This cruise was labeled as a 14 night Southern Caribbean but in reality it was 2 separate 7 night cruises visiting 10 ports (not including Puerto Rico). We've spent time sailing around the Caribbean in a 50 ft sailboat a few times over the years and this was our 4th "big" cruise and 2nd with Princess.
We chose the 14 night cruise as we prefer longer vacations of 10 or more nights and with the port intensive itinerary it would allow us to get a taste of many islands enabling us to get an idea of where we would like to return for a land based vacation in the future.
Embarkation: They lie! The information from Princess told us to arrive after 2pm when it would be less crowded. We arrived at about 2:15 and it was a zoo. Tons of cars buses, taxis, and parking lot security guys yelling at everyone (yes even ME!) Princess ports at the Pan American pier (yuck) and not in OSJ. Finally schlepped our luggage to the porter guys and then back in another long line for security check. After security check you then go to another long line to get checked in to your cruise. There are a lot of agents so this actually moved quickly. From this point you can go to the duty free shops. (It was awesome watching people be creative and hiding tons of booze in backpacks, purses, carry ons garment bags etc...) We had our two bottles of wine and they did ask us when we boarded and did look in our bag. However I wouldn't worry as gallons of booze did get on board this cruise for sure! After duty free you are back to another line to actually get on board. This was rather backed up and even though it is covered the sun was still beating down from the side making it kind of hot. But finally on board!
Room:We booked an AA guarantee and did not receive a room assignment until 2 weeks prior to sailing (booked and paid for the cruise 8 months in advance). We did not receive any upgrades and were assigned to D406 which is Dolphin deck 9 mid ship, port-side (AA room).
We loved the mini suite as it had so much room and lots of storage. The full size bath was a huge plus for a longer cruise. The room itself was showing some wear and tear on the carpet, and the sheers needed a good washing,but these were all minor things that I could overlook in exchange for the great space and layout. The bed however was horrible! As many people have said the mattress is very hard and ours was very lumpy to the point where you could feel the springs. (I woke up each morning very early because of back pain). One of the beds actually had a permanent indentation that made you feel like you would roll right out of the bed (this required that my DH and I clutch each other in an embrace mid bed each night to prevent one of us from rolling off the bed - okay maybe a bit of a stretch but we did have lots of laughs about the beds). The pillows were totally flat with no support. We ended up with 8 pillows in our room by the 3rd day of the cruise (pillow fight!) The balcony was very roomy and had two semi-reclining chairs and two regular chairs along with a small bistro type table. All mini suites on Dolphin deck are totally open balconies which people have a love or a hate relationship with. (We have the latter). While sitting on the balcony, water would randomly drip down from the upper decks (not a cloud in the sky) and I believe it may have been from up on lido deck. While sometimes it would be just a few drops, other times it was a nice little unexpected rain shower. No big deal unless you are trying to enjoy a nice meal on your balcony (ewww!!!! where is that water coming from that just landed all over my salad), or if your showered and ready for dinner (so much for the hairstyle), or sitting on the balcony reading from your kindle (oops hope this is water proof). We did have great weather for most of our cruise but in inclement weather or when the sun was beating down, the balcony was useless. Also the glass of the balcony gets very hot in the full sun and I would be careful if you have small children as I could see where they may even get a mild burn if they leaned up against it. Speaking of open concept, yes it is nice to gaze up at the stars at night, but wait those aren't stars they are several pairs of eyes peering down at me from the balconies, above and above and to the sides of me. So if you have visions of spending a lot of time on your balcony or have plans for some privacy and quiet evenings with your spouse you might want to reconsider Dolphin deck. Honestly it wasn't THAT bad, but I would not choose a mid ship location on Dolphin deck in the future. Our room steward Leonides was wonderful. He kept our room nice and clean, always had fresh ice in our bucket, and seemed to anticipate all our needs. We are in the hospitality industry ourselves so enjoyed talking to him when he had a moment (they are responsible for 17 rooms each!)
Public Areas: All the public areas indoors looked very nice, were kept very clean and seemed well maintained. Outdoors you could see some wear in the outdoor carpets on deck and around the pools as well as the pool side furniture.
Main Dining room: We actually only partook 3 times during non formal nights. We chose anytime dining which worked well for us and had a table for two with no wait times the nights we went there for dinner. Food and wait staff were good, dining room was never crowded or full.
Crown Grill: Food was very good and worth the extra money for one night of our cruise. Wait staff however were just so so. (Received our dinner and did not yet receive our drinks)
Horizon Court: Always busy and always crowded however they will overflow you to Caribe Cafe if no tables are available in Horizon. Staff always available to carry your plates and help you find a table. Wait staff here worked very hard and were quick to clear plates and bring your drinks. Food I felt was below par even for a buffet. Breakfast items such as eggs were usually cold (yuck!), meat items were lukewarm and items such as pancakes, french toast were only luke warm and a bit soggy. By the second week we just skipped breakfast entirely. They did have a fair variety of items during lunch and dinner but again temperature of foods should have been warmer and we figured out that left overs from the day before became casseroles or other dishes the next day. I do give them credit though for inserting some ethnic variations of foods such as some Indian dishes, Puerto Rican dishes, Italian, German and vegetarian options along with a good selection of seafood at each meal. The salad bar was pretty good and they did have a nice selection of breads lunch meats and cheeses. Desserts were also good. (People PLEASE use the hand sanitizers provided at each dining venue)
International cafe: This was probably our favorite and it became our lunch spot after the 3rd day. They have a nice selection of small sandwiches on specialty rolls such as basil tomato and fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and fresh mozzarella, tuna, chicken and some nice salads such as cashew chicken, shrimp, Greek and grilled veggies. We loved to have our sandwiches heated in the press (nice and crisp on the outside and warm on the inside...perfect!)
Poolside grill:offered a variety of links and hotdogs along with hamburgers which were just okay. (I was kind of turned off when I ordered a burger one day as a late lunch after a tour and noticed that he had about 10 burgers already cooked and sitting on the warmer side of the grill. Instead of getting me a fresh burger, he just moved one over and heated it up. I'm sorry but I just couldn't eat it as I don't know how long it had been sitting there).
Poolside Pizza: Was okay but would have like to see more variety of pizzas. Ate here twice. The pizzas are large wedges and very thin crust.
Room Service: We did order a pizza and bucket of beer from room service one night and I have to say the pizza was much better then poolside. Also the beer from room service was cheaper. (I believe at the poolside bar we paid about $23 for 5 beers in a bucket and with room service we got 6)
Soda Card: I bought one for our first week and they have 2 tiers of cards. The cheaper one (about $33 if I remember correctly) entitles you to all the soda and juice you want and the more expensive one (about $50 something) added free mocktails and malts. I did buy the more expensive option but realized I only drank about one-two sodas per day, did not drink any juice and was always too full to enjoy a malt so the second week of our cruise I skipped the soda card and just bought some soda at a grocery store in port which we kept in our room.(Oh don't try to peel off your soda sticker and put it on your next weeks cruise card as it just disintegrates when you try to scratch or peel it off - yeah I tried)
Coffee Card: This was way worth the price and my DH and I both shared one card for the entire two weeks. Brewed coffee from the International cafe is all you can drink and you receive 15 specialty coffees with the card. My DH would get two cups of brewed for us each time and then in the afternoons we alternated on who would get a specialty coffee. We really enjoyed having a white chocolate or caramel frappucino type drink after a hot day exploring hiking or beaching.
Pools: Lots of people in the pools and hot tubs but there were always chairs available and no chair hogs seen. The Sanctuary looked beautiful quiet and relaxing and even though I was planning on spending at least one day in there we just never got around to it. The pool on Deck 17 always seemed the least crowded and of course the Calypso and Neptune pool had the most people as well as the pool on deck 14 aft. You can find plenty of quieter areas to lay down and read a book (or at least it was so on our cruise)
MUTS: nice concept but most of the movies we had already seen. We did watch 2 (The Help and Cowboys and Aliens). There were covers on a few chaises but never saw anyone giving out blankets and no one ever brought us popcorn.
Shows: Did not attend as we are normally up with the roosters and to bed with the sun (yeah I know pretty boring...but we were usually the first ones to most of the beaches in the am and had them to ourselves for a couple of hours)
Casino: Played a few times, and made a fair contribution with no returns on my investment.
Spa: Did not use
Lectures: I did go to a couple of the photography classes offered and did learn a few new things, just wish they were a bit more broken up as it was a lot of info packed into an hour if you are a novice.
Disembarkation: Pretty much a mess. There were delays for some reason yet the crew never gave out this information or reasons why. So we had a 10am time (everyone has to be out of their rooms by 8:30am) and when we went to our designated meeting area it was overflowing since by now there were several groups clustered in there. So having to wait outside the area we did not hear any announcements or hear when our group was called. We kind of had to yell out as groups were passing by and ask them what group they were. All in all we did not leave the ship until about 10:35 and by that time so many groups were being called together to 'catch up' that it was fairly crowded with long lines in the customs area. The lines did move quickly however and we were actually outside about 11am.
Many people choose cruising for different reasons. Some enjoy time on the ship, the shows, getting dressed up, the dining experiences, others enjoy packing in as much adventure as possible on shore, relaxing and being casual. I think with Princess they provide great venues and opportunities for a large mix of persons to be able to do what they enjoy. It's not too stuffy and not too casual (IMO) but a nice blend that anyone can enjoy.