We were sailing as a family group of 7. Myself and BFF Jeannine (40 somethings), our two adult (19 & 20 yo) daughters, Jeannine's mom (65) and my dad and his girlfriend (70+)
Let's start from the beginning:
We spent the night at the Doubletree San Pedro. Excellent stay, free breakfast and free shuttle to the port,(make sure you reserve your time as soon as you arrive) and free parking for duration of the cruise. Rooms were comfy, but if you are handicapped or have mobility issues, make sure you call and request a room near the lobby or elevators, otherwise it can be a VERY long trip down either side of the building. There is only one elevator in the center of the lobby, and it gets busy, and again, long schlep if your room is at one of the far ends.
We took another posters advise and left the checked baggage in the cars, and we took the cars down to the port about 1015am and were able to drop off all the checked baggage with a porter. We returned with the cars, grabbed our carry ons and waited for our shuttle. Since we did not have all the baggage to load onto the shuttle, we were loaded, arrived and dropped off quick as can be. Highly recommend this. We also did the reverse after we returned. Grabbed the shuttle with no luggage, grabbed the cars, headed back and loaded them up. Saves loading and unloading cars multiple times.
Embarkation: It started off rather smooth, and then went to hell rather quickly. The problem seemed to be that one group of agents told us one thing and then another contradicted those and told us something else. We had one person in a wheel chair. We got told the whole group would board together. After we got over there we were told only 1 of us could go with her. We asked for a supervisor and got told to go pound sand...only 1 person, because they were too busy to do our whole group even though we were all together. We had read that you can board by 11:30am, not this trip. They did not start boarding until after 12:15pm, and it was still chaotic. They changed sides halfway through our group, it was a gaggle. Boarding with Princess got them a big fat F in my book. It really started the cruise off on the wrong foot. We talked to multiple elite and platinum cruisers and they all said this was the most disorganized embarkation that had ever been through. Two couples actually take this same cruise during the holidays every year, and could not understand why there was so much conflicting information being given out to all the passengers.
Cabin and Lunch: The cabin was a little smaller than expected, however, the layout was very nice and the closet space was really well thought out. We had a balcony cabin on Caribe deck so that it would be larger. It was totally worth it. We spend lots of time on it with our daughters, and they could escape from from the grandmother on it. We met our stateroom hostess Liezel and she was very nice. She was like magic keeping our room clean, although I have to admit, the closet space really helped. We made it to the sit down lunch in Donatello dining room. I know some people felt that they were herded to the buffet but that was not the case with us. Lovely lunch and were finally starting to throttle back from the debacle of an embarkation. We were able to get over half of our unpacking done before the muster drill and finished before dinner. It was nice to be ready to go and still have a couple of hours to spare.
Ports - The ports are what you make of them. We loved Hawaii and are already making plans to go back and stay on a couple of the islands. We did private and ship tours and all but 1 were very good. There was one broker/vendor who was awful on Honolulu. I went through Discount Hawaii tours and booked through them with North Shore Shark Cage diving for my daughter. I do NOT recommend either of them. I will posted details of why under excursions. We went through Shoretrips.com for our other private excursions and they were great. Ensenada was a port day as far as we were concerned.
Entertainment - We have been spoiled by Disney, however, the shows were not bad, and I found them better than RCCL for the shows. There were a couple of entertainers brought on board who were just narcissistic self promoters of themselves and their children, and frankly they were not that good. The one comedian was awesome. Saw him twice and would have gone to every show he did. We teamed up with two other couples for trivia and did quite well. We were a well rounded team. Our girls started coming to compete with us, but they never won! We did all the lei making classes and really enjoyed them. Also did a couple of the special speakers and enjoyed those also. Frankly, if you are afraid you will be board, it is because you do not know how to read a patter and pick out something to do!
Food - I know it is subjective, but here are my thoughts (ymmv)
Buffet - Eh to yuck. We ate there once and did not like it at all. My dad and his girlfriend at breakfast and lunch there and loved it. So to each his own
Sabatinis - Food was just ok, and the service was less attentive that in the main dining room. I had the lobster 3 ways, the next night they served it in the main dining room, and it was actually better there. We had to ask for refills of everything from water, iced tea to alcoholic beverages. In fact, one round we ordered never arrived. Everyone was underwhelmed. We expected something like Palo on the Disney lines and this fell far short. Was it bad? No, but I certainly didn't think it was worth the $20 per person, especially when the service was so inattentive.
Breakfast & Lunch - We did sit down in Donatello's and tended to share tables with others. Food on the whole was quite good with a few that left us going, no thank you and others left us with a ohhh we want more! As other posters have noted, cream of anything soups or soups in general should be questioned before you order them. Cream of mushroom was really more of a puree. A creamy potato soup was more like broth with potatoes in it. Not bad, just not what I expected.
Dinner - We had anytime dining and ate at Bernini's. As we were a group of 7 we had our own table. We were traveling with 3 rather picky senior citizens and had to work with the head waiter to finally get a match on service with the pickier aspects of our group. One person still thought it took too long for dinner, but she wanted a gourmet meal at a fast food pacing. The rest of us were quite happy. Again, most of the food was good, but two items were utter fails. The tower of seafood was about 1/4 of an inch tall (tower) and was the nastiest tasting thing I had ever had. One bite and was ready to lick the bottom of someone's shoes to get the taste out of my mouth. The other fail was the Mile High Lemon merrange pie. Seriously, the slice was about 1.5 inches long and the merrange barely poofed up. I have to say though that almost all of their ice creams were really really good. Service was excellent and we did tip extra because they were just awesome.
Room Service/International Cafe - Room service was boring after two go arounds because the menu is so limited. Same with the IC at breakfast. In the afternoon and evening we really liked the quiches and would get those and cookies with mike to take up to our room.
Photos - Wow, can honestly say they are too expensive and you are lucky if you get your tables picture taken during formal nights. As for the no sitting fee for formal pics, while there is not a sitting fee, the pics are $5 more than the 'regualar' 8x10 prices. So instead of $19.99 they are $24.99. Really a rip off. We normally spend a lot on ship photos, but not this trip. They were just too expensive.
Disembarkation - Far better than embarkation. I really liked the ice water, coffee and tea in the various lounges and that you could still get treats at the international cafe.
Overall Impressions - We sailed on a sold out cruise but it never felt like it. On a couple of the rainy days some of the public areas were a little more crowded and of course anything in the piazza tended to get jammed, but with few exceptions we never felt elbow to elbow. We never met a crew member who was not happy and cheerful. Most of them were long term employees. Unlike Disney which seems to cut their experienced and more expensive employees look, Princess really seems to like to keep them and keep them happy. It showed and we did not have one bad encounter with any of the ships folks, including the ships maintenance workers. We booked a future cruise credit while we were on board and intend to use it for Alaska. I would recommend Princess for those who want a nice experience with their family and friends.