My family and I just got home from the 7 day Norway cruise roundtrip from Southampton on the Caribbean Princess. We are a family of five with two teens and an eleven year-old from California. Overall we had a great time. This is our second Princess cruise, the first was an Alaskan cruise three years ago. The last two summers we cruised on NCL (Hawaii and the Mediterranean). I noted a lot of key differences between Princess and NCL, for those who are curious, and will mention those as I go along. We flew from San Francisco direct to London Heathrow, arriving two days precruise so we could see London. I have to throw in kudos to United Airlines, who get so much slack in reviews it seems, because both of our flights with them were fabulous. No delays, easy self checkin at the airports, friendly staff, three course meals even in economy class, water offered continuously, and lots of free movies and TV shows to watch on personal TV's (on a B777-200 plane). In London we stayed at the London Marriott Grosvenor Square, which I chose not only to earn Marriott points and get free Wifi, but because of its great location (walkable to Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Oxford Circus, with a tube station closeby and even next to the American Embassy).
On July 11th we took the Princess bus transfer to Southampton from Victoria Coach Station. The bus ride was over two hours long and being a Saturday there was lots of traffic. The driver did stop for a restroom/grab snacks break, which was much appreciated, seeing as we left London at 10:30am and didn't get onto the ship until four hours later - let's just say that hungry teens are cranky and needed snacks to tide them over. At the port we waited in the usual long line to checkin, and we were given a boarding group number and waited in the lounge area until our number was called. Then you went through security and onto the ship. It wasn't too long of a wait though.
Once onboard (now almost 3pm) our cabins were ready. Our luggage arrived within an hour, which was nice (it had been loaded underneath the bus in London and sent straight through to our cabins). Now we planned on going to the buffet for a late lunch, but the muster drill was starting in like a half hour. I know on NCL we always had more time than that, and they also offered a later "makeup" drill option once we had sailed, which Princess doesn't do. So we hauled lunch-deprived hungry teens, dutifully carrying our lifejackets, to the muster drill and made it through that until dinnertime.
I think my 15 year-old son ate like three hot dogs once we made it to the buffet. On Princess, the hot dogs, burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, fries, and pizza are all out on the pool deck, separate from the buffet. Also the ice cream is in a separate place by the pool. So we learned to grab a table (not easy to do for five people most days), then split up and the kids went to get their food by the pool and my husband saved the table while I scoped out the buffet. Princess as usual has great food, and for me everything was always served hot (I've read about cold buffet items, which I never had, but granted I don't eat everything in there). Loved the salad bar, carved meats, and roasted potatoes. The desserts are far better than on NCL. My kids would go down to the International Café twice a day to load up on chocolate chip cookies (which weren't always in the buffet) and amuse people in the elevators with their heaping cookie plates. I loved the oatmeal raisin cookies, which appeared sporadically, and so had them snag those for me whenever possible. Nothing like eating cookies on your balcony watching the sea.
We had two balconies, which we had the steward connect so that we could walk between our cabins. Our cabins were on Aloha deck, midship to help with my seasick-prone family (everyone but me, haha), although we still felt plenty of movement. They all took their Bonine/less drowsy Dramamine pills faithfully every day at dinner, and had no problems (which we learned the hard way on previous cruises). Our cabins were right near the elevators and stairs, so easy to get around. We did have service elevators right outside the cabin I shared with my youngest, so it was noisy at times, but she sleeps through everything and I am up early anyway (especially with pretty much constant sunlight here, with the sun not setting until almost midnight and sunrise around 4am).
I found the room plenty big enough for two people, with lots of storage and the bathroom was fine if you use it one at a time. The shower for me was fine, lots of water pressure and instant hot water. I actually liked the pump bottles of shampoo and shower gel, less bottles falling all over the shower and my razor propped up on them nicely. There were two USA power outlets by the desk, so I used my curling iron there and in between we plugged in our Iphone chargers. In the bathroom there is only a shaver plug, and the hair dryer is on the desk. We did have the power blow out on those desk plugs on the first day, knocking the TV out as well, but our steward (Luizito from the Phillipines, who was delightful and did an awesome job) had the electrician there within an hour to flip the breaker. Apparently that is a common occurance.
My husband shared the other cabin with our two teens, and they actually debated over who got to sleep on the upper bunk bed. It came down from the ceiling above the twin bed next to the wall. It was left down all day long, which must have been easier for Luizito, but it wasn't a problem and my son loved to lounge up there during afternoon rest breaks. He kept the ladder at the end of the bunk, in the hallway, so that my husband below him could get in and out of his bed more easily. All of our beds were comfortable and had snuggly down comforters. Our balconies were plenty big enough, with two chairs and a small table on each. The TV ran movies each night, many of them new releases, so the kids were thrilled to stay up late and watch them in bed. We watched The Longest Ride and Avengers:Age of Ultron at Movies Under the Stars, which was chilly but fun. You get blankets, which you check out with your room card and return after the movie (maybe people were stealing them before) and they serve popcorn. It was surreal watching movies outside (although it wasn't dark of course) with the Norwegian fjords in the backdrop as we sailed past.
Princess does offer child and teen programs, but my kids like to do their own thing and hang with us, which is a true gift. It makes it a true family vacation and I treasure it. My kids actually won Bingo (two of them two games in a row, what are the odds) so it was fun to watch them announce their names and "from California" to everyone (although since we wore shorts most of the time, even in snow on a Norway excursion, I think people had already guessed that). Speaking of excursions, I always book them through the cruiseline for ease and peace of mind of not missing the ship (which we have seen happen).
In Stavanger, we rode on a scenic cruise from the ship along the Lysefjord out to Pulpit Rock and back. It was really fun, nice and cool on the top deck and cozy below on the way back if you were too cold. They stopped at a restaurant and we got to try Norwegian waffles (yummy) and have coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Back at the port we walked around and found some reasonably priced souvenirs and marveled at them having a Starbucks, Burger King, and 7-Eleven.
In the next port (can't recall how to spell it, starts with S), we did a scenic bus ride up to the top of a snowy mountain and had waffles again (to the delight of my always hungry teens) at a ski resort. It was like driving up into a cloud. The kids of course played in the show (in shorts and sandals). Very cool. Norway is gorgeous, all green and lush and really another world of its own. Not many people live there, but they are friendly and welcoming to tourists. I will never forget sail away from Olden, where we watched on our balconies as the port workers blasted Rod Stewart's song "Sailaway" on a loudspeaker and waved goodbye to us, some waving Norwegian flags.
In Bergen we did the historical thing, walking through the Hanseatic wharf area, old medieval meeting rooms, and the Viking area royal banquet hall (that is still used today). Great way for the kids to learn some history and about the region. Also we lucked out on the weather, which was clear and nice - apparently rare for Bergen which is like the rainiest town in Europe or something like that. All of our Princess excursions were easy (just meet in the ship theater and they escort you out to the busses) and had great tour guides. Was glad to be on a ship excursion because one did get back to the ship a half hour late.
Overall Princess is a classy cruise line, with afternoon tea, British pub lunches, and classic dining room waitstaff. We ate in the MDR twice for dinner, but mostly the buffet/pool area grill pickup food was easiest for us. We always do breakfast in the buffet, where my son consistently emptied out their pancake tray, and Princess definitely outshines NCL in their breakfast offerings. I also like how the waiters bring drinks to you at your table (on NCL you have to get your own, after setting down your food unless you are an octopus). There is a Purell dispenser at the entry of all dining areas, which we always use because the last thing you want is to get sick on a cruise.
The last night was my husband's birthday, so we had our free specialty restaurant dinner (at booking we got dinner for 2 per cabin - and they preassign you one of the two restaurants and a day and time - which I was easily able to call and switch to what we wanted, Sabatini's at 6pm). The original reservation assigned to us was at 8pm on a different day. If you have this free dinner on your booking, I would call and change it to what you want as soon as you board the ship (it's printed on a card in your cabin) because the reservations fill up fast for the rest of the cruise.
We were sad when the cruise ended, but happy to spend one more night in London before flying home. My son wanted to see Waterloo Station (he's a Jason Bourne fan) so we opted to walk off the ship ourselves (if you do this Walkoff option, carrying your own luggage off the ship, you leave by 8am) and take a taxi to the Southampton train station to ride to Waterloo. Buying train tickets was easy (and two of my kids got the child price discount, up to age 15). It was fun to watch the trains whiz through the station, the engineers blowing their whistles loudly when time to board, and you must pay attention or you could miss your train. You have only a few minutes to board the train, put your luggage in the luggage bin (or smaller ones in the rack above the seats), and snag seats together. There is no assigned seating and it is a bit of a free for all. We managed to all sit in one car a few rows apart before the whistles blew and the train sped off for Waterloo. It was only an hour and twenty minute ride to London, with three short stops. And free Wifi, which delighted the kids who were phone deprived while onboard the ship and in rustic Norway ports.
We did buy the ship's Wifi package and used it while in port to check emails, post pictures to Facebook and Instagram, etc. Always turn your data roaming off while at sea, or you will rack up international data roaming charges, and don't use your phone while at sea. It makes a big difference in your phone bill when you get home. I also put my Iphone's email settings on Fetch instead of Push, so it only searches for emails when I tell it to, vs. the usual constant feed of emails. Okay enough phone technical advice. So for our last night in London, we walked from Waterloo Station (taking the required Jason Bourne movie scene photos) to our second hotel, of course Marriott again so it was the London Marriott County Hall. You can't get any closer here to the London Eye - it was right outside our rooms' windows. Can't beat this hotel's location for this area (the South Bank). You walk out the door to the London Eye, across the Westminster Bridge over to Big Ben (you can even hear it chiming occasionally, very cool) and the Parliament buildings. It is a super crowded area, especially this being a Saturday, with thousands of tourists. It reminded me of Disneyland on a much smaller scale. There is an aquarium, a London Dungeon (haunted house), and a Shrek experience mixed in with the huge London Eye queue (line). We bought vouchers for Eye fast passes through the hotel concierge, and this cut down our wait time considerably. Well worth the extra cost. Within a half hour we were on the Eye (which is actually now the Coca-Cola London Eye, interestingly, and lit up in red at night appropriately) and soaring high above London. It rotates slowly and you hop on and off while it's still moving. There are about twenty people in each capsule, and you can walk around and take photos or sit on a bench in the center and just watch the view - albeit through the people standing by the windows). I recommend snagging a spot standing by the windows and don't move around or someone else will jump in.
For said hungry teens, a late lunch at the McDonald's next door to our hotel was in order and we all loved a good American fast food break. The McDonald's here is packed, and you order upstairs and then try to find a table downstairs to eat. Our Visa credit cards (chip and sign) worked fine in the U.K. and in Norway, FYI. The hotel had a great steakhouse for dinner, and a good breakfast buffet in the morning; then it was off in a car (arranged by the concierge and charged to our room, at no extra cost) to Heathrow for the flight home. It takes about forty-five minutes to get to Heathrow from London.
We had a fabulous time on this trip, and would recommend it to everyone, especially families like us. As Americans we were the minority on the ship (which was mostly British passengers, who were friendly and we love their proper English and cute phrases - my daughter now says "lift" for elevator and "brilliant" instead of cool). It was a great way to see Norway, the land of the "Frozen" movie (which we got to watch there on TV in our cabins), and also enjoy London, which is becoming quite the multi-national, slightly New York crazy, but ever so charming city. And Princess is still a wonderful cruise line, for those of us not too picky and just happy to be on vacation halfway across the world. Read Less