My friend and I recently sailed to the Mexican Riviera on the Sapphire Princess. I've only been on Carnival before this. Everyone one that I talked to said that Princess was a far better cruise line with better ships, better service, better food, etc. Overall, we did not find that to be the case.
No doubt, this experience on Princess was nicer in several ways: embarkation was an absolute breeze, you get to go to your cabin as soon as you board, the Sapphire is a beautiful ship, we really enjoyed anytime dining, we loved the fresh water pools, no silly dinner games with the waiters or all-ship color-team competition which I did not enjoy on Carnival, fewer ship-wide announcements on the PA system.
We thought that the food on the Sapphire was expertly prepared and tasted very good. We liked that the portions were reasonably sized and not overwhelming. But the menu didn't strike us as particularly interesting or creative, especially the desserts.
I had been really looking forward to the Scholarship@Sea program - I was eager to have interesting and stimulating enrichment experiences during the sea days. I was very, very disappointed with this. Despite what the Princess website advertises, there was no Photography@Sea, no book club (I know this is listed on the Sapphire at this time of year - but why not?), no Computers@Sea, no Scrapbooking@Sea, the port talks focused only on shopping and didn't offer anything about either shore excursions or the history/culture of the ports, and the enrichment lectures were given by an entertainment reporter who told stories about movie stars. I was expecting something very different!
We had a mini suite on the Dolphin deck, which was quite spacious and lovely, with a large balcony and a bathtub. We enjoyed the open balcony and had no issues at all with feeling "exposed" in any way. Rather, we enjoyed the full view of the sky at night and lots of sun during the day. In cold or rainy weather, it might not be so enjoyable. Our cabin steward was very attentive and provided great service - in fact, everyone on board did. The staff were all wonderful and very dedicated to the passengers having a great time.
We had friends on board who had a balcony room, and it was considerably smaller than the balcony rooms we've had on Carnival. On Carnival, the balcony rooms have a sofa; you have to go to a mini suite to get that on Princess.
All in all, it was a very nice and relaxing week, and we had a great time. But Princess did not live up to my expectations, especially around the Scholarship@Sea program.