It's been 11 years since my last cruise. During that time, I've traveled to many places without taking advantage of a cruise, always preparing my own vacations. I've been on two other cruises, both on Princess - Alaska (Coral Princess) in 2003 and Panama Canal (Island Princess) in 2007. I loved the Alaska cruise but am a bit lukewarm on the Panama Canal cruise as it was boring at times and the service seemed a little lower than it was on the Alaska cruise. Thus, this resulted in an eleven year wait till my previously completed 11 night Baltic cruise (roundtrip Copenhagen). I've compiled some thoughts on the cruise - and bear with me as I clear my head of my opinions.
I got a great price on the cruise. I was preparing to buy tickets on Celebrity but then came across a seeming fire sale. $1529/pp with $42/pp OBC for a mini-suite was a great deal and I got the absolute lowest price that was possible - at least that's what I believe. I decided to splurge this time. I only had inside rooms in my previous two cruises. I could have gotten a balcony for $1200 this time, which again is a great deal, but I decided to spend the extra money for the mini-suite. I can never go back to an inside room! I've worked hard enough so I can upgrade to at least a balcony now. I timed the purchase of the tickets perfectly (around six weeks before the cruise) to get the best possible price.
The mini-suite itself was great. Large sitting area, large bathroom. Very comfortable beds. Room was on the Marina deck forward, so I had great views. The room was quiet even though it was a connecting stateroom. Two large screen TVs. Balcony did seem a bit cramped as it was difficult , though it wasn't too big of a deal. The in room entertainment was pretty good, though the selection of live TV was limited and not in true HD. Room could use more electrical outlets though!
Service in general was great (with the exception of the MDR service). Our room attendant knew my name early on and kept the room in tip top cleanliness. Service was generally good throughout the ship.
The buffet was really good! It was a lot better than what I remembered from 2003/2007. I understand the Coral and Island Princesses are smaller ships and thus had smaller buffets, but the quality and selection were quite good this time! The breakfast selection did get boring after a while, but the lunch and dinner selections were really good. There was always something different and good to eat. The quality is up there with a very good Vegas buffet (similar to Bacchanal at Caesar's although it may be slightly lower in the quality of ingredients). I didn't try the pizza/burger options on the Lido deck though.
Pastry selections were plentiful and excellent! The Pastry shop was really good and always had a large selection of pastries. Most of the pastries were good. I really liked the day where they had a large selection of chocolate pastries. The MDR dinner desserts were typically good as well, though there were a few misses.
The kitchen tour (on the next to last day of the cruise) was really good. The cooking demonstration between the executive chef and maitre'd was really funny and informative, although the chef did seem to be very liberal in his use of olive oil.
The nightly entertainment was really good. I'm definitely not a show/Broadway type of person but the shows were good. It was definitely an improvement from my cruises in 2003/2007 - I can see the level of professionalism among the singers/dancers as well as the content of the shows have definitely improved.
Highlight of the shows was definitely the Beatlemaniacs. They did a great job with their performance.
Embarkation and disembarkation days for the first and last days of the cruise went smoothly. Disembarkation for the tour days also went smoothly. I was really surprised the disembarkation for St. Petersburg went very smoothly. Princess handled it very well. I only waited around 5 minutes in the dining room before going down to Russian immigration, where there was a fairly short line. I was able to then get past Russian immigration in 20 minutes. I recall some disasters in my Panama cruise where we weren't even able to get into Panama City/Fuerte Amador because of problems with tenders.
Alla Tours. I would give them 4/5. I used them for both the St. Petersburg 2-day tour and also in Warnemünde for the Hanseatic Rostock and Fairytale Schwerin Tour. I was trying to decide between Alla and SPB for my tour, but decided to go for Alla because SPB didn't have the Schwerin tour. Both guides were good. The St. Petersburg tour was definitely rushed, but I knew that going in. The guide did seem to know all the shortcuts in the various palaces we went to. The lunches were quite good, especially the sit down restaurant on the first day. The Warnemünde tour was good as well. Alla used a tour bus instead of public transportation for our transportation because there were issues with the rail lines. One thing to note for this tour is that I ended up with 20,000 steps for that tour day! I do wish the tour guides were slightly friendlier and warmer, especially the St. Petersburg tour guide, but they still did a great job.
6.5 hours in Stockholm is too short! Yes, I understand the schedule - and the cruise through the Swedish archipelago was beautiful, but it was definitely too short. I wish the ship could have been there the full day, at least until 4 or 5 PM. With the later departure, we could still see the Swedish archipelago in the evening departure. Yes, I know that could have delayed the arrival into Copenhagen though...
I only booked one Princess tour and that was the Old Town/Tallinn/Rakvere tour in Tallinn. It was horrible! The drive through the Estonian countryside is nice, but the time in the Rakvere castle was pointless. I don't think the castle had any historical value. There was not much to do at the castle as well. There were some goats, a cannon, some old rooms. There was also a horror house type series of rooms that I walked through - totally pointless. I didn't pay to walk through a horror house... The bad thing was that the drive from Tallinn to Rakvere took 1.5 hours, so 3 hours out of the 8 hours available were lost that day just to the drive. 2.5 hours were spent in the castle. The lunch was decent though. That only left us two hours for old town Tallinn! Two hours is not enough for old town! If I were to do this over again, I would either book an old town exclusive tour or better yet, take a free walking tour in old town and explore the rest of old town by myself in the afternoon.
MDR food was in general worse than what I remembered from 2003 and 2007, but was still good. There were definitely ups and downs. But the last dinner I had in the MDR on the last night of the cruise was horrible. The New York steak I ordered (as a medium) was entirely overcooked and tough. My guess was that the steak quality was poor to begin with, but then overcooking it to a level beyond well done made it inedible. It was the only meal where I disposed of any food - I left half of the steak on the plate. The other food was hit and miss. The lobster on lobster night was good. Quality of ingredients overall seemed to decline vs 2003/2007 as cheaper ingredients seemed to have been used.
One thing I always remember from 2003/2007 - Princess opened me up to the world of souffles! I have always craved souffles since then and have never found a restaurant that matched the quality of the souffles served on Princess. So when I went on board this time, I had high expectations. In general, the souffles were still good, but not as good as I remember them in taste. The presentation of the souffle was definitely worse, as I remember the waiters back in 2003/2007 would take the souffle out of the souffle bowl by flipping the bowl, putting the souffle contents in another plate. It looks like the waiters don't do that any more...
As I recall from 2003/2007, dinners were served as five courses - salad, soup, appetizer, main, and dessert. However, Princess has now shortened it to a selection of appetizers/soups/salad that one could get as the first course (though one could theoretically get multiple starters), main, and then dessert. It's not too big of an issue, but it does seem to cheapen the experience a little.
MDR service by the waiters/waitresses was definitely poorer. I ate in the Symphony MDR as I had the anytime dining option. I only had one good waitress - Janie C - she was absolutely superb! But all the other waiters/waitresses ranged from decent to bad and some were horrible. I literally had the menus shoved into my face on a few occasions and some of the waiters/waitresses were just plain rude. There were also times when I noticed the waiters/waitresses would be away from their booths for minutes at a time (sometimes 10 min. plus), which I presumed was probably talking or relaxing in the kitchen while waiting for the food to be made available. The level of attention and detail just didn't compare to 2003/2007. I always chose anytime dining, so I understand the level of service may be decreased compared to choosing traditional dining times. However, I think the maitre'd really needs to review the level of service in the dining room.
Water pressure in the mini-suite bathroom, especially the shower, was horrible. I guess Princess wants to save water so I don't blame them for that, but the shower water pressure was way too low.
I did have the Medallion, but I decided not to pay for Internet service. However, the SocialOcean applications are supposed to work even if we did not pay. I installed the app on my Android phone but never got it to work properly. I was able to connect via wifi to at least see my shore excursions, account info, albeit the connection was spotty at times. The messaging via the website didn't seem to work either.
Copenhagen Airport (Kastrup) is absolutely horrible. The seating arrangements absolutely make no sense. Air conditioning was barely working on the day we flew out of there. Eventyr Lounge was quite nice for a lounge though.
Weather was absolutely spectacular. It didn't rain a single day during the cruise nor the few days I was in Copenhagen before the cruise. Every day was in the high 60s, 70s, or low 80s. I know I was lucky...
Princess should somehow break apart the back to back days among the stops in Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, and Stockholm. It was difficult and exhausting to wake up at 5:30 AM every day for five straight days.
I still wish Princess could relax the dress code a little for formal night. I understand how a formal night does make things special. However, given the baggage fees airlines now charge, it would be nice if I didn't have to pack a suit. I was able to get away with packing just a 22 inch suitcase along with a small carry-on this time and stuff my suit in it, but it would have been nice if I didn't have to carry the suit around. And yes, I understand I could probably get into the dining room on formal night without a suit, but it would still be awkward to walk in without wearing a suit or tux.
More nickel and diming than there was in 2003/2007, although I don't think Princess went overboard. I don't recall having to pay for juice drinks during lunch/dinner (perhaps I'm wrong here). Also, I thought that I didn't have to pay for wine during dinner in 2003/2007 - though I could be wrong!
A tip for laundry. I've previously brought my own liquid laundry detergent in a small bottle for handwashing. I haven't brought enough for a washing machine. However, I've found a new product which will help with both - Lucky Fiji (LG) laundry detergent sheets (search Amazon). The laundry detergent sheets dissolve in water. One can easily cut the sheets into smaller pieces for handwashing or for smaller loads. Moreover, the sheets are easy to transport and don't count towards your 3-1-1 liquids.
I think the show "Mighty Cruise Ships" was on board the Regal during the cruise. Looking forward to seeing this episode in the near future...
All in all, I would definitely do the cruise again in a heartbeat. However, I would possibly consider going on Celebrity or another premium or luxury cruise line instead just to see what the experience is on another cruise line. I felt the food was good/very good, though not great. It is definitely a good cruise for the value, though I got lucky with picking a date where prices were definitely cheap. I will probably never get an inside room again - it's going to be a balcony from now on!
Thanks for bearing with me on this extremely long post!