BACKGROUND INFO: I am 45 years old and this was my 21st cruise. Princess is my favorite, but I've also cruised on all the typical lines (Celebrity, RCCL, Norwegian, Carnival, Holland America). I traveled with my mom, brother and a friend on this cruise and chose it because of the fantastic itinerary. We like Princess because of the wide variety of entertainment and the anytime dining.
ITINERARY: Venice, Venice, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Katakalon, Athens, Mykonos, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Santorini, Sea Day, Naples, Rome (We were unable to stop in Naples due to rough seas -â€" this was a tender port and we were unable to accomplish the tender process due to weather and extreme safety concerns)
WEATHER: The weather was superb for the majority of the cruise. Venice through Mykonos was crisp, sunny and in the upper 60's to mid 70's. Kusadasi was overcast but mild. It rained during the morning in Rhodes, but then was simply overcast with temps in the upper 60's. Santorini was partly cloudy and in the upper 60's. Our first sea day was sunny and in the upper 60's, but the day around Naples was overcast in the 60's.
TRAVEL TO PORT OF EMBARKATION (VENICE): I love sailing out of Venice because it's an easy airport to get to, relatively small and easy to navigate, and fairly close to the ship. We arrived in Venice at noon and immediately boarded the bus to the ship. It was full, as many passengers arrived at the same time. On our last Med cruise, we arrived in Venice at 4:45pm and the cruiseline transportation was not available so we took a private car at about 50 euros - just found the service online and it was extremely convenient. The ride is about a half hour or less to the ship.
HOTEL: We did not arrive early in Venice, but instead just took advantage of the fact that you get 2 half days and a night on the ship before sailing away from Venice. We were on the ship by 3pm and so were able to spend the afternoon/evening in Venice and then the next morning we went back into Venice until about 11:30. Princess charged each passenger a flat fee of $15 (refundable if you don't use it) for a water taxi service from the ship to St Mark's Square, regardless of how many back and forth trips you make. You simply walk off the ship a few hundred feet to the water taxi (running continuously) and take the enjoyable ride for about 15-20 minutes. We went into Venice about 4pm Sunday (day before departure) and then back in the following morning. The last ferry left St. Mark's at 11:30 to get passengers back on the ship by noon. The safety drill was at 12:15 and then we sailed away at 12:30. Tip: If you have a balcony, try to get it on the port side (left side as you are facing forward), as this is the side you will see Venice from as you sail away. This is a beautiful sailaway!
STATEROOM: We had a balcony room on the port side, on the Caribe Deck. In researching balconies, we realized that the size of the balconies on the Caribe deck were 1.5 times deeper than all other balconies and also half covered and half open. If you want a balcony, be sure to research the sizes and coverage, as they do vary. We absolutely loved our Caribe balcony. Our neighbor smoked quite a bit, but beginning in 2012, that will end as no smoking will be allowed on balconies.
SHIP INFO: My three traveling companions (ages 73, 54 and 42) had never been on a Princess ship and they all three loved it! They easily figured out how to navigate it and thought it was set up really well. We counted over 15 entertainment locations and loved the Piazza area on deck 5 for a regular meeting place. We walked around the outside of the ship on deck 7 regularly to walk off our meals and also loved the gym. My brother commented that although the ship was full (2600 passengers), he never really felt lines or crowds because there were so many venues around the ship.
DINING: We chose Anytime Dining because we did not want to commit to 12 days of regularly scheduled dining. We ended up going to the Capri dining room all but 3 nights, and tended to go earlier (between 6-6:30) because then we could get a table for 4 people without waiting. The larger the table, the longer it takes to make it through the meal, and we didn't want to eat for 2 hours. I thought the food on this cruise was the best I'd ever had on a Princess cruise. From the main dining rooms to the Horizon Court buffet, even to the pizza and burgers on deck 14. We loved getting a couple of cookies from the International Cafe on deck 5 in the Piazza!
ACTIVITIES: This cruise itinerary left little time on the ship during the day, so we really only participated in the evening activities. We always found something we wanted to do and our favorites were the piano player (Paul Burton) in the Promenade Bar, Accent (the live Caribbean band) in the Explorer's Lounge, various movies shown in either the Vista Lounge or at the Movies under the Stars on deck 14, Shawn Alexander (the Magician), and some of the other shows in the Princess Theater. There was one planned sea day on the second to last day and the crew did a good job of planning various activities -â€" enough for everyone. Our last port (Naples) was cancelled because the seas were too rough to tender in. The crew did a great job of creating a last minute list of activities for an unplanned sea day and the Captain did a superb job of quickly developing an itinerary that had us slowly sailing closely past Capri and the Amalfi coast while commentating on all of the sights were were seeing from the sea.
CHILDREN'S CLUBS: We did not use this and didn't see too many children on the ship at all -â€" but in general, I can see that Princess has a great area for kids with really good facilities.
SERVICE: I thought the service on this ship was superb and very attentive. The crew in general seemed very happy. I had been on this exact ship in March, 2011 and had the opposite experience. The crew then was lazy and rarely smiled. Clearly, there is different leadership on this ship today and it was very obvious in the crew.
ENTERTAINMENT: This ship had plenty of night time entertainment and varied enough that we always had a few options that interested us. I will say that over my 21 cruises, most piano players had one foot in the grave and were boring beyond belief. The piano player/entertainer on this ship was so fantastic that we went to see him every night and there was always a standing room only crowd. His name is Paul Burton and if you ever see his name, make sure you get there early. I loved the live Caribbean band -â€" Accent. Very good. They played good movies each day. There were the typical Caribbean type events (50's night, Country night, Deck party night), but those didn't seem to fit in the Mediterranean. I would have liked to have seen some entertainment specific to the Mediterranean. Maybe showing some movies like Shirley Valentine or Zorba that showcased the region, or even having some Greek music and dancers a few times. It wasn't really very creative entertainment, but it was good.
PORT AND SHORE EXCURSIONS: We did not book any excursions through the ship, but I felt they had a good selection at reasonable prices. We chose to explore on our own and I'll talk about what we did in the port reviews. Because the Port Review section only allows 8 ports, I will not cover Venice, Rome or Naples (since this port was cancelled).
DISEMBARKATION: We had a 10:20am flight out of Rome, so booked the ship's transportation to the airport and were the second group to leave the ship at 6:05am. Everything on the ship was very organized and getting off and to the bus was very quick and efficient. The ride to the airport took only about 45 minutes, but the Rome airport check-in process is an absolute nightmare, so make sure you get there very early and have lots of patience.
SUMMARY: This was an AWESOME itinerary and the reason we chose this cruise. Since I had just been on the Star Princess in March and didn't have such a good experience, I warned my traveling companions to expect the worst but hope for the best. But by the end of day 2, all three were absolutely pleased with the ship, the crew and the experience. My brother even booked his next cruise while on this ship.