We flew into Venice with Princess E-Z-Air, using United and Lufthansa, Tulsa - Houston - Frankfurt - Venice. Princess offered a better price than I could find online, trying to put together our own itinerary; all went smoothly. We stayed at the Santa Chiara Hotel, near the bus station at Piazzale Roma, and there was no noise at all from the Piazzale. Our room was very satisfactory for the reasonable rates (Room 305) and when we put our heads out our side window we had a nice view of the Grand Canal. We were so glad we had opted for three days in Venice before embarking on Crown Princess on Dec. 2nd. Some of the many people we had met on the CruiseCritic roll call, were staying at this hotel as well, and we made many wonderful friends even before we embarked. Although the weather was quite cold with grey skies, Venice was magical for me, a unique city not to be missed. My poor husband was exhausted with all the walking around (no cars, only water buses, i.e. vaporetti) that I compelled him to do over three days, but was happy he'd done it, later on!
Although the ship did not leave until 11pm, at 4pm we shared a minivan from our hotel to the terminal, although it was not far. I would not want to walk it with luggage (this includes taking the "people mover" from Piazzale Roma). There were no long lines at 4:30pm, and everyone we were with walked right on through with very quick check-in. We however, got to cool our heels for 45 minutes, waiting while Princess made new cabin key cards for us, as they had lost ours when we went to check-in. We were Platinum category, and had paid to upgrade our oceanview cabin to a balcony on Baja deck mid-ship (this was done before we left home).
We were happy with our location as it was about midway between the aft elevators and the midship (Atrium) elevators. We needed the walking! Our stewardess, Khantiya from Thailand, was friendly and efficient and our special requests (not many) were met promptly; we enjoyed her very much. Princess obviously had not got to our cabin yet as far as refurbishment went. The mattress was fairly tired, and we requested a thick mattress pad to place on our king bed. Khantiya had not one, but two, on the bed in under three hours, and it made all the difference. The fridge was not cooling at all well, but I let it go for the first week. Then it practically stopped cooling at all; our request for repair, to the Passenger Services desk, resulted in a repairman coming within an hour. After an inspection, he left and returned promptly with parts, and the job was done. He even returned in two hours to see if it was cooling the contents alright. Our only other problem was a bad knocking in the wall behind the fridge whenever we had rolling seas, and it was annoying enough to keep me awake for awhile for several nights. One carpenter came and could not discover the problem; however he returned later, and although we were out of the cabin most of the day, by the next night and from then on we did not hear it.... well done.
We were able to enjoy Horizon Court buffets with no restrictions for the first week, but then as the dreaded Norovirus struck, we had waiters helping us to whatever we wanted, and no salt & pepper on the tables. Although the portions were not always what one wanted, the staff did as well as they could under the circumstances. This was our first time for Anytime Dining, and we had no complaints. We ate at various times, either 6 or 7pm, and always had a satisfactory table, with waiters who did quite well. We were able to eat dinner with many different friends we had met both before and during the cruise, and this was a pleasant difference from our fixed seating/dining time on our previous cruises. The food was of a good standard, although I was surprised to see the Fettucini Alfredo on every evening's menu (along with a varied choice of pastas as alternatives). The Parmesan basket for the F.Alfredo was delicious. My husband was very disappointed to see that a sirloin burger had replaced the filet steak "medallion" as a choice available for every meal. I know Princess is looking for ways to cut corners, but most cruise lines seem to have cut just about as much as they can, without compromising their standards we have all come to expect for our money, and this was a sad one indeed. I have a sweet tooth, and looked forward to the wonderful variety of desserts we have had in the past on Princess cruises, but it was noticeable this time that the variety had very much decreased. The escargot were as tasty as ever, but the lobster tail was much smaller and not as tender as on previous cruises.
I enjoyed the book club meetings, and we were very fortunate to have a well-known author on board, so quite a few of us were reading her books as well as the Princess Book Club choice (Gone Girl; not my cup of tea). One accomplished lady who works for one of the three top mobile carriers, gave a most useful talk on using the iPad and iPhones; this was great, I hope Princess snaps her up as a permanent lecturer. My husband and I love the Trivias, and this cruise did not disappoint; it helped to have great team-mates, lots of fun. The lady with the craft classes was also very good, and one had to come 30 minutes early to find a seat. The evening entertainment has slipped a bit. It's been often mentioned in reviews, that the shows have been cut from 45 to 30 minutes. We are active over 65's, and the 30 minutes seemed quite short; even 40 minutes would be good.
Mostly, we went on tours with friends which were privately arranged; we do enjoy the smaller groups. The weather in the three Italian ports was quite cold in December and we were glad we had brought our long-johns, hats and gloves. As ports go, once stopping at Cannes (Monaco & Monte Carlo)was enough, although I thoroughly enjoyed the medieval hilltop vollage of Eze, just not enough time there. We did this trans-Atlantic in April (also on Crown Princess, 14 days) from Ft Lauderdale to Rome, and the stop at Marseilles had more tours of interest in our opinion. The stop in the Azores was a first, and we would love to go back; what a beautiful island. The four hours we had in Lisbon was much too short; what a great city. At least on our April cruise we had a whole day there, and enjoyed the hop-on hop-off bus for overview; and a long stop at St Geronimo Monastery and the excellent Maritime Museum there. Our culinary tour in Rome was also excellent; Eating Italy Food Tours, with Sarah as a guide. There was a lot of walking around the Testaccio area, where most tourists don't go. The shops with delicious samples were interspersed with other historically interesting places. Most remarkable to us was Monte Testaccio, a large manmade hill consisting of two-thousand-year-old broken bits of terracotta olive oil amphora-like containers tossed away on the "trash heap"(this was a market area from Rome's earliest days). The train round-trip from Civitavecchia to Ostiense station in Rome, was on time, and we bought our tickets online before we left home.
We enjoyed both of our Crown Princess trans-Atlantics in 2012, and were fortunate enough not to contract Norovirus. The staff were taking all the right precautions and spraying and disinfecting everywhere. We washed our hands constantly, used only our cabin restroom 98% of the time; and I brought a spray can of Lysol which kills viruses as well as bacteria. Twice daily I sprayed the doorhandles on both sides, the light switches, and the john. I would highly recommend everyone to do this. Norovirus is spread mostly by touch (keep off the bannister rails and slot machines if poss!) but the cold virus is spread by thoughtless people mixing in when still contagious, going on tours etc., coughing and then touching everything.... despite our precautions we both came down with very bad colds, and spent three days keeping to ourselves in our cabin; we brought the common meds with us, and ZiCam lessened my symptoms a lot.
Despite this, we thoroughly enjoyed our long cruise, and met many outstanding people. We may do it again next Nov. or Dec.!