January 2014 - Royal Princess to Caribbean - Eastern
All-in-all, I LOVED this cruise. The cruise director's staff is very high energy and fun (several are downright outrageously funny). The shows were varied, interesting and entertaining. There were plenty of activities and options for the active cruise passenger and plenty of opportunities and places to just relax for the more sedate passenger.
While the ship is very large (largest in Princess fleet), there are still places to go where you don't feel like you're in a crowd (check out the partially hidden and hard to find "escapes" outside on what would ordinarily be the Promenade Deck on either side of the ship, accessible from Deck 7 midships behind either the jewelry shop or the bar). The Piazza, consisting of 3 levels located midships, is the "heart" of the ship. It is just beautiful and is used often as a location for events. Most of the public venues are accessible from the Piazza, with the exception of the buffet and sports venues, which are located at the highest decks of the ship. The fitness room was large, held lots of varied equipment and overlooked the sea. There was a jogging/walking track with exercise/fitness stations evenly spaced along the way. There was a sports court which was shielded from the wind. The large outdoor screen offered movies and recorded concerts in the evenings with plenty of popcorn and ice cream cones nearby. A new and interesting feature to the ship are bowed-out walkways with see-through floors high on Deck 16 midships, offering views to the sea below from either side of the ship. The staterooms are small (as with most of the new, large ships), but you don't end up spending that much time in your room. Having a balcony was very nice and was worth the extra cost.
As far as meals are concerned, I preferred the dining room food (Symphony or Allegro dining room) over the Horizon Court/Bistro buffet. I found the dining room food to be very good, the waiters solicitous and, for the most part, attentive. The kitchen accommodated requests to modify the menu (substituting one vegetable for another, etc.). We noted that service was quicker if you chose to eat at a table for 2 as opposed to sharing a table with others. The buffet was a fairly typical buffet with the exception that you could get lost and it is rather spread out.
The only things preventing me from giving this cruise (and ship) 5 stars would have to be because of the lack of adequately-sized elevators, the lack of midships stairs, and the discomfort of the large space seating. There were no top-to-bottom midships stairs, so those who actually like to take stairs had to hike to either end of the ship for stairs all the way up and down. Otherwise, if you took the elevators, you had to wait and when one would finally arrive, it was invariably already crammed full of people. The elevators were FAR too small and rather slow. Also, the seats in the Princess Theater and Princess Live! Studio (both widely-used venues) were VERY uncomfortable and designed to hold the tiniest and slimmest of people (into which category I definitely do not fit and neither did the vast majority of other passengers).
In regard to the destinations for this cruise, Princess Cays could only be classified as so-so. It is owned by the cruise line, so you are precluded from finding any off-ship deals for excursions or activities, and the beach just wasn't that great and that portion of the island just wasn't very pretty. I would have rather spent another day in St. Thomas or St. Maarten, both of which were WONDERFUL destinations.
We did our own off-ship excursion (island tour) in St. Thomas, which was just great. We booked two excursions through the cruise ship with mixed results. The America's Cup yacht racing excursion in St. Maarten was expensive, but FANTASTIC - a GREAT experience! The rental of a Hobie Cat in Princess Cays wasn't a very good experience or value for the money ($55 for one-hour rental) since the equpment wasn't in good repair and we had to wait a considerable amount of time (45 minutes) beyond our reservation time to get the equipment. The operators allowed "walk-up" customers to have priority over those who had a pre-paid reservation, which didn't sit well with us. When we complained, we were offered additional equipment to use after our time with the Hobie Cat was over, but by that time, we were ready to call it a day and return to the ship. Upon return to Ft. Lauderdale, I booked an excursion (through the ship) to the Everglades and Flamingo Gardens. This was a WONDERFUL excursion and after it was over, they deposited me (and my luggage) at the FLL airport, where I caught a free hotel shuttle.
Again, overall, it was a very good short cruise (7 nights) and I had a WONDERFUL and enjoyable vacation.