This was our fifth cruise on a Princess ship--all sailing in the Caribbean and to the Panama Canal. We had been on two of Princess's larger ships in the past, although not the Crown Princess, so we knew what to expect in terms of design and general lay-out.
Our embarkation was scheduled (according to the deck where our cabin was located) for 12:30.
We arrived at 12:00 and joined a long, long line--which commenced outside the terminal and snaked tightly throughout the building. We constantly moved forward and we had fun chatting with other folks in the queue. The process was as streamlined as it could be, considering the number of people boarding. Nonetheless, it took a solid hour from the time we joined the line until we boarded the ship. Passengers with priority boarding, skipped the line, and literally walked through the terminal and onto the ship in five to ten minutes. One gets priority boarding on the sixth Princess cruise. People who arrived two hours later, we heard, also were on-board very quickly. Of course, there were wheelchairs and assistance throughout the boarding period, if needed.
DH and I are realistic about the time required to process so many people--people not all assigned to this boarding time, but who all like to board "first"-- and we are fit enough to stay on our feet without difficulties. For us, embarkation was not a problem. We would recommend arriving later or arranging for a wheelchair, however, if standing for an hour would be stressful.
Kudos to Princess for not bothering to take our credit card numbers AGAIN at the embarkation desk. They already had this information from when we paid for the cruise. They didn't waste time (their's or our's) unless a passenger wished to charge the on-board account to a different credit card number.
Fellow passengers included both experienced cruisers and first-time newbies. There were a few (very few) children and some younger adults. Like many cruises, retirees and older working adults seemed to be in the majority. While most passengers on the ship were from the USA, there were also a large number of Canadians. We met people from the west coast (California and Oregon), Colorado, the northeast, and midwest as well as a good number of Floridians. There were a number of "group travelers" including a group of gamblers from Colorado and several condo-groups from Florida… Overall, the ship was a great mix of people with a decidedly mellow temperament.
The Crown Princess is a bit worn, but not in an unpleasant way. Like visiting a favorite great-aunt whose furniture has a few nicks and whose decorating choices are somewhat out-of-date. Despite wear, it is a very clean ship, both in our cabin and throughout. We were very comfortable on the Crown Princess. Not "wowed", but comfortably satisfied.
Our booked an inside cabin. It was fully functional and very quiet. Plenty of storage. Again, no "wow" but very economical. We were completely satisfied.
One change since our last Princess cruise, three years ago, was shampoo and body wash dispensers hung in the shower, replacing the little bottles. My hair missed the conditioner, so I will pack some of my own next time we take Princess. Using the dispensers, however, was easier than maneuvering the small bottles in the shower's soap dish. More than once on past cruises, one of the little bottles was dropped and it is not a shower large enough to make bending over for retrieval very easy. The dispensers make good sense.
Staff was consistently attentive and courteous. The front desk, our steward (Sandy), the wait staff--everyone--knew their jobs and had answers (correct answers) to any and all questions. Services were preformed in a timely manner. Our sink had a problem with the stopper and then a tiny leak, after my DH jiggled the stopper in an attempt to repair it. Finally, after he called the desk, the problem was fixed in less than two hours--no fuss, no muss.
We dined in traditional first-seating with a nice and interesting couple at a table for six. The two other people, who were also assigned to our table, never showed up--all week. We observed a number of empty places in the dining room and learned that people assigned to other dining rooms, or times, could come to the MDR first-seating and request to be seated in empty places--something nice for people who don't get first-seating when they booked the cruise and are unhappy with second-seating or anytime dining.
I found the food very pleasing. Soups were absolutely outstanding and brought to the table piping hot. Desserts--particularly those at lunch in the buffet-- were the best we have had on ANY cruise ship EVER! Kudos to the pastry chef/chefs. The dover sole with mushrooms (lunch one day in the dining room) was to die for! DH loved each and every cookie!
Beef wasn't very good according to my DH. Not that it wasn't well-prepared, but the beef itself was tough. Not a problem for me--I ordered seafood every meal except one.
The escargot was fabulous! Largest escargot imaginable in very garlic-infused butter. Delicious!
One nicety on a Princess ship is the at-table service for drinks (including coffee, tea, water, lemonade and bar drinks) in the buffet area on deck 15. One collects food on a plate--no bulky tray to carry around-- and finds a table, quickly to be greeted by wait-staff who arrive to take beverage requests. Much easier than filling a tray with food dishes and THEN joining a beverage queue and THEN going to the table and THEN seeking a place to stow the tray… Also, people in the food area take up less space with a plate, instead of a tray, in hand. Really, we found the buffet thoughtfully arranged and reasonably efficient.
We found eating lunch in the dining room also a pleasure. Wait-staff was excellent and lunch choices appealing.
We had a great panini on deck 5 in the lobby area for lunch on day. The International Cafe has sweet rolls in the morning, then panini and salads (and desserts) later in the day. Wonderful option for lunch or a snack. ….Thin crusted pizza on deck 15 was also very good.
Despite many delicious foods on board, neither DH nor I gained any weight on this cruise. We enjoyed foods in moderation, walked around the ship and frequently took the stairs instead of elevators.
One flaw in the ship's design is having some passenger cabins directly below the fitness room. A number of treadmills were off-limits until after 9 A.M. so as not to disturb the people sleeping below. This made the other treadmills in great demand during early morning hours and shortened everyone's treadmill time to 20 minutes. For exercisers later in the day, number of treadmills would not have been a problem--the problem was for people competing for treadmills before 9 o'clock.
The only true unpleasantry during this cruise was an accidental transmission of the pre-recorded safety drill message at 1:50 A.M. in the middle of the cruise. This was flooded into the passenger cabins at very loud volume, startling and waking AND confusing all of us. The captain apologized and blamed computer error, but it took many of us quite a while to fall back asleep. Nonetheless, it was something we forgave and it didn't spoil the overall enjoyment of the cruise.
DH and I like to play bridge on sea days and easily found companions through a sign-up list left in the library. Princess provided cards (and a stack of board games) in the Crown Grill Restaurant during the day and a number of people took advantage of game-playing activities.
Evening entertainment was a solid "good to very good" from what we saw. Several evenings, however, we just--by choice--retired to our cabin to read some of the books we had brought along.
We had been to Aruba twice before and chose to "walk around" instead of taking a tour. We did the same in Curacao. On the Princess Cay day, DH took the tender to shore and I relaxed on the ship.
Our goal on this cruise was to relax, decompress, and renew. Itinerary was "fine"--ports with an amazing wintertime climate. We weren't looking for excitement or thrills. We wanted the guarantee of warm weather and to leave the cruise ship rested. This couldn't have been accomplished any more thoroughly. We slept like babies, had entertaining dreams, and disembarked from the ship feeling great.
We participated in self-disembarkation, which requires being ready early in the morning (before 8 A.M.) and having the ability to maneuver one's luggage independently from the cabin off the ship. Again, the Crown Princess was very organized, so the process was orderly and without any hitches. We left our car in the parking structure, immediately across the street. Great convenience at $15 per day. It took no more than 20 minutes from our cabin to our car.
It was a perfect winter break at an excellent price. The Caribbean water was beautiful. The air was warm. Princess took excellent care of us.