Alright, finally. I'm able to sit down and compose my final thoughts for this cruise. I flew out of Vancouver at 10:30pm on Friday night, landed in Toronto at 5:45am. We had to go through customs in Toronto, which was annoying and we pretty much took an hour to do that, giving us barely 5 minutes before boarding our flight to Baltimore at 7:30am. Annoyed because I was starving at this point and didn't have a chance to get food. Landed on time and got food, so I ended home at noon the next day totally exhausted. Add to the fact that I had a Nigerian wedding to go to on Sunday that I didn't know about, and my office was STILL not up and running because my office had moved the week before we left, and it "was" working when i left.
Nonetheless, here I am today, finally able to put my final thoughts down.
As I said, my main comparison of this cruise is with Royal Caribbean as that's been our primary. The quick quick comparison is this. "Wow" Princess blew me away this time. Overall, the production shows were slightly better. The food, despite little hiccups, was overall better. The service was WAAAAY better. The room design is GREAT. But I'll break it down...
Embarkation. Needs work, but they're on the same page. My record with priority boarding with Royal Caribbean out of Baltimore is 12:50 seconds, door to ship (stopwatch is stopped when they scan card). Their slowdown is check in itself. Once someone is checked in, you board. No waiting, unless the ship has not cleared. Granted, the Grandeur is a smaller ship, but Anthem in NJ, which has a similar system with RFID chips in their cards got us onboard the ship in 15 minutes with NO priority and they're a good 55K gross tons bigger. Here, the time was 20 minutes something (i can't remember), which is respectable, BUT that was due to priority boarding thanks to my mother. Otherwise, you would have had to come later at your staggered boarding time. I suspected if I had come in at 1:00pm like they had said, i could have been on the ship in 20 minutes. The fact that check in is first, and then security, allows security to process people without congestion as they are staggered by check in. Smart.
The ship. Bottom line here, the ship decoration seemed similar to Royal Caribbean. The difference is that coloring, Princess seems to favor white, while Royal Caribbean favors turquoise. There's always kind of a bit of green the leaks in, at least to me. The elevators, though slow, were numerous enough that there wasn't too much of a jam during normal operations, but during peak use times such as embarkation and debarkation, its a zoo, but then most ships are during that time. Both are classy, but use different themes (?). My issue with this class of ship is that it dead ends a lot because of the way the dining rooms are set up. The middle dining room acts as a stumbling block for decks 5 and 6 and to get to the respective ones, you have to go up and over regardless. Also, I noted in another post, I could not find public bathrooms easily. They just seem so tucked away on this ship. The theater. I did not like the layout of the theater. Granted, the designed allowed for much better viewing than other ships, the designers seemed to have favored view over accessibility. I felt the seats were difficult to get to due to the way it was sectioned off. At the same time, that sectioning really gave rise to congestion if a large number of people needed to get in and out.
The room. I had a Balcony stateroom. I usually do not get Balconies, but in this case, it literally was the same price as an interior, which made this cruise a sweet deal. The layout was great. There is a wall between the bed and the closet. Brilliant. The closet is across from the bathroom, which blocks the light from coming fully in the room when someone uses the bathroom. Again, brilliant! There is also a small light on the floor that IS MOTION SENSOR ACTIVATED. Again, BRILLIANT, especially if you have an interior room. That light, when turn on, is not intrusive at all, but is enough to keep you from bumping into stuff in the middle of the night. The TV did not have any channels really. Just news channels that are live, BUT, they had a whole host of stuff you can demand FOR FREE!. I did not spend that much time watching TV in the room, but when i did, there was a good choice available.
Now for the bad. Plug placement. Awful. There are two plugs next to the desk and then another plug high up in another corner of the room. The two plugs, were very close together and next to the light switch to the desk light. if your plug has any width to it, you risk blocking BOTH 2nd plug and the light switch. Not a good design. Also, our balcony was a little small.
Activities. I was very pleased with the offerings here. Although I still don't now who the cruise director is, I did notice his activities were not exactly the standard trivia and dance classes. He ran a couple of game shows, which unfortunately I missed. The activities I saw were refreshing. My only gripe here is that evening activities seem to be a little sparse after dinner. We had late dining, but after dinner, there was almost never anything else to do afterwards except the Casino or the nightclub. Oh, I should add the the DJ in the nightclub was amazing. He's an actual DJ who mixes as oppose to someone who just cues up songs and plays it. So far, Princess is the only cruise line i've seen who does this. Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity just has guys who play music. I realized that they did it even back on my last cruise in 2010.
Food. I love food as you can see. MDR food quality was great. I would say its a step above Royal Caribbean, but slightly below Celebrity. Still a good mark. Crown Grill. Here, I was a little disappointed. My steak wasn't as good as I had hoped. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad, but taken in comparison to all the steakhouses i've been, including the time I went to Crown Grill in 2010, it fell a little flat. Chef's table, on the other hand, beat out all the other lines. Wine pairing was not as intensive as Royal Caribbean. We had only 2 wine pairings plus a dessert wine and champagne. But at a whopping 8 courses, it made up with food quality. Royal Caribbean usually only has 6 courses, but throughout those 6 course, you could expect 6 different wines. This is the only point of Chef's table where Royal Caribbean was better. The Chef was the most involved on this one, but only 2nd to my first Chef's table on Carnival. Although Royal Caribbean's Chef was also involved, you can tell that on this ship, the Chef was way more passionate about his creation. Also, these dishes are no joke. We were full by course 5, but it kept coming. The portions for Chef's table was huge given the fact that it was 8 courses (which we did not really know until the end).
Princess may now hold title for me for best burger as they're generic burgers are cooked to order. When they cook to order, the flavor does come out and they don't use crap beef for their generic burgers. The result is them taking the best cruise burger from Carnival.
Service: They totally shine here. This cruise service easily blew away anything in current memory for me and came very close to being as good as my last one in 2010. I thought 2010 was a fluke, but apparently, I was wrong. They've kept a lot of the little details that other cruise lines have done away with. People who bring you complimentary drinks in the buffet as well as pool area. They have kept the soliciting to a bare minimum and this was the first cruise in quite some time, I didn't feel like someone was always in my face trying to sell me an upgrade or drink package, or dining package, etc. What little they did do, seemed appropriate and measured. The only problem we had, was we had a leakage in our room. Something was leaking near the bathroom. Never got to being flooded out of our room. But, we never reported it. Why, because before we were able to report it, they were already on top of it. Our room steward had already put in a repair order. And after that, we got a call from guest services apologizing profusely for the leakage. They offered a complimentary specialty dinner for the two of us, but we had to reject it because we already had a complimentary one, and with Chef's Table, there was no time to enjoy another night at the Specialty restaurant. So they gave us a decent bottle of wine instead. Considering they noticed the problem before we reported it, tells me they're on the ball.
Shows. I didn't make it to as many shows as I would like. The first show, I missed because we just totally missed the fact that there was a show. We were not use to the layout of the Princess patter so we missed the announcement about the show which was not on the schedule side, but noted on the bottom. Plus, we were used to Royal Caribbean and Carnival doing the Welcome Aboard show, which has become fairly mundane for us, so we didn't expect there to be an actual headliner show instead. We caught one production show which we thought was pretty good...except when it came to part of showcasing Japan and China, which rubbed off on me a little weird. The vocal impressionist was amazing. She pulled of Janice Joplin to a T.
Disembarkation. Is this how it is in Canada? You just fill out your form, give it to the room steward and never see a Canadian Customs agent? This was the best disembarkation i've ever had. At the same time, this is my first disembarkation in a port outside the US. People just filed off the ship and that was that. The only real issue is that Vancouver's port doesn't seem like its that well designed for this many people and in fact the tour we were on stated that the port was never intended to be a cruise port like it is today.
Other: My only main complaint of this cruise is their internet. Wow, it is horrible. I averaged 900 ms ping on much of the cruise. I could not even post pictures that well with that kind of connection. As someone else mentioned here, I think they decided to shut of the O3B system because an earlier live thread showed pings of only 200ms which is where O3B systems usually rate. Royal Caribbean's non-O3B systems ping averaged about 620ms which at that speed, I could still stream Hulu and Netflix. I could not on this cruise. Also, it was not very intuitive about how to get online. With Royal Caribbean, there were instructions to put in a password and to remember that password. Princess, you log in, put in your room number and birthdate and boom, you're on. However, there were no instruction on how to do it. We had to go to the Internet Cafe to get the IT manager to get us on. The biggest rub, we asked him what kind of speed we can expect on the ship. His answer "oh, you can get 100 mbps easily." Lies.
That's the one thing that rubbed me the wrong way about Princess. There is a lack of...how should I say, information sometimes. Example. Chef's table. I could not book until I boarded. Once i booked, I was pretty much told to wait until they tell me something. They set a meeting on day 3, but Chef's table wasn't until day 4. We were more or less in the dark about if or when we were going to do Chef's table until day 3, and 1/2 the cruise was over at that point. Granted, this might be due to the shortness of the cruise, but it still didn't feel organized.
So, my final impression of Princess. Absolutely solid product. This ranks as one of the best cruises I've taken. I've compared this with Royal Caribbean in many ways because that's what i'm used to, but Royal Caribbean, if you sail on the Voyager class ships or larger, loses the cruise experience a little. They pack so much stuff on their ship, it stops being a cruise, and more like a shopping mall on water. Princess continues to offer what I like to call the "traditional" cruise experience even on a larger ship such as the Ruby Princess. You have set time dining, set show times. Cruise directed activities, opportunities to meet other guests, great service and food, but without the distractions of novelty such as North Star, Bumper cars, escape rooms, etc. Not that those things are bad, but sometimes, you want to be on a cruise, to be on a cruise. Princess gives you that traditional cruise experience that I admit, that I have not had too often as I go on the bigger ships on Royal Caribbean. So the question remains, did Princess succeed in topping Royal Caribbean as my go to line? Answer: not sure. There are still things I like about Royal Caribbean, and one of those is shared rewards across their brand. That's something Carnival and Princess does not do. I'm diamond on Royal Caribbean and I could sail on Celebrity as Elite status as well as Azamara. There are perks with that, that make Royal Caribbean continue to be a serious contender. I do know that Princess will be looked at with much more interest when I book my next cruise.