This is the third cruise that I have taken with my husband, and we chose to go with a large group. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale with little trouble and traveling with friends the Holiday inn Express Cruise Port suggested we wait until a late shuttle to head to the cruiseport. It was a good suggestion, arriving at the terminal at 2 meant we missed many of the lines of other passengers who were thrown out of their hotels much earlier. Our balcony stateroom on the Baja Deck was already ready for us.
After watching the gigantic Oasis of the Seas head out to sea we were off. It was our first time sailing with this group, but on previous cruises they take over the back pool. We found several of our friends there, and would find them there or in the buffet area. Since we were there most of the time, it did take a while to really explore this ship. It's a good ship with some nice surprises like the International Cafe that had great desserts and pastries.
It's hard for me to judge food, but I can tell you that it was abundant, even if there was some confusion at times on exactly which of the three buffets were open, there was always something. The food in at the buffet changed from day to day, except for breakfast that was usually the same each time. Since we were a late night group, I did wish that the pizza and ice cream bar stayed open later.
With our large group of almost 500, we were given the 8:15 seating in the Michelangelo dining room. With such a large group the staff had difficulty in keeping up with us. I found the staff slow and overworked. I expected that they might be able to work this out as the week went on, but even on the last night at sea any meal in the dining room was going to take more than two hours.
I was impressed with the ships bar services. They staffed up the bar at the back terrace pool for us. We certainly kept them on their toes. They also kept the bar open much later than normal. I'm sure that that bar rarely stays open until 2 am.
Our group stayed on the back deck late into the night, as there wasn't much else to do on the ship that late at night. Most of our group is in their 30's and 40's and we felt that a lot of the entertainment was directed to an older audience. I saw young couples wandering a ship that at 11 pm was as dead as a one-light town. They were looking for nightlife and saw little of it. Strangely the late nightclub, the Skywalker Lounge never attracted more than a couple of people and its tiny dance floor remained empty.
I have never really desired to see the Caribbean, so the islands weren't a great draw, but it seemed that Princess strived to clean up the experience so much that it was about as authentic as going to a mall in Chicago and saying that you had been to Chicago. The worst of this was at Roatan Island, Honduras where Princess docks at Mahogany Bay, a new sea port that has all of the recommended shops in an outdoor shopping mall that you must walk to. Those who went on excursions experienced a very different Island, but many people stayed in the shopping mall, content. The port in Couzmel seems to be the same, on a smaller scale with the same shops, and Princess Cays is a completely controlled experience. If you wish to explore on your own, without an excursion, Princess is making that much more difficult. Grand Cayman was a port full of the same shops, but you could wander into town without having to find a local taxi. If you like to be on vacation with very little more than a moving hotel, this will be fine, but if you love travel for the exploration of new places, this would not be the cruise for you.
Our stateroom was pleasant and clean with a surprising amount of storage. I wish that our balcony was a little more private but lower decks could look right up at us. The ships staff was pleasant and friendly, especially the bar staff when they knew our group would buy. We enjoyed the Movies under the Stars more than the entertainment in the theater.
All in all it was a good trip full of fun when traveling with a large group. I will be happy to travel on Princess again if I'm with this group, but I'm not sure if I would want to if it was just me and my husband as I'm not sure we would have found the entertainment and ports interesting enough. The ship is good, with all the amenities you'd want, but doesn't seem to rate as being an outstanding ship, or an outstanding cruise experience.
Great storage, decent bed. Wish the balcony was more private but tower decks could look up at us. Television programming was good. Room was clean and quiet.
The only port I extensively walked in as it was the only port Princess went to on this cruise that you didn't need to have a taxi or an excursion to get away from the preferred shopping zone. Would have explored more if I had known it would be so hard to get away on other ports on Princess' Western Caribbean cruises.
The shopping village of "Mahogany Bay" is complete artifice. something I would have expected of Disney. The beach was OK, but the water was the worst of all the destinations. The ski lift from the shopping village to the beach is a waste as it is less than a quarter of a mile for 10 dollars. Save your money.