DH and I are seasoned cruisers with nearly 30 of them either completed or scheduled. The majority of them have been with Norwegian Cruise Line but we have cruised with Princess and Carnival, too. Our last Princess cruise was nearly 6 years ago and when we saw they were offering a Pacific Coastal cruise we decided to book one. We wanted to "come back new".
We originally booked an interior stateroom but as the cruise date came closer, it was apparent there were many, many balcony cabins still available. I placed a call to Princess and was able to upgrade to a balcony on the Caribe deck, scoring one of the partially covered, large balcony cabins. The price for this cruise was substantially less what we had paid for previous 7 day cruises. As the time came closer, it appeared Princess was cutting corners. Our embarkation time was moved back to beween 2PM-4PM. In other words, lunch would not be served.
We took a flight which arrived at LAX by 1:30. Luggage pick up was quick and we went to the Super Shuttle pick up zone. Apparently their computer system was down as the dispatchers had no idea when the next shuttle to San Pedro would arrive. Finally, after waiting more than an hour, our van arrived. I wish I could say he whisked us to the ship but as this was a shared van, he attempted to circle the airport for more passengers. DH was livid at this point and demanded the driver take us directly to the port as it was nearing 4PM. Long story short, we arrived at the port in plenty of time (and won't take Super Shuttle again).
At the port, we were greeted with an extremely long line stretching the entire length of the building, along one side and then snaking back and forth a few times. There was no place to sit and most of the line was in the sun. Rumors were that the ship was undergoing a thorough Customs search but then we heard about the norovirus. At one point, a security guard came through with bottled water. Approximately 5PM, the line began to move very rapidly and we were on board by 5:30. One thing we noticed was the lack of hand sanitizers when boarding the ship. On Norwegian, they are at every gangway and elevator. Waiting for us in our cabin was the letter from the medical officer confirming the norovirus was, indeed, on board the ship.
Our stateroom was very nice and the closet area was great but the seating choices - other than the chair and bed - were minimal. The balcony was large with 2 reclining chairs and ottomans and a nice sized dining table. The cabin was large enough (barely) that one afternoon DH dragged one of the recliners and ottoman into our cabin so he could elevate his feet. I wish the weather would've been better so we could've enjoyed that balcony a little more but it was nice to have a door to open for fresh air. Our cabin appeared clean but when DH ran an extension cord under the bed, he discovered several cans of soda and bottled water (along with lots of dust bunnies). The room steward apparently uses this space under the beds for storage as the sodas and water were gone on the last day.
Our room steward never changed the bedding on our bed. He said he'd added an eggcrate foam topper to the mattress but it still wasn't very comfy. I only had to ask once for extra washcloths and he brought them everyday. He reluctantly gave us a fresh bar of soap on day 5. One day we came back to no glasses in our cabin. He told us they were being sanitized. After that, the tray and ice tongs were gone completely. I missed my towel animals, too. I was not impressed with our steward's attitude - I doubt he knew our names even at the end of the cruise. On Norwegian, we've always been greeted by our stewards calling us by our first names. He barely looked at us.
Muster drill was held (ours was in the Fusion Lounge - again no hand sanitizers) and we all learned how to put our life jackets on. Afterwards, we returned our jackets to our cabin and went directly to the Anytime Dining location (Yay! Purell was available when entering the dining room.). We were among the first group being seated. We shared the table with 3 other couples. I expected service to be slow, but 2 hours? Nothing was served at the proper temperature. Not at this meal or any others throughout the week.
After dinner, it was nice to unpack and stow everything for the next week. We had ample storage and even had empty spaces. Luggage fit nicely under the bed but it could have easily gone into the closet area.
We went to the show that evening and thought the Princess singers and dancers were good. We were not impressed with the comedy duo - it seemed they would be better suited for a Carnival cruise.
Food is always subjective but on this cruise it was not good. Maybe it was the noro precautions. Maybe the food is always served cold and flavorless. We ate in the main dining room 5 out of 7 nights. One night we asked for a table for 2 and we shared tables the other evenings. The best meal I had was a scallop dish. It was the one time my main course was hot. The scallops were served in a cream sauce and a piece of crusty bread would have been nice but alas, the bread was only offered at the beginning of the meals. DH said the salmon he ordered twice was very good.
We tried the buffet a few times. I like to look over the selections and then make my choices. The only hot thing was my plate and by the time my selections were made it, too, was cold. I thought the buffet was set up in a very confusing manner. Why not have the salads and soups at the beginning of the line? The salad bar selections were very limited. And what was up with the one warm dessert in the hot food line? Talk about cross-contamination! I love desserts but this was one cruise that nothing appealed to me. All of the cakes seemed to be from Pepperidge Farm. And it's hard for me to admit, the ice cream bomb was too sweet even for me! Also, we did not like the fact they only had one buffet line open when most passengers tried to eat there on Ensenada day. The lines were long and tables were hard to find. Also, the buffet area was congested and having the servers there to dole out food just added to the congestion.
The pizza was very good with a nice crispy crust and slightly spiced sauce. In fact, we had pizza on the second formal night as we didn't feel like dressing up for dinner.
Breakfast in the dining room was okay. Again, we shared our table. One morning they offered Muselix as the specialty. Now, this is one of my favorite menu items on Norwegian. It was so disappointing! It was nothing like that served on NCL! My bowl of cold glop contained one tiny sliver of apple and 3 raisins in the tasteless of oatmeal. I doubt anyone in the kitchen even tasted their "recipe". At another breakfast, toast was so hard it could've broken a tooth. I did enjoy the fruit and bran muffins and most mornings, DH had a mushroom omelet.
I truly enjoyed my coffee card. DH and I shared the card and I used all but one punch. The coffee in the International Cafe was much better than that served in the dining room and/or buffet. From what I understand, the punch on my card will be accepted on our next Princess cruise and it never expires. They served heavy - very heavy - cream at the International Cafe. Also, the cashew chicken salad was very good as were the sweets (all complimentary).
I haven't really mentioned the norovirus which was an on-going battle during this cruise. While it did not affect us, some 150+ passengers and 30+ crew members were down for the count. Every noon, the Captain would make an announcement about the numbers and how they were increasing by the day. The mantra during this cruise was "wash your hands". One night, I could not sleep so I decided to go for a walk around the decks. It was 1:45 and it was quiet! The only thing open was the International Café. Even the casino was closed. This would have been the ideal time to deep clean but the only person I saw cleaning was wiping down a railing. It wasn't exactly what I'd call deep cleaning!
We took our normal precautions but were surprised Princess did not have the hand sanitizers when boarding the ship. I know it does not kill the norovirus, but it helps with other bacterial infections. We have cruised with NCL many, many times and they have someone stationed at the gangway when boarding the ship to spray your hands, the globes at the elevators, casinos, theater, etc. Princess really dropped the ball here. I also asked why the announcements were made only in English. There was a very large group of non-English speaking passengers. What good does it do make announcements when passengers don't understand them?
We enjoyed most the entertainment - the Princess singers and dancers were excellent! Too bad the shows were down to 30 minutes. But since they put on 3 shows per night, it makes sense. Dan (the Deputy Cruise Director) was funny! Not sure what the Cruise Director does, but the Deputy was out and about and is a great talent. We heard Dan was great during the Liars Club; sad we missed it! We also enjoyed La Paire - the body balancing act. They put on mini shows in La Piazza throughout the cruise. And Doug Funk was hilarious! DH - who says he doesn't like improv - wanted to go to 2 shows the same night. I agreed!
The crew and staff on the Crown did not go out of their collective ways to be friendly. It was rare to see a smile or hear a "hello". Maybe they were all tired and overworked. Maybe they were all sick. Or just sick and tired. And, unlike Norwegian, we never did we see any officers out and about.
Overall the ports we visited were wonderful! We enjoyed San Francisco, Santa Barbara and San Diego. We stayed on board the ship when it docked in Ensenada. We'd been there before and it isn't our favorite stop. One thing that makes Norwegian extra special, is the “welcome back” you receive when returning from a port of call. Sometimes it’s a cool cup of water, a damp face cloth or just a greeting. What did we get from Princess? Absolutely nothing.
To be fair, there were a few things I thought that Princess/Carnival does better than Norwegian. For one thing, there is no separate card for the casino. You could download money directly from your on board account to the casino (could be dangerous to some). Another thing was the theater seating which was much more comfy than what we've experienced on Norwegian ships. The fold away tables for beverages was a nice touch. And I thought there was more legroom in the theater.
Disembarkation - Well, it could've been better. We received a letter the night before saying everyone had to be out of their cabins by 8AM. That wasn't going to happen - especially since our flight wasn't until mid-afternoon. We went to one last breakfast and shared the table with a couple we'd met on the ship. We then went back to our cabin, collected the last of our belongings and went to our assigned location to wait for our color/number to be called. We waited there maybe 45 minutes. On Norwegian, we can wait anywhere on board and debark when we're ready.
Once we were through Customs and Immigration, we waited just a few minutes for our shuttle to LAX. That airport is such a mess. It took close to an hour just to get to bag check. We had lots of time though and enjoyed people watching.
This was the first time in a long time we went without a computer. I had my smartphone and used that for emails when we were in port. I don't have an international plan but had a signal much of the time. We did log in to the internet for their 10 minute last day special so we could print out our boarding passes. Come to think of it, I could have checked in using my phone and saved a few pennies. Our on board charges were for our gratuities, internet/printing, one soda and the coffee card. We each had a drink the last night but it was complimentary from the Captain's Club.
So, you ask, did we “come back new”? Not exactly. We were actually anxious to get off the ship and away from the norovirus, the tasteless lukewarm food and the unhappy crew. Overall, it was a good cruise. Not a great cruise. Will we cruise with Princess again? It may be another 6 years before we return.