Pre-Cruise - Stayed at Hyatt Pier 66 - Highly Recommend, great pool area, two queen beds in the village rooms, proximity to port, and decent prices to be had. Not up to standards of Hyatts in cities but still great pre-cruise hotel. We have two kids and needed the two queen beds. They do charge $20 for self-parking. But that seems to be the norm in this area.
Embarkation - One good thing about renting a car, is that the rental centers provide free shuttle right to ships. Princess Embarkation is the best I've seen. Within 20 minutes of being dropped off at Port Everglades, we were on the ship. Compare this to Carnival and RCI where this process is a zoo and waiting in various lines takes 60-75 minutes.
Cabin - Cruise Critic members recommended E731 highly and we grabbed it. It is a covered AFT minisuite and has an extended balcony 60% bigger than other minisuites. Minisuites are great as they provide a lot of room. There is more than enough storage space, two big flat screen TVs (you can get ESPN2 and the international version shows many ESPN regular shows). We were very pleased with this cabin.
Ship - The Crown Princess (and Princess) does it different than other mass market cruiselines. There are several more intimate clubs and public areas rather than singular huge big spaces. Princess does that very well. You never feel crowded or congested, especially when compared to Carnival which can resemble a zoo. There is more to do and more entertainment choices. For example, the main showroom is the Princess theatre. It does not have the wow factor of the main showroom of Carnival and Royal Caribbean. But it's nice and intimate. Princess repeats shows over two days so everyone gets to see them in better seats. But there is also the separate Explorers Club, which is really nice and features good live bands and comedians. There is a dance floor there and it has the feeling of a big room and it's also intimate. The thing Princess does best is the layout of the pool areas. They break up the pool areas into separate areas unlike other lines where there is that one huge congested pool area. Back to back are fresh water pool areas. One has the outdoor movie screen (MUTS) and the other has a stage above for live bands and that pool has the pool games. The pool has a wave effect which is nice and you can't beat the freshwater pools on Princess. They are all big and never crowded. Each pool has its own bar area and the separation walls have a pizza and ice cream bar in between. In a separate area on a higher deck is an adult pool and a family pool. The Crown Princess also has several other entertainment venues and clubs sprinkled around decks 5-7 and the higher decks 15-18. They get it right. There are several entertainment choices at all times. There really is something for everyone.
Dining Venues and Food - Okay, this is one area that is mixed for Princess and the Crown Princess. The miss is the restaurants. They are single level and don't resemble the grand dining rooms you see on Carnival and Royal Caribbean. The food itself, at dinner also falls short of Carnival and Royal Caribbean as choices are limited to 3-4 entrees and the alternative choices. The food isn't awful. It's average and the experience falls short of the other two lines I mentioned. We had anytime dining. Reservations are taken but usually only before 6 and after 8:30. We went and our longest wait was 15 minutes for tables of 2 and 4 depending on whether our kids joined us. Anytime Dining worked for us as we never felt rushed to dinner and ate at times such as 6:15, 6:30, 7, and 8. However, Princess hits home runs with its buffet, specialty restaurants, and other smaller dining areas. There are two specialty upcharge restaurants and we hit both of them. The Crown Grill is a $25 per person ($12.50 for kids) upcharge steakhouse. It's on a level of Capital Grill and Ruth's Chris. They bring as much as you want of everything. The porterhouse was great and sides of lobster tails were included upon request. The food and experience is so much superior to the main restaurants that it is well worth the upcharge. Sabatinis is a beautiful restaurant with a $20 per person upcharge. Cold and hot antipastos are brought to your table and you choose from everything. For the main choice, I had the veal chop and wife had the Chilean Sea Bass. Again, exquisite service and great food with a high recommendation. It was a great experience. We had sushi at Vines. We ordered three pieces of Spicy Ahi Tuna and Avocado and got what one would consider a full order at any good sushi restaurant for $2. It was very good and better than the free stuff given out by Princess and other lines. International Cafe has light lunches and deserts. Some items have small charges such as three scoops of gelato for $1.50 and fancy candy apples, and tapas. Buffet areas are very good with great smoked salmon always available at breakfast and several choices of food. The buffet areas are nice. But where is the lemonade and other fruit juices? Just water and tea. :( . Please change this Princess. There is also a good grill near the pools for burgers, dogs, chicken sandwiches. The pizza place is average at best (although well reviewed by passengers of cruise critic) and falls way short of Carnival's pizza.
This ship and this cruise seemed very friendly as compared with other lines. I don't know yet if that's a Princess thing and the crowd it caters to or if it was just this cruise. The atmosphere was friendly and helpful. There was plenty of space available on pool decks to get chairs at all hours and people talk to one another. There is not a lot of rushing around. I was very impressed. Princess also does a great job of controlling smoking area. I hate smoke and never felt like I had to suffer through a smoking area and passengers were very considerate. To me, this is a huge plus.
Kids clubs were good - We have an 11-year old and a 9-year old. But counselors are not as engaging as those on RCI and Carnival. Kids prefer evening activities to day activities. The physical areas for kids are very good. My kids were disappointed in arcade on ship. Can't have everything.
Wife enjoyed the spa and massage. Gym is nice. Scholarship at Sea programs - wife did digital photography courses and daughter did ceramics at sea. Upcharges for all of these courses but also are great options to have.
Overall, this was a nice step up for us. Princess does the little things right (even provide cold face towels upon arriving back at ship from islands). Embarkation and debarkations from ports are quick and easy. We loved this cruise so much that we booked sister ship (Ruby) for our Med cruise next year.