When we were discussing our summer vacation plans, we decided that we would enjoy a cruise of the coast of Norway. We always try to go somewhere cool to escape the 115 degree heat at home. While we usually cruise on Holland America, further research lead us to a Princess cruise that not only cruised the coast of Norway but that also traveled north to the island of Spitsbergen, some 800 miles from the North Pole. While we have cruised on Holland America numerous times to Alaska, once to Canada/New England and once in the Baltic, we had only cruised on Princess once before and that was on another unique itinerary called the Top of the World Explorer onboard the Tahitian Princess. We decided that for the itinerary we would give Princess another try and booked the cruise on the Crown Princess.
The Crown Princess is the largest ship we have ever been on and it taught us one thing, we don't like large ships. The Crown holds approximately 3000 passengers and in the future we will try to book ships that hold 2000 or less. While we did enjoy our cruise very much, we still prefer Holland America and will likely cruise with them in the future. That being said, there were many excellent aspects of the Crown Princess and others that were not so good.
Embarkation: Our cruise began on June 29, 2013 with what was, for me, the most disorganized embarkation that I have ever experienced. I cannot say whether that fault lies with the Mayflower Terminal in Southampton or with Princess. While signs around quoted Princess' slogan of relax completely, we changed it to Queue Completely and had occasion to use it throughout the cruise. We waited in line to check in over an hour followed by another line for security and then just when we thought we would board the ship, the placed us in another room to wait 15 minutes or so before allowing us to board. We were pleased upon reaching our stateroom 525 on the Riviera Deck that our luggage was already there.
Stateroom: Last year we sailed on the Zaandam in Alaska and booked a Verandah suite. We were son happy with the balcony that we booked Balcony Stateroom on the Crown for this trip. The room was smaller than I anticipated. It really lacks anywhere to sit comfortably. There is a desk chair and one other chair but unlike almost every other stateroom we have ever booked (including inside), there was no sofa. The room was very clean and stayed that way thanks to our steward(ess), Rowena. She did an excellent job and always was extremely helpful. There was a problem with the bed as the mattress was extremely indented and really needed to be replaced. As my partner has a bad back, he experienced a lot of pain due to the mattress. I called Rowena and she installed an egg crate topper but the mattress was past that. The third day she cobbled together a series of egg crates and other things to fix the problem enough that he could sleep on it. Still it does need to be replaced.
Bathroom: Besides being extremely small, the bathroom had another problem that took almost a week to resolve. Within the first week the toilet either clogged or just stopped flushing four times. In addition, liquid waste began seeping out from under the toilet all over the floor. We called and each time they sent a plumber and then someone would come to disinfect and clean the floor (mostly Rowena). After the first time, they sent us a plate of cookies for our troubles, after the second occasion they sent a bottle of wine , after the third time nothing and after the fourth time, they replaced the toilet completely. A few days later they called and offered us a $250.00 credit each for our trouble. We took it. While it was a hassle and it was certainly nasty, I applaud Princess for taking care of it and offering the credit.
Dining: We ate in the Main Dining Room several times for breakfast, a couple times for lunch and most times for dinner. We enjoyed the food for the most part although there were a few dishes served for dinner that were definitely misses. We had traditional seating 8:15. The main problem with the dining room was the service. Although our waiter was friendly, he was also slow as molasses. The time between courses was extremely long and other people would be finishing their dessert before we received our main course. The buffet was usually very good although given the number of passengers onboard, sometimes quite crowded. We ate at the Crown Grill one night ($25 per person) and it was excellent. It was even better than the Pinnacle Grill on Holland America. We each had the fillet and the waiter suggested that if we wanted surf and turf, although it was not on the menu, he would add lobsters. He brought us our steaks and another platter with four small lobsters to share. We ordered the dessert samplers and he told us that since the cobbler was not on the sampler, he would also bring us one to share. It was actually the best of all the desserts.
Excursions: We booked all excursions through Princess due the ease of the process. We booked early and unlike Holland America, one does not have to pay in advance. That is a very nice policy as is their cancellation policy although we did not have to cancel any excursions. They are, of course overpriced and some are what we call Gravy tours (pure gravy for the company). An example is the excursion to North Cape which turned out to be a bus ride to North Cape without a tour guide or commentary along the way.
Ports: This is a wonderful itinerary that included Many ports in Norway, many of them beyond the Arctic Circle. The ports were Stavanger, Gravdal (Lofoton Islands), Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen (800 miles from the North Pole), Honningsvag and North Cape, Tromso, Geiranger and Bergen. It is truly a wonderful part of the world and worth visiting. As a nice remembrance, Princess gives a certificate for crossing the Arctic Circle. We also experienced the Midnight Sun most of the trip meaning the sun never set.
Entertainment: We didn't see any shows as we don't care for them. We've seen others in the past and find them poor Vegas wannabees. We also did not take part in any trivia games or other events. Call us antisocial, I don't care. We did watch some television and can't figure out why they present BBC from Poland rather than just BBC from England but hey, there must be some reason.
Disembarkation: This aspect went extremely smoothly and quickly. We applauded them right until the transfer we booked through Princess dropped us off at terminal 1 at Heathrow rather than Terminal 3. It was quite a walk. Still the actual disembarkation was great.
All and all, we had a wonderful cruise. We enjoyed the food, the scenery, the incredible ports, the cool weather and just relaxing together. Still there were problems that we experienced with Princess that make it less than likely that we will cruise with them again. But we never say never.