Pros: WONDERFUL entertainment, generally good food, attractive public areas, super itinerary
Cons: Not the greatest service ever, confusing ship layout
Well, the Crown Princess didnt nearly tip over on this voyage, so thats a big plus. Mr_chelledun and I just got back from our first Princess voyage. We were really, really, hoping to like it, as we are booked on the boats new sister ship, the Emerald Princess, for the Mediterranean this July. Prior to this trip, I had taken four Carnival cruises on the Imagination, Paradise, Triumph, and Glory, in that order. Overall, we really enjoyed our experience on Princess, which I will be critiquing in great detail in the novel that follows. Get yourself a drink and settle in. Or, just skim down to the relevant section if you are searching for specific information.
We cruised from Old San Juan Pier 4. While I had heard horror stories about embarkation, ours went extremely quickly. With itineraries from San Juan, embarkation can be done from 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Princess recommends arriving after 2:00 p.m. for a reduced wait time. We showed up at 3:00 p.m. and were literally on board the ship within thirty minutes of entering the terminal. On embarkation day, be sure to keep a carry-on with you packed with a change of clothing and a swim suit, as you wont get your luggage for a bit.
One interesting feature of the Old San Juan terminal is the presence of a duty free liquor store after check-in and before the metal detectors. Princess takes kind of a wink-wink approach to carrying alcohol on board. An employee of the liquor store told us if we bought alcohol and put it in a bag, we would be allowed to carry it through security. I had no problem with my bottle of rum and some folks were buying a half dozen items. If you plan on having even a few mixed drinks, purchasing an inexpensive bottle of alcohol at port will result in big savings.
Upon entering the ship, mr_chelledun were impressed with the large staff presence. White gloved employees stood along all the railings, outside the elevators, and next to the stairs. We were escorted to our room where we promptly met our room steward. He was wonderfully friendly and brought us glasses of champagne. We also had our luggage sitting in the state room within a shocking one hour of boarding. Princess definitely got our cruise off on the right foot.
Our room was very, very small. We had D521, one of the least expensive inside rooms on the ship, as is our custom. Two twin beds were pushed together to form a large bed. The room was decorated in subdued hues of turquoise, green, and white. Everything was in pretty good condition. We had the annoying addition of two overhead bunks in our room, each of which projected from the wall by about a foot. I cant even count the times we bumped our heads on them. I have never had a quad room before, but it seems like these things should have been tucked into the wall for safety. Our bed was reasonably comfortable, but nothing to write home about. We had ample closet space with enough hangers for both of our clothes, as well as an easy-to-use safe.
The bathroom was also smaller than what we have recently experienced in our Carnival staterooms. No way could two people occupy the bathroom at one time. The shower had good pressure and had a very easy temperature adjustment. We loved the Lotus Spa toiletries, so much that mr_chelledun stole many of them to take home. The ones he stole were quickly replaced by our room steward. Available toiletries include moisturizer, shampoo, soap, and conditioner. They were so good, I probably wont pack any of these things the next time we cruise with Princess. What I will pack, however, is a hairdryer. The wall-mounted unit in our stateroom was sad and I wasted far too much time drying my hair with it.
Our room steward continued to be fabulous throughout the trip, and was by far the friendliest employee we encountered during our voyage. He greeted us warmly every single time we passed in the hall and we had lots of chats with him. Our room was always cleaned five minutes after we left, and daily turn down service included various chocolates at night.
As is fairly typical of cruises, the Crown Princess had tons and tons of food. Some was great, most was average, and a few things were yucky. The big food attractions take place in the Dining Rooms. Dinner is the main attraction, and Princess offers much-hyped Anytime Dining along with the traditional set seatings where one sits at the same table at the same time each night. Traditional seating remains popular on cruises so we were waitlisted and stuck in Anytime Dining. This meant we were allowed to eat in two different dining rooms any time between 6:00 and 10:00 each evening. Two nights we sat alone, and five nights we joined tables with three other couples. We sat with a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, some lawyers and businesspeople, and a fun couple our age. While we really enjoyed getting to know different people we found the service to be rather poor in anytime and never really got to know a single waiter. One night dinner took three full hours. We suspect this was because our entire tray of entrees was dropped, but no one ever said anything to us about it. My husband called the dining room service shockingly bad. Fortunately, we always enjoyed our table mates and generally our meals so we werent in a big hurry. Food highlights for me included wide variety of pasta dishes and the always available Loveboat Dream mousse dessert. My husband loved all the seafood appetizers. Lowlights included some of the more bizarre fruity desserts and an overdone steak I received one night. On a cruise, it is always a good idea to order your meat a notch rarer than you normally might. You can eat breakfast and lunch in the dining rooms as well, although we never do. We did very much enjoy the afternoon high tea service, complete with cookies, scones, and sandwiches.
In addition to table service, the Crown Princess also offers buffet style food in the Horizon Court and Cafe Caribe. The Horizon Court offers generic buffet food such as salads, chicken, some sandwiches, fruit, and cheeses. Cafe Caribe has a different theme for each meal, including Biergarten, sushi buffet, or pasta bar. The food at the buffet areas was fine, and we ate breakfast there many days. However, I have never seen buffets so poorly designed in my life. Horizon Court has many little islands and no clear flow of traffic, and Cafe Caribe is even worse, as the buffet line runs in both directions simultaneously. This results in flared tempers and people bumping into each other all over the place. It really took me twenty minutes to get my lunch the two times I attempted the buffet for that meal. Afterward, finding seating was virtually impossible. Everyone seemed to want to eat a mid day meal at the same time we did, and I had to give up on the buffet for lunch after two attempts. Something really needs to be done about these areas.
Fortunately, the Crown Princess offers many other options for getting food quickly during the day. I fell in love with the International Cafe, located in the main atrium. For breakfast and lunch this area serves classy pastries, delicious sandwiches stuffed with mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, and grilled chicken, and decadent cakes and cookies. You simply point out what you would like, usually with no wait. When we were in the mood for something greasier, we really enjoyed the Trident Grill for hot dogs, fries, chicken sandwiches, and burgers. The Pizza stand also provide a quick place to grab some acceptable pizza. On some days, we also encountered an employee running a Chicago-style hot dog stand.
Now, on to the nickel and diming. If you just dont feel like youve spent enough money to go on this cruise, you can pay for one of the food options that cost extra. We stuck to our vow not to do this, because there is really enough food available without paying an extra charge. On Princess, ice cream has an extra charge if ordered outside of the dining room. I believe the cost was around $1.50 for a plain scoop and a whopping $3.75 for a fancy sundae. I actually think it is a little silly that ice cream is not available for free all day. Sushi is available for about $1.00 per piece at Vines wine bar. Some items served at the International Cafe have a charge, particularly appetizers in the early evening hours. You can also dine at the ships two premium restaurants, The Crown Grill and Sabatinis for a $20-$25 per person surplus. Finally, it is proper to tip a couple dollars for room service deliveries. We did do room service once and it was prompt, warm, and generous.
I will start by saying I wasnt completely crazy about the layout of the Crown Princess. Great effort has been made to keep the ship from feeling crowded by dividing it into many very small areas. Even the atrium area seems relatively small to me. The problem with this is that I never felt a sense of awe at the scope of this huge and beautiful ship, and lots of backtracking and going up and down must be performed to get anywhere from anywhere. That said, the public rooms are all very attractive and well-maintained, if a little conservative in decor. Princess has many, many lounges and places to hang out. Heres a quick run-down
Club Fusion - This spacious disco is filled with bright colors and serves as the main spot for dancing and enjoying music.
Explorers Lounge - This large venue provides a place to watch comedians, game shows, and various bands. I enjoyed the comfortable chairs and attractive decor, even though the room wasnt quite large enough for the popular events held here. Arrive at least fifteen minutes before show time to secure a seat. We spent most of our evening time in this lounge.
Skywalkers Night Club - I found this lounge on deck 15 to be a beautiful and creative venue, although we didnt use it much. Various types of music are played nightly, ranging from 70s to country. Be warned: once the ship starts rocking and rolling, so does Skywalkers.
Wheelhouse Bar, Crooners, and Speakeasy Cigar Lounge - These laid back lounges are a good place for a before dinner drink or a game of cards. The atmosphere is much quieter than some of the other areas, with a little piano music or a vocalist here and there.
Adagio Bar - I love the Italian-themed drink menu at Adagio, which is located high above the ocean and next to Sabatinis restaurant. We enjoyed bellinis and a view of the ocean here one evening. Adagio is the most quiet and romantic of the bars and lounges on the Crown Princess.
Princess Theater - This bright red theater is the only room on the whole ship that we found to be a little gaudy. No matter, as the shows that go on here are wonderful. Seating can fill up in the sloped areas, but there was typically plenty to go around on the main floor near the stage up until a minute or two ahead of show time.
Gatsbys Casino - We dont gamble, but this looked like a nice enough casino. It has lots of table games, slot machines, etc. You can put your games on your room card, just to make sure you spend even more money than you typically would!
Lotus Spa and Gym - We took a tour of the spa facilities, and they looked very lush. Treatments, of course, are outrageously expensive. If you dont mind paying top dollar for a couples massage, though, this is the place. The gym is quite nice with tons of elliptical machines and treadmills. Mr_chelledun, being a better person than I, worked out about three times with no waiting. I enjoyed my brisk walk through the gym. A basketball court, small walk-track, putting green and virtual golf simulator are also available for the sports inclined.
Shops - Princess on-board shops are actually quite nice. I was able to get a few toiletry items I needed with little trouble. The jewelry selection was actually pretty tempting, although I try not to spend money on such things on vacation. If you have some cash burning a hole in your pocket, you will find something to spend it on here.
Photo Gallery - Photography on the Crown Princess was a big disappointment. We like to splurge and buy a nice portrait on our cruises, since we so rarely have professional pictures taken. However, the photos taken by Crown photographers were out of focus, oddly posed, and just generally terrible. Some of our pictures couldnt even be found on the wall o photos. This is a big error by the ship, as we went home without spending money on photos where we normally would have.
The Crown Princess has a lovely pool area. The two main pools are fresh water and pretty spacious, and they rarely had anyone in them. Chair hogging was not as bad as I have seen on other ships, perhaps because staff actually enforced the rule that belongings would be moved after an absence of more than thirty minutes. We found the lounging chairs cushiony and comfortable. The main pool had music at sail away times and occasionally during the day at sea. A little more reggae would have been nice.
The other pool offers the alternatively praised/maligned Movies Under the Stars. During the day and at night, recent releases are played on a huge movie screen overlooking the pool decks. These included Pirates of the Caribbean 2, Cars, The Wild, and the like during our cruise. Honestly, the idea of watching Cars in the hot sun of the day does not feel very vacation-like to me. In the evening, the concept makes more sense. We did use the theater once at night to watch a 10:30 showing of The Lake House, complete with blankets and bad popcorn. My husband watched a football game on the screen at one point as well. If you are movie buffs like us, however, you will probably have seen pretty much all the movies. This is how we ended up watching a dreaded Sandra Bullock romance it was the only night time movie all week that we hadnt previously viewed.
Activities and Shows
Princess has an amazing variety of high quality entertainment throughout the day and evening. This is something that makes us want to travel on Princess again in the future, especially when traveling as a couple instead of a large group. The Princess Patters each day list a dizzying variety of computer classes, ice-carving demonstrations, trivia games, and musical performances. Or, you can just sit in the sun, but we are active types. The following are a few highlights from our trip that you should be sure to catch:
1. We saw great comedians throughout the week, both in the welcome show and lounges. The opening night comedian may have actually been the funniest I have ever seen live. Comedy could be seen in one theater or another every night, sometimes more than once.
2. Princess Pop Star, an American Idol take-off, provides great entertainment value throughout the week. We watched the finals, complete with a three-judge panel and audience vote. Some performers were talented, some were not.
3. Every ship has some version of the Marriage Game, and Princesss was quite funny thanks to a hilarious and snarky host.
4. Each seven-day cruise offers two great production shows with music and dancing. Both the ones we saw were good, but Destination Anywhere stands out as my favorite show Ive ever seen on a cruise. These dancers are very talented and the costumes are fabulous to look at.
5. Princess Jeopardy, held on our last sea day, was pretty entertaining. We lost all our money in double jeopardy, but still enjoyed trying to remember the Captains name and identify the flag of the Vatican City.
6. Ive never seen anything quite like the Champagne Fountain on the second formal night. Of course, I took my turn to pour the champagne, which was free. People stand around the atrium, throw streamers, and generally have a good time.
Southern Caribbean Itinerary
We traveled from San Juan to St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Grenada, Bonaire, and Aruba. I found this to be a fabulous itinerary of less-frequently visited islands, and there was never more than one other, smaller, ship in port during our stops. Aruba and St. Kitts were particular favorites of everyone we spoke with.
I booked through Princess for only one island tour in Grenada, due to the short time in that port. We also used Princess transportation to the Atlantis Sub tour in Aruba and the Klein Bonaire island for snorkeling, as the mark-up for this was very small. Other than this, we went on our own, using private vendors for island tours in St. Thomas, St. Kitts, and Aruba. Overall, we enjoyed the Princess tour the least and will not be using them again. The tour was overpriced at $50 per person and used a huge and slow bus with few photo stops. Our private vendors all cost between $15.00 and $25.00 for a route identical to or longer than that used by ship tours. It is very easy to arrange for a tour at port with a little haggling, or you can book ahead online with a private tour operator as I did for St. Thomas. Our experience with Princess tours on this cruise has encouraged me to user private operators for all our Mediterranean ports.
Princess vs. Carnival
After having so much experience with Carnival, it was inevitable that we would compare the two cruise lines throughout our cruise. It was nice to try Princess for a change of pace. To be honest, though, we found the two lines to be more alike than different. Most of the passengers we met were similar, although the crowd on Princess was a little older, with many fewer kids and a large and delightful British contingent of perhaps 20%. Princess nights were more subdued, but this may have been due to the busy five port itinerary as much as the cruise itself. We give a slight edge on dining room food to Princess, although the service at dinner in Anytime Dining was not nearly as good as any of my Carnival experiences. Buffet food is about the same but much easier to get to on Carnival. Princess has many more extra-charge items.
Public areas on Princess are more subdued and attractive, but we love the layout of the promenade deck and vast atriums of Carnival. Rooms also tend to be larger on Carnival. As discussed above, entertainment on Princess was miles above anything Ive experienced on another cruise. Princess itineraries also tend to be a bit more adventurous. Both Carnival and Princess have shopping talks with an annoying emphasis on Del Sol and Diamonds International and lots of games of bingo.
In short, we have enjoyed different things about both cruise lines. Im glad to be cruising again with Princess in July. Considering Princesss higher price point and advertising itself as a luxury line, though, I did not see the dramatic difference between Princess and Carnival that Princess devotees claim. To be honest, the most annoying thing about Princess cruisers was that so many of them insisted on turning up their nose every time we mentioned our past positive experiences on Carnival. Whichever line you pick, you will have a good time as long as you know what to expect going in. Ultimately, it's all about value and itinerary for us, so we will continue to pick whichever line offers the destinations we want at a reasonable price.
We had a great time on the Crown Princess, as we always do when we cruise. I couldnt have been happier with on board activities and entertainment, and the ship looks great. However, the ship does have a few kinks to work out in terms of service, particularly with regard to dining. Hopefully this will be done by the time we board the identical Emerald Princess. I give the Crown Princess four stars, as a great cruise with some potential for improvement.
*Sites to See on the Crown Princess Southern Caribbean Itinerary...
Old San Juan
Fort San Cristobal
Godfrey Tours V.I.
Big Banana Tours
Fort Frederick, Grenada
Natural Bridge in Aruba
*Also, here is my review of the Crown's sister ship, the Emerald Princess.