Let me begin by saying that I am now a fan of cruising and will cruise again in the future, but will most definitely cruise on different lines / ships until I find one that exceeds my expectations. With that said, the Crown Princess did not meet my expectations in some areas (based on pre-cruise marketing materials and information directly from Princess, and the on-board experience) and exceeded my expectations in other areas.
Embarkation: Exciting process for my first cruise and walking onto the ship for the first time was wonderful. Princess greets you with a smile! When first arriving, read the signs carefully, especially the very small ones that are hung in difficult to find locations. If you do not, you will most likely end up lugging your luggage to your own stateroom or lugging it back down the stairs to find the drop off. Don't be afraid to ask questions of the staff, but be prepared for the staff member to not know the answer. Staff have been assigned specific duties and may not know all the duties, so may not be able to answer your question. (Please ask nicely - they are there to help you and make your journey special - I noticed so many passengers treat the staff negatively - their work is important and passengers are not superior to staff.) Embarkation was efficient and Princess knows how to move passengers quickly.
Room: Choosing a mini-suite was a financial challenge, but I am very thankful that I did. In this area, the room exceeded expectations. The bed was comfortable, lots of counter space and storage areas, two televisions, spacious closet space, large bath, desk, couch, chair, table, perfect space for 7 nights. Maybe a smaller room would have been just as nice, so I hope I haven't spoiled myself for future cruises. If money is not an issue, choosing a mini-suite is the way to go. It is perfect for two people and it was nice to return to at the end of the day. Having a large bathtub/shower may have been worth the extra dollars. Not sure if the smaller rooms have a refrigerator in the room, but this was a nice amenity. On the other hand, I spoke with another passenger that cruises often and always books the cheapest room because she does not spend much time in the room and still receives all of the same activities/dining as mini-suite passengers. A shout out to our Cabin Steward - he was attentive, always had a greeting and smile, and promptly provided when asked. The balcony - a wonderful amenity and used often. The blue mat was prickly, so wear your shoes/slippers on the balcony, but thankful for the relaxing experiences / views from our balcony.
Dining: This was the most disappointing aspect of my cruise on Crown Princess. The literature, the marketing materials, and reviews all led me to believe that the food and experience would be something special, even 5 star quality. That was certainly not the case. The food lacked in overall quality, taste and presentation. One night I ordered a Pear-Stilton Salad and what I received was, picture this, a white salad plate with small pieces of chopped canned pear and small scraps of Stilton strewn about the plate with a few pecans for color. It was at the most maybe 1 piece of canned pear and 1/2 ounce of Stilton. It was a joke - literally laugh out loud plating - that I took a photo and may post. If you like cheese though you will always have the opportunity to eat a square of Cheddar or Edam as it was served at every buffet meal. I saw asparagus once on the entire cruise and then I only received 3 small stalks (which were overcooked). Never saw a bit of crab, but did have lobster one night - just a small tail, but at least it was served. As for the steak don't expect it to be a good cut or cooked properly. The staff of the Horizon Court Buffet were always helpful, but the Horizon Court Buffet is not open 24 hours, so if you think you will have a buffet open to you around the clock this is not true. However, you can get cookies, pre-mixed meat or seafood salads (chicken, tuna or other) or paninis (don't bother) 24 hours in the "International Cafe." One night the Horizon Court Buffet was closed, so all passengers were directed to the Cafe Caribe. We were not to happy having to wait in a long buffet line. No explanation was provided - this may have helped - many passengers were "disgruntled." Our party chose the "Anytime Dining" option and we appreciated the opportunity to eat when we wanted. We enjoyed the "Bier-fest" themed night - the food for this special evening was delicious.
Lotus Spa: If you are a spa person - lower your expectations. The spa is co-ed, lacks solitude / quiet, and is truly an "up-sell" experience. If you order a 50 minute facial, expect 20 minutes of discussion (skin type, product sales) and only 30 minutes of mediocre facial work. I cancelled my massage because the facial was so disappointing. I also did the Go Smile teeth whitening process and purchased the up sell. I would suggest skipping this experience and save the $400 for something that is more meaningful. If you can get the spa to give you a DIY (Do it Yourself) body scrub, the Orange Vanilla was spectacular. I took it back to my room and enjoyed a hot shower and the scrub. Get two if they will give it to you. If you are a sensitive, large woman/man, be prepared to hear spa staff openly talk about how "soft" most passengers are. It was certainly something I did not expect to hear, or appreciate, and was quite offended. TIP: The spa robe was nice, so I would suggest getting a robe from the Spa to use in your cabin (just remember to return the robe to the spa on your last day.)
Excursions: We enjoyed all of the excursions. The literature was different from the experience, but that was ok - we were on an excursion, in a foreign county, experiencing something different and so went with the flow and enjoyed it all. Our tour guides were all fantastic. Our next trip to Cozumel we plan to not do any excursions, but simply enjoy walking around, shopping and eating local cuisine. The excursions were a bit overpriced for what you receive, but it was an easy way to see the countries and not have to research on our own.
Bingo: four games, expensive, crowded and predictable. If you have the "free bingo card" coupon - expect to purchase the most expensive pack to get your one free card. Daubers for $1.50 make a great souvenir - as they have a picture of the Crown Princess on it.
Casino: Fun entertainment - don't expect to win anything and you will enjoy the entertainment; electronic poker table was interesting; loved the Caribbean stud and open face blackjack. All of the dealers were professional and friendly.
Games: Always something to do - trivia, tv game shows like games etc. Fun - cruise staff very bubbly and make the experience enjoyable. Don't forget to check out the small putt putt course.
Movies Under the Stars: I was looking forward to this activity the most and found myself highly disappointed - I guess I set my expectations way to high on this. The pre-cruise email from princess stating the movies that would be shown during our cruise was incorrect - we never saw any of the movies promised, but they did show "Breakfast at Tiffany's." If you like soda, popcorn and candy while you watch a movie, bring your own soda and candy (you can purchase candy in the giftshop) or get some cookies from the international cafe. A small bag of popcorn will be provided if you ask. The screen is big and the lounge chairs comfortable. We had no problems hearing the movie either. Get there early if you want to sit next to your loved one. Try not to sit behind/near the hot tub or you will get sprays of water often. Unfortunately for us during one evening movie, the ship staff decided to do something with the sewage, so we were subjected to some pretty awful odors. Not sure what that was about and hope if doesn't happen to you.
Entertainment: Spectacular! Don't miss the crew show - lots of fun! The Princess Theater was spacious. Arrive at least 15 minutes early to get a seat or 25 minutes early if you like a certain spot to sit. Suggestion: Move to the middle of a row so that others can fill in and not have empty seats. Don't leave a single seat between you and the party beside you - sit in the chair next to your fellow passenger - it is polite and leave more seating room for those that arrive one minute before show time. Enjoy this part of the cruise - we did and Princess does this right.
Disembarkation: Easy process. We packed the night before and were ready to go in the morning. We chose the Easy Walk-Off process and it was easy. We left the ship and 7:30am and were in our car on and the road by 9:00. Again, Princess has highly structured/efficient people moving process that works. Follow the instructions and your experience will be smooth. TIP: Get a copy of your account statement the night before. The line can get long, so if you see a short line at customer service desk - jump in the line.
I feel very blessed for this opportunity and I thankful for the vacation. I am now a cruiser and will cruise again. Will I choose Princess again - maybe.