We took this cruise because it was a quick, easy getaway and the price was reasonable (plus it stopped in San Francisco, Catalina Island and Victoria) . Also, we had not cruised on Princess before and thought it was a good opportunity to give them a try. We have cruised on NCL, Azamara and RCL....mostly NCL. Our preference is for a casual cruise, and so NCL and Azamara worked well for us. We are in our early 50’s and cruised without children. We went with another couple from Victoria.
Since we live in Victoria it is very quick (and cheap) to fly down to LAX. We decided to spend a night in Long Beach so that made it very relaxed. We got into LAX around 2:30 and were in the Hyatt Long Beach by around 4pm. We took a private van (Prime Time) for $80 which was very nice and the driver was pleasant and professional. The hotel was very nice and quiet, and we enjoyed walking around the shops etc in Long Beach. It is surprisingly nice place with a nice shopping district and an Albertsons with a good wine selection!
We arrived at the ship the next day around 1pm and were quickly on board. Boarding was a snap! We brought a few bottles of wine on in our carry-on and there were no problems. We really like the relaxed liquor policy on Princess which put all other cruise lines we have been on to shame. We still bought a bottle of wine with dinner each day and a few drinks in the lounges etc. Since the cruise lines have to make money somehow. Their wine prices are very reasonable (good wines from $25), and other drinks are not too bad (they also had drink specials).
Our first impression of the ship was that it is a bit dated in decor, but well maintained. NCL ships beat them on this front...although NCL ships are very fond of gaudy colours! We had a mini-suite and it was a great size, with large bathroom. The room was a bit tired looking and felt like we were back in the late 90’s with pinky pastels etc. Still, it was comfortable and clean and everything worked...just don’t expect a classic teak look or the latest designer style! Our room steward Herman was very nice and always greeted us with a cheery hello any time of the day.
First stop was the Horizon buffet for a quick lunch. We had read about the poor selection in the buffet from other reviews, and boy were they ever right! It was almost sad and being a first impression was a bit of a setback. If I had not also read about how good the dining room food was I would have really been “bummed out”. Someone tried to sell us a wine package when we went into the buffet...he was very similar to a used car salesman and we declined (it was very expensive).
We walked around the ship, then came the lifeboat drill and then....the all important happy hour. After a cocktail we went to the dining room and after a short wait had a table for the 4 of us. The meal was very good....what a relief!! The only slight negative was the staff seemed a bit rushed, but they were always very pleasant and made us feel welcome. On the few occasions we asked for something special they were most obliging. Special thanks to Romeo who we had a couple of times. A lot has been said about the food in previous reviews, but in general the standouts were the nice cuts of meats (steaks etc), deserts and even the lobster - all were very good and generous portions (far better than NCL...not as good as Azamara). We ate in the specialty Italian restaurant the last night and that was also very nice. The food was not much better than the main dining room, but the ambiance and service were really top notch. Well worth the $20 cover charge....even though I hate the concept of cover charges!
Breakfast and lunch were best in the main dining room....avoid Horizon at all costs! I think my personal favourite was going to the coffee bar. The coffees are great and they serve excellent croissants and pastries, breakfast sandwiches, parfaits etc etc....a really great way to start the day and it was usually not too busy. We got the coffee card which seemed like a good deal (you pay for coffee but all the foods are free). Lunch was also good here with very nice selections. Princess got this right on...this area was great.
Our first stop in Catalina was cancelled due to winds (did not seem so bad to us?). So, the boat slowed down to a crawl and we arrived in San Francisco on time as planned. We had arranged a wine tasting tour with Terrific Tours...a smaller company based in Sonoma (www.terrifictours.com). They came recommended on TripAdvisor and offered a reasonable price compared to the big guys. I spoke to Trevor a couple of times before the cruise and other than telling him a little bit about what wines we normally like, and that we would prefer to avoid popular, big wineries, left it completely up to him where we visited. They were on time to pick us up at Pier 35 and off we went to Sonoma. On the way Trevor (our driver/guide) kept up a steady talk about wines, how they are made, Sonoma history, how it differs from Napa, the industry, Europe etc etc....he was very informative but not at all snobby. We learned a lot on the drive which was about 45 minutes. We visited 4 wineries with plenty of time for a nice lunch in Sonoma (a lovely place with a courtyard out back). In short the wineries were all great and on a smaller scale...great people and great wines. It was a really enjoyable day and such a nice change from the typical Napa tours (which are still nice too). Now I want to live in Sonoma....
Since we live in Victoria we just spent the day on the ship, which did not leave until midnight. My wife got off about 10pm rather than stay on the ship overnight and then have to take a ferry back to Victoria the next morning. It was very easy, and I would have done the same except I had to go to Vancouver anyways. I was thinking of her easy debarkation as I sat in the line-ups in Vancouver customs the next morning!! Boring...there has to be a better way?
We only went to see one real show...a terrible comedian and we left after about 10 minutes. We enjoyed the a couple of nights in the Explorers lounge where they had Karaoke contest with finals on the last night. The staff did a good job keeping things moving and tried to get people involved without being too harsh. They show movies during the day in the big theatre as well and it is really nice (good sound and picture)...I watched Avatar on the last sea day.
Overall this was a great getaway. The weather was perfect in both San Francisco and Victoria and the seas were not too bad (a bit bumpy on the 2nd night). We would definitely cruise on Princess again. I felt we got very good value for money.
I really miss those croissants....