We always enjoy cruising and nothing terrible happened on our latest voyage on Emerald Princess from Houston Texas. But the bar is set high for ships sailing our blue oceans and Princess fell far short of the competition. I shall dwell on the negative in my notes here, but really to be a warning about items I found distasteful and distracting. There were positives as well which I listed too. I will never sail with Princess again, so this is my one-and-only review. Clearly, many customers like their ships and stay with them. On our ship, a couple was listed in the most traveled on Princess with 198 cruises for 1400+ days at sea! That is impressive - 4 years of sailing! - Maleficent's husband (these opinions are mine and may not fully represent those of my dear wife)
* Be AWARE that any big change to your booking may cancel all or part of your shore excursions, dining reservations, upgrades, and credits! Princess appears to take great pride in stealing from customers by charging for these services and then "forgetting" about them once the passenger arrives! I am serious. We split a party of 4 from one cabin into two and all the bookings vanished for the boys we moved (so it was not obvious to us). Discovering this too late while already leaving port made it impossible to recover without "evidence". Yes, they would do NOTHING for us since we failed to bring WRITTEN PROOF for any pre-paid activity or benefit. Their records of our payments were erased entirely and all I heard was "it is not in our computer", which (as you know) means "I think you are a lying customer". They really do not trust you to be correct; I suppose that many customers must be attempting to scam the company and those White Uniformed "officers" have lost faith in humanity.
* When our nephew lost his ship card, we were challenged to prove he had the Beverage Option - even though they gave it to him at departure and all our party could show our tags. They simply do not think the customer is to be believed. DO NOT SAIL WITH THESE THIEVES!
* Anytime dining means "NOT being able to eat at ANY TIME" - thus, only certain times are open for reservations. Basically, from 6 pm - 8 pm, you must show up and wait in line, which can be 40+ minutes on some nights.
* The $25/person upgrade dining was just okay; not bad, but about what you get for that price on land.
* The "free" food was average; the pizza was popular but I did not think it so grand. Orange juice was watered down too much, but pine apple juice was okay.
* Service for ice cream (really a frozen ice milk) is NOT self-service. Although this appears to be an upgrade, it just creates a long line to get food (on other lines, it takes 30 seconds to get a cup of custard).
* At the buffet, you have to sit down to get any drink (other than water or tea), so add 10 minutes if you wish to take your food to the pool or stateroom.
* They have the smallest cups for juice (about 3 oz) unless you ask for a large and convince them you will drink what you order (again, the lack of trust in customers).
* The entertainment was a band (aka "orchestra") of 5 with the cruise director singing. He was listed as vocally trained and can sing better than me, but not so good as in Broadway-class shows from the other lines.
* The magician was fairly good at slight-of-hand but his "tricks" were taken from his own Magic Store (which he plugged) and could be done by anyone; although he did them well, they were fairly obvious as the 3-rope trick is an old stand-by. Then, he showed his kids' video for 10 minutes to plug their acting careers! He gets "Dad Points" for that, but it was boring.
* The daily newsletter (event listing) was NOT available at the customer service desk or at kiosks around the ship (like Carnival, Disney and others do) - so don't lose it or forget it - you get ONE copy per cabin!
* My primary gripe was with the Shore Excursion desk; the nameless White Uniform man there was rude and of no "service" at all. I admit that my worst side came to the surface as I challenged him at the end of my first visit that I would resolve the ticketing problem and prove him wrong (Princess cancelled half of my group's tickets) even after he insisted that the "computer is always correct". I called my travel agent (Debbie at Cruises Only is a SAINT) who was helpful and found the record of our purchase. Sadly, she never could convince Princess of that fact and the issue was never resolved. I still have two paid tickets to see Belize that Princess refuses to refund to me - again, be cautious and BRING WRITTEN PROOF OF EVERY PAYMENT TO THESE SCOUNDRELS!!
* The ship is basically clean, but typical in appearance without any special options.
* Good wait staff & room staff too! This is nearly universal as these are the hardest workers at sea that you will encounter on any cruise line. These folks were delightful, funny, engaging and also helpful.
* Our teens really loved it - first cruise so all was new and they found a good group to join and create friendships. We were concerned about not having enough in their age group, but (although true), it was not a problem.
* The cruise director does not use the PA (public address) into the state rooms to announce activities - this was great as even my favorite line (Disney) interrupts my daytime naps too often to tell me about ice carving...
* The medical staff was nice & friendly. Our nephew god a wood splinter in his finger from the hot-tub (sigh, some ship maintenance needed there), but they helped him remove it. They waived the $45 fee as well (but, of course, they should have).
* The Beef Chili from room service was great! And that service was quick and accurate and the stewards were very kind and helpful - don't forget to tip those folks!
* The add-on for drinks was a hit for our teen-age nephews who ordered every possible "virgin" beverage as much as 10 times per day!
* The room steward has the key to unlock the connecting doors on the balconies! On all my other cruises, this became a 24-hour request to get that door opened, so this was easier and quicker than normal. However, when they did work on our deck, all the doors were opened for an hour and then everyone of them locked again, so we had to ask twice...
* The other passengers were kind and gracious; at every meal, we shared a table and had very pleasant conversations with young and old alike.
* Be aware that the promenade deck, which provides a full 1/3 mile covered circuit of the ship is NOT on one level. I have never seen this before - you must go up from level 7 to 8 at the bow and back down as you make the loop. If stairs are a problem, then you cannot walk around the ship on that level.
* On the 2-for-1 happy hour, be aware that you will get two of what you order, not your friends drink for free! Yes, they told us, but I just did not expect them to double my order rather than halve my bill (stupid me). Good drinks but very slow service when they are busy (35+ minutes per round).
* If you drink, bring your bottle of wine per adult - was worth having it in our room.
* The port of Houston is plagued by fog in some seasons (read more from others), which may delay departure and/or arrival. Be prepared in your travel planning for this as it seems to be likely. Our captain warned us every night about this possibility, which I suppose is good, but every time he talked on the PA to the entire ship (including staterooms), the news was never good.
* Although our 15- & 16-year old boys loved the ship, they did not spend time in the teen lounge after day 2; it was an initial meeting place for the kids to bond in groups who then found the sports decks, gym and food areas to be their haunts as the ship's dedicated areas for them held little appeal.
Nice balcony; ours was 10' x 10' with four chairs & table - very nice; this is larger on deck 7 than other decks so if this is important, check carefully. The interior room, however, may be smaller but was fine for the two of us. Just around the corner from the elevators to make it convenient while also quiet.