We’ve cruised with Princess 25 times and this was our second time on the Crown. We took this cruise I because it was close to home and was an easy, short break with no flying involved. We generally have had nothing but great experiences with Princess but this trip will not go down as one of our favorite cruises.
Unfortunately, we boarded a ship that was still infected with Norovirus from the previous voyage and that affected everyone on board, both crew and passengers, in one way or another.
Embarkation was delayed because of deep cleaning after the ship had arrived from a 49 day voyage around South America. There had been a couple of outbreaks of Norovirus on board and it wasn’t contained. Boarding was delayed until 3PM and led to over 3000 people piled up in a hall that was inadequate for the task. We were admonished for daring to use countertops to fill out health forms, even though that seemed to be a reasonable use for them. Passengers were ordered to get up from sitting on the floors and to leave the port and return at a later time. Where were people supposed to go??? It was a poor way to treat passengers, some of whom had been traveling for hours and many of whom were elderly and disabled.
Once on board, we found Code Red was in full effect in all the dining areas. We weren't told much of anything about why, until it became inevitable. We knew from Cruise Critic and our Roll Call what the problem was. We were not allowed to serve ourselves in the buffet, pick up a plate, get a cup of coffee, put ketchup on our food. Everything had to be done for us. Even in the dining room, the waiters had to salt our food for us.
Eventually, the captain told about the Norovirus and we got used to daily lectures about washing our hands after using the bathroom. We were told we were all in this together. He never told us how many people were affected, only that numbers were increasing or stabilizing. However, the media in all the ports we went to knew, because Princess kept issuing press statements giving them information. The ship staff could have been much more transparent. By the end of the cruise over 120 passengers and 30 crew were sick, Princess confirmed to the media, but not to us, the passengers on the ship. Despite the Code Red restrictions, passengers continued to get sick all week and were confined to their cabins.
We bought our own salt and pepper shakers in one of the ports and took them with us when we ate. It became very tiresome to have to ask for every item we wanted. I learnt to request hot water and milk separately so I could make my own tea at the table with my own tea bags and sugar I picked up from Starbucks in port. We found our way of dealing with the restrictions but it put a damper on the vacation.
We spent a lot of time at sea in heavy fog with the horn sounding every minute or so. The weather in ports was mostly warm and pleasant, although we tendered in Santa Barbara in dense fog that did not lift until early afternoon and it meant a very slow tendering process as the local coastguard insisted on escorting each lifeboat to shore.
For all the deep cleaning that was apparently going on, I never once saw a crew member cleaning elevator lobby areas or buttons. I saw tables wiped down but never chair backs, which were touched more frequently. I noticed one coffee spill on the marble floor near the Lido elevators that remained there for over 24 hours, meaning that floor was not cleaned. Were the menus ever cleaned? We were allowed to touch those. And cruise cards being handed back and forth? I’ve seen much more rigorous enforcement of hand sanitising on ships with no Norovirus outbreak than I saw on the Crown. There were so many inconsistencies. Salt sachets were handed out only on request in the buffet but freely available at the burger bar. I was not allowed to order a medium rare burger at the burger bar because of Code Red, but could have a medium rare steak in the Crown Grill. It was maddening.
We thought the ship was in great shape and was aging well. The carpets looked rich in color and recently replaced. We think there is less and less to do on the ship during the day that is not sales related. There were no port lectures and no enrichment talks, but it was a short cruise with only two sea days. Evening shows are cut down to 30 minutes. There were lines everywhere, the worst of which was a 75 minute wait for Anytime Dining on the first formal night which meant an enormous line of 100 people snaking all the way through the Piazza on Deck 5 and down the cabin hallway. I have never seen anything like that before.
Dining was a mixed bag. The food was fine, although one night we ordered the gourmet burger option, waited a long time to have them custom cooked medium and medium rare, and when they arrived they were both cooked to death and the worst burgers we've eaten in a long time. We didn’t complain because our table of eight waited so long to get their food anyway, and our specially cooked burgers were apparently the hold up. I can’t remember any waiter coming and asking how our meals were. The breakfast menu has not changed in the 20 years we've been cruising with Princess. I do wish the menus were a little more innovative and with the times, offering things like brown rice and Greek yogurt instead of the same old standard fare.
Formal dress code observance was down to about 25% and people thought nothing of going into dinner in open necked shirts and casual pants. Nothing was ever said. We felt like the odd ones out in our formal wear surrounded by people in the most casual of clothing. I hate to see formal night disappear, but most of the passengers ignore it and the staff don’t enforce it. It is dying.
The gym was excellent and had great quality equipment in it. Thankfully, it was rarely crowded and was a wonderful part of the ship. We appreciated the wrap around Promenade deck.
Our cabin girl took great care of us and the onboard tailor repaired a torn pair of pants for me for free, which was much appreciated. The cabin was quiet and restful, with a deep balcony and midship location. The mattresses never bother us, although the pillows could have been better. We were quite happy. We had a wonderful meal in the Crown Grill one night which was worth every penny. It wasn't a bad cruise but the whole Norovirus issue hung over everyone constantly and created a lot of negative vibes and a lot of dinnertime conversation. Even drop off boxes at the passenger services desk and make up samples in the boutique were removed. Everything we queried was blamed on Code Red. Eventually we realized the entire cruise was going to operate under Code Red restrictions and they would never be lifted.
We know how great it can be on a Princess cruise and I hope we experience that again on another ship soon, but it wasn’t to be on this one. Our dinner companions on the final night were on their first cruise and we sat there and tried to convince them not to be put off and to try again on another cruise. We looked forward to disembarkation so we could finally "escape completely" and get away from the stressful experience on board the ship.