Around Christmas time, there were a couple of cold, dreary weeks in North Texas, and in the midst of that, Princess sent us an email (as they often do) advertising Sale Prices! on cruises in January and February. With a great price on a ... Read More
Around Christmas time, there were a couple of cold, dreary weeks in North Texas, and in the midst of that, Princess sent us an email (as they often do) advertising Sale Prices! on cruises in January and February. With a great price on a cruise out of Houston, we took the bait, and started looking forward to a week escape from winter.
I've seen several reviews panning the Port of Houston, and wish to offer a different view. We had no weather problems or delays, so that was nice, and it was interesting on departure to observe the ship threading its way through the channel in Galveston Bay passing several other ships at close range along the way. In general, I think I can understand why people flying into Houston for departure might be less than enchanted with the port. It is pretty literally in the middle of nowhere, a good 45 minutes to an hour drive from the airport, with no hotels adjacent, and nothing much convenient to the nearest hotels that are available.
But, coming from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, we were driving in, and it was great! It is 30-40 minutes closer to the rest of Texas than Galveston, it was easy to find, with no traffic problems, easy to unload, and easy to park. With your own car, the proximity issues are not problems: you can come to Houston the day before, stay anywhere in the city you want, have a great time, and then its an easy drive to the port. We arrived about 12:30, and the traffic flow was impressively efficient. We followed the well marked directions, drove right up to the curb, where a waiting porter helped us unload the trunk, circled around to park, and then strolled about 200 feet to the front door of the building. Zip, Zip, Zip.
Once inside the building, the security line had a few switchbacks, but the line moved quickly, and there was virtually no waiting for check-in. We were on the ship by 1:00 or so, discovering our stateroom.
We requested traditional dining, early seating, at a table of 6, and got just that, in the Da Vinci dining room. With two delightful couples joining us at our table, dinner was a highlight every day. We've never tried the anytime dining options, and with as much fun as we had with our table-mates this time, will certainly go traditional next time, too. On previous cruises we've been at a table of 4, and it was nice, but this was so much better. We've also had seatings at breakfast or lunch at larger tables with 8 or 10, but currently, I'm thinking 6 is optimal. It's small enough to be able to chat easily, but with enough variety to have lots of interesting conversations. Plus, if one of the other couples misses a dinner in the dining room for some reason, you aren't left by yourselves, as has happened to us (and our table mates!) on our previous cruises.
The food was good throughout, and a couple of the dishes were outstanding. My wife raved about the Beef Wellington served on Friday night. I opted for lobster and prawns that night, and wasn't as impressed. Deserts were great. Overall, I'd say the food was probably the least impressive feature of this cruise. Don't get me wrong, I haven't gotten on the bathroom scale yet, but I suspect I've gained five pounds, so obviously the food was good, and plentiful. But, I felt more like I was at a "perfectly good" restaurant, rather than a "great" one most meals. We had most breakfasts and lunches in the Horizon Court buffet, often eating out by the pool, since the weather was so pleasant most of the cruise. I found the buffet food OK, but often not as hot as it should be.
We went to the Princess Theater show every night but one after dinner. This included two shows with the ship singers and dancers, two with commedians, and two with the band and a featured "star" musician. The production singing/dancing shows were - like so much of this cruise - fine, but not spectacular.
The comedy acts were better. The first comedy show featured "Alfred and Seymore". I wasn't sure about this duo at first, but they turned out to be really funny, and a nice change from a traditional stand-up routine. The second comedy show featured Robbie Printz, and was more traditional stand-up. While some of his material was pretty cliched (e.g., men don't notice their wives new hairdo's, etc.), he also had some pretty funny stuff. I appreciated that both comedy shows stayed "family friendly" while still being quite good.
On the last two nights of the cruise, the shows were outstanding, featuring Tom Franek on the piano, singing, and generally being super entertaining. I'd pay good money to go see this guy if ever I had the chance. His piano playing is amazing in multiple ways, and his showmanship is terrific. I gather that he is not a regular on the ship, but it shows that Princess does have a commitment to bringing on really good guest talent. Franek received two well-earned standing ovations at both of the shows I saw him in. One of the two shows was just Franek and the cruise band; the other also featured Andrew Phipps, the regular lead singer on the ship crew, who did a fine set reminicent of The Rat Pack style.
One of the highlights for me was listening to the house band - "Gordon and the Emerald Princess Orchestra" - these guys are great! They impressed me on the first night with their performance of "The Saints go Marching In" during the "Welcome Aborad" show, and they wowed me even more in the Adagio Lounge doing a Jazz show (billed as "Gordon and the Orchestra Jazz Cats" for that show). That show was not well attended, but it deserved to be. If you have the chance to see this group in that sort of a performance, and you enjoy jazz at all, don't miss it.
Other than the main shows each day, there were plenty of other venues with music and/or fun & games each night. We sat in on one of these - try to remember the lyrics to popular songs, old and new - which was a lot of fun. We spent more time playing Scrabble, often in one of the lounges, while some piano and/or vocalist was performing. Those performances were good, but more as background music for a lounge than something you'd make a point to want to go see.
One thing we missed that we had enjoyed on previous cruises was a true "piano bar" with an intimate relationship between the pianist and the audience. While there were a couple of piano players that rotated through the venues, they both seemed to just sit off on their own and play a set, rather than interacting with the audience. Read Less