Quick Sum first in case you dont want a long review:
1. port intensive with great stops
2. ship's excursions had fantastic guides and drivers
3. the pizza
1. too many people for the wait staff to accommodate
2. grouchy and annoyed staff - particularly in dining rooms
3. terrible phone system for reservations and customer service
1. lovely ship with nice clean cabins (at least the two I saw..)
2. good food overall; particularly in Crown Grill, Michaelangelo and Davinci
3. Princess does a fairly nice job of wrangling and directing the thousands of people on board in situations like embarkation, disembarkation and round ups for excursions
4. Excellent violin quintet that played in the atrium and had a few concerts.
1. Ship: we had an inside cabin on A deck, really nice and clean and spacious compared to our previous NCL experiences. The bed was very nice and included the extra padding that I had faxed a request for. Our steward was polite and discreet and we never had to wait a single second for anything to be done in our stateroom. We loved the extra closet and dressing space between the bed and bathroom areas - really makes the cabin feel bigger and youre not forced to crawl over your huge luggage to get in and out of bed.
Since it was too cold to do much outside we never swam or played golf or anything, but all the recreation areas I saw while walking to and from dinner and the spa were lovely ..the pool at the back of the ship especially.
I spent one afternoon at the spa for one of the ships specials, had therapist Vanessa who was charming and did a great job on me, very informative and sweet and not pushy at all about extra services or products. My only issue with the spa was a lack of explanation about what was included with the price of the experience (like sanctuary, steam rooms, hot tubs, robes, etc..) Basically I was just shown into a room and asked to sit down, and then received my massage and was sent on my way. I had to go to the front desk to ask about the sauna and never did receive a tour or robe or sandals. Sorry to sound crabby but I've come to expect that from experiences in spas in hotels - if I pay my $300 I want a robe and slippers ;]
2. Dining: Crown Grill was faaaaantastic, so delicious, GO! Buffet was lackluster and in the mornings waaay too chaotic and busy, but a buffet is hard to manage and everyone knows you cant expect a gourmet dining experience. The pizza was the best Ive ever had in my life, we ate it every single day. International cafe was good too and a great place to pick something up if youre waiting to get off the ship at a port. We chose anytime dining so went to Davinci or Michaelangelo almost every evening.. we had very mixed results. The food was always fantastic, no complaints there ..but the staff just seem so overworked and in general annoyed with the guests. There were exceptions of course and a few friendly ones. .but others were so depressing. I was actually embarassed by their treatment of my parents on certain occasions.. Despite how that sounds we really arent pushy and demanding people (unlike a lot I heard on the ship) but basic requests (like for a glass of iced tea) were often met with obvious annoyance. Overall there was just sort of a chilly 'we hate you' vibe from a lot of the dining staff and it really had an impact on our enjoyment. I don't know how Princess can address this - since so many people use the automatic tipping there isnt really an incentive to BE friendly, but I dont want to have to carry cash either so I"m not sure what the answer is ...all I can say is McDonalds is doing a better job with customer service than Princess is.
3. Excursions (my favorite part!)
First, the princess excursions we took were so expensive that I thought they should be ashamed - I mean really ..should it cost $45 a person to take a bus into Edinburgh from South Queensferry? BUT for the most part we really werent disappointed. The guides are really superb and the drivers are great and friendly ...the guides know everything and talk you through the whole place and really take care of you. Someone is doing something right here!
one by one:
- Guernsey - we did our own thing, the tender process went smoothly (I was really afraid it wouldnt with so many people to get on shore). We went early and got our ticket, made it to shore and walked through town till we found a scooter rental place.. 30 pounds for a while days use, great deal! So we took those and drove around the island and had a great time. You must do this..
- Cobh - we booked in advance with ECoach tours, they got us to Blarney Castle and my husband and I were numbers one and two for the day to kiss the stone. Three cheers for ECoach since I heard that others waited in line so long that eventually they had to give up and leave without accomplishing the task.. Book with ECoach - you wont regret it! After that we did some shopping in the Blarney Woolen Mill (too busy to move or enjoy) and then went on through Cork to Kinsale. Kinsale is nice but if you miss it don't feel too bad ..we liked Cobh better. ECoach got us back - as planned - exactly one hour before the last call for boarding. Three cheers for ECoach! And about 1/3rd the price of the similar ship's excursion which saw less stuff..
- Dublin - weird hours in port, 5:30am to 3:30 pm. We got off at 7am and took a taxi into town, toured Glasnevin Cemetery and then went on to St. Michan's church for their tour. Caught another cab to Dublin Castle and walked to Grafton Street and then St. Stephen's Green - then cab back to the ship. Very nice city, clean and friendly feeling - at least in the touristy parts. Very easy to get around by cab. Huge call next to St. Stephens Green is fun.
- Liverpool - We took our first big ships excurions to Conway Castle and BetwysCoed. Very smooth round up process and got on our bus with no trouble. Our guide was pleasant and informative.. Conway Castle and town were a highlight of our trip, really fantastic. Lunch was at Royal Oak Hotel in BetwysCoed - very good, salmon and lamb. Had some time to shop and look around and enjoyed it despite some rain.
- Greenock - We got off as soon as the ship allowed and found the train station in Greenock. Took the train into Glasgow for 16 pounds each roundtrip or so and then went on from Glasgow Queen Street station to Stirling Castle (another 9 pounds or so roundtrip). Toured Stirling Castle and Church of the Holyrude - great stuff. Watched our time closely and got back to Glasgow by 2pm. In Glasgow we went to the Cathedral and Necropolis and had lunch at Gandolfi (haggis!), tried to do some shopping but things were closing early. Walked around a bit more and had some coffee at Nero.. started to see some unsavoury types lurking around outside, asking for money and drinking, so we went to the big grocery store and picked up a few things then got back on the train for Greenock. Made it back to the ship by 11pm.
- Belfast - Took our second ships tour "Giants Causeway NO Antrim Coast" hahAh love that title.. anyway boarded up with our guide Graham and driver Neville. I LOVELOVELOVE Graham, he was amazing, if they charge extra on the excursions in order to pay more for these fine guides then I begin to get it. He was an absolute pleasure. Funny and knowledgeable and just great. Long ride up to the causeway ..its beautiful.. wish we'd had a bit more sun but no complaints. We had a brush with death as a rogue wave knocked us off our feet - when they say dont go onto the wet rocks I guess they know what theyre talking about.. Saw some seals, took lots of pictures, got back on the bus and drove toward home. Had some quick picture stops at Dunluce Castle and the Rope Bridge. Saw the others below who paid $100 extra for the tour that actually got to walk ont he rope bridge - kind of sad we didnt do it, but ah well.. Drove back to the ship and got off with time leftover to take the free city shuttle into Belfast. How nice of Belfast by the way to provide this.. I think in Dublin there was some kind of shuttle for $8 a person that was provided by the ship (we just took a cab..) but this was very nice. Anyway Belfast was a very pleasant surprise, we didnt see enough but the big shopping area where we were dropped off was great and the town hall was beautiful. I think a person who didnt want to spend money on a tour couldve spent time here and been happy.
- Invergordon - Another ship's excursion, this one was Loch Ness & Cawdor Castle.. another great guide, first stop was Cawdor, nice with a great garden. Next was a drive through Inverness (wish the excursion would make a stop here!) and then on to the Loch. Saw Urquhart Castle but no monster. .the whole place was teeming with people, utterly packed, could barely move or see anything ..horrendous. We had two hours here which turned out way too long since it wasnt peaceful or inviting at all. FInally got everyone back on board and made a last stop at Beauly Priory which redeemed the trip since this was the best stop ..very nice old priory with beautiful tombs in a cute little town. Most disappointing excursion this one, If I had it to do again I'dve gotten transportation into Inverness and then figured out a way from there to get to Loch Ness on our own.
- South Queensferry/Edinburgh - Im a researcher, and I saw different options for getting into Edinburgh froM SQ - theres the train, up a big set of stairs, and there are maybe a few cabs, and maybe even a city shuttle (never saw this if there was one) ..due to the company of my sheltered parents, the expected busy-ness of the festival, and a love of safety and security - we opted for the $45 per person bus into the city center. This wasnt exactly a mistake, but I think the train couldve been managed, and wouldntve limited us so much in a smaller window of time (bus pickup was 3:30 pm for a 6:30 boarding call! somehow I missed that important detail when booking..). But the drop off point was good and we went straight for the castle, used our Scottish Explorer passes bought ahead at Stirling Castle to skip the line and were guests 1,2,3, and 4 into the Crown Jewels exhibit and the Royal Palace. Well worth the extra money spent ont he Explorers pass! So after beating the huge mob and making it through the castle, we walked back out to the royal mile (past the 100 yard long line of people waiting on tickets) and proceeded to st. giles cathedral, greyfriars church and then on down for some shopping till we got to holyrood palace. Had to skip the tour since short on time, but went up Calton Hill to the Nelson Memorial and then back down to the bus pick up area. Edinburgh is big and wonderful - best city of the trip, we will be making a trip of our own there someday.. Once back in S. Queensferry we walked through the little town and the souvenir shops, bought some scotch tablet candy and then took the tender back to the boat (chaos).
Le Havre - we took the ship's excursion to the DDay beaches. I tried everything in advance to find our own way to do this ..looked into overlord tours (booked up), guides by locals (booked up), renting a car (family too chicken) and on and on. In the end we went with the ships excursion, and it really surpassed my expectations. It was pricey but not that much more than the private tour and worth it for the very fine guide and the security of knowing the ship wouldnt leave us. We made it down as far as Pointe du Hoc on Omaha Beach and then had stops for lunch at a golf club, the American Cemetery (time to swim if you want to), Arromanche and then drove past Gold and Juno beaches. We did not see Utah Beach and if we saw Sword I dont remember. The guide was wonderfully informative and the driver very accomodating. Lunch was the best included meal we had on any excursion - salad, wine, chicken, apple pie.
- We stayed at Trafalgar Hilton for two days before the cruise, nice hotel and nice location - right by Buckingham Palace and the National Gallery. We took National Express for 12GBP each from Victoria Station to Southhampton - all easy, Id recommend this.
- We used the ship's transfer ($50 pp I think) to get from Southhampton back to Heathrow and then spent a night at the Heathrow Hilton before departing the next day. Nice hotel. Ship's transfer was smooth and the price was reasonable compared to a taxi.
- The ships phone systems need some serious work and mostly I refer to the people who answer for the reservations line, front desk and room service. I realize they are annoyed and overworked but do they really have to be so rude and impatient? As an anytime diner there were nights I wanted to make a reservation so that we could be sure of not waiting too long in line at prime time. After waiting on the line for at least five minutes three different times and receiving three different answers about this seemingly simple request I just gave up. Seriously Princess.. the one dark spot in this whole trip was the treatment I was given by certain of your staff.
- despite that rant above, and I hate how it makes me sound like a pushy and demanding person, but anyway despite that it was a FANTASTIC cruise - I would recommend it to anyone, beautiful ship, great ports of call, tons of excursion options, and very very good food.