We booked this cruise less than 3 weeks prior to departure on a last minute whimsical idea (need) to get away. This was our second princess cruise - my wife and I did an Alaskan cruise on the Coral Princess 4 years ago for our 20Thu wedding anniversary and it was fabulous. We had no problems going back to Princess and were fortunate to be able to secure 2 adjacent balcony cabins on an upper deck.
Since we were bringing our two youngest children (15 & 9), we knew this cruise was going to be different than our Alaska cruise. We flew into FLL the day before and stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites. This was done for the sole purpose of making our transfer to the cruise ship less hectic. We got to the cruise terminal early (~ 11:15 AM) and had to wait in the waiting area for about 30-45 minutes. The AC had broken and it was quite hot. Once they got the okay to start boarding, the process went very smoothly.
We got into our cabin on deck 12) about 12:30 PM and were quickly greeted by our cabin steward, Zeus (from Philippines). He was great throughout the cruise. I was particularly impressed that they had a queen bed set-up in my cabin and two twins in my kid's cabin as we had requested. Also, Zeus had opened the partition on the balconies so we could easily pass from one cabin to the other (the cabins were not adjoining from the inside). since our bags had not made it to our cabins, e decided to do a "walk around" and have lunch. The ship was big, clean and beautiful. I will spare details and just say the buffet lunch in Horizon Court was beyond expectations in both quantity and quality.
On day 1, the crew tries very hard to sell passengers the drink packages - particularly soda and kids drinks. The soda package ($28) is a good deal because every soda costs $2 plus tip, but you only need one per party as anyone in the party can use the cup or card. DO NOT BUY MORE THAN ONE!!
DINING - because we booked so late we had to get the early seating for the traditional dining format. We wanted the 8 PM seating, but that was not available. Princess now offers "anytime dining" which is also a good option, but may may require some wait time depending on what time and what dining room you choose. We really liked the idea of having the same table at the same time. One of the big attractions for us on this option was that we knew we would also be getting the same waitstaff every dinner. The dining room waitstaff are usually more personable than the buffet waitstaff (especially if you have them every night) - they want to please you because they know they may get an extra tip at the end. As it turned out, we started with the 6 PM seating in the DaVinci dining Room and after two nights switched to the 8 PM seating since there was a table available in the same section - we kept the same waitstaff. Our 2 waiters (Giwell & Ruwell) were awesome throughout the entire cruise. After the first night, they knew what we all liked to drink and would bring milk, sprite, and a bottle of our favorite Mondavi Merlot to our table right after we sat down. You don't get that from the buffet waitstaff or with anytime dining.
BREAKFAST - we opted for the Horizon court buffet breakfast every morning....FANTASTIC. So many options, I cannot imagine anyone could complain. My favorite was the omelet station. They would custom cook omelets for you and they were great. I had egg white omelets almost every morning.
LUNCH - most of the time, myself and the kids would hit the pizza bar by the pool and then go through the buffet. My wife tended to use just the buffet. One day I got a hot dog and fries to change the pace. The pools, buffet, pizza, and grill are all on the same deck (15), so there was really no inconvenience. The food was excellent. Of course, one can always do the sit down lunches in one of the main dining rooms.
On a scale 1 to 10, I would give the food an overall rating of 8.5 - 9. It is not "over the top", but it is very,very good, and plentiful.
ENTERTAINMENT - The cruise director and staff are energetic and a little corny. That is their job, so I guess they have to be. Nonetheless, they work hard at promoting the events and engaging the passengers at the various venues. The entertainers were very good, not spectacular. You are on a cruise ship, not Broadway and you need to remember that. I was particularly impressed with the energy of the dancers and one of the comedians (Rodney Johnson). One of the most entertaining events did not involve any professional entertainers. The Princess Pop Star Contest was addicting. It was the cruise ship's version of "America's Got Talent". This was a karaoke contest that involved three preliminary rounds and a final. Good fun for all four of us!
FITNESS ROOM - great location; well equipped, and gets plenty of use.
RECREATION - the 2 main pools at mid ship on deck 15 are small and get extremely crowded on "at sea days". There is plenty of seating around the pools and on the decks surrounding the pools. TIP - you are not supposed to reserve deck chairs ...baloney; everyone does. If you do not reserve/claim a deck chair by 9AM on an "at sea day", you will not get one or be forced to take one on a higher deck, a mile away from the pool, and with no potential for shade relief. Please keep in mind that there are two other pools - 1 in the Sanctuary (forward) which is an adults only, extra charge facility and the Terrace Pool (aft) which is also adults only, but no charge. If we did not have our kids with us, we would have lived at the Terrace pool.
We tried to get our kids involved with the kids programs (which seemed to be well run), but they did not enjoy it. Many families used the kids program as a babysitting service. We did not go on a cruise with our kids to put them under someone else's care, so this was not a big deal for us - we thoroughly enjoyed having them with us throughout.
CASINO - not a gambler
CABIN - great location (deck 12). Having had a balcony on both this cruise and our Alaskan cruise, I do not think I could do a cruise in the future without a balcony. It is true, you do not spend a ton of time in the cabin, but when you do it is nice to be able to slide a door open and step out into some fresh air with some privacy amid 3000+ passengers. It also lessens the confinement component and makes the cabin feel bigger (because they are small).
PORTS OF CALL - see below. I am not a big fan of tendering (Princess Cays and Grand Cayman), but Princess does a good job with it. In Grand Cayman it was pleasing to see minimal waits at the Princess lines on shore while both the RC and Carnival lines were extremely long. It was also a nice touch for the Princess crew to hand out cold cloths and cold drinking water to passengers coming back to the ship. The other cruise lines did not do this.
EXCURSIONS - Beware - this is where your cruise bill can go through the roof. Most of the excursions that are worth anything are not cheap. If you have the time, do your homework. You can often do the same trips/excursions independently for far less than what Princess charges. For example, on Princess Cays, the fee for renting snorkeling gear was $24 per person. On Grand Cayman, we rented snorkeling gear on our own (Eden Rock Dive Center) for $10 per person. The advantage to using Princess is that it is all coordinated for you and all you have to do is sign. Also, if you book with Princess and something happens on the trip (car or bus breakdown), the ship will not leave port without you. We did book 2 excursions through Princess - the tubing trip in Ocho Rios and a catamaran trip (Fury) in Cozumel. On Grand Cayman, we rented a car and did our own thing - rented snorkel gear and went to Cemetery Beach - great spot!!!
DISEMBARKATION - smooth as silk.