Let me start by giving you a little background.
We have sailed over 25 times on all mass marketed lines and though we do have our favorite line or lines, we normally choose a cruise by the itinerary and the price. This particular cruise was one we had our hearts set on for many years and I think our expectations were a little too high. Is this saying,"we didn't enjoy our cruise?" Absolutely not, but there were aspects that were not positive. I guess nothing is or can be perfect.
We flew from Northwest Arkansas to Dallas and then to Montreal for a couple of days prior to taking the rail to Quebec City. Our flight was delayed and we had several gate changes, thus the trip didn't start out on a positive note, but we arrived safe and sound, checked into our hotel about 11 p.m. and had glasses of wine to unwind before going to sleep. To our amazement, the phone rang about 20 minutes after we got to our room. Either the walls were very thin or we talk really loud cause we were asked to quiet down a little. That was a first for us and we have traveled a lot. We decided maybe it was time to turn out the lights and call it an evening.
The next day we did a little walking around, visited Chinatown, checked out the local grocery stores and mainly people-watched. That night we chose a french restaurant the front desk attendant recommended. I can honestly say he has very good tastes. After eating maybe 5000 calories of cream and butter, we left the restaurant full and quite satisfied. The service, typical for Canada we were told, was very good but not particularly friendly.
The next morning we boarded the rail for a 3+hour ride to Quebec. The entire train pretty much consisted of people heading for the Crown Princess. One little peice of information: we were told there was a very strict max size for luggage and there would be nowhere it could be stored other than above the seat or under. Well, I wouldn't suggest arriving with a steam trunk, but they were not measuring the size and they had storage shelves at the front of each car. I mention this because I actually bought one new piece of luggage, believing my duffle bag was about 2 inches too long. I could have saved a few bucks had I known they were not going to measure anything and had a porter at the train station to convey our bags aboard.
I think our main complaints, which I will explain in detail as I go along, were: 1-There were actually too many ports, even though we chose the cruise thinking we would love how port-intensive it would be, and 2-We have decided we are just not megaship people. Third issue was there were too many ships in port at almost every stop. This was not something Princess could contol, but it did make touring somewhat hectic.
THE SHIP: From the minute we entered the Crown we were swept away by her elegenace and beauty. It was hard to imagine what more they could do to make her better when she went into dry dock at the end of our cruise. The fresh flowers we saw so many places, including public restrooms, added to the decor and the overall feel of the ship. Getting around the ship was relatively easy. After a few days there always seemed to be something exciting going on in the Piazza area (Deck 5 in the Atrium). The only problem, as I have mentioned, was the size of the ship; 3500 people seeming more like a small town than a ship. Just getting on and off on port days was a hassle, especially coming back on ship at ports that normally were embarkation ports such as Quebec, Boston and NYC.
EMBARKATION: We had priority embarkation, so we were on the ship and in our cabins not more than 15 minutes or so after arriving at the ship in Quebec. There were no porters at the pier, so each of us loaded our bags onto large movable "crates." Seeing this, I was a bit nervous, but everything arrived
intact, outside our cabin, in good time.
CABIN: As we had decided on the trip at the last minute (for us, last minute, is about 2 months out) we chose an inside cabin - only done one other time. The location was perfect for us. We were only a few cabins from the pool area and not far from the outdoor grill, which was just before entering the Horizon Court(buffet)area. We were reasonably near elevators and couldn't have been more satisfied. As for the cabin, it was almost identical to our last Princess cabin on The Golden, even though last time we had an outside cabin. Sizewise, I would say Princess is pretty similar to other lines (NCL, RCI and Celebrity), the only difference is with bathrooms and the large dressing room/closet area. The bathroom was so small it appeared the toilet was in the shower. As for the closet/dressing room area, this is a matter of opinion as I prefer to have more cabin space, whereas others like added closet space. The cabin was clean and there was plenty of storage. It appeared there would not be enough, except for the closet, but as we unpacked, we realized just how much space there was. Admittedly, we did travel little lighter than some because we had free laundry availability and took full advantage of it. The worst part of the cabin was the bed. I do hope they are being replaced in dry dock. The best part of the cabin was the flat screen and program selections. While there was not a lot of up-to-date programming, if one wants to go on a vacation just to watch TV, then check into the nearest hotel and watch it all day.
ENTERTAINMENT: This was very hit and miss; once again a matter of opinion. The positives: a lot to choose among most nights, but the negatives: most wasn't that great and some entertainers were often repeats (one night they would be in the main showroom, the next in the Explorers Lounge). Of course, there was music throughout the ship, which was a positive and the Piazza, as mentioned previously, had entertainment both during the days and at night. Activities were also hit and miss. There were some port talks, but the lecturers left a lot to be desired. Of course, there was daily bridge (well attended, I might add) and the usual trivia contests plus other activities on the fewcsea days we had. One could choose to stay busy if they wanted, but the cool weather did interfere. We have discovered that those who choose port-intensive cruises are not sailing to be entertained every minute by the staff .
DINING: Here, of course, is the most talked-about subject on any cruise and cruise line, I think, creating the most debates. Yes, food is very subjective, as we found out in talking to other cruisers. Overall, our opinion was: like many other lines, Princess has cut back. It was our goal to try something in every dining establishment and we did. Starting with the MDRs, the entrees were always good, cooked perfectly. Serving sizes were generous without over-doing it. There were enough choices that I can't imaging anyone having trouble finding something to enjoy. The biggest problem was a lack of spices making bland almost everything we tasted. The best thing I had were cauliflower fritters for lunch one day. The other truly enjoyable food in the MDRs was, as I mentioned, the entrees - specifically the meats. I had steak in some form two or three nights, always cooked just the way I like it; hubby said the same. The worst were breakfasts. I can't think of one positive thing to say about MDR breakfasts. We enjoyed meeting lots of nice people the nights we ate in the MDR, but wish Princess would have more tables for 2 or 4 instead of so many that seat 6 or 8. How many times can you ask or answer the same questions: where are you from, how many times have you cruised, are you enjoying yourself, what did you do today? I think this is what we get for choosing personal dining, but we like the flexibility. We also tried both specialty dining rooms. Sabatini's was wonderful until I got my lobster: how many people enjoy lobster that looks more like a raw shrimp? We talked to 4 or 5 other people who varified theirs also was not cooked. Yes, I could have sent it back; but, by this time, we had been eating for almost 2 hours, were getting a little tired and were pretty full. So we let it slide. Hubby's steak was perfect. We enjoyed the Crown Grill, but I am not sure we would spend $25 each again, as we didn't find it that much better than the main dining rooms. Because we chose to go completely casual, we didn't eat in the MDrs on formal nights, but chose the buffet. We also ate there 3 or 4 mornings and for a couple of lunches. Overall, I honestly would not recommend it to anyone. The outdoor pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream were what one would expect. They served their purpose, so I can't imagine anyone complaining about them. The last but not least place to grab a bite was the international cafe in the Piazza area. Though we only ate there a couple of times for lunch, it was quick, you could people-watch and the food, though not a huge selection, was very satisfactory and some people would get it and take it back to the cabin.
SERVICE: This was another mixed bag for us: our cabin steward was the best we have had in years. I think he stood in the corner, watched us leave, and then cleaned in 10 minutes, never missing a thing. No matter how short a time we would be gone, we would return and the "please clean" sign would be down, the cabin spotless and, if we saw him, he would always smile and call us by name. In fact, all the housekeeping staff seemed friendly. The dining room servers were usually good, but certainly appeared to be over-worked and not as friendly as on some cruise lines. This isn't to be taken as a real downer, as we only had one or two meals where the service might have been considered below par. Our other opinion of the overall service was good, maybe not as personal as some lines, but certainly acceptable in every way. Some people do not care about the crew being too friendly, so they would be very happy.
EXCURSIONS AND PORTS: I could write a book about this because we did so many, a couple with the cruise line and the rest on our own.
We certainly had favorite ports, as do most. For us the best ports were Halifax, Bar Harbor and Charleston. Some people thought Boston was their favorite, but we blew it and saw only Quincy Market in the rain. Of course, Quebec is always at the top of people's list for good reason. We did a hop-on, hop-off bus trip there, which gave us a wonderful, overall view of that beautiful city.
In Sydney, we took a private tour with 2 other couples we met after getting off the ship. We had a really funny taxi driver who talked more than I do, knew his way around, took us to the fascinating Alexander Bell Museum and then dropped us off at a great little restaurant to enjoy a genuine seafood meal. Some had lobster, others clam chowder, fish and chips or mussles. On the way back we stopped at a state liquor store to pick up some wine. The tour price was right, the liquor expensive and it was one of the best tours we had. Halifax was our next port. We did the very touristy thing: Peggy's Cove and the cemetery where some of the Titanic victims are buried. The tour was set up by one of the gals on our roll call for about 20 of us and our delightful guide. The only negative: there were 4 large ships in port that day and the area is not equipped for so many. Peggy's Cove was a "zoo" because of the limited parking for so many tour buses and cabs.
Bar Harbor was another wonderful experience. We chose a private tour that was short, but we managed to see what we wanted and were not disappointed. Boston, already mentioned, was a screw-up on our part. Again, too many ships in port.
This was not the fault of anyone but us.
In Newport, we chose to do our own thing as we had been there before. We walked around town, had lunch at the oldest tavern (1673) in the country, paying too much for a lobster sandwhich that I think was fake lobster, but we did buy 4 wine glasses with the logo on them and it was worth the price just to say we had been there.
In NY City we took a wonderful tour of lower Manhattan with a couple stops, including one at the seaport where we ate rueben sandwiches - complete (nothing on them except for the meat and the cost, $16.00). Oh well, we can say we walked along the boardwalk and ate while watching the seagulls fly around. We did do some great souvenir shopping.
Charleston was all one would expect to find in a city with so much of the Civil War history at their finger tips. We did the open carrige tour. Then we headed back to the ship. Of course,again, we took time to do some shopping. Our family will get a lot of cruise stuff in their stocking this year.
All in all it was a great cruise and what a way to see Europe without really leaving the western hemisphere. From there one can travel to the oldest lighthouses in the Americas, see the wonderful old churches, both large and small, learn the history or our country, see the amazing color-changing of the leaves, walk where Paul Reverve rode, visit the largest city in America, and then head to the wonderful south, with all its hospitality and great cooking. A fall cruise out of Canada offers everything anyone could want (we even had some sunny, warm days) without packing and unpacking constantly. Would we do it again, maybe; would we recommend the Crown to others? Definitely yes, depending on their idea of cruising, would we cruise that itinerary again? I don't know, but we would do Princess again.