Our trip got off to a rough start and there it stayed. My husband and I flew in to London Gatwick airport a day early, to avoid any possible delays the day of cruising. We had purchased the Princess transfer from the airport to the pier in Southampton, and we decided to stay at the Sofitel hotel, which is conveniently located right off the North Terminal at Gatwick. I was told by a Princess representative over the phone that the transfers for the airport would be running continuously from 11AM-1PM the day of sailing. My husband and I decided to go to the money exchange at the airport at around 10:30AM, and while we were there, decided to find the Princess rep and double check our transfer. It was to our surprise that when we found him, he said his ONLY shuttle leaving the airport for the pier was getting ready to leave, and that he'd hold it for us. He also didn't have any of our flight information provided to him (which was in the Princess system). So our cruise started with us running back to the hotel to throw our stuff in suitcases and run back to catch the shuttle.
Embarkation was painless; we were on the ship less than 15 minutes after arriving at the pier, and we made a quick stop at Passenger Services to let them know of our mishap with the transfers so they could pass it along so others wouldn't be potentially in that same spot. We were told that they'd make a note and someone would contact our stateroom regarding the situation.
Two days later, we hadn't heard anything, so stopped back by Passenger Services. Apparently, the note had never made it to the system, so we explained the entire situation again, and were again told that someone would contact us about it. A couple hours later, we returned to our stateroom to find a phone message "to assist us with the disembarkation questions we'd stopped by to ask." So when we returned the call, we had to explain, again, that we didn't have questions about disembarkation, that we'd almost not made it to embarkation due to a Princess fault. By the fourth time telling our story to a Passenger Services crew member, we'd had enough, ad just let it go.
The cabin was a standard inside cabin; quite acceptable. We were on deck 14, and I never want to be in a cabin one deck below the pool decks ever again though. Each night we tossed and turned to the thud-thud-thud of people running around right above our heads.
The food was so-so. Nothing to write home about, and we ate less and less as the cruise went on because it was pretty blah. The service was not up to the standard we expect with Princess. I was surprised. It seemed that for every wonderful crew member, there was another that seemed like they were doing us a favor. The Internet guy deserves a special mention in this category. There were massive Internet problems throughout the cruise. I was unable to get on the Internet 8 out of 12 times trying, and on the second-to-last day of the cruise, asked the Internet manager about a refund for unused minutes and he was downright rude. I understand that he was probably getting hounded from unhappy guests about the non-working Internet, but he was a complete jerk to me, and I had been polite in my asking.
Entertainment was yawn-worthy. If you've seen the shows on one Princess cruise, you've seen them all. We only saw one new show that we hadn't seen on our last Princess cruise, which was "Destination Anywhere." They really should mix it up a bit more.
Also of note was the morning we were making our way into Liverpool, and at about 5:30AM, my husband and I awoke to everything on our desks and tables crashing to the floor. The ship listed and listed a little further. Eventually the ship righted itself, but we were so scared, that we ran up to the Lido deck to find out what was going on. Half of the water from the pools had spilled out all over the Lido deck and gone into the Horizon Court dining room. Everything from the buffet lines and all the silverware from the tables and glasses and things of that nature were all over the place. The dining room smelled terrible and moldy for the remainder of the trip. A few minutes later, the Captain got on the loudspeakers telling us that we had just taken a turn too fast and that's what caused the "slight listing."
The art director, Tom, was a wonderful and charming man. I wish that every crew member had been as delightful to interact with.
The ports were hit or miss: Belfast blew us away; I cannot say enough good things about Paul from taxitrax.com, with whom we had a private day tour, or about Northern Ireland itself, which is astoundingly beautiful. Cobh was another little hidden treasure. I wish we'd had more time there... we did an eCoach tour (would recommend... similar trip to one of Princess shore excursions, but about 1/4th the price) to Blarney castle and the charming village of Kinsale. Liverpool was lovely, and a HOHO tour was the order of the day there. St. Peter Port was absolutely gorgeous, and had a lively little port area.
We did Princess excursions to Cawdor Castle and Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness at Invergordon port. I'd recommend skipping Cawdor Castle and just going to Loch Ness and trying to spend some time in Inverness instead. Inverness looked like a nice place to visit from the drive through, and Cawdor Castle was less than impressive. It's furnishings from the 1970's are odd and a bit disconcerting.
Also did Princess excursions from Greenock to the Scottish Wool Centre and Loch Lomond. The Scottish Wool Centre is nothing more than a giant tourist shop with very little actual wool goods there. You'll undoubtedly be disappointed with the "performance," which is some sheep laying in a pen and a dog chasing after ducks.
Dublin, Edinburgh, and Le Havre were not worth the stop in my book. Dublin is just another large, overpriced, overcrowded city. Edinburgh wasn't terrible, just lacked in the charm that many of the other ports we stopped at had in abundance. Le Havre itself was only good for renting a car to get to the beaches of Normandy.
All this being said, disembarkation was the easiest I've ever encountered. They were running early; no lines, and we were in our cab within 5 minutes. They at least got something right this trip.