I went on this cruise with my elderly father and a girlfriend. My girlfriend was a first-time cruiser, and I'm happy to say that this cruise has now turned her into a devotee as well.
The cruise began in Sydney, and went south to Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Fremantle (Perth), Geraldton, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia and ended in Bangkok. The only port missed was Geraldton: the worsening winds were considered too risky for the tenders and for the ships anchorage off-shore.
Check-in was fast and efficient: we went through at about 2 pm and were processed in less than 30 minutes (a huge improvement on our 2.5 hr nightmare marathon check-in last year with Celebrity, which really took its toll on my 84 year old father!). When we arrived at our cabins, our bags were already waiting for us and our steward arrived almost immediately after to introduce himself and show us the room features. His service to us during the cruise was fabulous: he really went out of his way to do extra little thoughtful things to make us more comfortable.
We found the stateroom spacious and well set out: particularly liked the "walk in wardrobe" concept outside the bathroom. I would have liked a bigger shower, but it was adequate for our needs.
I thought the "Treasure Hunt" on the first day was a great way to learn one's way around the ship: it certainly helped us orient ourselves quickly to the ship in a fun way.
We just loved the "anytime dining". We particularly enjoyed "The Savoy" and "Vivaldi's", either of which we generally chose as our dining venue. In both these restaurants, the maitre d's seemed to have particularly good relationships with the staff, and we felt there was a much happier and relaxed mood as a result. (we were even entertained some nights in Vivaldi's with the staff singing, which we loved:) On the 2nd last night, I commented to the maitre d at Vivaldi's about the general mood of the restaurant, and was impressed to hear him reply "well, they work so hard, such long hours and are such a long way from their families - why would you make their lives harder?" I liked the way each restaurant on the ship had a different theme and feel: it really did provide for more variety.
I found the food just fantastic: no dried out,overcooked or undercooked dishes, great variety, excellent presentation, and I especially loved the extremely wide variety of fresh fruit available. We were told that Princess sources the best of local foods wherever possible, and this definitely showed in the menu and the range of choices available. (Again, this was in marked constrast to our last Celebrity Cruise, where they ran out of Shrimp on the 9th day, and were only offering 4 different types of fruit or frozen fruit in the last week - despite it being Australia's best time of year for fruit). I ADORED being able to have fresh berries every morning for breakfast! The wait staff were also great and many remembered us and our preferences, which always helps make one feel a bit "special".
In terms of the public rooms, the only criticism I have is that some of them weren't big enough! The Explorers Lounge is very comfortable, but it was hard to get a seat there for a show unless one arrived early: this was the same case for the Princess Theatre. Neither were really big enough for the numbers wishing to access them.
The Activities staff were great. I especially loved Kim's line dancing classes, and Tyson made every activity fun (brilliant at Charades!). I was particularly impressed with how the Activities staff managed to quickly pull a new schedule together when a shore day unexpectedly became a sea day, thanks to the last minute cancellation of the day in Geraldton.
I did not do any of the Princess shore excursions. I had instead researched for myself what could be booked in some of the ports, and organised our own at a much cheaper cost. For example, for Vietnam I organised a trip up to the Mekong Delta with Viet Travel which ended up costing us around US$75 each (for 9 or us - we found 6 others to join us during the cruise). This was the same program as that organised by Princess - with a couple of extra additions because we had more time - and we also had the luxury of a small group and smaller airconditioned bus, with our own guide. (Viet Travel were brilliant, I would highly recommend them to anyone) If I recall correctly, Princess were charging $149 p.p for that trip. This worked for me, as I really dislike going on large organised tours (the waiting for late-comers, etc, the rushing etc), but I am aware that there is a risk that one can get "stuck" if the unexpected happens. However, it did work very well for us so I would definitely do it again.
If there was something I was less than happy with, it was the entertainment. Maurizio was great, Marguerite on the piano also brilliant...but generally I found the non-musical entertainment to be less than wonderful. One of the comedians in particular had very tired jokes...I felt there should definitely have been more variety in the entertainment generally.
I was unfortunate to catch a rather bad virus on my 4th day on the ship (don't we just love it when others share their bugs with us??), so did spend quite a few days after that mostly confined to my cabin and experienced the most severe asthma I ever have, which was very frightening. The medical staff were great, although I now have to put in the claim to my insurance company for the $600 - in total - medical bills. I am always very concious of trying not to pass germs on to others, so was dismayed when I would get in a lift and someone would be coughing without handkerchiefs, etc. I think quite a number of people became sick on the cruise with this bug, I actually met a woman who admitted she had bought it onto the ship in Sydney. It was because of my own experiences that I was dismayed to realise that library books being returned were not being wiped/sanitised before being re-shelved: this is a common practice in most libraries and this definitely should be the case on board ship. I bought this up with Guest Services, but when nothing changed, I then went and obtained some alcohol wipes and put them down in the library myself. If I was disapointed with anything on the cruise, it was the lack of response to what I felt was a real health issue. (After all, if people are sick, they are more likely to stay in their cabin reading a book, and there were definitely lots of sick people on this cruise!)
Disembarkation was quite efficient, we were only delayed leaving the port because we were waiting for late-comers.