First Time Princess sailing view from a veteran cruiser: Crown Princess Review (Dec 17 -- 24)
Background to this review:
With our children grown and no longer cruising with us, we began booking suites for the extra amenities offered. On this cruise, we booked a suite on Lido deck(deck 15 -- L106).
This cruise was affected by an outbreak of the Norovirus on the previous cruise which impacted the embarkation process (will not comment on this) and I believe to some extent the level of service we received on our cruise. I tried to factor the effect of the Norovirus into my evaluation because the purpose of us taking this cruise was to evaluate Princess as a cruise line for future cruises.
Overall Evaluation: (more detail comments appear below)
- Crown is an elegant ship, well decorated for Christmas, clean, and relatively easy to navigate
- Suite was comfortable but our location was problematic (see comments below)
- Food quality was good, not great except for the Crown Grill which was exceptional
- Dining room (Michelangelo, Da Vinci) menu variety not great, anytime dining reservation system is chaotic, and service level can vary greatly
- International CafÃ© and Ice Cream and Pizza Bar (great pizza) were two of our favorite places
- Entertainment variety was good and some of the special acts were exceptional, shows ordinary
- Exercise room and spa were below expectation levels compared to other cruise lines
- The staff was not as friendly and helpful on the Crown as other cruise lines. Of course there were exceptions.
DO NOT BOOK LIDO SUITES L106, L104 or cabins L104,L103,L102, and L101 unless you want to be awakened every morning at 7:00 by the sound of treadmills from the exercise room above. I booked suite L106 because the deck plans showed the Lotus Thermal Spa to be on deck 15 which looked easily accessible from our suite. However, the only access to the Thermal Spa is from deck 16 by going through the Lotus Spa and then back down. The deck plans also do not show the restricted view from the balcony of L106. Being in the front of the ship with a large curved balcony, I expected to have a good view of the front of the ship. This view was obstructed by the extended bridge and the top of the bridge. Therefore, this suite's view was nothing more than a good side balcony cabin.
If you're a first time Princess Suite passenger, you better inquire about how to access the amenities offered because there is NO ONE to assist you such as a concierge or butler like on other cruise lines. This may have been the responsibility of the room steward on Princess but that was not clear to us. Nor was it helpful to receive inconsistent information from the front desk versus the printed material left daily in our room.
One amenity that was useful to us was the COMPLIMENTARY internet service. The service on the ship, like any other, is slow so I spent over 500 minutes online. This would have been a $175+ charge if I had to pay for it. I did discover the speed is much faster early in the day rather than in the evening.
Complimentary hors d'oeuvres are featured in Skywalker's lounge from 5:00 -- 7:00 pm for suite passengers and elite members on "selected evenings" according to a letter we received onboard. I inquired at the front desk for the definition of selected evenings and it was quite a task to discover it was any night except when the Captains Elite meeting occurred. Finally, I learned from a Princess Elite passenger that a "card" should have been placed in my room listing the evenings and the specialty drink of the day offered in Skywalker's lounge. All my problems would have been solved if the Front Desk knew of this card or the letter reference it.
Priority tender tickets are a GREAT perk. The first day tendering to Princess Cay can be a chore with LONG waiting lines but if you are a suite passenger with priority tickets you are offered the seating on the next boat leaving from the ship. Go directly to the exit side of the Michelangelo staging area rather than getting in line or asking staff people because you may get different directions from various staff members. I finally just went directly to the dining exit area where people were leaving for the next boat when I found someone who actually knew how to direct me.
We chose anytime dining because we enjoyed the flexibility it offers and had a great experience on NCL with this option. On Princess it was not as enjoyable because it wasn't as flexible as they advertise. Only the Michelangelo dining room is accessible entirely for anytime dining and Da Vinci after 7:30 pm. Michelangelo only allows a limited number of reservations for anytime dining and after that you are "invited" to wait on line to get in.
Before making reservations, I always like to know the menu for the evening. The menu for the dining room is not easily accessible from your suite via interactive TV like other cruise lines and you have to actually visit the dining area to read the menu. If you decide the menu is OK for the evening, you better make your reservation EARLY or you will be told to come "wait in line". This is where ANYTIME DINING on the CROWN fails!!!! Heard MANY complaints from "ELITE" Princess cruisers about the lines and chaotic reservations system on the Crown. They tried to inform me that it was NOT this bad on other Princess Ships.
I was not overly impressed with the menu in the dining areas. The food quality was acceptable but there was not a great variety of items I enjoy.
Lunch in the dining room wasn't anything special. The buffets were just ordinary. Typical buffets.
SPECIALITY DINING: Crown Grill a delight!!!!
As a suite passenger we were offered breakfast daily in Sabatini's. The breakfast was good but the waiters were not overly friendly like the Crown Gill and the dining area. For that reason, we did not return to Sabatini's for dinner.
However, the Crown Grill is totally different. The food is EXCEPTIONAL and the wait staff was very friendly and an absolute delight to experience. I don't know how anyone could complain about the menu, food quality or service in the Crown Grill. I do know people complain about the $25 up charge but I had the filet with "several" lobster tails and have NOTHING but complements for this dining venue.
Don't miss the "fish and chips" in the Wheelhouse Bar at the pub lunch.
INTERNATIONAL CAFe and PIZZA BAR:
We opted for the beverage card when we arrived on the ship since we are not alcohol drinkers. For $49.00 you can upgrade to a the beverage card that allows you all the soda, fruit drinks (i.e. virgin pina coladas, strawberry daquires, etc) and milk shakes at the ice cream bar (delicious).
The pizza bar was one of the MOST POPULAR places on the ship. Absolutely great "New York" style pizza. We would almost rather eat there some nights then the dining room!!!
The other MOST POPULAR place on the ship was the International CafÃ© for deserts, sandwiches and salads 24 hours a day. We made many trips to this venue.....don't miss it.
If you are a coffee drinker, one complaint with the CafÃ© is you have to pay for your regular or decaf coffee when the buffet lines are open. Just an inconvenience to walk to deck 15 for free coffee but have to pay on deck 7. Not very customer friendly!!!!
EXERCISE ROOM AND LOTUS THERMAL SPA:
This is one area of the ship I frequent often. The exercise room has the typical equipment but has ONLY TWO recumbent bicycles that are always in demand. This should tell Princess something if they are paying attention!!!!!!!! GET MORE RECUMBENT BIKES!!!!
I really enjoy the Thermal Spas on the ships I cruise. Access to the Lotus Thermal Spa was one perk of being a suite passenger. The Thermal Spa has heated chairs and steam rooms accessible through the Spa area on deck 16. If you are not a suite passenger, there is a charge for access. There is a LACK of a nice relaxation area that I have enjoyed on other cruise lines. Areas that allow a view of the ocean, comfortable music, choice of various juices and flavored water, etc. This is missing on Princess.
The locker room facility for the SPA is small and many lockers are visible from the hallway when the door is opened. Don't change in front of your locker if you're near the doorway!!!!
The HOT TUBS outside the SPA area are more like heated pools....not very hot and not a lot of "jet" action. The one tub did NOT work the entire week we were on the ship.
This was hit or miss and a matter of opinion. A lot to choose among most nights, but not always great. The shows were OK but nothing spectacular but the comedians, especially Phil Tag, and the piano player (Kory Simon) were very entertaining. Of course, they may not be on the next cruise.
Music and the gymnastic performer Li Liu entertained in the Piazza area by the International CafÃ© and were very entertaining.
Princess Cay was very relaxing. The beach area was nice with beach chairs available and access to a barbecue lunch.
Curacao was a very colorful town with many unique shops on both sides of the inlet. Access to the shops on the other side of the inlet requires you walk over a pontoon bridge or take a ferry. When we were there another cruise ship was leaving and the pontoon bridge was not available. We took the ferry to the other side but I felt it was not worth the trip.
In Aruba it rained the day we were there. Unusual but it did not damper our enthusiasm for shopping. We enjoyed our stay in Aruba and access the shopping area is a very easy walk. A nice change from other Caribbean islands is that we were not HASSLED or HUSTLED while walking from the ship to the shopping area.
A very popular shop in Aruba was Dunkin Donuts. It seemed that many other passengers who love coffee seemed to agree that the coffee on the Crown Princess was NOT very good and we could not wait to purchase a decent cup of coffee.
This turned out to be very quick and easy but as a first-time Princess cruiser trying to learn the night before what I needed to do in the morning was not so easy. As a suite passenger, I received information that I could go to the Club Fusion at 7:30 am for priority disembarkation. Since we were going to walk off with our luggage, the instruction sheet indicated we could only do that at 6:15 and 6:45 am. I went to the excursion desk to inquire if I could walk off at 8:00 after going to the Club Fusion lounge and they were not sure. I never got a definitive answer so I decided to do what was best for us..... visit Club Fusion and walk off with our luggage.
As it turned out, disembarkation did not start on time and we went to Club Fusion for coffee and danish, walked off the ship with our luggage, cleared customs and were in a taxi within 30 minutes.
I am still unsure about going back to Princess. We are scheduled in a suite on NCL very soon and from past experience have had excellent service and great accommodations as suite passengers. We also would like to evaluate Celebrity and Oceania cruises as alternative options.
CRUISE CRITIC MEET AND GREET:
I had worked with Princess to schedule our M&G meeting in the Wheelhouse Bar and Cruiselover57 (Laurie) did a fabulous job in organizing the meeting, the gift exchange, and printing name tags. This meeting allowed us to meet several new friends and arrange dinner and social gatherings together while on board.