We would rate the lines in this order: 1.Celebrity 2.Royal Caribbean 3.Princess 4.Carnival
We picked Princess for this cruise because they had an itinerary we liked when I could get time off work.
Let me begin with the positives.
Embarkation was a joy. We were on the boat within 30 minutes, went to lunch in the Horizon Court and our luggage was awaiting us.
Our balcony room was a little on the small size, but had a lot of storage space and was fairly comfortable. We got the starboard cabin we had requested.
The ship is beautiful and the public areas well maintained. I particularly loved the Wheelhouse Lounge and it's luxury ocean liner feel.
Both specialty restaurants were excellent, rivaling upper-scale land restaurants.
The ceramic heated "beds" in the spa were great, and several of the personnel there exceptional. The lotus spa swimming pool allowed for swimming/sunning area under glass that was not quite as oppressively hot as the outdoor pool in the Panamanian/Central America heat and humidity.
The entertainment was generally good, though I found one of the singing stars obnoxiously arrogant.
Our shore excursions all required long rides, but were great experiences once we got where we were going.
The food was of mixed quality, and we found the majority of the service in both the dining room, horizon court, and most of the ship, polite but almost surly. As a whole the serving staff did what you asked, but never went out of there way to socialize or do any of the extras that we had come to expect based on other cruise experiences.
Sauces, seafood, and vegetables were exceptional but most of the meat cuts were tough. I felt they were buying cheaper cuts of meat, and hoping to disguise that fact with seasoning and sauce. That worked in many applications, but if you chose a plainer cut of beef, you were disappointed. After the second day, I stuck with fish (not a hardship, I love fish).
I'm a poker player, and while they had an automated table, and not a lot of players or games; the Casino Hostess Claire was delightful.
Other than the ceramic beds in the thermal spa, I was disappointed in this area. When I visited, the sauna was cooler than the weather outside, and one of the steam rooms didn't seem to be functioning at all. I've been in much better ship spas. I got two massages, the first one was done half-heartedly and merely adequate, the other done extremely well, by a masseuse Bobbi that obviously cared about the people in her temporary care. The hairdresser Desiree did a great job on my husbands hair and Tess was also very friendly and helpful.
Just plain negatives
Our room steward was nice, but never changed the sheets until we asked him the 8th day (there was an ink stain that we tracked). I also had unwrapped a soap in the shower on day one, and the wrapper was still there when we disembarked.
The bed was rock hard - probably part of the reason I got two massages.
The shower was tiny with a grab bar right in the middle of it, preventing you from any way of showering comfortably or without dumping water all over the bathroom floor. They also had a complicated faucet system that was never explained.
When I suggested to the Purser's desk that they might suggest that the cabin steward explain about the "safety" button - by suggestion was blown off.
One of the bedside lamps didn't work the first night. We called the Purser's desk right away, but they didn't get around to replacing the light bulb until late the next afternoon.
With the exception of Ocho Rios, all the ports they visited were hours away from the attractions we wanted to see, requiring long bus rides to get anywhere of interest. The selections were limited in Nicaragua and Guatemala.
And speaking of side trips - we get to the biggest negative of all.
We were at sea between Guatemala and Huatulco Mexico when the earthquake occurred in Chile. We heard about it on CNN at 8 a.m. We were scheduled to go deep sea fishing at 12:30 in Huatulco. After CNN reported expected tsunami's up and down the Pacific coastline, we went down to cancel our fishing trip. We were told that we couldn't cause the rule was 48 hrs notice. Really? even in the case of natural disasters? I argued with the tour desk, trying to get the concept of aftershocks, tsunamis, and passenger safety across to him to no avail.
The Captain did not even address the situation until almost 11 and then he told us there was no worry - that the predicted tsunamis from the earthquake in JAPAN would be only a meter.
We pulled in Huatulco around noon and sat there for a while. He finally came on and told us they were waiting to let down the gang plank because of the tsunami effect from Japan, added to by the earthquake in Chile. (Side note - there were concerns of a tsunami hitting Japan the next day, but it was because of the earthquake in Chili). At that time he also reported that the Mexicans had issued a small boat alert, so they would be cancelling the water based shore excursions. A little later, after two bow lines snapped and we pulled out of port, he told us about the pulse waves that made staying in port dangerous. I do not fault him for leaving, I'm glad he did. I am concerned however, that he didn't even know what continent the earthquake was on. Doesn't give you confidence that the captain is on top of things.
I am also outraged that the tour desk would not be willing to give money back based on passenger's concerns when a natural disaster of the magnitude of 8.8 earthquake takes place geographically nearby.
All in all - we had a good time because we had decided to have a good time, but will never sail on Princess again.
We took a gondola ride through the canopy and a walk through beautiful gardens. The heat and humidity were extreme however, and I think I was verging on heat stroke by the end of the walk. It's definitely not for the frail.
After the nature reserve, we took a boat ride on a river. There were loads of beautiful birds to be seen and lots of crocodiles. Our boat captain was incredibly good at spotting even the smallest of birds, and hidden crocs, and our tour operator was passionate about all things natural.
All in all, even with the long boat ride, it was a very good day.