As this was my 27th cruise and 12th on Princess I feel I have a little bit of cruising background for my review. This was our (hubby and me) second transatlantic, the first being two years ago on Celebrity Century to Amsterdam from Miami for 14 days.
Embarking was a surprising bit of a pain as we were stuck out in berth 18 (an older terminal that wasn't very traveler friendly)so getting on took a bit longer than it usually does in the terminals in Port Everglades. The Star (which I have been on before) is a larger ship than the Century (2600 passengers versus 1800)and therefore, you are dealing with more people and a little more wait time for certain things. I personally prefer a smaller ship, but the itinerary was our main interest on this cruise,and we have always had good experiences on Princess. Princess has managed to have numerous and large public areas numerous and therefore, people do get spread out a lot during most of the day. They offer lots of outdoor deck space and chairs, unlike some of the other lines.
Unfortunately, their theaters had a tendency to get full rather quickly on this cruise, and often there was no seating left well before a show began. The production shows in the Vista Lounge were better than in the Princess Theater, mainly because it was a smaller venue and it felt more personal. I think a lot of this overcrowding is due to the anytime dining option. With early and late seating, people usually went to the shows that corresponded to their dining times. Now, with the buffet in the Horizon Court and the two anytime dining rooms, plus the two specialty restaurants, a large number of people are able to attend the shows whenever thereby causing the big influx for the 8-8:30 shows.
One area that was under-used was Skywalkers. I went up there to read, relax, knit, and with the exception of the 2pm hour when there was a group of us getting together for knitting and crocheting, the place remained pretty much empty. At 5pm there was a lovely happy hour offered to Platinum and Elite passengers with lower priced drinks and wonderful appetizers.
We used the ship's excursions for most of our ports mainly because we didn't want to have to deal with a lot of foreign currencies and frankly we get a bit nervous in countries where the language can be a problem and we don't want to return to the ship on an independent tour only to realize the ship has sailed without us. Many others I know did their own thing and had no problems. Unfortunately, ship tours are always crowded and it is more of a herd-like atmosphere which is a negative.
The entire staff on this ship were the best I have ever encountered. They couldn't do enough for you and made the trip that much more pleasant. The food was very good - nothing fabulous - but then you aren't paying five star prices for your fare. I mean the transatlantic is really a good bang for your buck and very affordable. There was always plenty of food, and you pretty much could have as much of it as you wanted all day long. Double, triple lobster tails, turf and surf - you name it. A few meals were clunkers, but then you just get something else - no big deal. Captain Kent was extremely personable and actually quite funny. The Capt Circle party was a bit of a disappointment as drinks were hard to get and when you did get one there wasn't much alcohol in it. Richard, the cruise director, is a very personable fellow with lots of great experience and knowledge and gave great talks.
There were some problems with long lines getting back onto the ship in a few ports but that wasn't the fault of Princess, but the port itself as they didn't have enough staff on hand to accommodate the tons of people returning from tours all at the same time - and to stagger the tours wasn't something that could have been easily done due to time constraints. There were four of us and we had a great time. You can always find something wrong with, but then you just suck it up and make the best of it. I mean waiting for elevators during dinner hour and then being run over by rude passengers to get to the elevator before you even though you had been there before them isn't fun - but you work with it and eventually learn how to deal with those kinds of folks. They are on every cruise line - trust me.
Alcohol and soft drink prices have also gotten a bit out of control over the years on all cruise ships (I realize they make most of their profit on this and on the excursions.) After 8pm every night, though, the beers, some mixed drinks and some of the hard liquors were all priced at $2.99.
The movies under the stars was fun - cold, but fun. Love that new feature and the popcorn was great. So were the hot cookies and cold milk in the afternoons around 3pm.
I do think the picture prices (on all lines) has also gotten a bit out of control. They make them larger, fancier, and thereby more costly - old prices were around $6-$7 - now they run $19.95. I think someone needs to look at this.
The one and only big complaint we have is with regard to disembarking in Copenhagen. We have never made it off a ship at the end of a cruise before 9am. We went down to the Portofino Dining Room where Platinum members were to meet - we got there about 7:15 and basically were told we had already been called and leave the ship. No, you can wait in here for awhile if you like. Simply GO. It was the fastest I have ever been removed from a ship. The only problem was we were now stuck under an outdoor tent area where our bags had been placed and had to stand there and wait until 8:45am when our bus was to pick us up for our transfer to our hotel in Copenhagen. It was pouring down rain and freezing cold and there were 44 of us who would much rather have waited somewhere on the ship in one of the public rooms where it was dry and warm - but no - we were told to get off the ship - period. Had we known that getting everyone off that fast was a big priority, the bus pick up would have been arranged for an earlier time and we would have hidden somewhere.
We chose to visit Kinderdjik where all of those windmills sit out in the middle of a field. We had already been to Amsterdam and Kuekenhof. The walk from the bus park to the windmills was a bit of a stretch for some folks, but I think that was the only way it could be done. We then returned to Rotterdam and got to tour the old part of the city which was interesting. Again there were some lines upon returning to the port, but they moved rather quickly compared to Lisbon.
While preparing to leave port a wonderful band played great songs for us for about 20 minutes - they were actually quite humorous at times and it was a lot of fun. Inside the port terminal they had a lovely bar serving Grolsch beer which made our husbands quite happy - and the beers were reasonably priced. It did take us a lonnnng time to get out of the channel going through the port - it is quite large and long.