Overview Being familiar with Princess and this class of ship, there were no surprises. Everything seemed generic and functioned properly for the most part (exceptions below). I wouldn't call this a luxury cruise, as it isn't intended to be. For an above average cruise it did just fine, and we enjoyed the trip. Princess offers a good product, and we got what we expected.
Being Elite does have its privileges... Embarkation could not have been easier. We arrived at the terminal at 11:15, dropped our luggage off, parked the car and were in the terminal by 11:45. We were whisked over to the elite lounge and on the ship by 12:05. Baggage was up at the room, within a few hours. One thing of note, while we were standing on our balcony, we noticed that the luggage handlers had accidently dropped a suitcase in the water. They spent about an hour trying to get it out, and it was like watching a 3 Stooges movie.
The ship is in adequate shape. All the public areas are in fairly good repair, and they were making an effort to install new carpet and update parts of the ship while we were on it. This is great for the people on the next cruises, but this also meant they needed to close off areas at times.
This is my second cruise with Lisa Ball as cruise director. While I tend not to do too many things that involve interacting with her, I found her to be lacking when we were on the Ruby. She seemed to be doing things just because they were required, and not like she enjoyed her job. I have friends that were on their first cruise with us on this ship, and they were put off by Lisa, as she had snubbed them and was rude to them. From my experiences with her, I don't doubt it. She needs to be retired.
The majority of the staff in the dining rooms and shipboard was friendly and helpful. You can tell that Princess has reduced the number of staff in the buffet and in the rooms, as the service wasn't as personal as it has been on previous ships due to understaffing. Some mornings it was difficult to get someone to bring juice / coffee as there was no one in sight. However, once we found the people we needed to, they were always courteous, helpful and gracious.
We started in the Botticelli dining room for the first night or two, but found ourselves tired and not up to waiting for late seating by the end of the trip, so several of our dinners were up at the Horizons buffet. After a few Princess cruises, the food is the same and nothing special. (Talk about first world whining I am complaining because I am tired of having gourmet food). We found that many of the dishes that we liked in the main dining room found their way up to the Horizon, so there wasn't much we felt like we had missed. And, since we had begged the head waiter to bring us the escargot the second night, we were quite happy.
I had not done Sabatini's since they changed the menu, and we found the dinner there to be awful; So bad that we told friends of ours not to dine there and requested a refund from Princess for the cover charge. The calamari was greasy, the tomato sauce on the pasta had the same sweet sauce found on the pizza near the pool, and the lobster 3 ways was inedible: The risotto was undercooked, the lobster was overcooked, and the sauce was lacking in flavor. Having been to Italy, and having had authentic Italian food, I can say this was not. The wine list was minimal, and we ended up getting a 30 dollar bottle of wine presented with the bottle cap to sniff. However, the server was wonderful, and the atmosphere was quite nice.
The Chef's Table was an enjoyable experience as usual. It was a bit different than the one on the Emerald, as the galley tour seemed rushed. Granted we were happy to get to the appetizers and champagne, but I enjoyed hearing about the galley the last time we had done this. As there was no sommelier on this ship, (or if there was we never saw him), the wine was presented by the matre de. The appetizers were pretty much the same ones we had had on the emerald, but the displays were quite nice on this ship. The dinner consisted of the usual suspects: pasta, lemon ice with vodka, cheese and figs, insane desserts, and the main course on this table was a combination of veal shank, and steak. There was no lobster, and having been unimpressed with the lobster at Sabatini's, I did miss it.
The wine bar across from the International Cafe was a fun place to end up at before dinner. They served sushi and/or tapas, and wine by the glass. You did not have the option of ordering the sushi and sashimi separately. They serve a few wine tasters, with 3 or 4 half glasses of different wines for about 9 dollars each.
As usual, the international cafe was great, filled with wonderful pastries, deserts, and salads. When I purchased my coffee card the first day, I asked them if they had the different flavors of brewed coffee, such as Jamaican Blue. When I had been on the Ruby the previous summer, the machine was broken. The person selling me the card said they did, but when I went to get one the next day, I was told they no longer had different flavors of coffee because that machine was broken and had been removed. The coffee in the dining room is still pretty much undrinkable, however a friend suggested that if we mix the caffeinated with the decaf, it gets a better flavor. We may have to try that next cruise.
This was my first time in a mini suite, and I must say that having a bathroom and a couch were wonderful.. a whole new feeling in cruising. The room was large and comfortable, and we had the end cabin which has the extended balcony. The room was a little dated, and in need of a update. The bathroom fixtures were old, and the drain stoppers in both the sink and bathtub had to be manually removed as the plunger did not work. One evening the toilet stopped flushing, and the Princess staff was quick to get it fixed.
Our cabin steward was very impersonal and not as friendly as I am used to having. We never really enjoyed him as we have others in the past. He did everything that he needed to, except that he wouldn't clear empty bottles or plates from the room unless we specifically moved them into the hallway. This was a problem the night they delivered canapes and we were out, and then left early the next morning without eating them. They were still in the room the following night and smelled a bit off.
Cabin Entertainment (movies, tv)
One thing that is nice about Princess is that the entertainment in the cabins is usually up to date and new releases are offered. It is also one of the few places that Princess does not try to upsell anything, and there is no Pay-Per-View (don't get any Ideas Princess), so when we wanted to retire to the cabin and hide away from the rest of the world and watch a movie or TV, we were typically able to find something to entertain us that didn't cost us additional money.
I love the Sanctuary on these ships. Generally the first thing I do when I board is go up and reserve chairs there for the entirety of the cruise. Even though there are plenty of days we don't get to use them, specifically port days, it is still worth the price, and is nice to have those chairs reserved.
On past cruises, the staff at the Sanctuary was usually the highlight of the cruise for us. This cruise was no different. They were all wonderful, friendly, and always went the extra step to make sure people were enjoying the area.
I am not sure if it is a new addition, or if we just missed it in the past, but they had tea service in the afternoons up in the sanctuary. It was a very nice way to end the afternoons up there with friends.
The only problem we had with this area on this cruise was not the fault of anyone in the Sanctuary itself. Due to construction on parts of the front of the ship, it was impossible to sit out there the last sea day of the cruise due to the smell and sounds of drilling, soldering, and painting.
As I said, we tend to enjoy the quite on sea days, and are not big fans of the bands that blast music at the pool or listening to concerts at Muts, which is why we booked the sanctuary. The average age of people on this cruise seemed a bit higher than normal for a 7 night, and we found the music to be exceptionally loud, so loud that the pool areas were not nearly as full as usual. We could hear the live band up at the sanctuary, which to me meant it needed to be made a bit lower.
The Lotus spa has a 10-20-30 program that we signed up for: 10 % of the first service, 20% off the second and 30% off the third. We did this, and signed up for a couples massage as the third service, which made it quite affordable. We planned on having it up in the sanctuary on the last sea day, but as described earlier, we were unable to, due to construction, so we had it down in the normal area.
The massages were wonderful, and quite enjoyable. The only negative has to do with the upselling they try to do. They push very hard for you to buy the products that they say will change your life, but for the most part are just overly expensive. We had a problem where the spa attendant did not speak English very well, and couldn't or wouldn't take no as an answer to the 260 dollar upsell of skin products. It required that I bring them back and see the manager to return them.
No problems at all with internet.
This seemed to go smoother than most have in the past. Groups were called at the times listed, and we had no problem finding our luggage, getting a porter and getting through customs. We left the ship at 8:40, and were out at our car by 9:15.
With the low prices out of Galveston, and decent ports, the Crown Princess was an affordable quick vacation that met most of our expectations. While I have listed many problems above, these weren't deal breakers, and were more just little things that could easily be addressed. Compared to the Eastern Caribbean, that really goes nowhere at all, the ports of call on this trip are fun, the ship provides a good vehicle to get there, and a pleasant time while doing so.