Let me preface this review by saying that we spent four days at Disney World before driving down to board the Crown. We are in our early 50's, and have cruised only twice prior to this cruise, once on Royal Caribbean and once with Celebrity. We love to travel and approach the whole experience with the attitude that we will never let a small thing ruin our trip and refuse to allow someone's bad manners or cranky-pants nature take the shine off our day. Overall, Princess did a really nice job, and while a different experience from Celebrity, it was a good cruise.
The boarding process looked a bit overwhelming as we approached a long line after we exited the shuttle bus. We arrived a little after 1:00 for boarding. We did not have tags for our luggage (not sure why - have to check into that with our TA), but one of the porters was able to help us out and we got the bags labeled. Once we got into line, it moved very quickly and the gentlemen who checked us in was very friendly. We had the requisite photos taken and headed on board. We were a little disappointed in the welcome, no cool drink or anything like that, just directions to our stateroom.
The Crown is beautiful and we were very happy with our balcony cabin, and that we were able to immediately go to our cabin and drop our carry-ons. LOTS of storage room, the bed was very comfortable and the bathroom, while tiny (no surprise there) was very efficient. I will say that from the very first day we had issues with the water temperature in the bathroom. The shower was never more than lukewarm, and would arbitrarily turn very cool throughout the shower. And, the water from the sink was always warm! ??? It was a bit unpleasant taking medication with warm water in the morning. It wasn't until later in the cruise that I mentioned this to other passengers who were not having the same experience and we realized this may have been cabin-specific and we should have mentioned it to our cabin steward. The temperature control in the shower was stuck right where it was and could not be adjusted one way or the other.
And, our steward, Elmar, did a fabulous job, he was like a ghost, we rarely saw him and he was in and out of our cabin somehow within minutes of us leaving - he was very diligent and our cabin was always spotless. One small issue - and I'm not sure again if this is a Princess thing - I wish they would clean the glass on the balcony. I know that must be difficult to keep up with, but they were salt encrusted through our entire journey (including when we boarded) and a clear view would have been nice.
Muster drill was quick and efficient, thank you Princess for having it indoors. Sail away was great, our first time on the port side, so the first time to wave to all the well-wishers on shore as we sailed out. Dinner was in the Horizon Court buffet, lots and lots of seafood, lobster claws, crab and shrimp - all very good.
I will say that this was where we saw some service issues - again - nothing that ruined our trip, but a little surprising. It was very difficult at all meals in the buffet to get beverage service, and once we waited at least 10 minutes just for some cutlery. We were very dismayed that the hand sanitizers were not working, and when I asked a staff member about it, he wandered off and I finally got tired of waiting and went and sat down. A little later a single bottle of sanitizer appeared near the buffet on the counter, but I'm not sure that having everyone touch the top to dispense sanitizer is a win - the automatic ones would be better. There was little effort to make the use of them prominent in any way, and very few people seemed to know they were there or use them. On a ship that I understand had just had a bout of Noro, this was a little disturbing.
Anyway, on to the best part of the cruise - the food. No matter where we ate, the food was very good, well seasoned, beef was cooked to order, lots of seafood, beautiful desserts. Portions were manageable in size and overall we were very happy with the food.
Sunday was Super Bowl, but it was much too cold to sit outside with MUTS to watch the game. Glad to see it on the in-cabin TV.
We didn't get off the ship at Princess Cays, we spent a lovely quiet day on the ship. Really enjoyed the pizza from the pool deck - and the burgers from the grill were great.
We had signed up in October for traditional dining, but we didn't make the cut. Anytime dining worked out very well for us, we are early diners and we never once had to wait, but we also were happy to share a table. We met some lovely people over the course of our cruise, but we find we missed the opportunity with traditional dining to really get to know your tablemates and your staff. We were fortunate enough to sit in the same area a couple of times, so had the same waitstaff, but we did miss that part of a cruise.
Next was a sea day, and the ship was really starting to rock. We did hit some high winds and high seas on this trip, the winds at one point were classified as gale force, and swells around 12-14 feet. I took a Bonine every night and never had a problem, but it sure made navigating the decks a little challenging. I would love to know how many hats blew overboard during this cruise - we saw a lot of items break away from people and go sailing away. Some nice poetic justice for some lounge hogs who had reserved their chairs without something weighty. The wind took care of it nicely and blew their things away!
Did a wine tasting in the Michelangelo dining room - the $15.00 one - had fun, tried some great wines, but the dessert wine was just horrible. It was an Errazuriz Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Maybe it's because we come from icewine country, but when they served that wine and likened to it to icewine we were horrified. It was just awful, thin and virtually tasteless. The other couple at our table agreed, they thought we had been poured water by mistake! Ick.
Formal night was a little disappointing. We (okay, mostly me!) look forward to the chance to dress up and have a lovely dinner. We actually rented a tux for Rob this time through the on-line cruisewear service (which was so convenient, and a very nice tux), and I had a full length velvet dress with some sparkles, and I think we looked quite elegant. We were stunned to see some of our fellow diners in golf shirts and one in a t-shirt! I don't ordinarily care what anyone wears but on a cruise, I guess I expected a little more dress code attention. Dinner was excellent, and the wait staff brought a nice cake and sang for our anniversary, that was a nice touch. We also had our portraits taken by the photographer, she did a really nice job.
St. Maarten is an island we have visited before, last time we did a snorkel excursion, so this time we booked an island tour with a visit to the butterfly farm. Our guide was Antonio (Banderas!?) and he did a phenomenal job. He was entertaining and informative and managed to maneuver that bus through and around obstacles we thought would bring us to a complete halt. One small portion of the route to the butterfly farm was under construction and required about a 20 minute detour through a very crowded beachfront area. Nice opportunity to take pictures, but very difficult passage for the bus. He deserves a lot of credit for getting us through. The butterfly farm is not nearly as large as the one we've seen at Niagara Falls, but wins hands down for charm and the delightful array of butterflies. A very informative intro and then we were able to just wander around. Very nice spot. Shopping stop in Marigot was a bit predictable and very touristy, but nice all the same.
St. Thomas was also a stop we have made before. We did the St. John Trunk Bay snorkel. The trip was great, the ferry ride was a lot of fun, and we really enjoyed snorkeling at Trunk Bay. I think St. John may well be the most beautiful island we have ever seen. The view were incredible, the roads were interesting and we had a great time. We were a little disappointed that we had to wait more than 20 minutes for our shuttle back to the pier, but it happens. And, he still stopped for us to take pictures along the route back, which was nice.
Dinner tonight was formal, and this was our only time sitting at a table for two, which was really nice. It was also lobster night. This was one time that the service was more than disappointing - it actually felt discriminatory. We sat next to a couple who had a different key card than ours - I believe it was either navy or black. The lady at that table ordered the lobster dinner, as did my husband and I. When our waiter brought my plate, I asked if it would be possible to have a second helping. He mumbled something unintelligible and walked away. We kind of smiled and shrugged and figured we would have a second. The waiter came by just as our table neighbor was finishing her lobster plate, and he swept it away and placed another in front of her. We were very pleased, thinking our second plate would be coming out too. Instead, the waiter reappeared, cleared our plates and handed us dessert menus!! I'm not sure what happened there, and why one table would receive exemplary service and seconds on lobster and another would not. I would hope that it wasn't due to the difference in our Captain's Circle status, or if that's even indicated by the card color, but it was disappointing. We aren't the type of people to make a scene over something like this - a second helping would have been nice, but it's not a trip-breaker. And, I would not like to responsible for someone being disciplined for something this minor. I mention it because it felt like the "honor" of second helpings on a luxury item seemed selective.
The weather turned quite rough that night, we had high swells and high winds. There were some very unsettling noises during the night. I woke during the night at one point, thinking we had struck a whale. The whole ship shook and shuddered as though at impact. The movement of the ship does not bother me, I generally enjoy being rocked to sleep, but this was a very unusual noise and it happened many times that night.
Breakfast the next morning was a challenge in the buffet, we were all weaving about! We were very sad to miss Grand Turk, this was one of the reasons we had selected this itinerary, but completely understood that the captain can't take a chance in having his lovely ship smacked off the dock. So, two more sea days!
We don't do a lot of shows, but we did enjoy the entertainment in the Piazza. The jugglers and acrobats, and the wonderful accapela (sp?) quartet were really great. We did see the Motor City salute and that was a really good show.
I did the On Deck for the Cure walk, and I'm so happy to see Princess participating in this wonderful cause. We've all been touched by this vicious disease, and I'm happy to walk around the deck if it could possibly help. Such an easy thing to do (well, a little challenging with the rocking and rolling that day!)
Overall, we enjoyed the cruise very much. A couple of things we find we preferred with Celebrity: - traditional dining, we do prefer to get to know our tablemates and our wait staff - full breakfast service in the cabins. This was a bit of enforced sensible eating (which may not be a totally bad thing!), but I did miss a cooked breakfast on the balcony. - and speaking of our balcony - seriously - duct tape on the door frame of our balcony?? The ship is very new and seemed beautifully maintained, but there was duct tape all around the lower door frame. We've been known to use duct tape for many a repair job, and it may have been an effort to reduce the constant creaking from the door, but it had been there for some time, and it really looked awful.
- some little things - one day when we returned to the ship from an excursion Solstice was docked alongside the Crown, and they had chilled face cloths and cool drinks on the pier to welcome their returning passengers, as well as hand sanitizers - I don't mean to be harping on the hand sanitizer thing, I know that a good hand-washing is a better weapon, and I follow that religiously, but I just think if Princess made them more easily available (and functional!) they would be more regularly used.
Thank you to all the Cruise Critic forum members, as always you were an enormous help, even if I was just lurking a lot of the time. The tips and suggestions were invaluable, and you were right - the goat cheese souffle is to die for!