This review is my humble, subjective opinion based on our previous experiences and personal taste.
Who we are and why we cruise: Myself 50, Husband 66, and Daughter 14 7 previous cruises: Princess (2), RCL (2), NCL (2), Commodore (1) We cruise for the ship experience - life at sea, food, entertainment, and service. We have been to the Western Caribbean several times so the ship was our ultimate destination, but we like this route for the weather and the water sports.
Pre-Cruise: We flew to Ft. Lauderdale the day before and stayed at the Embassy Suites. I got a great deal on Priceline - $55. This is a fine choice for cruisers - free (24-hour) shuttle from the airport, free full buffet breakfast, and free shuttle to the pier. We did not arrive until 11:00PM so I had called from home that morning to reserve our 11:15AM spots on the pier shuttle and make sure they saved our room.
Embarkation: The shuttle left promptly the next morning and we were at the pier by 11:30AM. We had express check-in, but still had to fill out the Bahamas immigration cards (why don't they send these to you, too?). No pens at the tables - bring one for everyone in your group so each can fill out their own. No line for our deck, so after a short wait for the photo we were escorted up the elevator to our cabin.
The cabin: A418 - BB category, Aloha deck, mid-ship. This is a triple, but the smallest cabin we have ever had. Plenty of closet space and hangars, but for three people, drawer space is in short supply. Bunk bed comes down from the wall over the queen bed. Hit my head on it several times. Also, with the bunk ladder down, it is difficult to maneuver out the door or into the bathroom. Would gladly have traded a larger cabin for the balcony. First time for the balcony, but I did not feel it was worth the extra $1100 we paid for the 3 of us over an inside cabin. We were on the port side so every time we docked in port we were next to another ship. The noise generated made it impossible to enjoy sitting out on the balcony.
Our cabin stewardess, Emilie, was wonderful. Requests for robes and wine glasses were answered promptly. It took a day to fix our refrigerator, but that was not her fault. When the electricity went out in the cabin, it was fixed within 20 minutes. Chocolates on our pillows appeared every evening, but no towel animals.
Dining: We originally had traditional, late sitting, but changed to personal choice the second night. We liked our tablemates and the waiter, but getting out of the dining room at 10:30PM, we would have missed most of the evening's entertainment. I thought we had made a huge mistake changing when we waited 45 minutes for a table the second night. Fortunately, we never had to wait again so it was a good move. Yes, I think there is a reduction in service with personal choice. We had a different waiter every night - some were better than others, but none were as good as we had on our last Princess cruise on the Sun. But I would say the service was just as good as you would get in a fine restaurant. Food in the dining room was very good. Beef tenderloin and lobster were outstanding. I sent my scallop dinner back (too rubbery) and it was replaced with an excellent turbot. I loved the baby vegetables. Desserts, especially the souffles, were yummy.
Unlike our past cruises where we ate most all breakfasts and lunches in the dining room, we ate mostly in the Horizon Court on the Grand. The variety and convenience won us over. We had one bad lunch - the Mexican Buffet and we love Mexican food. I filled up on the pizza - good! Sushi and shrimp bar on Saturday afternoon was fabulous - very fresh and beautifully presented.
Sabatini's: We had read many reviews of this and thought we should try it for brunch (sea days only). Service was excellent and the food good, but I would not do it again. The same food can be had in the dining room or at the Horizon. It's just too much food to eat at one sitting. We slept the rest of the afternoon!
Room Service: Teenage daughter loved this and used it often. Very prompt. One funny incident was when she ordered her favorite bananas and cream and they brought whipped cream. I could not communicate, try as I might, that she wanted liquid cream like you would pour in coffee. He went back to the kitchen to ask the chef, but returned with the can of whipped cream! He did try hard to please!
Entertainment: This is a hit and miss area for Princess. NCL definitely has the best, IMHO. It is impossible to see everything, but several shows were offered on alternate nights. The one production show we saw, Lights, Camera, Action was so-so. The costumes were cute and the dancers had a lot of energy, but the choreography was lacking. Certainly, can't beat the Jean Ryan dancers on NCL.
We did not make the Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance production. Kimika, an English duo of comedy, singing, and guitar playing was excellent. Very funny and talented - we went to both their shows. Jeff Peterson, the magician and comedian literally put me to sleep. Card tricks in a huge theatre just doesn't work. However, he did amaze the audience with his zip code "trick." We went to both shows (one adult-only) of the hypnotist, Alexander. My husband took part in the adult show and we laughed so hard we had to buy the video. We also attended both shows (different) of comedian, Phil Paulsoul. We enjoyed his first show more, but he made us laugh both times.
Princess does a fine job of offering a variety of entertainment choices from piano bars (not us) to karaoke to game shows to deck parties. This is not only great from an option standpoint, but also we could go to a show at the last minute and always find a seat. None of that wasting a half hour sitting at a venue to be assured a seat.
Finally, I have to mention Graham Seymour, the cruise director. He is simply the best cruise director we have ever experienced. He is a riot and a talented singer. Don't miss his morning show on the cabin TV.
Teen Program: There were 186 teens on board. Very few attended the teen program, which included some great activities. Our daughter didn't go until Wednesday. Much has been written about the lack of a good teen program, but I really think it has to do with teens themselves. Let's face it - most of them just like to "hang." However, they were never a problem as far as I could see. None of the horror stories of unruly, drunk teens or kids running around unsupervised. Kudos to Princess for limiting the number of children per sailing and kudos to their programs. My daughter enjoyed the teen sessions at the Skywalkers disco, the teen hot tub parties, free arcade night, and the teen dinner on the last night.
Photos: The most laid back of any cruise we've been on. In fact, we had three free coupons and could not find three good ones - only 4 or 5 taken!
Beauty Shop: Daughter had her hair and make-up done for her first formal night. Betty is very sweet and did an excellent job. Yes, they do try to sell products and services - a barrette for her new coif - $25!; acne? - a facial and our skin products are all she needs. It cost $135- with tip (and barrette), but it is something she will always remember and vacations are for making memories, aren't they?
Fitness Center: It is small as has been reported - only six treadmills, but I managed to get my 5 miles in every day either on a treadmill or on the jogging track. Hint: if you go in the late afternoon, it is less crowded and one can usually get a machine. They do have a sign-up sheet if you can predict 24 hours in advance when you want to work out.
Princess Cays: This a beautiful spot, but even going to the right, there were no lounge chairs to be had. Daughter and I rented a two-person kayak - quite pricey at $26- for ½ hour, but we enjoyed it.
Grand Cayman: We had booked Captain Marvin in advance on the Internet and had a great time on their ½ day tour. I had worried that we wouldn't get a tender early enough for the 9:15AM meet time, but no problem. Princess (unlike NCL) has tendering down to a science and we were at the dock by 8:45 AM. Captain Marvin's is well-run - small parties (15-20), air-conditioned vans, and cold refreshments on board. Hint: make sure to book ahead. People who tried to book that morning were shut out.
Costa Maya: This was a disappointment for us because we wanted to rent bikes and ride to Majahaul. However, an organized tour had reserved all the available bikes. We walked around a bit and saw some local entertainment, but it was very hot so we just went back to the ship. Friends who took the Jungle Beach Break were disappointed with it, others liked the ruin tours.
Cozumel: We had planned to snorkel at Chankaanab Park, but hubby and offspring were snorkeled out so we shopped. It's been said before, but buyer beware! An onyx and silver necklace and earring set started at $145 and was down to $40 as we were walking out the door! My daughter was able to practice her Spanish and even figured out what the shopkeepers were saying about lowest prices to each other!
Pros and Cons: We had a wonderful cruise and enjoyed it immensely. Princess has always been our favorite line and continues to be for overall product and service. The food, the 24-hour, freshwater pools and hot tubs, the entertainment variety, and pleasant attitude of the crew make it so. We are non-smokers and smoke was never an issue on this ship (except on our balcony because both neighbors were smokers). Also, with 2750 passengers, the ship never seemed crowded. The major con on this ship was the lack of a middle staircase. Being located midship, just one deck below the Lido deck, it would have been great to walk the one flight up. Instead, we seemed to be endlessly waiting for the elevator. The ice cream was a non-issue for us. We never bought it, we ate it in the dining room.
Debarkation and Post-Cruise Hotel: It is no longer required to report to customs on board. Colors are called by deck and they called ours while we were having breakfast. We just took our time and exited the ship when we were ready. Found our luggage easily (we colored coded it with fluorescent tape) and were directed to a taxi. $10 took us to the Doubletree Oceanfront ($55, Priceline). This is not as nice as the Embassy but the location is great - right on the beach. Land shock hit us at the restaurant that evening. We ate at the Oasis just a couple of block from the hotel. Very cute with table swings outside, but I can't recommend it for the mediocre food and drink which cost us $65 for 3 sandwiches and 3 drinks, tip automatically added! Where's da boat!
Finally, it's the people you meet that make the cruise. We enjoyed spending time with our Cruise@ddict and CruiseCritic friends. Thanks and hello to Jan and John, MaryAnn and Bud, Robin and Bill, and Leslee and Earl for a most enjoyable time!