DH and I took our first cruise ever Dec 16 '06 - it was on the Crown Princess. We had planned this trip for 14 months (and became a Cruise Critic junkie during that time - got wonderful tips that made a huge difference in our enjoyment of the trip, by the way) and could not have been more satisfied with the whole trip. I'd like to second everything she wrote. The Crown Princess is definitely a wonderful vacation experience.
We arrived in San Juan at mid-day, the day before our cruise. We stayed at the El Convento, a bit pricey but SO charming and very convenient for strolling all about this colorful and historic part of the city. We definitely advise anyone who can, to take a pre-cruise day for unwinding from work-world stress. As we were coming from the Boston area, winter storms are a potential problem and having that extra day was our cushion against travel issues, but we had no delays - making for a delightful start to the best vacation we've ever taken.
As our taxi brought us the short ride from our hotel to the pier on Saturday at about 3PM, we gasped as we turned a corner and started down a hill and there she was, so high on the water that the ship seemed like a monolith. Wow! We'd only seen pictures of cruise ships, so we were blown away at the sight of this incredible floating mansion. I know it sounds corny, but I actually got goose bumps. We waited in line for about 30 minutes, chatting with a Scottish couple who were on the second half of their B2B, then entered the area where we presented our documents and quickly found ourselves on the ship itself.
The Crown Princess is elegant, tastefully designed and the Dolphin deck mini-suites are good-sized (I also liked the separate closet area, which had plenty of shelves and lots of hangars) with ample storage space for all the stuff I brought... and we arrived with 3 suitcases and 2 carry-ons. Okay, give me a break, it was my first cruise and I packed absolutely everything as I was afraid our luggage would get lost, so I had swimwear, casual wear, formal attire, underwear, shoes, etc. in each and every case... all our baggage arrived with us, so I really had much more than needed. But if anyone on our cruise needed anything from duct tape to sewing kit, travel steamer, flashlight, binoculars, medication and lotions (or potions) for any possible malady, I believe I had packed it! Speaking of medication, I'd recommend noting the correct dosage when taking seasick pills (for which I really had no need for at all). I downed two caplets after sailaway Saturday night from a package someone gave me back home (because I was afraid I might get seasick, as I sometimes get carsick) and basically slept away the first day, which luckily was a sea day (Sunday)! I later found out I should only have taken 1/2 a tablet. Luckily, I was able to rouse enough by 3PM to go to the Lotus spa for a Couple's Massage we had pre-booked. The massage therapists had a good laugh about my condition and one gave me a good "wake-up" massage while DH got the relaxing one! It was pretty vital that I got "with it", because DH had a big surprise in store. At 6PM, we were dressed in formal wear for what I thought was picture-taking time before the first formal dinner, when to my surprise he steered me to the chapel and announced we were renewing our wedding vows (33 yrs!) It was the highlight of our trip, with the ship's Captain personally leading our private ceremony. So the Love Boat lives on!!!!
At our first port, Barbados, we did the Silvermoon Catamaran tour that so many on Cruise Critic have recommended and I would highly, highly (I mean that double) recommend it. It is completely worth the $100 per person. The small number of people (I think we had only 10 on our trip) made it low-key and relaxing, and it was a good environment to share conversation if you wanted--- DH and I made friends with another couple who were also on the Crown and we kept running into each other during the rest of the cruise and even had dinner together one evening when we all happened to arrive at anytime dining at the same time. The lunch served on the Silvermoon was so much better than I would have expected and even DH, who is a very fussy eater, was happy with the meal. I personally don't like banana bread but decided to give theirs a try and I wound up eating three pieces. It was home-made and warm from the oven and I am getting hunger pangs just thinking of it. The crew didn't just answer questions we asked, they seemed to really enjoy what they did for a living and were friendly, informative, and obviously interested to see that we were having a good time. The boat is immaculate and very well-kept. They have earned their reputation as THE tour not to miss in Barbados.
St. Lucia (next port) was our favorite island. We had hired Herod (also recommended by many of you Cruise Critic writers) to take the two of us around the island for the day, but due to some scheduling issues, he found it necessary to have a friend of his, Junior, take us instead. Junior was the perfect tour guide and Herod called him several times that day on his cell phone to make sure we were having a good time. We teased Herod that Junior is going to be the new tour king of St Lucia, he is that good! We wanted to go ziplining in the rain forest, so we got the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the van talking about life in St. Lucia as we drove across the island. Junior was a very careful driver, the van and tires were in great shape (we'd heard horror stories of riding in taxis in St Lucia) so we were most fortunate to meet up with Herod & Junior. Now, about the zipline. As we are in our early 50s, and I work at a desk all day (and am afraid of heights), I was a little nervous about how I'd do jumping off a platform onto a skinny wire to my certain death, but honestly, it was a blast and I'd do it again in a minute. The word for St Lucia is lush... just a beautiful place. We had a lovely meal at a small road-side outdoor restaurant (Martha's) where we enjoyed home-cooked local foods and got the added benefit of petting her cat (we were missing our pets back home). We toured the volcano where we must have gotten the best guide ever for a local scenic site - she was so funny and had the whole crowd there in her hand... Princess should grab her up for entertainment director. We also got to go swimming at Jalousie Plantation and for a while were the only ones in this lagoon-like beach sheltered between the two Pitons. Incredible.
Antigua had a lovely shopping district right at the dock where we had time to pick up a few gift items just before Eli's Eco Tour. I'd love to have had more time to actually explore Antigua-on-land, but the day was perfectly beautiful and we met people who were on our Cruise Critic roll call, which an added bonus. We had never snorkeled before Barbados, and although I just loved it, DH is not a fan. There was plenty to do on the Eco Tour if you are not into snorkeling, so both of us had a fantastic day. DH asked the skipper if they'd ever had anyone just swim away, as he wanted to warn them I was having so much fun snorkeling, I might be their first to refuse to get back in the boat. Learning about the Hawksbill Turtle project and the mangroves and some history of the island was very interesting. This was a very good tour for a family to enjoy together.
St. Maarten was the only port where we actually shopped. I wanted to buy a watch for my trip souvenir and we found matching watches in the second store we went into. We didn't haggle over the price, as it was only $400 for both watches together and I didn't want to waste my day in stores when the weather was so perfect outside. We did the 12-meter Challenge (America's Cup retired racing boats) which was our only Princess-booked tour. Everyone (us included) had a great time and we almost won our race, until the halyard broke and the sail went flat during the last few hundred yards. The crew gave my DH the piece of rope that broke and he's mounted & framed it in his office along with the $10 picture we bought of the racing yacht. He'll be sorry to hear that Tortola is replacing St Maarten on the itinerary, as he'd like to do this excursion again some day. I guess that leads up to our conclusion that the cruise bug has bit and we are now planning our second "once in a lifetime" cruise. And it will definitely be on Princess.
On our last port day, St Thomas... we had another Couple's massage in the Lotus Spa and stayed in the Sanctuary for the better part of the morning. It was a piece of heaven and the ship was so quiet with (just about) everyone off at the port. We actually did get off the ship around 1PM, saw that there was nothing (and I mean nothing) at the dock site and the cab fare for just the two of us roundtrip to Megan's Bay (or any other beach) seemed steep to pay as we'd only have about an hour to spend on the beach, so we just went back on the ship. This was a bit disappointing, as it was the only day I planned to just lay out on a beach for an afternoon, but I was surprised that the beaches were so far from where we docked. If I remember correctly, it was going to cost the two of us $28 total for a round-trip to Megan's Bay and even more to Sapphire Beach, which was the one I wanted to see. We heard quite a few people complain about St. Thomas as people returned to the ship, so our decision to just get back on the ship was a good one for us. If we went back there, I think we would book a Princess excursion to St John. We spent our afternoon taking a leisurely stroll of the ship, packing our bags and enjoying our balcony for a while, which left us free to enjoy our last evening on the ship while everyone else was stressed about fitting their gear into overstuffed bags before heading to bed.
As you can see from our port-intensive trip, we had little time to actually enjoy all the ship had to offer. I usually read a book a week - I think I read one chapter, maybe. I never got into a pool until the last day when we went to the Sanctuary. We went in a hot tub once... the only one we could find with any room in it at the time (around 5-6PM) was on an upper deck near the bridge. If I remember, it was near a children's area and there were several Hispanic families with their babies in this hot tub. Although we don't speak Spanish and they didn't speak English, we had fun splashing with the toddlers and the parents were kind to let us coo over these adorable children. We did go to the Destinations Anywhere show (which we enjoyed) and happened to sit next to the gentleman who teaches all the computer classes on board. We didn't have time to take in a MUTS show, so we can't comment on the seating/popcorn, but we did try both the pizza and hamburgs/hotdogs/french fries and all met our complete satisfaction. We each bought a Coke card, but weren't on the ship enough to drink anything except at suppertime each night, so I wouldn't buy one again unless I planned to spend more time actually on the ship. We also brought Pepsi six-packs on-board with us for our room fridge, but we didn't even drink all those. We ate breakfast everyday but once in the Horizon Court and experienced no problems with lines or the set-up, though it can be a bit confusing the first time you go there. We ate in both the Michelangelo and DaVinci dining rooms and at Sabatini's and the Crown Grill. We definitely would do the Crown Grill again - if you have a chance to try their herb french fries, they are SO GOOD, and we really liked our waiter, Daniel, who talked to us about his family and about working for Princess. We are glad we tried Sabatini's but we wouldn't go again, not because of quality or service, it's just not our kind of restaurant. They serve umpteen small portions over 2-1/2 hrs (the restaurant was only about 1/4 full) and it probably would be more fun with a group of people, but that was too long for the just the two of us to sit for dinner even if we are best friends.
The Sanctuary is definitely worth the price of admission, but we didn't have to pay extra as they give you an hour to stay after a massage. It was sprinkling off & on when we had our first one, so they let us add that hour to the hour we got with our second massage (that one came with our wedding renewal package), but I could easily go there for a half day each day and happily pay $10 each time. It is quiet and I definitely felt I was in the lap of luxury there. We used the Internet Cafe once. There was no line and it was easy and quick to use and I think my bill was under $3.00. I took a quick look at the library, but it has short hours and we were generally in port when it was open, but it looked well-stocked. We were happy with the on-ship stores and didn't find the prices exorbitant... I bought a nice-quality Crown Princess sweatshirt, my husband bought a T-shirt, and I got some perfume that we didn't see for less elsewhere (though I didn't do any heavy-duty shopping in any port) as well as a Princess beach towel (I live on the seacoast, so that will get plenty of use). Our room steward always spoke to us in the hallways when we met, he was friendly and told us about his family in the Philippines, he promptly brought anything we asked for and our room was always spotless. The staff at the customer service desk were professional and helpful and I only stood in line once (for about 10 minutes), otherwise I was just able to walk up and ask my question.
From the excitement at boarding, experiencing our first sailaway (in a light rain- only Sat night and part of Sunday had less than perfect weather), waking up in the middle of the night to see lights as we passed an island and standing in my balcony to watch like I was the only person on the ship not asleep, strolling the deck after dinner hand-in-hand, oohing over the strawberry rhubarb ice cream our waiter recommended (that was worth the price of the trip!), seeing a beautiful rainbow arching over St Thomas, eating breakfast or reading on our sunny balcony, people watching on formal nights, yummy chocolate chip cookies from the International Cafe, playing "who can find our picture first" every evening as we looked for our ship photos amidst the racks & racks, watching DH gamble at blackjack (he made his $50 allowance last two nights!), to the romantic wedding renewal and the "I can't believe we're really here doing all this" - it was such a memorable and perfectly splendid cruise. So splendid that we booked a future cruise. We can't decide if we should take a different cruise or go to the same place so we can spend more time on the ship, not being tempted to "see everything" in every port.
The only negative part of the trip was leaving, of course. And I forgot to count our bags and managed to leave one on the dock at San Juan. I faxed a report in the next day using a form on the Princess website and the bag was shipped to us arriving in perfect shape within 10 days or so. We thought the disembarkation was amazing. So many people off in such an organized manner. We did not use Princess transfers and had no trouble getting to/from the airport in San Juan. However, American Airlines check-in process is a chaotic zoo so I'd advise getting there early. Of course, this was 12/23 and it may have been the Xmas rush, but it was the worst airport experience I've ever had and I used to travel for business, so that's saying something. That, of course, had nothing to do with Princess. Princess provided us with a vacation experience we will treasure forever and we hope to repeat this again (and again...)