I am Platinum with Princess. I was on the 4 Oct New York-to-Quebec sailing on the Crown Princess. This was our second time on this itinerary on Princess – the first time (four years ago on the Grand Princess) we were too early in the season and this time we thought we were, too, until we got to Quebec. The Ile de Orleans was awash in color! And the road was like a tunnel through a canvas of orange and yellow. We stayed over one night at the Chateau Frontenac and rented a car the next day to drive back out to the Ile de Orleans and take photos at our leisure.
Itinerary. The overall itinerary was great, but VERY port intensive. Although I am not a fan of sea days, it is nice to have an occasional break in the port sequence. In my mind, you could skip Sydney and not miss anything. As it was, there were seven straight days of port visits, which was a little much. Plus, three of those ports were tender ports. In a ship the size of Crown Princess, tender operations are sometimes hectic (especially if there are any delays upon arrival), so the fewer tender ports the better. An unexpected bonus on this cruise was, no rain for EIGHT days, unseasonably warm weather in Canada (e.g., 80 deg in Halifax), and no storms/extremely high winds. All cruises should be like that!
Dining. This was our first experience with Anytime dining. We do not like eating early - we want to enjoy as much of the day ashore as possible and not have to either rush back to the ship for early seating or not have a chance to relax and shower before having dinner. We ended up eating about 7:30 most nights and unfortunately, it was a “tweener” time as the ship’s evening activities are oriented toward the formal seating times. Although on past cruises we have had some “difficult” table partners at second seating, I would take that over constantly getting to know somebody new at your table.
Room. We always sail in a balcony or mini-suite. We like being able to step outside and enjoy wherever we are at the time, whether the open sea or entering/leaving port. We decided to experiment this trip and took a balcony that was on the ship’s stern; i.e., we were looking directly aft. I don’t think we’ll do that again. The views are severely constrained since you cannot see where you are going and the side views are also restricted. Since my wife is a big time camera fanatic, this location just didn’t work for us.
Passenger Capacity. For me, Crown Princess and her sisters (we’ve sailed on Ruby, too) have too many people. My sense was that virtually everything was crowded all the time. The basic problem is that Princess took a reasonably sound design with Grand & Golden and added another deck of cabins without increasing the facilities. I am dismayed that the Royal will be even larger. Give me Coral/Dawn class any day! We were traveling with a lady who was mobility impaired and she had to use the elevators. So, what Princess has done is add 500 more people without any increase in the elevator capacity. We had great difficulty getting her from floor to floor due to severely overcrowded elevators. This is said not to discourage mobility impaired people but to forewarn them to have patience.
Food. We went to the Crown Grill once (highly recommended!), to the evening buffet at Horizon Court twice (so-so) and to the pizza parlor once (frankly, it was HIGHLY enjoyable after a 7 hour bus tour). Due to morning coordination issues with our traveling companion we opted for room service almost every morning; and we didn’t regret that. It kept our mornings simple, we didn’t have to search for a table, and we weren’t tempted to overeat at breakfast. Be advised that most mornings our food arrived BEFORE the requested delivery time which embarrassed my wife once or twice. We aren’t the kind of people who have to rush back to the ship at noon in order to not spend money on a meal ashore. The only on board lunch I can recall us eating was the British Pub lunch in the Wheelhouse Bar (on our only sea day) – the fish and chips were excellent (as was the English ale).
New York. Princess put us at the Intercontinental, about two blocks west of Times Square. The lobby was incredibly small and when the pre-/post cruise passengers flooded it, it was a mad house. I much prefer the Sheraton, where we were last time. Also, the “organization” (if I can dignify it with that word) for getting everyone from the downstairs meeting rooms onto the buses to the ship was extremely poor. Confusion reigned. Around the corner, on 9th Ave (as I recall) is the West Side diner. Go there for breakfast.
Newport: I used to live in Newport, so I am biased – any tour there is a good one. Don’t miss the opportunity to have a lobster roll at the restaurant next to the Newport Casino (aka Tennis Hall of Fame). Good atmosphere. We went on the tour of the Elms – main difference between that mansion and the Breakers (other than the ocean view) is you get headsets at the Elms – so you can go at your own pace. At the Breakers it is sometimes hard to hear the docent.
Boston: Went to Lexington and Concord. Beautiful settings and incredible history, but a bit hard on our mobility impaired travelling companion. She did not get off the bus at North Bridge in Concord as it was not a paved walkway. Also, cobblestones in Boston were a problem for her. They dropped us for lunch at Quincy Market and recommended some place upstairs, which our traveling companion could not access. So, we had lunch in the market. “Chowda” bowl was ok (Hennessey's, down the street, is better), but the ice cream was excellent. The visit to Harvard Yard was totally prefunctory, not sure why it’s on the itinerary. We only saw some occasional Fall color, but the bus wouldn’t stop.
Bar Harbor: Went to the Cranberry islands. Delightful boat ride there and a very knowledgeable Ranger. The view from Cadillac Mountain is fabulous. We only saw some occasional Fall color, but the bus wouldn’t stop. Departure time for the tour was awkward – noon, which combined with having to tender in meant we grabbed lunch on the go at the corner deli and ate it on the bus.
St. John: The highlight for me is always the Old City Market. Fascinating place. We always buy something from the linen lady – we got a nice Christmas table runner this time. Our boat ride tour on the river actually took place well north of the rapids, so that was a bit disappointing.
Halifax: Last time we took the seven hour tour to Mahone Bay and Lunenberg and thought it was the highlight of the entire trip. This time all they offered was a 3.5 hour trip. Since it takes an hour and 15 minutes to get there, you do the math. Last time we walked Mahone Bay. This time we didn’t stop. Last time we had a nice lunch in Lunenberg overlooking the bay, this time they insisted on getting us back to the terminal by 1:00 for lunch aboard the ship (which, of course, we passed on). The 3.5 hour tour is a RIP OFF! Plus, we only saw some occasional Fall color, but the bus wouldn’t stop. We had a very nice lunch ashore at the Grey Goose II restaurant – you can walk there from the ship. Also, the waterside promenade leading north from the ship has interesting eateries and kiosks all along. It’s worth a walk.
Sydney: There’s really nothing in Sydney. Last time we went to the Alexander Graham Bell museum in Baddock – delightful. This time we tried to see some Fall color on the coastal tour. Sad to say, the color was sporadic, plus the bus wouldn’t stop. On the pier is a shop (Hattie’s Heirlooms) that sells Santas. We’ve now bought two Santas there and are totally satisfied with the purchases.
Charlottetown: We did Ann of Green Gables last time, but the highlight wasn’t that, it was the jelly/preserves factory. Ann is living off her reputation. This time we did the tour to Victoria-by-the-Sea; it was a delightful little village, but since the season was over (thanks for letting us not know that, Princess) everything was boarded up. After staring at the lighthouse, we went back to Charlottetown. Another bad tour. We ate at Lobster on the Wharf adjacent to the ship. Mistake. My wife’s crab cakes were inedible and she sent them back.
Quebec: One of our all time favorite cities! Any time spent there is worth it. Definitely the best tour guide of all on this cruise and perhaps the best we’ve ever had. The included lunch on the Ile de Orleans was a superb French repast. We stayed over the next night at the Chateau Frontenac. If you are expecting to see that magnificent view from your room, forget it. Princess guests get the interior rooms. For lunch, we ate at the Ancient Canadian just down Rue St. Louis from the Chateau. The French onion soup was to die for. Our guide had recommended the “Friere du Cote” (Brothers of the Hill) restaurant on Rue de St. Jean for dinner. It was a spot on recommendation – all five of us thought it was an excellent meal (liver, ribs, bison, and pasta). Also, “casual” is the operative word there. He had also recommended the Leaping Rabbit near the bottom of the funicular on Rue de Petite Champlain for lunch, but we never got there.
Summary. Mother Nature is a capricious lady. Although we eventually saw some color, calling this a Fall foliage cruise is a misnomer. People on cruise prior to ours probably saw nothing and we only saw some color. The next cruise probably had it the best – luck of the draw. But the fact that the tour buses would not stop when there was some color was totally frustrating.
Princess is our favorite cruise line (and still is), but I would hesitate to take Crown again in the future. No matter what they do to her renovation-wise, they aren’t going to eliminate the Riviera deck and all those extra people spoil it for me.