Embarkation was very easy. Although our advised check in wasn’t until 3pm we arrived at 11.30am without a problem. The queue was long but with so many staff working at the check in desks we were at front and collecting our cruise cards within 15 minutes. To my surprise we didn’t even have to wait in the lounge we walked straight onto the ship!
Cabins were ready so we dropped off our hand luggage and headed to the Da Vinci restaurant on deck 6 for a three course lunch with waiter service. We hate the buffet on embarkation day so the fact that Princess have a main dining room open straightaway is a real treat. We purchased a coffee card (which can be shared as it has a limited number of punches for tea and coffee, plus unlimited filter coffee) and two UKP drinks packages (which gives unlimited hot chocolate, milkshakes, mocktails, frozen drinks, juices and sodas).
After lunch we headed back to our cabin and most of our luggage had already been delivered. Our cabin was an outside cabin on deck 5 which was a superb location as it was only five metres away from the International café and Piazza.
Our steward provided us with extra hangers and as the wardrobe had no doors it was surprising how many clothes we were able to hang up. Above the hanging space there was a shelf where the life jackets were located but there was still ample space for storage. In addition, there were two bedside tables with a storage space and two drawers, the vanity table had two shelves in a cupboard on the right and by the wardrobe there were shelves on the side wall from floor to ceiling which was also the location of the combination safe. The fridge was located to the left of the vanity unit and was large enough for the ice bucket, a box of wine and a bottle of fizz. The children slept in bunks above our beds which were lowered at night when the beds were turned down and then put away in the morning when the room was made up.
The bathroom was tiny. The shower had a shower curtain and there was not a lot of space so dropping the soap ended up being quite tricky! Large towels, hand towels, flannels and pool towels were provided. There were also bottles of shampoo, conditioner and lotion provided plus many bars of soap. The bathroom had three little shelves on the left so there was room for all our toiletries despite the small size.
After unpacking we collected treasure hunt cards and had fun exploring the ship and getting stamps at each named location. This was an excellent way of getting to know the ship and we had great fun. We also filled in the spa raffle cards and after our muster drill we headed up on deck for the sail away party. The live band were really good and to encourage people to dance they gave out raffle tickets for every song for people who were dancing which was a great idea. Then they drew cards from the treasure hunt. The prizes were very varied from dinner for two at Sabatini’s (specialty Italian restaurant) to a glass of Martini. Next was the sail away raffle and having danced every dance we had loads of tickets. I won a bottle of fizz and our son won a Princess drinks bottle. We then went off to the Spa raffle and I won $150 Spa voucher!
The Crown is a beautiful ship and we had a fabulous time from the moment that we stepped onboard.
The Art Gallery just outside our cabin was quite extensive and had a good variety of art which would appeal to most tastes. The International Café was open 24 hours a day and served a variety of complementary pastries, salads, sandwiches and cakes depending on the time of the day. It also sold ice cream for $1.50 for three scoops on a glass plate. This was also the location for specialty teas and coffees. On the opposite side of the Piazza was Vines the wine and sushi bar. We did a Champagne tasting on the last night at Vines which was really enjoyable even though they did serve a Californian fizz as one of the Champagnes and our host was relying on notes rather than her own knowledge.
The Piazza was the location for a variety of entertainment including the Champagne waterfall on the first formal night, the balloon drop on the second formal night, a string quartet, singers and a body balancing act. Deck 5 was also the location for the Internet café and future cruise sales. The future cruise sale rep was not available for the majority of our cruise but there was a drop box for future deposits and on board credit.
The Passenger Services desk on deck 6 was always well manned. There were also two self serve machines for print outs of your on board account. In addition there were machines for foreign exchange currency. The shore excursions department was next to Passenger Services. There was a drop box for excursions (just outside the Casino) for passengers who wanted to book or cancel shore excursions when the desk was closed.
Deck 6 (and 7) is the location of the Princess Theatre which had three shows a night so unlike some cruise ships we’ve been on we were always able to get a seat. The entertainment was generally good. The singers and dancers were excellent and the comedy impressionist Gary T Thompson was hilarious on his first show but the comedian on the first night was terrible and the second show by the Gary didn’t live up to the first.
Deck 7 was the Promenade deck and a good deck to walk from aft to forward indoors as not all decks are accessible from one end of the ship to the other. Similarly deck 15, the Lido deck, was handy when heading from the Spa forward on deck 16 to the kids’ club aft on deck 16.
The pools on deck 15 were heated and the children were surprised just how warm they were. There were also two additional adult only pools. Forward at the Spa next to the Sanctuary and aft at the back of Café Caribe. There was a large movie screen above one of the pools which showed films daily.
There were self-service Laundromats available on decks 5, 8-14 which although not needed on our 7 day cruise would have been a extremely valuable on a longer cruise and Princess is the only American cruise line that we have found this service.
The food on the Crown was outstanding. We loved lunch in the main dining room and were disappointed that it was not open on port days. As anytime diners we had the choice of eating in either the Michelangelo Restaurant or Da Vinci restaurant so if there was a queue at one we just went to the other. As we were crusing in Europe the busiest time was 7-30 to 8-30 with early diners able to walk in without a queue no problem. They did have a pager system so if you wanted a table for 2 and not share but there wasn’t a table available you could take a pager and enjoy a drink in the Piazza while waiting. The Botticelli restaurant (aft deck 6) was fixed dining only.
Our dining highlight was Chef’s Table which I can’t recommend enough. We were treated like VIPs for the entire evening, given the guided tour in the working galley on deck 6 with the Maitre D before savouring amazing canapés with Champagne each one made by the executive chef himself. We were then led down to Michelangelo restaurant for a gastronomic extravaganza all accompanied by fine wines, candle light (yes real candles) and great company. The main course was flambéed in the restaurant before our eyes which was really spectacular. The evening ended with a rose and group photo for the ladies and a Princess recipe book for the gents.
There were two specialty restaurants open in the evening, the Crown Grill for steaks and lobster and Sabatini’s for Italian cuisine. Although we didn’t eat at either we met so many people who raved about the Crown Grill.
All food we found on deck 15 was complementary including hamburgers, hotdogs and fries at the Trident Grill , the Pizzeria made fresh pizzas in visible ovens which were huge so a slice of pizza barely fitted on the plate. Both eateries were by the pool and extremely popular with swimmers and sunbathers on deck. This was also the location for the complementary ice cream bar served in either a cone or a tub from 11am to 11pm.
Inside, Horizon Court buffet served a very limited lunch which did not meet our expectations of Royal Caribbean or Celebrity. This was probably why the International Café was so popular on deck 5 as the salads and pastries always looked so tempting. Café Caribe at the back of Horizon Court was a bit of a non event with only continental breakfast served there from 5am-10am.
The staff on Princess were extremely conscientious and friendly. The waitstaff were always attentive but never rushed us, the drinks staff were alert to a nearly empty glasses which meant we never had to go without a drink at dinner while we waited for another. The daytime staff were equally superb at their jobs. We played Win, Lose or Draw (that’s Pictionary to you and me), did a couple of quizzes, played and won champagne hoopla, played the golf chipping challenge, watched a film in the theatre, took part in flashmob and attended the Champagne art auction. We were lucky that there was always going on we were spoilt for choice and never made it to the mini golf course, Casino, the bingo, the aerobics studio or gym.
Our children both went to Shockwaves, the kids’ club for 8-12 year olds. They were able to sign themselves in and out at sea, but needed us to sign them in and out when in port. They both had a great time and came home with t-shirts, hand made jewellery and a decorated picture frame. Our daughter especially loved making things while our son enjoyed the playing games and the competitions. Unlike most cruise lines the children were not given a muster bracelet. Equally we were not given child life jackets from our steward despite asking. When we mentioned it to one of the officers she was absolutely horrified and we got the impression that our steward wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
We had intended to take the Princess excursion to Bordeaux but our son wasn’t feeling well that morning. I went to the Shore Excursion desk to find out whether we would be able to get any money back and they were fantastic and told us that it was understandable that people get ill especially as it was very rough that night and gave us a full refund without penalty on return of our tickets. I was so impressed as this was superb customer service by Princess.
Disembarkation was easy and hassle free. We put our suitcases out the night before and walked off with our hand luggage easily finding our suitcases in the baggage collection hall. A couple of days prior to disembarkation we were asked what time we would like to get off and got our requested time. All passengers are given coloured and numbered labels for cases to indicate disembarkation time and then the luggage in stored in coloured and numbered zones so need to panic at the thought of 3000 passengers trying to find their suitcases at the same time !
Our ports of call were La Coruna, Bilbao (free shuttle provided), Le Verdon (free shuttle to Soulac sur Mer or excursions to Bordeaux) and Guernsey which was a tender port. All ports were very easy to do DIY and walk around. The tides were causing issues with the gangways and at times one of the gangways was closed for repositioning. Wheelchair users were warned that they may not be able to disembark at Guernsey but we saw several getting back on the tenders with wheel chair assistants at the ready.
We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise and walked off the ship desperate to book another one. Princess is certainly a quality cruise company and their staff made every effort to ensure that we all had an amazing time.