We had cruised on Carnival 3 times, RCL once, and NCL (balcony) before this cruise. So that is what I will use for comparison.
We live in a suburb of Kansas City. We are in our 40's and my 7 year old son was on his fourth cruise.
We flew down the night before on SWA and stayed at the Best Western Ocean Side Inn. We love Southwest and were happy with the hotel. We are glad that it was almost on the beach since it was the only beach that we saw on the trip.
We arrived at the port at 2:00. We had a bad feeling when they directed us to the convention center. At 3:45, there was an announcement that there was good news and bad news. The good news was that we would start boarding at 6:00. We really didn't appreciate that attempt at humor. They finally started boarding at about 5:30. We were finally on board about 7:15. Fun times killing 5 hours. We did not receive a call or e-mail from Princess even though they had ALL of our info.
We had Aft balcony D735. This was our second Aft balcony and we love them. The balcony was huge. There were only two chairs. I asked our cabin steward (Giovani) for an extra chair, and checked to see whether lounge chairs were available. He told us that two chairs were the standard setup. On the NCL Pearl, our aft balcony had two loungers and a chair when we walked into the room. It took 3 days but we finally received a third chair. We never did get the loungers. It almost sounded like he was afraid of getting in trouble by getting a third chair. I don't understand. We paid for 3 people in the room, why was it so hard to get a third chair. He did a good job of keeping the room in good shape. We did miss the towel animals that have been on every other cruise.
Overall the ship seemed clean. Not sure when the slide disappeared (I saw pictures with it), but my son really missed it. We played more mini golf than I would have imagined. I didn't care for the layout of the ship on the outer decks. It seemed hard to navigate. I got used to it, but not as easy as other ships we have been on.
Food and Service:
We had late seating, so we ate in the dining room every night, and the buffet every lunch. We never did eat breakfast. Our waiter and assistant waiter were very good. I would say the service was comparable to what we have had on Carnival. It was much better than the Anytime dining on NCL. The food in the dining room was almost as good as Carnival, and much better than NCL or RCCL. The buffet was pretty good, but not as good as NCL, or Carnival. I know this can vary a lot from ship to ship. The service in the buffet was marginal at best. You had to ask to get water most of the time.
Most of the crew were very friendly. Two exceptions: The guy manning the phones that we were allowed to use to change things, and the last person as we were disembarking. She was basically yelling at us as we walked off of the ship.
Nobody likes all of the extra problems related to Norovirus, but we really didn't need to hear the gory details about the poop pots on the PA from the captain. They handed out 6 and only 1 was returned. I would assume that they would have known who had them, so how about calling them, or stopping by there cabins. He went on and on about it twice. It seems like they went overkill in prevention in some places, but they didn't close the casino. I wonder how much Noro got passed around with the chips. Normally I go to the casino, but not this time.
We are not bar people. I heard they cancelled the first two shows due to sick entertainers. I didn't think the Motown show was very good. I liked the Destination Anywhere show. We saw the encore performance of Alfred and Seymore. They were hilarious. There seemed to be less fun things to do on the ship that others that we have been on.
There were only 35 kids on board. There wasn't anything wrong with the staff, but there were not as organized as Carnival and NCL.
Like I mentioned earlier, we cruise for the ports and excursions. We booked 3 really cool excursions independently. Missing Princess Cays was frustrating, but we were looking forward to having extra time at Curacao. Tuesday morning I got up early and started walking around the deck about 7:30. When I didn't see land in site, I knew we were not going to make it at 9:00. At 8:00, the captain came on the PA and said to stay tuned and he had important info in 5 minutes. That was when he gave us the bad news. I had managed to keep a good attitude until then. Everything pretty much went downhill from there. the next day I spent 2 1/2 hours waiting in lines trying to change plans. The extremely slow internet, the huge line for the phones etc. They cancelled our flights home, but not my 7 year olds. He had different color luggage tags than we did. It seemed to be one mess after another.
Lots of people have said that Princess did the best they could. Well for the majority of passengers that appeared to be retired it probably was a good deal. Cruise refunded and a credit for the next one. For us, we can't get our vacation days back. I have 10 a year, and 1/2 of it is gone. I can't just go book another one. I love taking pictures, and we didn't see any ports, or get sail away or return in the daylight. On the final night, I suggested that they sell me all of the formal pics in the photo gallery for $100 since they were going to throw them out anyway. I had already bought $100 worth. It wouldn't cost them anything, would have given them more revenue, and would have gone a long way for me in good will. The answer was a very quick no.
We walked our own bags off because we didn't want to have anyone possibly contagious with Noro handling them. It was fairly easy, and no customs to deal with.
We will probably book Princess again to get the 25% credit, but otherwise would not. I don't think we are in their targeted demographic. Had we hit all 3 ports things would have obviously looked a lot better. For the things we like, and like to do, it seems like Carnival just does enough things a little better.
At least we didn't get sick.