I sailed with wife and parents on the Crown Princess on its first Fort Lauderdale departure after repositioning from Europe.
First impressions went downhill in a hurry. There are really only two options here, either Princess takes responsibility for helping create an epically bad embarkation (haven't seen any acknowledgement yet), or by their silence they state this should be expected as the norm. Government processes preventing embarkation may be beyond the cruise line's control, but knowing this can and will happen after repositioning a ship from Europe to the US is not. PCL should have been ready to deal with 2000-3000 people stuck waiting 2-3 hours longer than normal...water, snacks, more benches, access to more restrooms, etc.
On arriving at 11:30am the baggage handlers directed us to the terminal building where we could request a wheelchair to get my mother through embarkation. The crowd was larger than normal for this time of morning. Efforts to find a More
wheelchair were fruitless as the terminal folks had all of them tied up for the steady stream of disembarking Southhampton passengers, which didn't slow down until around 1pm. We were early enough to park my mother on a bench to wait it out but too late to talk our way into the terminal building for better seating as we were told 30-40 others inside were already waiting on wheelchairs. There were only enough benches outside to seat maybe 25 people. With nowhere to sit many older people were left standing in line. One gentleman fainted and fell backwards right in front of me, someone's backpack partially protecting his head from the concrete. Fire & rescue responded to a call from the terminal, hauling in a stretcher, so those inside apparently didn't fare much better.
At 1:40pm news reached those outside the terminal that boarding had started. By then the majority of the 3000+ passengers were queued outside the building. The line outside didn't really start to move until after 2pm. At 3pm still no hope of getting a wheelchair outside the building but we were able to walk mother to the elite passenger entrance and talk our way in (we are only at gold level) and once through security got a prompt wheelchair escort. Speaking to others our 3.5 hours to board was typical.
Once aboard, the Crown was actually better than I expected. The Piazza area and all the lounges are immaculate in design and upkeep. I actually did not resent my time away from the pools. Dining in the Botticelli was a good experience and our servers worked hard to keep us happy. Food quality was comparable to other cruise lines I have sailed.
There were issues in a few areas with overcooked food. But the crew were glad to re-try anything not perfect. Don't be bashful about your food, or even in the bars if you're not happy with your drink. The crew seems satisfied working for PCL compared to other cruise lines and this translates into a good customer experience. The Crown's crew is truly international, many are from eastern Europe and the Philippines (and they continued to serve well even with uncertainty regarding their families after Typhoon Haiyan).
The bars keep good quality liquor on hand and the bartenders and servers willingly discussed brands available. Cocktail prices are reasonable.
The gym has the usual amenities, many treadmills, ellipticals, and weight machines, few free weights, plenty of spin and other classes. Spa prices seemed high relative to previous cruises but we're not frequent spa users.
On embarkation day a serious crowd developed in front of the Botticelli dining room. Due to the delays starting the cruise, seating did not start right at 8pm. Escaping requires going up one deck, a challenge if you've got a wheelchair and a crowd between you and the elevator. Consider being a little late for that first dinner if you need extra assistance.
That was the only time at sea I felt crowded. Actually, I was impressed with the general feeling of elbow room all over the ship. We were not constantly tripping over other passengers, usually got quick service at restaurants and lounges, and readily found loungers in the pool areas.
We had dinner one night at Sabatini's. We had our table for 3 hours. The meal was OK but not as memorable as the crew who looked after us warmly.
Pizza on the Lido became a mid-day staple as the thin crust was quite good and never a wait. There were only a handful of children aboard which I'm sure eased the crowd.
Father enjoyed NFL football all day Sunday on the movies under the stars screen after not finding the games on TV indoors in the lounges.
Pub lunch days at the Wheelhouse are busy (for good reason, loved the food and environment) so try to arrive before noon or after 1:30pm.
The International cafe is a hidden gem for a quick bite any time without dealing with the Lido buffet.
Dining room breakfast closes rather early at 9am.
Coffee card is worthwhile to get if you like espresso-based drinks.
If you've read previous reviews you've seen comments on the plumbing and unfortunately they seem true. Our toilet refused to flush multiple times and we had to call for service twice. Handle this situation like you would at home (use another toilet until yours is fixed and don't keep trying to flush it) and you may avoid overflow that others I talked to experienced. The ventilation system pumped cold air but not enough of it so the room temperature ran warm as a result. There was a bathroom odor in the room initially but mostly dissipated by the second day at sea, low airflow may have contributed. The room was relatively quiet despite the location near the elevators and below the Cafe Caribe which saw regular use.
We chose this cruise for the itinerary, an unusual chance to reach Curacao and Aruba in 7 days from Florida. The ship docks late at Curacao. Adjust your plans accordingly to take advantage of the picturesque town after dark.
Princess Cays is almost a wasted effort (as are other cruise line private islands) since there is so little time ashore if avoiding the rush. Hurry to the dining areas before food supplies run low and note the southern (smaller) food line closes at 1pm not 1:30.
In ironic contrast to the chaotic embarkation, disembarkation was no-fuss and the most organized I've encountered. No constant blare of instructions for each group leaving. This is the trade-off for having to wait in the lounges to disembark rather than having the option to wait in your cabin. Since I had other family with me I didn't need to hide out in the cabin.
This was my fourth cruise out of Port Everglades and second out of terminal 2. On the shuttle to the hotel (Cambria Suites) I also had a chance to see several of the other terminals in operation (6 ships departed that day). In general I consider Port Everglades to be user-unfriendly especially after disembarking. If you have someone in your group needing a wheelchair it's unfriendly all the way around as some of the areas to pick up transportation are away from the terminal building and are unprotected from the elements (only exception I saw was the Oasis terminal). Even if you can have someone from the terminal wheel you all the way out to the remote site for pick-up there is no bench or chair for your handicapped person to sit and wait. Unless the process improves there is no guarantee of getting a wheelchair outside the terminal to get your loved one through embarkation and onto the ship where your rental wheelchair is waiting.
The only real way around this is to drive to the Port, park in the deck/lot at your terminal, and provide your own wheelchair. If arriving by air maybe getting the transfers from Princess might help but I have no experience with this since I fly in the day before the cruise and stay in a local hotel.
We will have to reconsider using Port Everglades again which means my FL resident parents may not be sailing Princess any time soon, or HAL which is normally their favorite cruise line. Less