This was our 11th cruise, but first with Princess. I was fairly excited about trying this new line as I'd read several things which sounded fun. After the cruise I have mixed feelings about the experience and in the end have decided not to cruise Princess again. Below is my review to explain.
As per Cruise Critic's Guidelines, I will try and structure my review into categories...
As mentioned, I have cruised 11 times. Mostly Royal Caribbean and Carnival with one cruise on Celebrity and now this one on Princess. We are from Calgary Canada and mostly cruise the Caribbean, although we have done one Alaska cruise and 3 cruises in Europe. This cruise started the same day as we debarked a Royal Caribbean cruise so it was easy to compare several things while it was fresh in our minds.
TRAVEL TO PORT OF EMBARKATION
We took the train from Rome Termini to Civitavecchia. Easy sneezy.
We stayed at the Buonanotte Garibaldi B&B in the "blue room". Wonderful private terrace, great service. In the heart of the quaint restaurant district.
We were in E201, which is a rather unique balcony cabin (there are only 8 like it on the ship) in which the promenade deck actually steps up and in front of the balcony. So while you were on your balcony people would periodically walk by. For privacy they have a tinting film on the glass and at night (if the ship is underway) they shut off the lights to aid in Navigation and thus close that portion of the walkway for safety reasons. The balconies themselves are huge and easily the deepest on the ship and have a table, chairs and loungers. The problem is that the tinting impedes your view when sitting or lounging on the deck. We found the lack of view while lounging so annoying that we would not book this type of cabin again.
The other aspects of the cabin which are worth mentioning is the bathroom. The shower did not have a hand wand. I have never experienced this on any other cruise line and it is a real pain. The safe was wonderful with a knob instead of an electric locking mechanism. The cabin layout was quite nice with the wall between the bed and bathroom forming a pseudo walk-in closet.
Having walked onto this ship about 1 hour after disembarking Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas made us notice several things about the ship that seemed better or worse by comparison. First off, the artwork on Star Princess was wonderful by comparison and we felt like we were on a much classier vessel. The layout of the ship however was dreadful. There are no public stairwells at the very front and rear of the ship so you must always walk a bit further than it seems like you should have to. Many public spaces have access only from one side of the ship or the other, so until you have memorized the layout you are constantly turning around and retracing your steps to get where you want.
The Sanctuary looked nice, but really wasn't much of an option on an itinerary which with 12 nights had just one sea day. On that sea day it was sold out by 10am.
The fitness area was completely inadequate.
This more than anything killed the experience for us. While the dining room food and overall experience was fine and comparable to other ships, the other dining options ranged from disappointing to down right unacceptable. The buffet was in a crowded space and was below acceptable in my opinion. Very limited variety and tray after tray were empty. The pizza place had decent pizza but closed very early. One of the things I had looked forward to was room service pizza, but late at night when I would have wanted it, the place was closed. The room service was prompt, but did not accommodate any request which was off menu and occasionally brought dirty dishes.
The buffet though is a key part of the cruising experience. It is the most used venue for breakfasts for us and it was just awful. So much so that we have since cancelled another Princess cruise which we had booked.
We found the activities on board to be adequate and nothing more. For being a supposedly upscale line we anticipated more lecture type activities but there were none. Other activities seemed on par with other lines.
With the exception of our room steward, service was surprisingly good. I enjoyed the dedicated and staff operated elevators at embarkation, a nice touch. Any interaction I had was for the most part very pleasant.
Typical cruise entertainment but a big focus on movies which we found quite enjoyable especially those late night movies on deck. Their movies under the stars program is top notch. My only complaint is that they should leave the hot tubs open so you can watch the movies from there when it rains.
This is the only ship I've ever been on which didn't have pay per view movies or TV based room service ordering capabilities on the stateroom TV.
PORT & SHORE EXCURSIONS
Something I think Princess does better than any other line is their excursions. The information they make available for excursions is top notch and even when we had an alternate port due to bad weather, the way in which the excursions were re-booked was wonderfully communicated and was seamless.
Typical disembarkation. We cruise only with carry on bags so disembarkation from the ship is always a breeze. There were no customs lines at all at the Venice terminal, we just walked out.
While Princess had some wonderful aspects to their ship, and good overall service, the casual dining experience was just too shoddy to overlook. Especially when compared to other lines like Royal Caribbean's wonderful Windjammer Buffet. Princess is supposed to be a step up from Carnival, but I found this only seems to apply to the decor and perhaps the afternoon tea service. Everything else seemed like an entry level line on par with Carnival and absolutely no comparison to Royal's "step up" line, Celebrity.