This was my 18th cruise. I can't help but compare each cruise to our best experiences at sea. So here goes... We arrived in FLL one day before the cruise. Princess booked us at the Hollywood Beach Marriott. The price was $300 plus for one night! If I could do it over, I would book a 4-star on hotwire.com for at least half off that price. Wished our travel agent had advised us that we didn't have to go through Princess. We liked that the hotel was located on the beach. We dined at the hotel for dinner and then breakfast on cruise day and enjoyed both meals. The hotel, however, didn't look like a typical Marriott. It was an older building that most likely Marriott had purchased from another chain. The interior was refurbished nicely. Still, not worth the steep price. The room was fine except that there wasn't a full-length mirror and the bathroom door was glass! Pretty, but not too private for families. Tip* If you have booked your pre-cruise night through Princess and want to get to the ship late morning, do not take the transportation they provide! They'll start lining you up like cattle at 1pm, and you'll be lucky to be on the ship by 2:30. The concierge will hire you a taxi. Four of us split the $35 cost, and we had our driver make a stop at a liquor store (Crown Liquor?) that was adjacent to Walgreens. We picked up some champagne splits and wine. We then hit Walgreens for some items we forgot and a big 2.5 gal. of purified water I like to have in the stateroom.
Embarkation: A breeze for us at approximately 11:30 a.m. Our room (mini suite on Dolphin 9) was ready for us. This was a relief as some cruise lines (such as Disney) will not even let you drop off luggage before 1 p.m. Tip* I always make sure I bring on a roll-aboard (carry personally, don't check with the porter) all the bathroom toiletry items and makeup, clothing, sunscreen, etc. so that I can start setting up "my areas" and change to a swimsuit and coverup, or whatever and not have to wait for a late-arriving suitcase. Beware, if you are want a totally private balcony, the mini-suites on the Dolphin is not your floor. All balconies on this deck are 100% exposed. People standing on the top deck down to deck 10 can see you. As soon as I pop out of bed I like to go out on the balcony. Can't do that on deck 9 without feeling self-conscious.
The ship is attractive, but I find that of all new ships I've been on. I guess I have to say the The Brilliance of the Seas was the prettiest with the glass elevators with the view to the sea beats all. I was hoping that the Piazza, the main atrium area, would in a small way compete with the Royal Promenade on the larger Royal Caribbean ships. It does not. Saw a woman doing the hoola hoop one day....Okaaay.... My husband and I seemed to get disoriented on this ship a little more often, even late into the cruise. Not sure if it was us or this boat.
For some reason I decided to try my luck at winning a free spa procedure and attended the must-be-present-to-win raffle at the spa the first day. Forget this. I wasted 45 minutes of precious first-day at sea time. The last drawing was for a seaweed wrap massage. I "won"! When I read the fine print on the certificate, it was for $40 off (approx. 20%). It had to be booked by 10 p.m. that night and could only be used for a port day! This left a bad taste in my mouth. If they understood customer service a little better, they would realize that by delivering what they had promised would have resulted in return visits. Ladies, do not wait to be onboard if you want to have your nails done. I finally got a cancellation appointment on Monday at 5 p.m.! Tip* Do not let them rub your arms and legs during your manicure/pedi with their course salts!! Ouch!!! This hurts after getting a little too much sun. But should'nt they know this?
Recommend: The Maitre D' wine tasting. $25pp for better wines, champagne. Had a lot of fun. 4 or 5 different presenters.
Recommend: The Italian pay restaurant, Sabitini's. Everything was great. A total departure from the regular assigned restaurant. This was the way crusing was before all the cutbacks and pay restaurants. I ordered the lobster as my main course. It was ever so slightly overcooked with a brown sauce. If you like it the traditional way with drawn butter, ask your server if you can have it served that way.
Recommend: The Margharita's. You can get it made with the real deal such as Grand Marnier and real squeezed lime. So many lines only serve the junk from the cartons.
Obvious cutbacks: Did not see anything promoting a Captain's Gala party on the first formal night? But they did have the repeaters Princess Captain's Circle party the night of the second formal night. We were assigned late dining so our Circle party time was 7 p.m. There were shows etc. also scheduled for this time. To me, it was obvious they were hoping for low attendance by scheduling it at this busy time. My last cruise was on NCL. The party for the repeat guests was scheduled late a.m. on a sea day.
Also, NO musical group at the pool!! Instead, one guy who didn't sing. Big disappointment. We didn't even want to hang at the pool. First time this happened. This cruise was just too crowded. When we checked in, I asked if it was a full boat. I was told it was bursting at the seams. My husband and I are ready for a mid-size ship and a luxury line such as Crystal or even Oceania we would like to try. Lines and more lines, can't find a table at the buffet, etc. People sometimes erroneously equate bigger with better. Now, bigger usually means another deck of cabinsmore bodies, not extra ammenities.
Food: Breakfast was fine. I usually only eat eggs and fruit. I had to get the sunnyside up eggs because the scrambled tasted and looked like they were made from a mix.
Lunch: Only eat salads and the variety was good and they had extra virgin olive oil! Wish they had sea salt, but I do bring my own packets.
Dinner: The entrees didn't knock off our socks as far as sounding appetizing and lacked in quality, especially the beef. We gave the beef about 4 tries. Bombed each time. Princess gets low, low-grade beef. Why should we have to spend $25pp to get a decent steak? On lobster night I asked our server what to order. He said the beef or lamb. Was hoping he would recommend the lobster. I tried the beef. Left half and did not enjoy the half I ate.
Entertainment: We love to attend the shows. We were disappointed with the shows on this ship. We did love the comedian, Phil Tag! He's been on Leno and will be on again when Leno moves to 10 p.m. Too many of the shows involved wanting more from the audience. Telling us, "is that the best you can do???!!!" So we had to clap louder, yell louder, etc. Hey, I just want to be entertained! My clapping and yelling will be commensurate with the quality of the entertainment being provided. For instance, I was on the Mariner of the Seas twice, 3 monthes apart in 2006. Saw all the shows again on the second cruise. I loved them no less the second time around. The quality was that good.