We just returned from the 7/29,Grand Princess-Western Caribbean sailing. This was our 12th cruise and the first on Princess. Let me first preface this review with a few comments. It is important to understand that these reviews are very subjective. We have read reviews of cruises that we were on and couldn't believe that we were on the same ship. We are by nature a bit critical. We see little things that bother us. We will report these things at the risk of someone saying "who cares about that", or "these people are mad". We feel that since cruise ships are so similar, it may be the little detail that will help someone make a decision.
Princess does a good job with check-in. For the most part it is fast and efficient. The express check in tags you receive for your luggage seem to be on everybody's luggage . The express comes in if you registered all of your information on line. Express looses something if the people in front of you didn't.
We booked a K and were upgraded to LL (3 categories). We like inside cabins because they are so dark in the morning. We care not for a balcony and are not willing to pay for something we will probably not use. A balcony, for us, would probably be like buying a treadmill and using it for a coat rack. We were given a wheelchair accessible cabin. This cabin was nice, since it was 50% larger than a regular cabin and it was on the Lido Deck, which was very convenient for us.
The Ship is beautiful. It is elegantly appointed with much marble and wood. It was a long stretch getting from one end to another, but things were laid out well and we had no difficulty in this area. We prefer a smaller ship, with fewer people, but never really felt crowded except in the Vista Lounge which we will discuss later.
Service. We have found that throughout our cruising career, service has been about the same from ship to ship. We have sailed all the major cruise lines including Cunard and find that, with the exception of a waiter or cabin steward here and there, they are all trying to do a good job. We can't believe that there is a cruise line that doesn't tell its staff to give the best possible service. Some people are better at what they do than others and some people are nicer than others. So, we believe the service is dependent on the individual and not the cruise line.
Entertainment: Very hard to review, we just read a review where he/she reported that the shows were among the worst they have seen on any cruise. We didn't think so, we felt that the production shows were entertaining and not too dissimilar to the 20 or 30 other shows we have seen. Marty Allen and his wife, Karon ‘Kate' Blackwell put on a very funny and entertaining show. The hypnotist ( Buck Macleod) was very good as was the comic (Miguel Washington). The magician (James Michael) was so, so. We found the juggler (name withheld by request) charming, but lacking in talent. You might hire him for you child's birthday party. There was usually something to do in the evening and we were always entertained, maybe not to the caliber of Broadway but adequately. We have never seen and were bothered by the use of movies as the main source of entertainment (We say main because the were in the main theater). The movies were good but not that new (Castaway, What Women Want). They put the hypnotist in the smaller theater at the same time as the movie and had people sitting in the aisles and standing. Very poor planning. There is always gambling, nightclubs and lounges etc. They have trivia twice a day which is unusual and since we are trivia fans, made us happy. The mandatory art auction was on, most every day. We still don't know if the prices are good?
Food: This, to us, is the main area of interest and comparison to other cruises we have taken. We are not ashamed to admit that this is one of the main reasons we like cruising, so here is where we will get picky. Firstly, we chose traditional early seating. For us it was a great decision. We met some very nice people and enjoyed every meal with them. We were usually the last table out of the dinning room. With personal choice we might not have had such a good time. For us, this is a very important part of the cruise experience. We spoke to people with Personal Choice and some loved it but others felt that they missed the kind of experience we had. Personal choice is OK for some but not for us. We had such a good time at dinner, none of us wanted to miss a meal to go the alternative restaurants. We heard that Sabatini's ($15) was excellent and The Painted dessert $8.00 with Margarita was OK. We passed The Painted Dessert many times and seldom saw many people dining there.
The Dining room food, in a nutshell, was just OK. Much better than RCCL (our least favorite cruise line) not quite as good as Celebrity or Carnival. The food was good but never outstanding. We ate beef 4 times for lack of something else to order. The lobster was good, as was the escargot. Deserts were poor to average. We ate lunch in the dining room twice and had to go the buffet afterwards. We never had breakfast in the dining room.
Horizon Court Buffet was among the best we have ever seen on a cruise ship. Very good selection for all meals and the food was comparable to the dining room. There were, however, a number of those picky details that we noted. No Lemonade (never saw that). No half and half in the AM for coffee (we did ask the headwaiter and he brought us whipping cream each morning, but we had to ask every morning). No omelet station, all the eggs (and omelet, of their choice) were premade. If you like French toast, wait until you get home. They brush the bread with egg, but it never gets inside (check it out). On the plus side, great selection of Fresh fruit, fresh berries (black, blue and rasp and strawberries). Fresh bread and rolls were plentiful. Smoked salmon (Lox) was available on the Buffet 5 of the 7 mornings which we have never seen.
Ice Cream. Yes, more on the ice cream controversy. A charging of $2-$4 for ice cream, even premium, is outrageous! All the other ships we have been on had free soft ice cream machines for all (RCCL had yogurt only and was not worth eating). A cruise has traditionally been an all inclusive vacation. It is the beginning of trouble when we get charged for anything that should be included. If people pay for this it will not be too long before they are asked to pay for a slice of Pizza or a Burger.
Speaking of Pizza, it was just OK, much better than RCCL, no comparison to Carnival. The Hot Dog, Sausage and Hamburger bar was very good.
Princess stopped all Midnight Buffets. They seem to feel that since the Horizon Court Buffet is open 24 hours a day, it is no longer necessary. We feel that the lack of at least a Grand Buffet, with the ice carvings fancy platters, bread figures etc. add to the cruise experience and should be reinstated.
A word on pool Towels, one per person is left in the cabin at night. No towels available by the pools. A major inconvenience and something that we have never seen. The pools were very nice, fresh water, open all night. From what I saw there were many children in the pools and hot tubs late at night. Speaking of children, there were many on board and some who needed and did not get the proper supervision from their parents or whoever was in charge. Gym facilities were inadequate for a ship this size.
Tipping - a charge of $6.50 per day is added to your charge for everyone, not just personal choice diners. This bothers us, it's true that you can go the Purser to remove the charge, but now you have to do something to stop a tip. Next it will be added to your cruise fare. Don't misunderstand, we believe in Tipping, I worked my way through college and Grad School waiting on tables, but we do believe that A TIP (To Insure Promptness) should be earned. When they recommend a $3.00 TIP for the waiter and $1.50 for the asst. and charge $6.50, $2.00 is going to, as we were informed, the head waiter and Maitred'. I have a problem tipping somebody who just says good-evening.
Ports. We have cruised this itinerary a number of times. We are not crazy about tendering, but with such a large ship, there is little choice. We shopped, as usual, and we tried the snorkeling and stingray city tour on Grand Cayman from Captain Marvin (who has representatives on dock as soon as you get off the ship). It was cheaper than the Princess tour and from what we were told much better. (http://www.captainmarvins.com). Princess Cays has a very nice beach, as does Playa Del Carmen.
All this said, we had a great time, met nice people and enjoyed ourselves. We didn't feel that Princess lived up to all the hype. They should stop cutting corners and give their passengers a better quality product. We prefer Carnival and Celebrity, but that's not to say that if the occasion arises we would not go on Princess again.