The Crown was scheduled to leave Southampton, England on Saturday, October 26 for an overnight hop to Le Havre, France. Our cab driver from the train was the first to tell us this wasn't to happen, and that, the Crown would not leave port for two days.
After an uneventful embarkation taking perhaps an hour, we were able to go to our cabin, Caribe 309, classed as a deluxe balcony. We were met almost at once by one of our bags, the other would take a few hours to find its way to us.
We were also met almost at once by Jeal, our steward for the voyage. The stewards on all our Princess cruises have been excellent, and Jeal was no exception.
It wasn't long before our Captain, Tony Yeoman, made the annoucement that we would not be leaving port that day, and probably not the next. A large hurricane was bearing down on England, and the Chanel. The Chanel can be a bit choppy in even good weather, a hurricane could make it impassible. The decision had been made to move the ship over to a more sheltered dock in Southampton to ride out the storm, which was done.
Busses were arranged to shuttle passengers to a local shopping mall in town, and a schedule was established. This was no small task given it was Saturday night in England.
Meanwhile, all activites on board were unaffected, except those in usheltered areas on deck due to the heavy winds and rain.
On Sunday the busses were still running, and very getting very heavy use in spite of the weather. Wait time to board a bus was about 15 minutes when we decided to go into town.
The shopping center was large, modern, and in many ways like a US center. The area surrounding had a special market going on, featuring local handcrafts and myrid food stalls. The remains of a 17th century fort added interest to the area, even as the worsening weather drove us back to the ship.
Return to the ship was a bit more eventful, given the large number of us returning at the same time. Port Security was just not up to the task with a single scanner in use initially. (This was now Sunday, and there are no departures normally schedulled from the berth we were using.) Frantic calls were made and an additional scanner was set up as quickly as possible. Even so, wait times from the bus to the ship were reported to be as long as an hour and a half, standing in lines. My wife and I did not experience this, waiting about 45 minutes with a group of other passengers cheerfully chatting with one another.
By midday on Monday we were able to see the damage caused by the storm on BBC, and were now cleared to leave port. Our new schedule no longer included stops at Le Havre, France, Vigo, Spain, or the Azores, but we would have a bit more time in Lisbon, Portugal.
The first day the seas were a bit rough in the aftermath of the hurricane, but Crown offered a full slate of onboard activities. The mood of the passengers seemed split, but the ones upset by the altered schedule had never been on a ship in heavy seas. The Captain reported gusts of over 90 mph and seas of 11 meters had been reported throughout the general area of the storm. Princess and the Captain had made the right choice!
In addition to the Captain, the Matre d, Francesco Ciorfito, rose to the occasion. His superbly trained staff met the sometimes surly passengers with smiles and exemplary service. Francesco himself was a whirlwind fixture in all of the ships service areas, checking, encouraging, and greeting passengers and staff.
It wasn't long before the grumbling among passengers almost completely stopped. I suspect the efforts of the Executive Chef, Jeremy Snowden, had a great deal to do with this.
It also didn't hurt that Princess announced we would all receive a credit of half the cost of our cruise due to the unforseen circumstances.
The Crown is a beautiful ship, well maintained and staffed, well equipped to provide an exceptional cruise experience under even the most demanding circumstances. Any cruise company can provide a good experience when things go as planned. Unfortunately, when you have to book months in advance, things can easily change, sometimes for the worse. Our expereince with Princess indicates we will get our money's worth under all circumstances.
I know this review has been a bit long, and you will have gotten my point if you stop reading now, but I want to point out a few highlights for non-Princess cruisers.
First, the stores onboard are well stocked and staffed, with very reasonable prices. Special sales throughout the cruise provide extra interest. The casino is large with a good selection of slots as well as table games. The bars are beautiful and well-staffed with drinks at fairly reasonable prices. Entertainment abounds, with a large variety of interesting activities to engage any passenger. The pools and hot tubs are rarely crowded, although the lounge chairs around them may be.
The Crown has three sit-down restaurants, one for fixed seating and two for anytime dining. We mever experienced a wait longer than five minutes, and never made a reservation. (We love anytime dining) In addition there are two buffet style restaurants on board, one actually an extension of the other. Horizon Court and Caribe are buffet style, with a very upscale menu for buffet style restaurants. They are open from 6:00am to 11:00pm. Supplimenting them are Trident Grill & Pizzeria (in two different areas on deck 15). Trident Grill provides hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, frys, etc. cooked to order. Trident Grill Pizzeria provides outstanding pizza and ice cream. Also available is the International Cafe, which has gormet coffees and teas, plus true European style gelato (at a cost), plus wonderful pasteries, panninis, and other goodies free. The Vines, one of our favorites, serves wine by the glass or by a "flight" for those who love to sample. Either way complimentary tapas or sushi is provided with your drinks after 5:00pm.
Bars/Lounges are abundant, each catering to different entertainment styles, most featuring dancing of some sort.
Finally, Princess Theater and Theater Under the Stars fill out entereainment options. Princess Theater has live shows as well as lectures and movies. Movies Under the Stars is a real blast. The screen is large, and sound system is quite good. Movies, ballgames, and music videos are shown in this unique outdoor venue. During movies a special deskstaff offers hot cookies, popcorn, etc, but I must say this is pretty hit or miss. Warm blankets are always available for chilly conditions.
The entertainers aboard are of varying talents, but even the worst would easily find employment in Las Vegas. The ship's newsletter, Princess Patter, is published nightly and provides a complete listing of who, when, and where.
You might be lucky enough to catch a special show. We were treated to The Clash of Titans, a challenge between Francesco Ciorfito, Matre d', and Jeremy Snowden, Executive Chef to see who could cook the best. Come early for good seating if they offer this again! The jokes are a mile a minute and the receipes are genuine. That said, the Matre d' is absolutely hilarious in this skit. It is a truly remarable executive who can so easily make fun of himself.
I believe this skit perfectly demonstrates why Princess offers such a high-quality product. It seems that almost any member of the crew, including officers, is willing to "do what it takes" to ensure that passengers have a safe, memorable experience.