It's really all about what kind of traveler you are and what your expectations are for a good trip.
In May we took a 7 night Western Med Cruise (our third with Princess) from Istanbul to Rome. Our ports of call were Mykonos, Valletta, Messina and Salerno.
Embarkation: was a bit of a bummer. We got an email the day before saying that due to a lot of cruise ships in port and Turkey's lengthy immigration clearance procedures, they needed to stagger passengers and asked us not to come until 4PM. When we got there, we were the only passengers there! The terminal was empty except for us and the ship's reps! Pretty annoying to get on the ship that late and go straight to muster.
Cabin: Our Penthouse, R412, on the Riviera Deck, was larger than our last PH on the Ruby Princess but standard other than the general wear and tear others have noted. I liked the spaciousness and the layout of the bathroom. But as others have noted here, we heard the scraping of deck chairs on the Lido deck early in the morning. Overall it was fine and didn't disturb us too much. A fun quirk was the Love Boat A Thon running on television. A bummer was the lack of slippers (our attendant said they didn't have any) and the cheap recycled bag (three years ago we got a nice canvas tote). Also, Princess eliminated free internet for PH suite passengers, replacing it instead with complimentary specialty dining on embarkation night. I preferred the free internet. And this is the second time we've used their complimentary dry cleaning service where a garment was damaged when it was returned.
Dining: We had late seating in the Botticelli dining room and both our head waitress and her assistant were terrific, friendly and on the ball. The maitre d' was also lovely. Food overall on this cruise was better than what we experienced on the Island Princess during our Alaska Cruise or the Ruby Princess, which we sailed three years ago. That being said, beef of any kind in the main dining room is poor. Even when they recommend it -- don't do it! We had the toughest prime rib of our lives on the first night, after waitress' enthusiastic recommendation. They did serve both lobster and escargots on this cruise on our second formal night, and it was delicious. Really surprising how good the lobster was on a mainstream cruise line. I can't comment on desert other than the fresh fruit, which I always ordered -- cold and refreshing. As usual, coffee is weak and you must buy a coffee card if you want a decent brew or an espresso drink.
Overall, the food and variety/options on the Emerald Princess were better than either of the past two trips I've taken on Princess. I always like the Sabatini breakfast, un-rushed, serene and cooked to order. On mornings we had super early excursions, we got takeaway from the international cafe: egg mcmuffin sandwiches! Horizon court had enough fresh fruits and simply cooked vegetables for me to enjoy healthy dinners when we opted out of main dining, but the entrees were always the weakest link (poor protein quality, lots of sauces and cheese) in the buffet.
Crown Grill: I wish the filet mignon had been better, but they served us a huge plate of complimentary lobster tails, which were sensational. Still, both previous Crown Grill experiences on Princess were better in terms of the quality of the beef served.
Information: The Princess Patter is very comprehensive. I didn't care for the morning show because, to be honest, I didn't care for the cruise director or her deputy and their banter. It's a matter of personal preference and I'm sure she was great at her job but I would have preferred a smarter morning show led by grown ups (and ship's officers in addition to the cruise directors).
Activities: Dance lessons were a lot of fun. My partner and his daughter played bingo and had a ball. I think cruise ship activities are a hallmark of the cruise tradition and even when I don't participate, I love reading about them or hearing about others' experiences. I never go to the shows since I live in NY and see a lot of Broadway theater. My partner went to one comic's performance and reported that the poor guy was a nervous wreck.
Service: Most people were friendly and helpful, particularly in dining venues. I did feel like the level of interaction with customers was on the cutesy and overly familiar side, but appreciated their general warmth. Customer service desk was uneven; the reps were either harried and inexperienced or cold and put out. The guy at the internet cafe was the coldest, most unhelpful guy on the ship. Good thing I'm pretty tech savvy and my dealings with him were a minimum! One more thing I noticed was the general lack of visibility of crew officers throughout the ship. Except for the welcome evening, I never saw the Commodore. Interestingly, he'd also been our Captain on our Ruby Princess cruise 3 years ago and on that voyage he was always on the gangway greeting guests as they came 'home.'
Up-selling: I have to make a note of this here because all of the flyers for art auctions, gold by the yard, watches, Greek gods popping out of the gangway door imploring you to take a picture with them, bric a brac specials, spa specials, hard sell for wine tastings, etc, etc, is wearying. Moreover, it cheapens the experience. End of my rant on that topic...
Port Excursions: All of the port excursions we booked through Princess were good except the Valletta excursion. A guide can make or break the visit and our guide in Malta simply wasn't up to par. Moreover, the meal included there was bottom of the barrel dreadful (as it was on our Amalfi Coast excursion, too).
Disembarkation was smooth and painless.
In summary, while I think the Princess experience is solid and we enjoyed ourselves, I think we want to try a more upscale line for our next cruise. Princess doesn't line up with how we otherwise live and travel and that is probably why I take issue with uneven or overly familiar service, boisterous cruise directors, and hordes of people milling around tables of watches and costume jewelry. While I have a certain level of comfort in knowing what to expect with a Princess cruise, there are too many variables from ship to ship, too much cost cutting and too much up-selling, and I'm ready to branch out and see what line(s) might be a better fit for us.
A great, vibrant city. We had a private guide take us to the Hagia Sophia and on a tour of the Cisterns, followed by Topkapi Palace. This was our second visit to Istanbul and we want to go back again!
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