We booked this cruise with Virgin Cruises and I have to say their 'customer services' is completely mis-named, I won't go into the terrible trouble we had on a few very basic queries but never again! That said, we had a fabulous holiday and were very impressed with Princess with whom we had never cruised before.
We elected to stay in New York for 4 days prior to our cruise and had a fabulous time. We've been before but still did the hop on hop off tour round the City, cycled in Central Park, saw West Side Story on Broadway and shopped extensively. We all love New York, the atmosphere and the architecture is awe inspiring. We stayed at the Belvedere Hotel which was very reasonable by comparison to other hotels and centrally placed on West 48th Street, easy walking distance of Time Square and Broadway. They very kindly allowed us to return on disembarkation day and leave our luggage there while we made the most of the Big Apple before flying back to London that night. Highlights of New York were seeing Eddie Izzard coming out of a show one night and getting my photo taken with him (he really made an effort with all his fans who were waiting) - how bizarre is that?! Also we ate at Tony Di Napolis restaurant just off Time Square and the food was fantastic - huge platters that serve 2 or 3 so watch how much you order. Loved cycling in Central Park, if you look through the tourist magazines you can find $5 off vouchers but you need one each to get a discount each so pick up a bunch. Worst bit was hanging around until 1.30pm on Friday to join the free Grand Central Station tour. It was terrible! It lasted for an hour and a half and after one hour we still hadn't even got into the station, the guide was off in a little world of his own discussing french sewers and all sorts, we just wanted to see the station with someone who could give us a bit of specific history, not the history of the US! The ship exceeded our expectations.
Embarkation was very quick and smooth and our cabin was ready as soon as we got on there. We had a mini suite on deck 7 and these were fantastic, the most space we have ever had in anything comparable and very well appointed. Buffet lunch on deck 15 was good and then it was great to watch the Manhatten sillouette as we sailed away, life doesn't get much better than sipping a drink as the band plays and you see the Statue of Liberty slipping away, magical! I wasn't sure about the standard of Princess before we sailed. I understood it was comparable to NCL and RCI but not as good as Celebrity (we cruised on the Equinox at Christmas). I would say it is better than NCL and RCI in most respects, the food in the restaurant was fantastic every night and as good as Celebrity. The buffet was much more limited but still good. Entertainment was not as good as the others but depends what you are looking for. One comedian was very funny in a dry, New York way, the other was not funny at all but I think this is a cultural thing as many others found him hilarious. The best entertainer was in Crooners bar each night, a pianist and singer who was hilarious, there was a crowd in there every night and they all thought he was fantastic. Liked the alcohol policy allowing you to take wine on board and I think the prices on board were far and away more reasonable than any other cruise we have been on for drink. Bottle of Merlot was $22 which seemed pretty reasonable compared to double that for the cheapest bottle on Celebrity. We enjoyed a little flutter in the casino most nights but limit ourselves to $20 - yes, last of the big spenders I know! Always amazed that some people start on the slots at 10am when its open with a beer in their hand, seems a bit sad when there is so much else to enjoy. Art Auction was good for free champagne and a laugh at the spiel - lots about how these artists retail elsewhere for many times the price, makes you wonder why they don't just sell them elsewhere as they sure as hell weren't selling on the ship! Proud to say we won the trivia quiz twice, all I can say is the bar must have been very low...
Only sour note was that we chose to do the self embarkation and take our bags off ourselves. As we went to put our room card in to get off for the last time alarms sounded and we were prevented from leaving. I was told I had to go to the front desk as we hadn't paid our bill, in front of the whole queue. I struggled downstairs to the front desk and they had failed to charge us for one bottle of wine and were unable to put it on the credit card. Their mistake, no apology and something they could have easily notified us about prior to us leaving. Not good customer service at all.
final point I would make about Princess is that I think their pricing policy is really unfair to those from the UK. Unlike other companies like RCI and NCL they will not allow independent travellers to book at the same rates as US customers, they just won't take the booking if you are from the UK and trying to book through a U.S travel agent or site. I have asked them why this is and they came up with a spurious explanation concerning extra travel protection for UK customers, the bottom line is that they recognise the market is more competitive in the US and they can get away with charging non US customers more. Oh well, thats about it. Summary - great cruise, like Princess, like cruising with Americans and Canadians who are much more polite than many from Europe and enjoyed our time immensely. Not sure we would go with them again though as the prices are uncompetitive for UK customers, shame.