Recently, our daughter's family relocated to London for business reasons. We had not seen them for a year so we checked airline prices for our planned visit. We had sticker shock at the high cost of airline tickets and decided to check into transatlantic cruise prices. We discovered that for only a few hundred dollars more, we could cruise in style to the UK instead. We chose the M/S Crown Princess Transatlantic 17 day cruise to Southampton, England because of its itinerary. The ports of call were mostly in Europe: Galveston, Texas, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Ponta Delgada (Sao Miguel)/Azores, Lisbon, Portugal, Zeebrugge, Belgium, Le Havre, France, Southampton, England. Unfortunately, for us, the ship departed from Galveston, TX - a plane ride away for us living in Florida. While looking into alternatives, we discovered that it was possible to join the ship in Ft. Lauderdale only missing some sea days. The cost would be lower also.
This was our first cruise on a Princess ship and we were not concerned that it would be 14 days on a cruise line that we had never before sailed. Princess has a good reputation so we were excited to cruise one of its ships. A few weeks before the ship sailed, we secured a big reduction in price that made the cruise even more economical compared with flying. Just before we began packing our bags, Princess notified us that we were receiving an upgraded stateroom, which meant a larger balcony. We were thrilled.
We rented a car, returned the car to the rental office in Fort Lauderdale and took its complementary shuttle to the pier. I figured we would be onboard quickly since most of the passengers were already on the ship. Unfortunately, this did not happen. It took almost 45 minutes for us to be processed. There was too few staff on duty. We were in the long general boarding line but the staff at the two other boarding lines continually fed their people into our line so we hardly moved. We were very discouraged. It was not what we expected of Princess. However, once we boarded, things improved greatly. By the way, debarkation was a breeze, I must add.
All the members of the Princess staff were quite helpful and friendly. The passageways to the staterooms while lightly colored are impersonal without any artwork on the walls. Perhaps, this is because they are a bit narrow. The areas around the elevators have lovely bright rugs, many with beautiful medallion centers. Our cabin, C246, on Deck 10 was quite pleasant and bright with enough drawer, shelf and closet storage for all our belongings. I especially liked the layout of the room with the bathroom door and closet away from our cabin's entranceway. There was a lovely picture on the wall and a large mirror behind the bed and another by the closet. We loved the big balcony that brought in beautiful ocean views, often going outside to enjoy the sea breezes. It was fun watching ships pass us in the distance as we traveled closer to Europe. Our stateroom was ready so we dropped off our hand luggage before proceeding to the Horizon Court Buffet, Deck 15.
We noticed that there were plenty of choices for lunch at the sumptuous buffet. Since it was a bit late, we just grabbed a quick snack because we wanted time to familiarize ourselves with the ship. There were no available tables inside, so I picked up an ice cream cone by the pool and it hit the spot. We also shared a delicious slice of pizza. We then toured the beautiful and elegant ship. We were very impressed with all the public rooms.
Soon it was time for the safety drill. We returned to our stateroom, picked up our life jackets and reported to our Muster Station - the Princess Theater. The drill proceeded smoothly and was one of the best that we have ever attended. We heard information that we had not heard on 37 previous cruises. The passengers were attentive and we all practiced putting on our life jackets. Then we returned to our cabin and unpacked quickly. How nice that our bags were inside our room rather than left outside the door.
Our cabin steward, Maricel, stopped by to introduce herself and inquired if we needed anything. "More ice and extra pillows," we replied and they appeared by nightfall. Our stateroom was always spotless; amenities and towels replaced as needed. When Maricel noticed that we had brought wine bottle aboard on embarkation, she automatically supplied us with wine glasses. Maricel was very friendly, calling us by name when she saw us. She always made sure that she did not inconvenience us as she went about her duties. In fact, all the staff always said hello to us as we passed them in the passageways multiples times each day. They always stopped their work to allow us to pass.
Since we requested Anytime Dining, we ate in the Michelangelo Restaurant. The room is lovely with twinkling lights on the ceiling, fresh flowers, white linen cloths and napkins on the tables. We enjoyed fine service by our waiter, Manuel from Portugal, his assistant, Maja, from Serbia and headwaiter, Franz, from Austria, who attended to my husband's special request meals. They were all very attentive, professional and friendly. We requested ice and lemon slices once and after that they always appeared automatically. We usually had the same team serving us. Carlos, headwaiter at the entrance, always gave us the same table #261. He was upbeat, funny, always smiling and escorted many of the older women to their assigned tables. We always enjoyed the main dining room food and never felt tempted to visit a specialty restaurant although many passengers told us that Sabatini's (authentic Italian cuisine) and Crown Grill (steaks and seafood) were well worth the nominal cost. I cannot say enough about the wonderful service we received in the dining room. The food was delicious. I often could not decide which entree to choose. Our waiter helped us out by bringing two sometimes. Desserts were excellent, also.
We enjoyed all the nightly shows in the main theater and the shorter ones performed in the Piazza. The beautiful Piazza area was charming and I felt like royalty amid the twin sweeping, floating staircases, its massive columns, lovely balconies overlooking the area and especially the elaborate ceiling and soft lighting. It was my favorite public area. Every evening we stopped to enjoy the relaxing music of Arkadia String Quartet who performed nightly until 9 p.m. Alex & Natalia also thrilled us with their magnificent dancing. We caught their performance nightly at 9 pm. The singers and dancers production shows were spectacular, although sometimes a bit loud. Singer/piano player, Heather Sullivan also appeared twice and was so friendly whenever we met her in the dining room or around the ship. Comedians, Rikki Jay, Steve Hewlett and Michael Wilson were very funny and very approachable as was Magician, Brett Sherwood. There were three shows nightly, although they were a bit shorter than on other cruise lines to accommodate the number. It was wonderful not to concern ourselves about missing a particular show. Due to the frequent turning back of the clocks, we rarely had the opportunity to visit the lounges for their entertainment after the main shows.
The large screen outdoor TV, Movies Under the Stars Program were nice to watch but during the day, it was difficult to see because of the bright daylight. We did enjoy several concerts: Barry Manilow's Music and Passion Concert, Boyance - Live from Wembley, Billy Joel - Live at Shea Stadium, Bon Jovi - Live in Chicago and Paul McCartney - Good Morning New York City. Two movies that we watched were Les Miserables and Parental Guidance. In the mornings, it was classics like Breakfast at Tiffany's, On the Town and Dirty Dancing. There were also movie matinees in the Princess Theater. In your stateroom were broadcasted such movies as Lincoln, The Bourne Legacy, Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall.
A couple of unexpected delights were two series of eleven lectures each. One series was ScholarShip@Sea enrichment lectures by Maxtone-Graham on ocean liners, cruising and Princes of Wales. We attended his lectures on another cruise line so we knew we were in for a treat. Walter Scott (Scotty) gave the other series of lectures. He spoke about the Space Program and its Spin-offs, Star Wars and the Solar System including special rarely seen video clips from NASA. If you asked a question, you received a special NASA handout. My husband is a space nut and over the years has given many talks on space to school kids. He had plenty of questions for Scotty. Everyone in attendance received a commemorative pin and decals.
Between these educational and very interesting lectures, the Destination Lectures, Cooking Demonstrations, Ice Carving, Art Lectures, Dance Classes and Afternoon Tea, we had little time to be bored at sea. My husband and I learned many tips at the very worthwhile Digital Photography Class. Jacqueline held a beginners class followed by an advance class. She answered knowledgeably my several questions and helped others locate and use their personal camera's features. One evening I received a special invitation to a Champagne Art Reception. We did purchase our first piece of artwork onboard a ship at an affordable price. Another exciting event was the Captain's Champagne Waterfall after dinner one evening. I even helped to pour the champagne down the tiered pyramid of champagne glasses. Not just champagne flowed freely as bar staff hand delivered cocktails to those in the Piazza. The balloon drop later, that same night was fun, too. Princess even held a special cocktail party for first time cruisers on Princess. Another highlight of our cruise was the tour of the Galley. There were so many other events going on that we had little time to sit and read by the pool. One day we did spot dolphins swimming by the ship.
Princess just made everything easy for passengers. You did not have to sign out pool towels/blankets or sports equipment. Pool staffers also served popcorn or chocolate cookies and coffee or tea while you watched movies. You were not bothered too often, to buy drinks poolside but staffers were noticeably around should you want a beverage from the bar. Although there were a couple of announcements during the day by the cruise director and one from the bridge, they were not as intrusive as on other cruise lines. We had a medical emergency and the ship handled it beautifully. We veered off our course and stopped just off shore of Bermuda so the patient could be transported by smaller boat for treatment. We all watched a beautiful sunset while we waited the ship doctor's return from accompanying the patient. Later in the cruise, the captain assured everyone that the woman was doing well. The hospital credited the ship's medical personal for the good outcome of the patient.
We took several Princess Shore Excursions. In the Azores we took a comprehensive tour of Sao Miguel, in France we took a bus and water tour of Paris, in Belgium, we toured the city of Brussels and in Portugal we visited Fatima and made friends with a member of the lighting staff, Kat while we toured Fatima together. We still keep in touch by email. All the excursions were well worth the money that we paid and were not only interesting but also educational and fun. The guides were excellent - interesting and knowledgeable.
We hope to take another cruise with Princess. I especially enjoyed the elegance of the ship, friendliness and professionalism of the crew and senior officers, the food and service. How nice to have the Skywalker Nightclub where quiet was actually enforced. How nice also to have smoke-free nights in the Casino. The production shows were glitzy, innovative and entertaining. We both enjoyed meeting other Cruise Critic members at the Meet & Greet. Several Senior Officers attended and Captain, Tony Yeomans entertained us with anecdotes and stories. I wish that we had more hours to attend everything offered on the ship.
I do have some suggestions for Princess. Install some hand sanitizers by the restaurants. Consider having a Comedy Club. Another small suggestion would be to have yogurt with live active cultures in them if possible. One last suggestion is that the staff should stop criticizing the Carnival Cruise line as much as they do. This is after all their parent company.
We returned home with many happy memories, a ton of photos on my memory card, several ship photographer photos and many ship boutique purchases. I hope that another cruise on Princess is in our future.