My wife and I are experienced cruisers and have lost track of the number of sailings. We have never been on a cruise we didn't enjoy, no matter what the line. With that said, we have some lines we enjoy more than others and recognize each has its niche.
We booked Crown Princess as it was sailing during the week when we had the time to travel and was preferred by our traveling companions due to its length. We had some misgivings about the ship and line. The reviews from 2010 for this itinerary were lukewarm, at best, and we had been a bit disappointed with the food on our previous Princess trip. That cruise had taken place shortly after its merger with Sitmar, a line we really liked. We were hoping to have a Sitmar food experience on Princess, but found Princess to be lacking in that area. After that cruise, we tried various lines and settled on Celebrity as our favorite for most situations.
I am pleased to report that we were much more impressed with this cruise than our previous Princess sailing. The food and service were excellent. Our fellow passengers were very friendly. We enjoyed every aspect of the cruise and would certainly sail Princess again. (It turned out the captain, head chef, and maitre d' were all from the Sitmar system!)
Be sure to use tripadvisor for port and tour recommendations. Just google it with the port name and either attractions or restaurants as key words. You will find information on Roy Flowers and Earth Expeditions (following) when you do that.
Canada/New England Cruises are often billed as 'fall color' cruises. Don't go with the idea that you will see fall colors. Vivid colors are climate dependent. We didn't see much as our sailing was a bit early for this. If you do experience great color, consider it an unexpected bonus.
Weather in this area is a bit unpredictable, so don't expect ideal conditions. Our weather was outstanding, except in Bar Harbor, so we considered ourselves to be very fortunate.
Embarking from Quebec City
Seriously consider taking a cab from the airport. The fare is $35 for the cab, not per person. This makes the fare generally cheaper than a pier transfer. Our friends used pier transfers due to some miscommunication. They arrived almost two hours after we were on board ship despite having arrived in Quebec on the same flight at about 2:00 p.m. We had our luggage in the cabin within 20 minutes of our arrival on board. Theirs arrived around 11:00 p.m. on the first night. It is always a good idea to research the cab vs. pier transfer issue before you book. We find cabs are generally a superior service. The embarkation in Quebec was very fast.
This is a very attractive ship in an understated way. It has a very smooth ride. It is also enormous. It had wi-fi throughout with the best internet system we have seen on a ship. It was quick and reliable, which most are not.
Like all ships, it has a few drawbacks but they did not detract from the overall experience:
' Deck 7 is the thoroughfare of the ship and can become somewhat congested. This problem is magnified by the age of the passengers, as some move slowly. Walking the deck outside speeds travel.
' The atrium is probably too small for the number of passengers. Some good advice would be to use your cabin phone to ask questions rather than going to the atrium to ask a question personally. The ship's staff provided excellent service via the phone.
' The first seating in the showroom is overcrowded, once again due to the age of the passengers. It is expected to serve the entire first seating as well as the majority of those choosing free style dining. This caused the showroom to be completely full within half an hour of show time. Arrive early.
' The ship does not have a forward looking viewing area as it is reserved for their spa.
' The cruise is very port intensive with only one day at sea. This can be exhausting and is more expensive due to costs incurred while ashore.
' The mattresses need replacing, which will probably occur at during a soon to occur drydocking.
' Young families and young couples may feel lonely on this cruise.
This is a magnificent city. To enjoy it to its fullest, consider doing the following:
' Although the citizens are almost all bilingual, try to use bonjour, merci, etc. It is a sign of respect and is appreciated. We found the citizens of Quebec to be exceptionally welcoming.
' Understand that this city wakes up at noon and goes to the wee hours of the morning. Splurge a little and eat out on the first night. I can highly recommend the Toast restaurant, but make reservations well in advance. Remember that French dining is at a leisurely pace.
' Be sure and visit the Chateau Frontenac and the Basilique de Notre Dame nearby. They are must sees!
' Also, be on deck when you sail. The town turns out and the people cheer and wave. What a sight!
' We took the wine tour through the ship and enjoyed it very much.
Prince Edward Island/Charlottetown
We generally like to book private tours, which tend to be more personal and often cheaper. Occasionally, you make a mistake and we did here. We wanted to take the horse drawn trolley through town. Don't believe their website. This tour will not be available as the owner sells out to the cruise line. Quite frankly, there is not much to see in this small town in a drive by mode. What is nice is the walking tour. Be sure to visit the two major churches and the nearby Confederation building. There is a great little seafood place kitty corner to Founders Hall, which sounds old but is a new building about a block to the left of where the ship docks. There is also a nice native craft place in the shopping area another block to the left of Founders Hall as well as some nice shops near the churches mentioned earlier.
Sydney, Nova Scotia
We rented a van and toured Fortress Louisbourg. Renting a van for a group (six of us) is a very economical way to tour. Make your reservation months in advance. The drive there is quite nice and the Fortress is well worth seeing. We stopped at the lobster restaurant on the cove in the nearby town and had a very good meal in a lovely location.
Halifax ,Nova Scotia
There is much to see and do here, too much for one day, so be happy with what you choose! We booked a tour through Ryan Barry's Earth Expeditions. Ryan gave us a brief tour of Halifax in his van and then took us to the Peggy's Cove area. Part of the group was dropped at the village and the rest of us went on a hike through the nearby Barrens and then returned to visit Peggy's Cove to join with the other people on the tour. Both parts of the groups enjoyed themselves very much. Peggy's Cove can be overwhelmed with tourists. Ryan structured the tour to avoid most of the tour buses.
St. John, New Brunswick
We booked a private tour with Roy Flowers. Roy gave us a great tour, eventually taking us to the caves, a nearby seafood restaurant, and the Fundy Trail. This area is very beautiful. Roy is quite a character. You will enjoy him. His van is really for five, not six unless you have kids. Concerning the Reversing Falls, you may or may not get to see this due to alterations in the ship's schedule. A one hour unexplained delay in arriving here nixed the chance to see the changing of the tides.
(Oh, by the way, the Canadians love to talk about their affection for their national health care system. Ask them about this. The truth is what it is. They love their system, it works extremely well, and they resent American politicians bad mouthing their system. We had two tour guides in two different ports spontaneously bring this up to their groups. They did it very tactfully)
Bar Harbor, Maine
Tendering here was handled quite well under trying weather conditions. We had heavy rain and fog so we didn't see much. We still went on the green bus national park tour bus and were glad we did. Roger, the driver, entertained us throughout. Try the Route 66 restaurant in the center of town and have the seafood pie. Yummy!
We took the jump on and jump off trolley. You would really need a full week in downtown Boston to take it all in, so choose your stops carefully. The harbor cruise thing is a nice thought, but you will not really have time for it. The entire route is longer than you would expect, so pay attention to the time, enjoy a few stops to their fullest and then stay on the trolley to the end. You will have to transfer at stop 1 to get back to the ship. Don't get off near the end of the route or you may not be able to get back on due to all the people making their way back to the many cruise ships.
Tendering was very efficient. Go to the visitor center a couple of blocks to the left of the tender dock. Take the shuttle bus to the Breakers, a must see. Take the tour. Walk the Cliff Walk and head back to the ship on a shuttle. This is a great port. Touring multiple mansions sounds possible, but why exhaust yourself?
Disembarkation is fairly slow here. Cab fare is expensive, so plan accordingly. If staying in Manhattan, consider The Distrikt Hotel on 40th near Times Square. It is relatively inexpensive for New York and is highly recommended. Ride the subways, visit Central Park, go to the Top of the Rock, get tickets online for the 911 memorial. A great restaurant choice is Basso 56 on 56th west, just a block off Central Park South. So many choices, so little time.
Princess vs Celebrity or Royal Caribbean
Princess and Celebrity are very close in quality and provide an excellent cruise experience in the mid-price range. With that said, I would still have a slight preference for Celebrity. First, on similar routes they seem to provide a somewhat longer cruise for a slightly lower total price, using the extra days as sea days. This is much more relaxing. Also, they provide educational experiences with guest lecturers from the Smithsonian, etc. This is a very nice feature. In any case, I wouldn't hesitate to book Princess and highly recommend this particular cruise.
Regarding Royal Caribbean, we have found their target audience to be those who are enjoy mega ships with unusual amenities such as ice rinks and atriums designed to look like shopping malls, but are not necessarily concerned with high quality meals or a classic cruise experience. Due to the dining quality on board, we would rank this line significantly lower than the other two.