Posted July 13th, 2012, 11:39 AM
As someone who has taken 2 Princess cruises and 2 NCL cruises within the past year, I'll give you my perspective:
- First of all, Princess people really hate NCL. I don't understand why, but be prepared for more "I will never cruise with NCL!" responses...
- I feel the pools are better on Princess, mainly because they have twice as many as any NCL ship. With 4 pools on most Princess ships and 2 for adults-only, they are much better than NCL in that respect. I also think chair-hogging is less on Princess, perhaps due to having more chairs available overall.
- We don't partake in the cruise show entertainment, so I can't comment on that. From what I understand, they're probably similar.
- I think NCL wins for buffet quality/variety (at least on Gem/Epic) compared to Princess, but Princess has much nicer food in the dining rooms. For example, you can get shrimp cocktail any night on Princess at dinner, but NCL rarely has shrimp in their dinner entrees. The quality in the dining room was higher on Princess AND they offer afternoon tea, which was delicious with finger sandwiches, pastries/cakes, and scones. I also love the International Cafe on Princess, where they have sandwiches, salads, pastries, and desserts available 24 hours a day - you just choose what you want from the case and you get it. On NCL, the 24 hour venue is always a sit-down place where you have to order and all that. In summary, NCL wins on the buffet, but Princess wins on everything else food-related, IMO.
- Which NCL ships have you sailed? I feel like Epic is a completely different experience from their other ships and probably the most entertaining for young kids. I can't comment on the Princess kids programs, but Princess overall likes to emphasize how you WON'T be riding water slides or rock-climbing on their cruises - it's about relaxation instead.
- For the Anytime Dining on Princess, I'd say it can vary widely, but it's not as well-organized as NCL's Freestyle dining. Depending on your itinerary/time of year, you can expect longer waits with Princess. On the Crown Princess in Feb, we waited over 45 minutes for a table for 2 several times at dinner, which would be unheard of on an NCL ship. However, we never waited more than 5 minutes on Ruby Princess in June, so it's hard to predict how well Anytime Dining will work for you...
- To the "nickel-and-diming" remark, I have to give you a giant
because I think it's just silly. Cruise lines exist to make money and do their best to sell you services/products during your cruise. No one is forcing you to buy them and if you didn't spend an extra dime while on your cruise, you can still have a great experience. Princess only has 2 specialty restaurants, but will charge you extra (like NCL) for: wine/liquor/beer, soft drinks, special coffee drinks, BINGO, spa services, etc. If you don't want to spend money on those things, don't! No one is nickel-and-diming you. Such a pet peeve of mine!
- You might look into Celebrity as well. My parents love it and rave about the food quality and entertainment and I understand they have kids programs as well. It's usually more expensive than Princess, but my parents think it's definitely a step-up from Princess.