We are a family of five with three teenage kids ages 19, 15 and 11 and this was our third spring break cruise in a row. Our previous two cruises were on the Norwegian Star and Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas, so we are gaining a pretty well rounded perspective and experience of what each cruise line has to offer. We enjoyed our previous two cruises and enjoyed this cruise on the Crown Princess as well. Each cruise line has strengths and weaknesses, and my review of the Crown Princess will be from that comparative perspective.
Port of Galveston
Getting to the port of Galveston from the Houston airport was unreasonably expensive and inconvenient. If I relied on the cruise line's own transfer, it would cost $37 per person each way, which for a family of 5 would cost me $370! I spent more time trying to find a cheaper transfer option than I did planning the cruise itself. Other cruisers have had success getting one-way car rentals to/from Galveston using Enterprise but that option was no longer available.
I ended up finding a cheap car rental from Houston Hobby. We arrived two days before the cruise so a nine-day full size car rental with tax was only $188. I actually paid $50 to park my rental car for the week at Park N Cruise. With gas my total cost was about $250 round trip for 5 people. Plus we had the use of a car (we went to visit NASA and shopped at Wal-Mart for pre cruise items), and we were able to depart for the airport right after disembarking without waiting for a bus.
It is silly that a weekly car rental plus parking and gas is cheaper than van service to/from Galveston and the Cruise lines need to figure out a cheaper way to get their passengers to the port. Adding hundreds of dollars for an airport transfer is ridiculous and I will never cruise out of Galveston again.
Smooth and orderly on both ends. We were impressed how early we were allowed to our rooms. We boarded at about 1pm and our rooms were ready, bags arrived shortly thereafter. This was way earlier than we have experienced on other ships we've sailed. It was also a welcome change to do the muster drill while seated in the Club Fusion lounge rather standing in the hot sun like on other cruise lines.
We used "express walk off" for disembarking and were out of customs by 8:00 am.
The Crown Princess is a large, beautiful ship, and like NCL and RCL ships it is designed to appeal to many types of cruisers. As such, the four different pool areas each have their own vibe and appeal. At the front of the ship is the Sanctuary, a fee for entry adults only retreat with private cabanas and massages. The most forward main pool area is the party pool with live bands, sexy leg contests and other fun activities. The other main pool is quieter, and has multiple levels and the Movies Under the Stars screen, which plays movies and concerts even during the day, when it is almost impossible to see the screen in the bright sunlight. My favorite is a smaller pool at the aft of the ship, which is surrounded by balconies that enjoy a great view of the ocean beyond the stern.
While Royal Caribbean ships emphasize sports (rock walls, wave simulators, mini golf) and Norwegian emphasizes entertainment (Blue Man Group, Legends of Rock, etc), Princess's signature item is the Movies Under the Stars. We really enjoyed the drive in movie like experience, however on some upper levels one must view the screen through Plexiglas railings. They provide some cozy blankets because it can get pretty chilly and windy at night.
The Piazza was a nice area, but nowhere near as impressive as the interior promenade "avenues" on the RCL ships. I miss hanging out in a cafe watching people walk by on the RCL promenade. On the Crown it was often difficult to find a spot to see the performances held in the Piazza as the pretty spiral staircases don't make very good bleachers.
We booked three separate staterooms for our family of five. An aft Aloha deck 12 balcony (category BD) for us, and two side-by-side ocean view staterooms (no triple cabins were left) for the kids.
We had mini suites on our previous cruises and the standard balcony stateroom was fine, basically a smaller version of what we were used to. The beds were very comfortable and the bathrooms and showers were small but efficient. The flat screen TV had a large selection of movies, TV shows and other programs. The mini fridge had ample room, as it fit the entire case of Coke Zero I brought aboard with room to spare.
Our balcony was relatively small, but private. It's worth noting that the balconies on decks 9 or 10 extend out wide over the tops of the lifeboats so their views are not obstructed, but this leaves those balconies fully exposed to the decks above. I personally wouldn't like this lack of privacy, and actually saw some people from higher decks dropping ice cubes on the lower balconies. Not cool!
Our cabin steward (Rodgie) was excellent. Very personable and kept the room neat and clean. There were no towel animals but I never cared for that gimmick anyways. The nightly chocolates were good enough for me.
The ocean view rooms were the same as ours except for the good sized windows in place of the balcony. Ours were obstructed view but still had plenty of visibility over the tops of the lifeboats. Overall the rooms were fine with no issues.
We elected anytime dining and split our dinners between the DaVinci main dining room and the buffet. Overall we ranked the food on the Crown Princess as "hit or miss" with some items excellent, some good, and some not so good. The dining room menu was mostly very good with some glaring exceptions. For example, my wife ordered a prime rib and was served a cut that was two thirds fat. She should have sent it back or gotten another one but she's not that type. I wish I had taken a picture of it to send to Princess. We were also not impressed that margarine, not butter was served with the bread. There were many very good items though, especially the lobster tail, salmon, scallops and other seafood items. The beef wellington was very good too.
The desserts were OK, but seemed to have a sweetness level lower than American palettes are accustomed. We noticed that the pastry chefs were Asian, and since we travel to Asia often, we have noticed that lower sugar desserts are common there.
Service in the dining room was efficient, timely and polite. At the hour we usually ate (around 7:00 pm) the waiters were so busy there seemed to be no time for them to chat with the guests. They did a great job of getting our orders of multiple courses correct and brought them out promptly and hot. Props to the maitre d who went out of his way twice to find us a table earlier than the ATD guests were supposed to be admitted to the DaVinci DR.
The buffet selections were smaller than on other ships, but the quality was pretty good. Some of the MDR selections were also offered in the dinner buffet. I liked that smoked salmon was offered each breakfast, however quiches were served cold! Very strange.
The buffet layout and traffic pattern is the worst I've seen. There are three separate enclosed buffet areas in which you are forced to follow through a narrow, crowded line with a specific entrance and exit. There is little opportunity to "browse" the food selections since you are trapped in the buffet line. This design also makes returning for seconds problematic, as one has to cut in line to retrieve a specific item.
The New York style pizza slices served on the pool deck are very good and quite popular. People are seen eating pizza slices all over the ship, including in the buffet and at MUTS. The burgers at the Trident grill were also excellent.
The specialty coffees at the International Cafe were very good and reasonably priced, however for some reason regular coffee is not offered there. Regular coffee (which was also very good) was ONLY available at the buffet on deck 15. This is a major oversight since coffee lovers like us would appreciate access to regular coffee in more than one place on such a big ship. We always enjoyed regular coffees at the cafes on RCL and NCL. Princess needs to fix this.
We all got soda cards, which at $36 pp I believe are cheaper than other lines. It was nice that the wait staff was usually OK with only one of us digging the card out of our pockets, and were usually prompt at bringing the sodas despite no additional tip. We have had problems being neglected before, especially on NCL.
I will start off by saying that our cruise director Kelvin Joy was the best we have had. He was very entertaining, had a great sense of humor and was a great master of ceremonies for many of the ships events. Kelvin just returned to the Crown for our cruise and relieved the previous CD whom wasn't getting very good comments from previous CC reviews I have read. Kelvin, Colin the assistant CD, and CJ the DJ hosted most of the events on the ship and were all very funny. The staff performs a skit at the end of the crew show that is hilarious and is a must see.
The main theater shows were excellent, with great singing, dancing and costumes. While the song and dance numbers were enjoyable, they were all very short, only 30 to 40 minutes long in order to fit three shows in per night. The Crown may need to do three shows due to the smaller size of its theater, which we heard only fits about a third of the ships passengers. In spite of its size, we never had to wait for a seat in the theater and it filled to capacity only on the last night of the cruise.
While the dancers changed themes each performance, and a couple comedians performed on some nights, there was a surprising lack of variety of performances offered on the Crown. Other ships have also had magicians, hypnotists, acrobats, parades, and even ice dancing. On Norwegian each theater show would be almost 2 hours and have a number of different acts. Princess settles for one short act. Good performances, but too short in my opinion.
There was a running joke among the staff about the lack of people up in the Skywalker's Lounge (basically the ship's disco) and it turns out it was no joke. We went a couple times and never saw more than 6 or 8 people up there. The waiters there looked very bored and we actually felt sorry for them. Skywalker's is restricted to ages 18 and older and if they opened it up to all ages they would probably fill the place. I am sure the teenagers would love to dance there.
There was an ultimate deck party one night that was pretty fun but not as well attended as one would expect. In fact, it amazed me how deserted the upper decks became at night. I would take some evening walks at about 11:00 pm and would often be the ONLY passenger on the pool decks while over 3000 others were below decks.
Being spring break, there were hordes of kids on this cruise and we met many vacationing teachers as well. Our 15-year-old son registered with the teen center and basically used it as a meeting place to get acquainted with other teens. Once the cliques were established the teens wandered around the ship in groups and crowded stairwells in chat circles.
The teen center stayed open until 2:00 am, which is too late in my opinion. Most parents want and need to know their kids are back in their staterooms by the time they go to bed, and don't like to search the ship for their teen late at night (one reason for some of my late night walks). We set our own curfews but it was hard to enforce while in "vacation mode" and with no working cell phones. It would be helpful if ship's security enforced a curfew for teens by midnight at least. Wayward teens appeared to be a problem for other parents as there was more than one middle of the night announcement over the ship's PA announcing a missing person.
Overall we really enjoyed this cruise on the Crown Princess. We liked the ports of call a lot, but since the Crown has already departed for the Mediterranean for the summer, I will not bother reviewing shore excursions here. We liked the ship, the food was pretty good, the entertainment was good and the staff was friendly and helpful. There are certain things we liked more on NCL and RCL but we would still enjoy cruising on Princess again.