I am going to do a quick (hopefully review here). We have cruised previously 10 cruises on Royal Caribbean. This was our first on Princess. We are both 50, self employed heating and cooling contractors. Our kids are young marrieds, early 20s, and a 16 year old teen in our party of 5. We flew in the night before to Ft. Lauderdale and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. This was lovely and we got a suite for 5 for $219.00. We are unable to use their shuttle to get to the cruiseport as there were so many people waiting and it was taking over an hour for a round trip. We were told this was new and due to traffic problems for guests traveling on the Oasis of the Seas. We took a cab and it was $14+tip and that was fine. We did have prompt shuttle service from the airport when we arrived in Florida at 11:40 p.m. Embarkation was smooth and fast, less than 30 minutes we were heading to our room.
The ship: Really lacked the wow factor of the Voyager and Freedom class ships. It is however quietly elegant and lovely. The floor plan made little sense with a feeling of crossing through venues to get to other places, halls dead ending into the theatre or dining rooms, needing to go down a floor-cross over, and resume descent down a different stairwell--we had to really search out how to get to a lounge we could see from outside but couldn't seem to find from indoors, etc. You had to go through the spa area to get to the fitness area. It was very disorienting. Things were clean and well maintained. More wood and marble and lovely sophisticated details. People had warned us that we would feel more wave action on this ship and we did. We awoke expecting to see a wild sea and saw instead moderate wave action. But the ship pitched and rolled more than we were accustomed too. We had a balcony stateroom for 3 people, and an inside for our young married daughter and SIL. These were nice. The configuration of closet and bathroom made a great dressing area and was so much more convenient than on Royal. The storage was ample and conveniently set up. The bathroom was small as expected and a shower curtain instead of doors was a bit of a pain but okay overall. The Horizon Court buffet was large and open and only a couple times did we really have to apply ourselves to find a place to sit. The food service areas are broken into stations, however, and there seemed to be no natural traffic flow from place to place.
The demographic: Older than we are used to. Caveats of that were it was easier to find loungers by the pool and on deck later in the morning (9 a.m. the sunbathers were staking out on Royal) and most people didn't spend the day and you could find other spots as needed. Also the night spots weren't terrifically crowded as the evening wore on. You did have to come to dinner a few minutes late due to crowding by dining room entrances for reserved seating--I don't fully understand this. The entertainment seemed more geared to this age group as well. Lots of big band and country western dance opportunities (no disco or 80s night parties!)
Entertainment: Not at all the quality we were used to. The Princess singers and dancers were on par with our local highschool: talented, but nothing to write home about. We saw three comedy acts were which very good. Unfortunately they were in lounges and not the theatre. One had to arrive VERY early to get a seat at all for the more preferred showtimes. This was a group of people who did not mind going an hour early to stake out a seat. I wish these popular shows were in the theatre, which also seemed to be packed by showtime with standing room only on show nights. The headline entertainer was a mentalist/hypnotist and we did not take in that show for spiritual reasons. People said it was good, however and entertaining. The cruise director was a woman and I found her grating and annoying and when she came on the intercom I heard others comment that they couldn't really stand her. I haven't experienced that feeling before. We attended two game shows and they were clean and fun and funny, and run by the assistant cruise director. We went to a chef's show that would have ended with a galley tour I was excited about, but the cruise director had the show so focused on herself, and not the very entertaining chef staff, that we left before that point. She was a fly in the ointment for certain. Movies under the stars was not well attended (it was on the cool side) but it was a fun thing to do. I liked that movies played by one pool off and on throughout the day. This was a fun benefit my kids and I enjoyed a lot. We were always able to find a spot to play games or cards as a family. The piano player in the Piazza was a nice accompaniment to our 500 rummy tournement. Also one of the lounges--Starwalkers? was empty a lot of the time and we hung out there and felt very private to laugh and play away from it all.
The food: Definitely a step up from what we were used to. Everything, while similar in terms of menu choices, quantity and presentation, was just better. I had several beef dishes and they were fantastic. All the fish including shrimp and lobster were fantastic. Even the buffet (Horizon Court) was very good and we ate breakfast daily there, and often lunch. Desserts were somewhat disappointing, however, and I would have to say Royal does a better job with that. The pizza available on the pool deck was fantastic, always fresh, hot, and plentiful. We probably had pizza at some point every day. Best pizza I have had at sea. Also on the pool deck was a short order counter with brats and burgers and chicken breasts and fries, and all the toppings. Again, the best burger I have had at sea. Very comparible to a franchise type sit-down restaurant at home. Not gourmet, but very good. The fries were terrific too. The salads and dressings in the Horizon Court and the Dining room were great and very fresh and good variety of greens and toppings. My husband loved the chilled soups in the dining room. My 16 y/o and I ordered a fruit plate daily and all the selections on it were perfect ripeness and freshness. My SIL got an enhanced beverage package and probably drank his weight in malts and non alcoholic smoothies and soda. I think this was $69 and worth it for him. The Soda card was $29 for a week and I found this reasonable although we did not purchase it.
Service was as we had always experienced cruising. We were spoiled rotten by the dining room staff and our room steward was an absolute doll. We found out on our last day it was the last day of his contract and he was going home to Hungary for good and were happy to tip him extra for his journey. Nothing about our service lead us to believe he was a "short timer" and he was a good worker and a delightful person.
My SIL and I used the fitness area daily and the machines were plentiful, there were may of them, and they were all clean and in good working order. The cable weights were interesting on a rocking ship to be sure. I do free weights and Pilates on my own and never had trouble finding a spot on the floor for this. I did not attend any fitness classes. I found it curious that the "for fee" classes were offered when most people would be on board, and the "free" classes seemed to be offered on port days--probably not a coincidence. We toured the spa (lovely) but again did not use the services.
The pools were nice, fresh water. Not a lot of people using them as it was a bit on the cool side and they were closed a couple times due to rough seas. Not a ton of hot tubs, and one was always out of order it seemed. I still felt I had plenty of access. I did not use the sanctuary area.
Ports of call: Grand Cayman: We did a day trip with Captain Marvins that including diving for Conch (which they cleaned and fed us, very good) and great snorkel stop, some of the best snorkling we have had, stingray city (we have been before, but our SIL had not and they really showed this newbie a good time) and then lunch on the beach. I would do Captain Marvins again anytime, but would book without the lunch. It was okay, but by then we were wet and sticky and the exciting part of the excursion was over. We could easily have save a few bucks and gone back to the ship. The staff was terrific. We had our family, another family who was staying on the island, and a couple on board. It was a nice big boat and I felt like we were alone a lot of the time. Roatan: Used Rony's (booked over the internet) we had a nice air conditioned explorer with guide for the day for $25 per person. I think we saw it all. We stopped at a west end beach but did not snorkel as it was a little rough. We did swim and sun a bit. We were not bothered by insects as some report. The three young people did a zip line adventure and loved every minute. It was one of the highlights for them for certain. We did some shopping at the Mahogony bay shopping area and this was fine. This is a beautiful port. Cozumel: We did a dune buggy adventure we booked through Shoretrips.com. This was strickly on-road due to government regulation and a bit anticlimatic. It was our family and another couple and it was still a lot of fun. We went to a great beach and I think there were probably only 14 other people there. The lunch was fantastic and whipped up by our guide. We had some great photo opportunities and saw a lot of the island. The weather was great! We shopped both downtown and near the port area. Cozumel is always my favorite shopping stop. Princess Cay: The tender ride was no big deal. We went ashore about 10 a.m. and all rush was over. We got loungers on one of the many beaches there, no trouble getting several in a row so we were together. The water was cooler, I did swim and go for a walk down the beach. People were snorkeling but I did not and can't review that. The buffet was the best I have had on shore. The staff was discreet and I never felt disrupted by bar wait staff, but always could spot one if I wanted something. The beach was sandy and we did not need water shoes or anything like that to play in the ocean. It was about a perfect day. Visited the native market outside the gate, nothing new or exciting but got a really great batik sarong for a good price.
Getting off the ship was pretty fast and painless. We waited in the explorers lounge about 15 minutes after breakfast before our color was called, and waited about 20 minutes in line for a cab.
All in all I would cruise princess again. There was a $2000 price difference ($400 per person) for the week we went and that had been the deciding factor. I think Royal was a bit more "fun" all in all. It was a different experience than we were used to and this review is written in a comparison form because that is pretty much how we viewed the week after so many annual cruises with another line.
RCCL Nordic Empress 1993
RCCL Nordic Prince 1994
RCCL Explorer 2003, 2005
RCCL Navigator, 2004, 2007
RCCL Mariner 2006
RCCL Liberty 2008
RCCL Adventure 2009
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