I made a concerted effort to do a review this trip since we had to make a quick change on our planned cruise on Carnival to Princess. There was so much help here at CC I felt obligated to put one together in the hope that it might help someone else in the future, sorry there are no pictures.
About us: We are two couples with varying travel experiences. My wife and I have cruised five times before, two on Celebrity a few years ago and then after that three times on Carnival. This was the other couples first cruise (virgins). All of us have enjoyed several all inclusive resorts over the past several years and a house rental in The Keys last year. Our ages ranged from 43 - 48.
We are also four people that had to change our original cruise plans due to the Carnival Splendor fire. To keep it close on dates and the same ports, we decided to go with Princess for the first time. My wife has wanted to give Princess a try for years so she was looking forward to finally getting a chance to see what they are like.
My wife and I had our pre-flight hotel for the first time at the Crown Plaza in Bloomington, MN and used the stay and fly package. Great experience and will be going there again.
My wife and I used Zippy's shuttle from LAX to the Double Tree in San Pedro, no complaints with Zippy and they made life a whole lot easier knowing they would be waiting for us when we landed since it was later in the evening. The other couple took a taxi to San Pedro and said it was fine. All four of us stayed at the Double Tree in San Pedro, nice staff, shuttle was prompt and great location. But that is about all I can say good about it. I found the price too high for the condition of the hotel (almost double for the stay and fly package at the Crown - I know, it's LA vs. Minneapolis Mike). A couple of issues we had, no hot water for the shower (seriously NO hot water) and only one out of two elevators worked.
Sapphire embarkation 11:15a: I believe we had to stand in line for around thirty to forty minutes before we checked in and then it was soon after we were on board. We all liked how much staff was waiting for us right away to help guide us to the correct locations on the ship. We all went to the bar and then the grill for a while and then walked down to our rooms.
The staff: Great! From check in to disembarkation the staff was great. Fun, friendly and professional. So much like Celebrity, but less stuffy from what we can remember (again it has been seven years since our last cruise with them).
Rooms: Both couples booked a guaranteed mini-suite and both were upgraded to a better location on the Dolphin deck. Everyone loved the rooms, lots of space and the extra balcony was needed when we entertained. I had no issues with the balcony being open to others above looking down at us.
Food: MDR food was very good, we didn't use it much. We ate at Sabatini's, the steak restaurant, the grill and had the chefs table. Our plan was to go with anytime dining and it did not go well the first night. The next time we tried it was the last night and it was better, but we all felt there is room for improvement and would book a fixed time when we cruise with Princess again. Sabatini's was great, loved the variety of food and it was nice to see my wife "go outside her box" (a term used a few times on this trip) on trying new things. Steak house, WOW. Really, WOW. Before the cruise I was surprised to see almost a 100% positive reviews on the chefs table, now I see why. It was one - if not THE highlight of the trip for all four of us. I won't go in to much detail since others have done such a great job, but it was FANTASTIC! I won't speak for the others in our group, but I will do it as often as I can in the future. FYI, my wife and I split a burger for lunch to save room for this dinner, never even came close to finishing one of the several plates of food served and we were still stuffed. So many neat dishes to try and I was so proud of my wife, she tried them all (another "out of the box"), of course the chef was standing right next to her - "you must at least taste it".
One last thing on the food, we had heard so much about the pizza, maybe we had the B squad but quite frankly we were disappointed. It was greasy and just not very good at all.
Excursions: My wife and I had the canopy tour in Puerto Vallarta and it was great. This is another place where she "came out of her box". I would caution you if you have any walking issues, as it is a lot of walking and climbing stairs. This was everything I hoped for, lots of lines and a crazy fun staff. We were booked to go to Mazatlan and had planned on a horse ride but that was canceled by the cruise due to safety concerns, so we went to Cabo a day early and then our last stop was Ensenada. At Cabo we just walked around the port and had some food and drinks, the wives did a little shopping and then we took the tender back to the boat. We stayed on the boat at Ensenada.
Debarkation: We booked a couple of rooms at the Renaissance by LAX, so we took our time getting off the boat. People got off so fast that by the time we went to claim our luggage, there was hardly any luggage there so that made it easy to find ours.
We used Zippy's again from the port to the Renaissance hotel and it was great to know they were waiting for us. I turned on my phone as we were getting off the boat and I had a message from the driver to give him a call, as soon as I finished with listening to his message he called me back to say he was waiting for us outside, very nice. It was crazy outside the terminal as three boats were disembarking at the same time, so to have him waiting was great.
By the way the Renaissance was very nice for the price ($100), the restaurant was a little spendy, but you could walk across the street to BK if you so desired.
Final thoughts: Princess is a winner for all four of us, a much more refined experience than Carnival and from what we can remember a little less stuffy as Celebrity, but we still love Celebrity and will sail with them again in the future. One thing that I missed from Carnival was the evening entertainment, not the big production shows, but the small venues. There are one or two an evening, but they didn't seem as good. We also missed the sing along piano bar.