I just completed two back to back cruises, 9/5-9/12 Piraeus-Istanbul (Greek Isles) and 9/12-9/19 Istanbul-Istanbul (Black Sea Odyssey)
This was my first SB trip. For comparison, I have done 8 prior cruises, most of them on luxury competitor lines.
EMBARKATION was pleasant and efficient, took less than a half hour. We got on board on a very hot day around 12:30 for a 4 PM departure, then went to the nicely air-conditioned Colonnade indoor/outdoor venue for a sumptuous buffet lunch while the rooms were readied. Around 2PM we were notified our room was ready. My suitcase was there waiting for me from Luggage Forward, a company sponsored by SB, shipped from the US in advance, right on time.
I had a very forward PH Suite on the 9th floor, right behind the bridge. Surprisingly, I heard no bridge noise. There was a huge amount of storage space, and a luxury bathroom with a side-by-side modern shower and a whirlpool tub. Nothing was broken, but a minor flaw was that the bathtub had no rinse-off hose. There were deep double sinks, plus another sink in the separate toilet area which could be accessed either from the hall or from the bathroom. Though the stewardess was great, the suite overall turned out not to suit my needs: as noted, the bed with its new mattresses was, to me, too hard, and the very narrow living room sofa/chaise was even harder and I thought more appropriate for a dentist’s waiting room than a luxury cruise line. The Istanbul airport had seats more comfortable than this sofa. The sofa was too narrow to stretch out on (it was not wide, like in the picture I saw of the PH on the internet) and as there was also no comfortable recliner in the living room either, just a couple stiff chairs at the dining table, I did not want to sit in the living room/dining area at all. Also, the suite had poor to non-existent wifi much of the time, though it improved after the internet team performed some upgrades later in the cruise (this was apparently just a bad location for wifi I did not know about in advance). So I had to go to SB Square or closer towards the other side of the ship to use my reasonably priced unlimited internet service plan. The deck in the suite was spacious, and the outdoor chaise lounge chairs partially reclined, but had no pads and were thus hard to sit on for more than a few minutes (I put pillows on them when I wanted to sit outside). The stiff chairs at the eating table on the suite's deck (identical to the pool area dining chairs) did have some pads but were upright and uncomfortable. Lighting functions were confusing, i.e., the switches let the living room and bathroom be either totally bright or totally dark, no “mood” setting option except in the bedroom. In sum, in hindsight, the extra price paid to have more square footage in a PH suite was not worth it to me as I could not comfortably use most of the space to lounge in the room that had the view. I typically wanted to leave the suite as much as possible to go sit somewhere more comfortable. I would have been better off with a simple veranda suite prepared in advance with just a bed with an egg crate mattress topper, which is what I have reserved for my next SB cruise to Norway in 2016, where I will be able to ignore the hard sofa but still see the ocean while lounging on the bed. I anticipate a regular veranda will provide more value and will be more suitable to my needs.