This was my ninth cruise, and my Mother's first. Seeing a cruise ship through the eyes of a first time cruiser helped with a few of the disappointments that were based on prior cruising experience, such as long waits for a table for two in the main dining room, and one very poorly run shore excursion. Overall, the minor inconveniences were just that, minor, and I had a fantastic time.
We stayed in Venice for two nights pre-cruise and with a 48 hour Vaporetto pass managed to see quite a bit. The overnight on the ship gave us that third day to finish exploring and even though we didn't depart until 2pm, we opted to not go ashore that last morning and just relax on board.
Embarkation was a breeze. We arrived at the port quite early but that allowed us to be in group #5 to board and once they called our number we were on the ship in just a few minutes time.
We found our cabin, an AC mini-suite almost at the very back of the ship. Our cabin steward was friendly and helpful and got us egg-crate mattress toppers and robes when requested. The first night on the mattress I though I was sleeping in one of those stone beds in Pompeii, but the mattress topper worked wonders and I slept very well the rest of the cruise. The mini-suite was nice and roomy, and it was a nice change to have a tub size shower instead of those tiny little showers in my usual outside cabin.
The food was so-so, but I don't expect gourmet food on a mass-market cruise line with well over 2,000 people to feed at each meal. We never made it to any of the specialty restaurants, although we did go to the afternoon tea (fabulous) and the pub lunch (blah). Service in the dining room was MUCH better when we had a table for two than when we opted to share.
We didn't see too many of the shows, but my Mom seemed to enjoy the ship's singers and dancers. The one show we saw that I didn't like at all, my Mom loved - must be a generational thing :)
All the ports were absolutely fabulous. We did some on our own (Athens, Rhodes, Dubrovnik) and did ship's tours at the rest. The only "bad" day was in Santorini when we were there with eight other ships. It was awful, in fact this was the only tour ever where I have complained and received a partial refund. Unless you are in Santorini with only one or two other ships, do not get off the ship. The port itself was beautiful, but I have never witnessed crowds like that anywhere before.
Passengers services could have been better. We dealt with lukewarm water for almost two days. It took multiple phone calls and visits to passenger services before it got fixed, and even then we endured a maintenance guy in our cabin for several hours changing out the thermostat in the shower.
I loved having self-service laundry on board, and our cabin was just steps away from it. Very nice and convenient.
Disembarkation in Civitavecchia could not have been easier. We were scheduled to leave the ship (according to our luggage tag color) at 7:45. We could have left earlier, but weren't quite ready. So at 7:45 we left the ship, found our luggage, our driver and were on our way to Rome by about 8:00. We had arranged to share a private cab (Rome Cabs) with two people we met through our CC roll call. It worked perfectly and I highly recommend this option for getting into Rome. We paid 75 Euros per couple (150 total) and got dropped off right at our hotel door. We happened to be staying at one of the Princess hotels but it was pure coincidence. We arrived well before the bus load of Princess post-cruise passengers.