problems- flew down on Air Tran on time. It was kind of confusing arriving at the San Juan airport as to where to pick up luggage, taxi stand, etc. It was more an issue with the signage, I think. I booked a room at the Intercontinental on Hotwire for a very good rate and was very satisfied with my stay there. I met up with some friends and we decided to leave the hotel on Sunday around 2PM for the pier. It cost $20 for a taxi to take us from the hotel to the pier.
Embarkation: There was a notice on our boarding pass to arrive after 2PM for a faster boarding experience, but after hearing about people just walking onboard at 12:30, I didn't think it was very fast. They lined us up in rows of plastic chairs and allowed each row to join the main line every 5 min or so. There was a duty free shop right there, but it was a total zoo and I had already made my contraband purchases at a grocery store in San Juan. The total experience took about an hour + from arrival to the pier to when I walked in my room.
Room: I had a midship obstructed oceanview room on the Emerald deck and was mostly satisfied with the room. Likes: got my luggage within 1 hour, fridge in room, bottles of shampoo/conditioner/lotion (instead of dispensers on wall), duvet and feather pillows, laundry room on each floor with irons, good water pressure/hot water, bed was pretty comfortable. Dislikes: my main complaint was it was HOT in the room, despite having the A/C on the coldest setting. I would wake up drenched in sweat several times per night. I get cold very easily and was never cold in this room (or on the ship) They said the A/C was functioning properly? Hmmm...I don't think so. I kept my window shade closed at all times, too. The shower was impossibly small: I consider myself an average sized person (66 in, 125lbs) and cannot imagine a tall or obese person stuffing themselves in that shower! Toilet was very high off the ground (soles of my feet would not fully touch the floor) and the legs fell asleep when sitting on the toilet (sorry for graphic image). I found this strange. My room steward was nice and did a good job, but I rarely saw him. After paging him unsuccessfully a few times (operator error?), I would just leave my requests written and he would fill them (ice, extra lotion and shampoo, extra pool towels, etc.) I asked him to remove the contents of the fridge so I could stock it with my own supplies, but he never did, so I just put them aside. No towel animals...I didn't care until I saw the array of animals in my friend's cabin. :( I never ordered room service, so no comments there. My friend had a balcony cabin on the Caribe deck and his balcony and the furniture were dirty and splattered with white paint?
Dining: I did Anytime Dining in the Coral Dining Room each night except two, as I was with a large group. Overall, I can't say I was impressed with the food in the dining room, and I actually found some options inedible (meatloaf, beef wellington, spring rolls, most desserts, some appetizers). The overall opinion by my friends of the food at dinner was unsatisfactory. I am definitely not a food snob and I don't go on a cruise to gorge myself on food...I just want to enjoy a nice, edible meal. The options I did enjoy were the ceaser salad, fettuccine alfredo (a lifesaver for when I got something inedible), beef medallions, veal cutlet. Overall, I was terribly disappointed with the desserts, as I have a huge sweet tooth! The Love Boat dessert was good, not excellent. Carrot cake looked great, but tasted like sawdust (I heard this from a lot of people). I literally lost my appetite when my meatloaf arrived raw in the center. Gross! How do you screw up meatloaf? Beef Wellington arrived bleeding when I ordered it medium and I found it very unappetizing. I don't eat seafood so I can't comment on that. I found the service lacking in this dining room. Three nights I never was asked if I wanted a cocktail or wine (and I did want to place an order). Huh??? I had to hunt servers down for a simple glass of water. It seemed that the waiters were severely overworked and they seemed stressed. The service on Celebrity was a thousand times better, as was the food: Friendly waiters who remembered you and your likes, sommelier, drink waiter, etc. Princess can use some help in this area, IMO. Perhaps the service was better in Traditional Dining?
Sabatini's: A group of eight went here one evening and found it excellent! The service was outstanding and the many courses of food and wine were great. Most people ordered seafood for their main course but I ordered a beef course. There are so many courses; you are stuffed when you get to the main dish! I ended up not liking my main dish and our main waiter was so kind to me and was upset that I did not enjoy it (OK, so I am a little picky). He offered to bring me something else, but I was very full at that point. The tiramisu was very good and was probably the best dessert I had on the cruise. The lemoncello needed to be served much colder (extra charge). I would go back to Sabatini's again and found it worth the charge.
Crown Grill: Delicious and I wish I could have eaten there every night! A large group went and we all loved it!! My filet was excellent and the family style side items were very tasty. Only problems: A young server tripped and spilled a giant tray of water right by our table and all over my feet/legs and I felt so bad for her as she obviously injured herself on the fall. I asked her if she was OK and what I could do and another head waiter of sorts stepped in and was very curt with her (and me). I didn't care since it was just water, but I felt terrible for the girl. A friend at my table put his wine glass on the table and the two tables were uneven where they were pushed together, resulting in red wine being spilled all over his white linen pants. He was given a free dry cleaning voucher, which I thought was nice. If I had to choose between Sabatini's and the Crown Grill, I would choose the Grill! Comparable to a very good steak house...not quite Ruth's Chris level, but very good!
Horizon Court/ Caribe Buffet: Overall a thumbs down from me. The design of this buffet is strange and too small for the amount of people going through it. Lines were forming at odd areas and it was confusing. I went through the buffet with appropriate swim suit cover-up (top and bottom) and had my bag with a pool towel inside, with maybe 1/4 of it sticking out the top. A buffet monitor told me I was not allowed to enter with a pool towel. Now, I had not even been to the pool yet and the towel was clean, as was I, so I really don't get that? I saw plenty of people in inappropriate attire at the buffet and I am denied entrance because of a clean towel in my bag? OK.
Food was rather disappointing in the buffet, kind of like standard cafeteria fare. The salad bar was good. Desserts were terrible...cookies hard and half-burned, brownies dry. They need to fire their pastry chef! I have never seen such a large consumption of bacon as I have on this cruise! How does one eat an entire slab of bacon? People would wait in line for this magic bacon and then pile plates up with it...it was kind of a disgusting display of gluttony, but that is another topic! I didn't like how there were no automatic hand sanitizer dispensers around the ship. They had a pump in the buffet, but I hardly saw anyone use it...gross! A lady in front of me in the buffet line was upset that a previous passenger used tongs from the shrimp to pick up some pork product and then stuck them back in the shrimp. She tried to get the attention of the attendant and the two workers were engaged in a conversation. It took her several attempts to get the attention of the attendant, and he seemed annoyed to have his conversation interrupted. I felt bad for her that she got upset and all she wanted was a clean pair of tongs! Overall, the service was lacking in the buffet. No one offered you a drink refill, and the staff seemed bored and unwilling to help. I asked for lemonade (free, but you have to ask) and it took over 5 minutes for it to arrive. The coffee was terrible, but it was actually worse on X! I did not attend any of the themed buffets. I base this on my experience on this sailing and compared to my sailing on Celebrity where the buffet was excellent (food and service).
I did not like how you have to pay for ice cream at Scoops. Just another way to get nickel and dimed. Just like the $3.95 "set-up charge" in the Internet cafe plus the outrageous charge per minute. I guess you can say the same for the charge for the specialty restaurant, but I don't mind paying for good service. I am surprised there is no surcharge yet on bacon! :)
Pizza and Grill by the pool were good. Pizza was very tasty and I really enjoyed that with some fresh fries from the grill. I really wish they had nachos, onion rings, and more extensive grill items by the pool, but I guess I got spoiled on X. Bar service by the pools was good. I didn't do any late-nite dining or buffets, so I can't comment on that.
Entertainment: I really did not attend the nightly shows. I saw half of the comedy show where it was standing room only and about 10 min of a production show, SRO again. I seemed like there was lip-synching going on, which I found strange! MUTS was awesome and I like that concept. I enjoyed the reggae band by the pool. Skywalkers was fun. Went to Club Fusion and the music turned into all Elvis and 50s, which caused me to promptly leave the club. I think the latest I stayed up was 2AM and the only thing going on at that time was Skywalker's Club. The sail away party was fun as was the outside Caribbean party one night. The piano player was good, but they need a bigger area for more people to sit. Vines was nice, and I regret I did not try the International Cafe. I did not give any money away at the casino, but it seemed nice when I walked through it...perhaps a little small for such a large ship? They had a magician perform in the Piazza area but it was so packed I couldn't see a thing.
Ship: This was the biggest ship I have been on and I thought it was very nice! I know it came out of drydock in Jan, and I thought the ship looked well maintained. I saw no signs of construction going on. I did find it strange to see constant re-varnishing of crowded pool areas, where you would have to squeeze yourself around the painters on stairwells, etc. I thought they did that stuff at night? It took about a day to get oriented, although I always seemed to turn the wrong way to my cabin! If I got lost, I just wandered around and explored. For some reason, I had a difficult time getting my forward/aft bearings, but I am sure it was just me. I did not pay to go to the Sanctuary...just another way to nickel and dime the customer, IMO. It did look nice, but I would rather spend my money elsewhere then on a padded lounger! I never had a problem with getting a lounge chair, and I always saw ample empty loungers on various levels of the ship. There were many quiet lounge chair areas to escape to on the ship that were not crowded at all. I didn't see too many little kids running around, but they could have been in the kid's club. I did not witness any unruly passengers, although I did see a chair hog situation almost go awry (interesting verbal altercation)! I was going to go to the spa, but I got busy doing something else. Did not set foot in the gym! The weather was absolutely perfect during this cruise!
As far as ship movement, I did notice rocking/vibrating on the ship in calm waters, but I really only noticed this while I was in lying in bed. I did wear the Scopolamine patch for the first time, so I did not get sick at all, so I can't say what I would have experienced without it as I am very prone to motion sickness. Our last formal night (Friday), the seas looked a little rough (white caps and more movement of the ship). On this evening I went to a friend's cabin on the Plaza deck for some wine. I could not believe the noise I heard in their cabin...a LOUD, horrible screeching sound, kind of like metal being twisted and scraped about. I was told this was the sound of the ship stabilizers, but I was shocked at the volume of the stabilizers! My friends said they could not sleep with this constant sound, and I can honestly say there is no way I could sleep through that racket! What is worse is the crew quarters lower in the ship are surely subjected to this racket, so I don't know how they sleep well! I am so glad I was not sleeping on the Plaza deck!
Overall, I liked the variety of pools on this ship. I liked the quiet, adults only aft pool. They were doing a lot of re-varnishing in that area, but it was still very relaxing. I did not go in any hot-tubs as I find any hot tub unsanitary. There are enough pool areas where it did not feel crowded to me.
One item I would like to add is to watch out for slippery decks and heed the warning signs of slippery floors/decks. I was being very careful walking on the wet deck and I slipped hard and almost bit the dust. I know the cruise line can't do anything more than warn people, but I see it as a recipe for disaster (and broken hips) for the elderly and frail.
Ports: This was a port-intensive cruise, but I really enjoyed this itinerary-the main reason I booked the cruise!
Aruba: I have been here before on a land vacation, so I took a non-Princess (Shoretrips) Jeep tour of the North Shore of the island. Went to the Natural Pool again-one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Spent the rest of the afternoon in Senor Frogs with friends.
Bonaire: Did the Princess Klein Bonaire water taxi. Beautiful and rustic beach. I wish we had more time to explore Bonaire (only 7-1 in port).
Grenada: Did the Princess Party Boat and Beach. A pretty good time but not worth the money (overpriced).
Dominica: Got a local van/tour guide for $20pp for 3-4 hour tour. This is a beautiful and tropical island and I enjoyed the tour. We saw a nice waterfall, hot springs, gardens, etc.
St. Thomas: Did a non-Princess tour through Shoretrips for a snorkeling/sailing to Buck Island. Swam with a few sea turtles and snorkeled around a reef with many colorful fish. Beautiful! After the tour, I wanted to join up with some friends who were already at Secret Harbour, but I could not get a taxi to take me there. They wanted to charge me $30 so I said see ya. Ridiculous. They only will take people in a full cab. I found the cab drivers here quite unscrupulous. I was getting desperate to go somewhere, so a friend and I found another group going to Magen's Bay so we hopped on the open-air taxi ($8pp). Magen's Bay was stunning and I am so glad I went-probably the most beautiful beach I have ever been to.
Disembarkation: I had a later flight, so I booked a tour of Old San Juan through Princess. I was glad I did this, as I basically walked off the ship with the group, threw my luggage in a truck, and got on the tour bus and watched the LONG line of people getting taxis. There did seem to be ample taxis, as I saw a few hundred taxis lined up down the street. Someone in the group had an earlier flight (the tour was supposed to be for people with flights after 3PM), so our tour was cut short to go to the airport early. I didn't care as I was tired at this point, but these people should have read the tour description carefully. Old San Juan is beautiful and I wish I had more time to explore. The bus dropped up off at the airport where our luggage was waiting for us at an outside area monitored by an attendant. The San Juan airport is a total zoo and more confusing than any overseas/foreign airport I have ever been at, and this includes a few developing country airports I have been to, as well. I was quite surprised the airport is not equipped to handle the large volume of cruise passengers/turn-over. San Juan is building a multi-million dollar convention center, but they can't fund some additions to their airport (or at least some signs)? Hmmm... Once you check in you must figure out that you must go through the USDA checkpoint, however no one tells you this. I pity the poor people who waited in the hour +++ security line only to be turned away to go through the USDA line at the other end of the airport. The gate signs are confusing and everyone is wondering if they are in the correct line. There is ONE person checking IDs and tickets for the hundreds of people in line. There were three x-ray stations. Absurd. You better eat some food before you get to the terminal, because food and drink are at a costly premium once you get inside the terminal (and you don't dare leave the terminal because you just waited 1.5 hours in the security line). They had a small bar and a fast-food place where you can get a cold slab of pizza or some rubber chicken fingers for $9.95. A major overhaul of that airport is desperately needed!
Overall, I had a wonderful time with my friends on this cruise. I don't go on cruises to be pampered or eat myself into oblivion; however, I was disappointed in the overall quality of the food and service. Would it prevent me from sailing with Princess again? No, if I am cruising to spend quality time with friends and to enjoy the islands. In fact, I booked a cruise for later this year on the Emerald Princess. If I am going on a honeymoon or want something a little more intimate, elegant, and special, I would definitely book with Celebrity again. Thank you for reading my (long) review!