We stayed the night before at the Candlewood Suites Airport/Cruise Hotel. It was fairly basic but just fine. They did offer a few extras such as free laundry, DVD players and small DVD library, kitchenette, free airport shuttle, and free shuttle to the port. I understand that the free port shuttle is going away, so make sure you check on that. We actually decided to walk to the port which was a bit of a pain only due to bags. We wanted to get a little last minute exercise before the sailing, and the shuttle was first come first served, so I didn't have the warmest feeling of getting a seat. Anyway, it worked out fine - I would recommend this hotel. Also, check to see the ship's dock location and consider walking if you are staying near the port. It only took about five minutes to get from the entrance to the ship, and it was easy to walk through the gate. From the Embassy Suites where my parents stayed, it was a total of about 10-15 minutes.
I had previously sailed on the Golden and Diamond Princess, and found the ship layout to be very similar. The Piazza at the center of the ship is very impressive. The ship appeared in good repair, and was mostly easily accessible. I did see a few people frustrated on occasion, particularly where you have to go up and over to get to the Botticelli Dining Room due to the galley preventing access from Deck 6 mid to the DR in the aft. The ship did not seem overly crowded at all, and I think we sailed fairly full. As an active person, I was very disappointed that the Sports Deck was pathetic. If you are used to the Royal Caribbean sports deck layouts, you will not be pleased here. The basketball court was very small and had a hideous net covering the top. The net is so close to the top that it actually comes down below the top of the backboard preventing clean shots. The backboards themselves are ugly metal with marks on them where they were scraped of rust or worked on for some other reason. The court doubles as paddle tennis, but the net literally leaves only 2 inches of space behind the court lines. How would one be able to return a ball that hits within a couple feet of the line? Poor design. The running track is a joke as well - very small circle. The miniature golf was closed the entire week due to a full refurbishment. While I applaud the work, this sort of thing should only be done during dry dock. In the meantime, they should have just fixed what they could to keep it operational. The ship is only two years old - how could it have been that bad? Overall though, she is a pretty ship.
Activities on this ship ran the usual gamut; however, there were some notable misses. First off, I went to two sports events that were supposed to be run by a social staff member, but no one showed up. On a third occasion, I arrived exactly at the start time for a basketball event and ran into the staff member on the stairs on her way down. She asked if I was headed up for basketball to which I said yes. She said there were a few people up there already and just to join in. I can play basketball on the ship anytime. I go to an activity listed on the schedule for the interaction that the staff initiates. While there are a couple folks on the social staff (Josh, Lindsey) who were great, most of the rest were not very excited to be there. This includes the cruise director who did her job, but was not very funny or personable. She told a few jokes that were as if read from cue cards and were overplayed cruise humor. The activities that were hosted were usually worth my time, but were not as exciting as events on Royal Caribbean. Again, I am an active guy and seek out the athletic events. Royal Caribbean offers many more activities and has much better facilities. Princess has been specifically advertising against the idea of adventure on a cruise (see ads for relaxation versus climbing rock walls). This will prompt me to move Princess down my list of preferences in future cruises. My fiancEe took a Pilates class that she said was terrible and not even Pilates. It was also only 45 minutes in length. To their credit, Princess refunded the cost of the class. My fiancEe found classes to be better on Royal and Carnival.
Our mid-ship Riviera Deck inside room was great. We were very close to the buffet and pools only one deck up. It wasn't too far to anything on the ship. We don't mind taking the stairs, so there were several 8-10 deck ventures, but being centrally located helped. We had a room oriented "sideways" which we found to be a better layout. We compared it to my parent's room, and our room had more storage and floor space. We were really happy with the room.
The food on the ship was ok - although not as good as I had remembered from previous Princess sailings and not as good as other lines overall. This surprised me, as Princess had recently been listed as best Dining Room food on Cruise Critic. Overall, the food choices were a little too fancy for me. Most of the more basic choices I ordered were good, but a lot of options were too exotic. Quality was pretty good, with one noticeable exception. I love French toast, but it was inedible in the buffet. I tried it on three occasions, and each time you could literally squeeze out the oil. It looks really good, but must be soaked in oil for some reason, which completely ruins it. Otherwise, food in the buffet was pretty good. The pizza was good as well. Check out the pizza area in the mornings for Belgian waffles that were unbelievably good! I never tried the ice cream at Scoops, but saw that it is actually soft serve. The International Cafe was ok, but the choices remained the same all week. It would be nice to have some variety there. Also, there have been posts on the boards about free sushi and tapas at Vines without drink purchase. This is NOT true. My brother inquired and was told there was a drink purchase requirement in order to get free sushi or tapas.
Service overall was good. Our dining room waiter, Anthony in Botticelli was outstanding! He was very personable and did a great job with giving us what we wanted, and going the extra mile. He was a happy guy, which definitely makes the dining experience more rewarding. On my most recent cruise before this one, the waiter barely cracked a smile all week and you could just tell he didn't want to be there. What a difference it makes to have someone who you can chat with and who will make you smile. Our cabin steward was fairly good. We had an issue with the door handle that we told him about, but it still took about five days for it to be fixed. This may not be his fault, but he should have noticed the door handle was very hard to turn before we even got on board and it should have been addressed sooner. Otherwise, the room was always cleaned efficiently and it was always spotless. Unfortunately, I could not take Edgar home with me!
Entertainment on the ship was either hit or miss. Hits included the juggler/comedian Rick Novell who was unbelievably good! Don't miss this show - it happens three times on one night and twice the next. The last singer/dancer show about the girl and her dreams was excellent and had great music, costumes, and set technology. The first comic was funny on welcome night and hysterical during his full set in Explorer's. Everything else was a miss including Spank the doo wop a cappella group. While talented singers, they had no production value. I remember thinking how it was an easy night for the stage crew because they just lit the stage and that was it. It was a hard show to bear and then they appeared no less than four more times on the ship in the Piazza. It would have been better to have them perform there only and use the main stage for another act. The first two singer dancer shows were the same boring old music with no plot. I don't know why cruise ships insist upon doing the same tired shows again and again. It is nice to see some of the newer ships bringing full Broadway musicals onboard. There was one show that was somewhat in the middle and that was David Cats the magician. His act was pretty good, but I sat close to the front and saw how a couple of tricks were done including the grand finale. You should always leave a magic show wondering how everything was done. On a general note, if you decide to eat late as we did, you will miss out on a lot of the evening shows. We found not much to do between 5-7pm, but there was commonly an early main theater show at 8ish and then a game show type event at 9:30 or a second stage act, and then sometimes another event at 10:30 (like Princess Pop Star). If you ate at 6 or 6:30, you could do all of those things. If you ate at 8:15, you could only do the one show at 10:30 (we always saw the main theater event). Princess should attempt to fill that 5-7pm slot a little better. Maybe they should consider moving early seating to 5:30 in order to slide back late seating to 7:45, thereby allowing folks to attend the 9:30 shows (we frequently left the dining room around 10pm). As it stands, if going to the evening shows is important to you, consider early seating or doing Anytime and eating before 7.
We signed up for two shore excursions. My fiancEe signed up for and did the FlowRider body boarding in Grand Turk. I signed up for the stand up surfing, but apparently was the only one on the whole ship and therefore the excursion was cancelled. I ended up doing the body boarding session. We both had a lot of fun, although I wish they would have run the stand up session. For some reason they will do the body session with as few as four people or maybe even less, but they needed at least eight for stand up. Grand Turk is very nice incidentally. It is almost like a private island since the beach is right there with free chairs. There is some shopping and Margaritaville with its pool. Princess Cays was a nice day, but I like Labadee better. St. Thomas has everything with tons of shopping, nice beaches, and touring. St. Maarten is nice, although it was my second visit and I'm not sure there is anything left for me to do there besides go to the beach.
Disembarkation was fairly easy. Princess is good about not throwing you out of your cabin early and keeping just about the normal breakfast hours. We were off the ship five minutes after getting to the lobby, and to the taxi another 15 minutes after that. A very good system overall.
While we had a great time on this cruise, I would look at other alternatives in the future. I think we are more Royal Caribbean or Carnival folks for the time being based on our active lifestyles. Keep in mind this review is just one person's opinion - I hope it helps you out. As they say, cruising is better than not cruising, so we had fun. But my ratings are based on this sailing as compared to others I have experienced.