Background: My wife and I (early 50's) took a 7 day Western Caribbean cruise, out of Galveston, on the Crown Princess. The voyage took place January 26th through February 2nd. This is the 11th cruise for my wife and I, and our second with Princess. We have also cruised with Carnival (7 times), Royal Caribbean (once), and Celebrity (once).
Embarkation: We drove down to Galveston, on Saturday, the day of the cruise, and experienced virtually no traffic, arriving around 10:30 A.M. I had booked (and paid online for) parking with Lighthouse Parking. They are $50 for the seven days, versus $65 for the Port Authority parking. They took us, and our luggage, directly to the cruise terminal where a porter took it away. I would definitely recommend their service. We entered the terminal at 10:40 and within 15 minutes we had been fully processed, and were given a Group #1 boarding pass. We had to wait, in a seating area, for an hour before we were finally allowed to board. They said they were running about 40 minutes behind, because there was a lack of customs agents causing the prior cruise debarkation to be behind. No big deal. We ended up having lunch at 12:15 P.M., after dropping off our carry-on luggage in our room.
Ship: The ship is extremely large (114,000 tons) and it can be quite confusing initially. The most important thing to remember is that decks 7 (Promenade), and 15 (Lido) go from one end of the ship to another. The others have a roadblock somewhere that may force you to go up or down to go around them. The ship, while slightly worn in a few areas, was in great shape. I won't go into the specifics of ship, since they can be seen in the brochure, and are spelled out in so many other reviews..
Cabin: We had an obstructed view cabin (Category FF) on the Emerald deck. Our cabin number was E415 and it is exactly in the middle of the ship, directly above the shops. It is right next to the middle elevators, but we didn't hear any noise from the elevators or people waiting for them. Even though the cabin is supposed to have a "fully" obstructed view, that was really not the case. We had ZERO obstruction outside our window, unless you were on top of the window and looked down. Then, you could see a landing and some of the Promenade deck. We had no problems seeing the water below or the islands from our window. A big "knock" against this room was that at random times there would be a LOUD metal clanging coming from outside. It happened quite a bit in the early morning and was quite disturbing. Also, we had the air conditioning set to the lowest level throughout the cruise, and mid-day the temperature was a bit warmer than we would have liked. Other times it was comfortable, but you could never really say it ever got cold in the room. The room was laid out well, and we had plenty of storage space. I definitely liked the large space to hang things up. The bed was definitely firm as stated by many, and we had a hard time getting restful sleep. The bathroom was extremely well laid out, but the shower was tiny. I'm a pretty big guy and it was definitely claustrophobic. Plus, the shower head was at my neck level, so I had to do a limbo-like act to wash my hair. The room had a refrigerator in which we stored our own stash. We brought on a 12 pack of water and a six pack of Ginger Ale, in one of our carry ons.
Dining: We were assigned table 123 in the Botticelli dining room for the traditional second seating (8:15 P.M.). The Botticelli dining room is located in the far back (aft) of the ship, while the two Anytime dining rooms are in the middle of the ship. The table of eight assigned to us was very close to the restaurant entrance. Our two waiters were marvelous. They were Raul (from the Philippines) and Vitalii (from the Ukraine). These two made dining such a pleasure, since they were both efficient and friendly. Every request was happily done and we never wanted for anything. The food, while not great, was consistently good. But, count me as one who is not a big fan of the changes in the menus, since we last cruised Princess. It seemed like they moved a few more items into the "always available", while shortening the list of rotating items. This especially seemed to affect the appetizers and desserts. The rotating selections were slimmed down to three each, and most of the time they didn't appeal to me. I ended up eating a lot more shrimp cocktail and Caesar salads than I would have liked. Also, my wife and I agreed that the Italian night (Tuesday) was absolutely horrible. We ordered three entrees (between us), and not one was edible. Next time, when that menu is scheduled, we will definitely skip the dining room.
The buffets at the Horizon Court and the Carib Cafe were very good. I don't see how people compare this food to the Golden Corral or Luby's. The breakfast had all the usual fare, and it was all very good. They had a smoked fish daily, made to order omelet's, and all the baked goods were very good. I enjoyed having the staff serve us our drinks, and they were all very polite. The lines didn't seem too bad, even during the busiest times. The lunches were top notch and we didn't have a problem finding quality food to eat. We sampled the buffets for dinner right when they opened (5:30 P.M.) a couple of nights, just for a small helping, since we came back late from port a few times and couldn't wait till late seating. I would say that around 50% of the nightly items on the Main Dining Room (MDR) menu can be found in the buffet. The food I sampled was very good. I really enjoyed the tri-tip roast, short ribs, and bouillabaisse. The pizza was excellent (thin crust), while the Lido Grill had the usual BBQ deck fare. We enjoyed the International Cafe (Deck 5) for small snacks and desserts. My wife absolutely adored the gelato ($1.50 for three scoops), and got a few iced teas from the pay coffee bar. The desserts on board were really good. Not only did they look good, but they tasted good also. For this trip, we did not eat at the specialty restaurants, Sabatini's or the Crown Grill.
Service: In a word, EXCELLENT. It started with our waiters, in the main dining room, to all the staff on the ship. I rarely saw a dirty table in the Lido dining room, and they were constantly on top of things. The majority of the bar staff was not pushy, and quickly and efficiently processed the drink orders, usually with a smile. The general attitude of the ship staff was extremely upbeat and they seemed to take great pride in what they were doing. Kudos to management for keeping their employees motivated and happy, especially during the trying times.
Entertainment: We saw the majority of the scheduled entertainment and most were well done. Please remember this is neither Las Vegas nor Broadway, so temper your expectations. The three production shows (Disco, Cole Porter, and eclectic themed) had very good dancing and choreography, and excellent vocals by the four main singers. They only run around 35 minutes each. They were fine for after dinner entertainment. I would have to say that they are definitely geared more towards the elder set. Many songs predated me, and I'm no spring chicken. One disappointment was that they only had one "true" comedian (Scott Wyler) for the entire week. They had 2 real bands, one three piece (Sol Play) and one four piece (Goodtimes, Inc.), with female singers. Goodtimes was a bit more Rock & Roll, but both played a lot of contemporary music. The singer from Sol Play was unbelievable. They also had a 2 piece Steel Drum group, that had a very Caribbean vibe, and they played often in the Piazza. The Wheelhouse bar had a duo, that wasn't our favorite. And, of course they had a piano bar singer, who we hardly ever went to. One or both of the larger bands played in the the main rooms (Explorer Lounge or Club Fusion) every night. Lots of music. We enjoyed listening to them after the late production shows. Also, there was always the disco, in Skywalkers, run by a DJ, into the late hours of the night. The ship also had some variety acts in the Atrium (juggler, musical stylings, theme nights, etc.) that we saw if timing was right. The ship seems to slow down around 11:00 P.M., so any activity after that didn't seem well attended.
Activities: We participated in very few of the activities. I attended a few trivia contests, but wasn't a winner. Most of the activities were typical for all cruise lines (ice carving, pool games, bingo, etc.) that we passed on. My wife and I were volunteered/selected to participate in the "Love and Marriage" game show, which is a knock-off the 1970's game show, "The Newlywed Game". The show was hosted by the always seen, and very witty, assistant cruise director Dan Appleby. We won and were given prizes that were worth hundreds of pennies, if that. He is SO much more personable then the current CD, Lisa Ball. She seemed very phony to me and looked to go through the motions when dealing with the passengers. I can see Dan being a CD in the very near future. He was one fun guy. There were very few children on board, and they did not cause any problems, that I saw.
Ports: We have already been to Cozumel, and I highly recommend purchasing a shore excursion outside of the cruise lines. With a little online detective work you can get exactly the excursion that interests you at a price 1/3 to 1/2 cheaper than the cruise line. According to an inside source, the cruise line skims that amount of money and more, right off the top, from your excursion ticket price. Also, you can skip the large crowds, the obligatory extra long shopping stops, and the inevitable waiting around, as I'm sure most people would prefer.
Roatan:. Read great reviews about a tour company, so I booked the "Fun-n-Sun" excursion with Victor Bodden tours. They said we would be in a big van, but our group of four ended up having a "private" tour with a wonderful tour guide by the name of Kayla. She was very sweet and drove us in her air-conditioned min-van around the island. We saw all the sites and went to Victor's little zoo, where we interacted animals, including capuchin monkeys and toucans. We then stopped for a couple of hours at Bananarama beach resort where we had lunch and drinks. The beach area was small, and a bit crowded, but very nice. The resort did charge us $10 pp, but that included full resort access and a welcome drink. Kayla then showed us a little more of the island before dropping us back at the port. The 5+ hour tour only cost us $25 pp, but we also gave Kayla a nice tip for providing us with a wonderful experience. I would definitely recommend this tour, but the tour guide really makes the tour. So, if going ask for Kayla.
Belize: Read great reviews about another tour company, so I booked a cave tubing excursion with Vitalino Reyes of cavetubing.bz. The cost ($50) was half the price of a similar excursion that the cruiseline was offering. I had a wonderful time, and we got even more than the cruise line excursion. Our tour guides Axel and Lionel were a wealth of knowledge and really did their best to provide everyone a great time. We ended up going through three caves, while most other excursions went through two. They also had new equipment. We also had a very nice lunch (included) at Vitalino's restaurant, and were supplied drinks and rum punch. No worries about the time, since our guides were well aware of when the last ship tender was leaving. I would highly recommend their services.
Cozumel: When we arrived in Cozumel the weather was not very good. The sky was overcast and it was raining. We braved the elements and took a cab to Paradise Beach resort. The cab ride was $14 one-way for up to four passengers. We ended up staying a couple of hours and had lunch, underneath a huge palapa of one of the bars. The food was good, but the weather didn't look like it was clearing so we took a cab ride back to the port.
Debarkation: In a word, EASY. Due to fact that we were in no hurry to get back to Fort Worth, we decided to put our bags out the night before, and not do self-assist. I asked for a later debarkation time available and was given tags that equated to a 9:30 A.M departure time. We finished breakfast at around 9:10 A.M., and headed to the assigned lounge. At 9:20 our color luggage tag was called to disembark the ship. We grabbed a porter, gathered our bags and went through customs, all in about 10 minutes. The Lighthouse Parking bus was waiting, and within another 10 minutes we were in our car and on the way home.
Final Thoughts: Even though I pointed out some deficiencies, my wife and I had a really good time on the cruise. I feel that if you go in with a good attitude, and roll with the punches, then how can you not have a good time. Both the Princess cruise line and the Crown Princess ship are very well run and know how to give the customer a solid, positive cruising experience. This cruise was a great value and allowed us to experience places that we would not otherwise see. I would definitely take a Princess cruise again.