January 14th to 21st 2012
We left Chicago to deal with the four inches of snow and a few hours later were taking our winter jackets off in Fort Lauderdale at the Renaissance hotel. We arrived a day early (as one should if one could) so that we would be under no stress on embarkation day.
The Renaissance is walking distance to Port Everglades and the 17th St Bridge begins outside the hotel. A walk up this bridge gives one a great view of the many ships in port.
The Renaissance was pleasant and had a nice pool area with an indoor bar nearby. The only drawback was the noise from motorcyclists in a huge hurry, accelerating from the traffic lights on the other side of the privacy hedge.
My schedule called for me to be at sea level with camcorder and camera in hand at precisely 4pm when the first of the Friday 13th ships would leave. We had a rental car (and put a total of 8 miles on it) and tried to find our way to a beach with parking but alas it is residential along the waterway to the sea. Luckily I spotted some workmen on a barge by an open piece of land and they allowed me to park amongst their trucks. The barge was pulled up on the beach to work and so it was on this little beach that we set up camp to drool over the ships; Pacific Princess first to go, followed by Celebrity Equinox then Maasdam, all captured in close up on HD video. Very exciting for a ship nerd like me. My Travelling Companion, Guidebook Carol is slowly becoming one too.
We had dinner planned for 8PM at Bimini Boatyard next to the hotel but in the meantime we wanted to just sit and have a drink and look at the Atlantic ocean. According to the iPhone there was a nice Marriott close by so we drove there and found ourselves at a restaurant ("Sea Level") on the beach. Mohitos were ordered and so fine was the vibe there we decided to cancel Bimini and eat at Sea Level.
So good was the food there that we canceled the Renaissance for our disembarkation day and instead booked the Marriott Harbor Beach. Ship's pass by it.
Hertz dropped us off at the ship where we handed over our luggage to a porter.
We arrived at 10.30, deliberately early in the hope that we could book the Sanctuary once on board. As we were Suite passengers we were pointed to the priority boarding area, just outside the embarkation hall. After an hour, during which refreshments were provided, we were ushered to the 26 check-in desks and had our room cards within 2 minutes. Sail-away photos were taken before the gangway. Onboard we were photographed and our card scanned and we were at the Sanctuary and booked for the week within 5 minutes. Then to the cabin to drop off our carry-ons.
We were on Caribe deck in an aft suite (our first suite and first aft cabin). The balcony was maybe 18 ft by 9 ft and had two teak loungers with a side table and a large round teak table with four teak chairs. There was no wind on the balcony once the ship was underway and the view of the wake was restful.
The bed was a King and after surveying the room I felt like one. Bathroom had one room with a jetted tub and a glass shower with marble floors. Through an adjoining door was a room with toilet and sink and a door out into the living room-so two people could use the bathroom at once and that would come in very handy. Fresh flowers and a fruit basket were waiting as was an order form for nightly canapes. Complimentary shoe shine and laundry were available.
The living room had a fridge and a wet bar. The mini-bar contents were complimentary and could be replenished at a cost once consumed. It took me half the week to drain it dry. I had room service change out the liquor and replace it with Beck's beer.
From the room I arranged a surprise Ultimate Balcony Dinner for my Traveling Companion and booked Sabatini's and Crown Grill for future evenings. I went to Guest Services on the way to lunch and put our names on the list for an Ultimate Ship's Tour later in the week. Excursion tickets for Curacao and Aruba were in our room waiting for us.
As it was now too late to have an MDR lunch we joined the throngs in the Cafe Caribe buffet. The food was tasty but not as piping hot as we like. I was the first person in the Caribe next morning at 5 A.M and the same judgement applied. Choices and presentation were good however. It is what it is. Table service for drinks and table clean-up is good. I only ate in the buffet twice during our week on board.
Our luggage had arrived in our room while we were at lunch and so we unpacked in a leisurely fashion.
Costa Concordia had run aground the night before and the incident was mentioned by the Captain over the PA. Princess muster drill may have been taken more seriously that afternoon. Unlike my previous drill on the Coral in August 2011 we were guided down the fire stairwell at the stern to Club Fusion, rather than troop down the interior stairs.
Around four PM we followed the Grand Princess out to sea, waving joyously from under the Crown Princess sign at the Port Everglades web cam. Carnival Freedom and then the Eurodam followed us out. We sat on our balcony with glasses of champagne and some canapes and watched the sunset over Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Our room steward, Christopher from the Philippines, came by to check if we were happy. His work was impeccable all week.
Well, it's a beautiful looking ship, stylishly designed by an Italian naval architect and handsomely appointed by a Chilean interior designer who avoids garishness. I like her taste in decor. Crew and passengers combined number about 4,200 people but where do they go? No sense of being in a crowd. The ship is vast and has so many rooms to disperse the crowds to. I guess the boarding buffet and the champagne waterfall on the first formal night were the only times I was aware of the number of people on board.
The ship is clean and well organized by a staff that is effective. The only area that needs improvement is the clean-up after the passengers on deck as empty glasses and plates could sit around on the decks for hours. Every public room on the ship is inviting and there are many quiet places one could sit and read or talk with a view of the ocean. There are very few public announcements.
What of the food I hear you ask? Good question!
Three dining rooms. One was Botticelli for traditional set time dining so I never set foot in it. Anytime dining, which we prefer, was in Da Vinci and Michaelangelo and we ate in both with never a wait. We usually eat around 8PM or later so maybe that is why. We always asked for a table for two . These are so close to the next table you can find yourself striking up conversations with your neighbors and we met some nice people this way, though seldom saw them again.
A call-out to a head waiter named Florian from Italy whose phrase " I have a special table for you" rang true each time. Often a window seat to watch the waves go by or a table in a small room off to one side.
The food and service? Very good in both instances. Plates were licked clean and any spots of gravy that may have fallen on my clothes were sucked and licked off so we didn't have to use the free laundry.
Italian night-Sunday after Princess Cays sail away, had the waiter pouring us his "recommended" Limoncello. It wasn't free but we got to keep the glasses with Princess ship reliefs on them. Highlights on my plate included Fettucini Alfredo and veal scallopini. Caribbean night (Curacao) featured scallops and shrimp appetizer and a delicious roasted cod with chorizo. Neville, the Maitre 'd stopped by the table and we chatted as we had sailed on the Coral with him.
We had leisurely breakfasts there each morning, by the window looking out at the fountains and the ship's wake. Cappuccinos and espressos were unlimited and free. My coffee card was not needed there. Service was beyond impeccable and I commended our waiter Pio (30 years with Princess) and host Pedro on our survey.
We had one dinner in Sabatini's on Monday (Formal night) and the ship was pitching and rolling through the waves en route to Curacao. I had a bottle of wine following me around the ship which went well with vitelli tonato and lobster three ways. $20 per person for dinner in Sabatini's and worth the spend.
We avoided the second Formal night by dining in the Crown Grill which was sparsely attended. Beautiful room, rich dark woods and wonderful artwork on the walls. It's a steak house-and a really good one. Very satisfying meal and excellent service. A rib eye and filet mignon disappeared quickly. The waiter brings a cart around before the meal with raw hunks of meat in saran wrap to help you choose.
Maitre 'd Neville came by again for a chat. He's very witty and personable indeed.
Served in the Wheelhouse Bar on Monday and, if I recall correctly, Friday, both sea days. Good fish and chips. A taste of home for ex-pat Brits like me. Washed down with a Guinness ("draught" from a can). Pub Lunch is very popular. I came late to avoid standing in line to be seated.
Burgers, hotdogs, bratwurst and knackwurst with 'kraut served on deck by the Neptune pool which is one of four fresh-water pools on the Crown. Cooked to order and very popular. Rightly so. Very good, crisp French fries. Washed down with a Beck's beer in the sun. One of the deck waiters hailed me by my last name a full day after I first ordered a drink from him....that was impressive! He knew my drink too.
INTERNATIONAL CAFE/VINES WINE BAR
Well these both looked great but I never had food from either (next time!!)I did get my first morning cup of coffee (5 A.M) from the IC, showing my coffee card to qualify for free fresh-brewed.
PIZZA AND ICE CREAM
So many choices on this ship but I have yet to try both of these treats! Next time also.
AFTERNOON TEA IN THE MDR
This is something Princess does so well. Good strong tea, wonderful fresh sandwiches with ham, salmon, flavorful cheeses etc and scones, warm from the oven. Cookies and dainty pastries and they keep coming around offering more. They have live music too and formally dressed servers. A highlight of every afternoon at sea. The baking-the dinner rolls especially- is marvelous on this ship.
My TC read the Patter each morning. I brought along a highlighter and each day the Patter ended up covered in yellow ink. So many things going on. Too many for me as I like to drift along on sea days. We did see some shows-not production shows but things like the Crew Show (mainly Philippino singers, a great drummer and an accomplished pianist). Some serious talent among the crew!
We found ourselves often in a smaller venue than the Princess Theater (Club Fusion) being entertained by Chris, the Assistant CD who has a very dry British sense of humor and could be described as a "cheeky chappie". He thinks well on his feet and is ideal for Newlywed and Yes/No games.
Miko from the Cruise staff handled the karaoke nights and there were some decent singers among the passengers. He also rehearsed and presented the Pop Choir with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
Comedy was well represented in Explorers Lounge which was SRO for Jeff Michaels, a very original and quick-witted comedy magician. My face hurt from laughing. He has tremendous energy. Fast paced.
Another fine stand-up comedian who came on in Aruba was Phil Tag.
Lisa Ball was the Cruise Director. She hosted some dance classes and the main shows and is a good sport. She also hosted some of the Pop Choir rehearsals that my TC, Carol, attended, day after day until the performance on Friday in the Piazza. There were maybe 40 male and female passengers who had a big rich sound and sang their socks off, which I didn't even know was possible but they were all barefoot by the final chord of Sweet Caroline. Fun show.
There are pianists and bands popping up all over the place. Of special note is a Caribbean band called Elements who usually play above the Neptune pool and feature a good singer who is also a fine showman. There's a solo steel drum player (with taped backing) and a very fine piano/violin quintet in the Piazza where street-type performers appear for brief shows. You will not be bored on the Crown! A man playing Pan Pipes, a unicyclist and who knows what else made appearances. I only caught glimpses as I walked through the Piazza.
ULTIMATE SHIP TOUR
I signed both of us up for this upon boarding but didn't get my tickets until the day of the event-Thursday, a sea day. Alas, Carol had a Pop Choir rehearsal and I had to cancel her ticket and go alone. The cost was $150 and is worth it if you are a boat nerd like me. A dozen of us toured backstage at the Princess theater, then the mooring room in the bow where the 2nd Officer gave a fascinating insight into all the decisions he has to make in anchoring or mooring the ship in port. He, like all the officers and crew we met were passionate about their jobs. Then to the laundry (huge and much automated), Medical center, galley where we had drinks and canapes while talking to the Executive Chef, Jeremy. Also the Print Room where the Patters and menus originate each day, the Photo workshop, the Engine Control room which was fascinating (great Siemens computer software). The Chief Engineer, David, was another very dry-humored Brit. On the Bridge we met Nick Nash, the Captain, who was very informative and witty...."These are warning lights....this one lets me know if there is toast burning in the galley". At each stop we had photographs (complimentary) and on the next day a Princess Chef's jacket, bathrobe and pad of monogrammed notepaper was delivered to the cabin.
The last stop in the tour was a climb into the funnel assembly. Hot and noisy up there! After the climb down we were taken to the Adagio bar for some champagne. Great tour and one I will do again on a different ship. I will spend more time in Adagio in the future-beautiful lounge featuring live music in the evenings.
ULTIMATE BALCONY DINNER
I had a secret meeting with Leticia from Room Service on sail away day when we were two hours out of FL. She brought a menu and discussed timing, steering me away from having it after Princess Cays ("too windy") to leaving Aruba on Wednesday evening before sunset.
I had to make a phony booking in the MDR for 6 PM that night instead of our usual 8 PM and encourage Carol to take a nap. She thought it a great idea and wanted to nap on the balcony but somehow I convinced her to do it inside with the curtains drawn. While she was asleep Leticia and Russell from room service came and set the table with tablecloth, folded napkins, champagne bucket, fresh flowers and candles so when I woke Carol up all I had to do was open the drapes to reveal the set-up outside. She was thrilled!
The food was well worth the spend and the service was superb. Course after delicious course came; Mohitos, crab tarts, arugula salad with goat cheese, pears and walnuts, filet mignon and 7 oz Brazilian lobster tails, 4 different mouse quenelles with a chocolate tuille on top (looked like art) and then some strawberries in chocolate and fresh baked cookies washed down with champagne and in my case a double espresso and glass of Sambuca. Stunning meal and as the sun set during it, very memorable and special.
One of the ship's photographers came along to take some photos, one of which was complimentary. Thank you Princess! The photographers are there if you need them, as are the Lotus Spa girls and the art auctioneers. Princess is a business and they offer you choices and opportunities to spend. Ditto Diamonds International-just walk on by if you have zero interest as I do. I limit my spending to fridge magnets of the ports and the ships and hope someday to (a) get magnets of all the Princess ships and (b) get an even bigger fridge!
A suite perk was complimentary hors d'ouvres each evening from 5 to 7 PM way up in Skywalkers on deck 18. It had a small smoking section (Starboard side) which was good for me as I smoke. Food was plentiful and excellent. Some nice fruit and vegetable carvings at the buffet table, made by the man who was serving.
The mixed drinks though were so weak they needed crutches to make it from the bar to my table. I would have been better off mixing my own from the mini-bar but there was no rum there. Next time I take a hip flask from home to top up the drinks. Beer is a safer bet but the assortment is very narrow. Luckily I can enjoy Beck's. Room service or pool service can bring a bucket-6 bottles (12oz) for the price of 5 ($25). I usually pay @ $9 for a six pack but my liquor store in Chicago won't deliver to ships at sea for some reason.
Princess Cays- where we planned not to get off the ship and carried out our plan flawlessly. We spent the afternoon in the Sanctuary relaxing. It was very windy ashore apparently. Maybe next time. Sanctuary staff will bring you drinks at no charge for the service but there is a $3 charge if you ask them to fetch you food which is understandable as that can be a trek and take a while. Afternoon tea from the MDR is served in the Sanctuary also. Nice touch! Cold neck towels on a hot day were also very welcome as was the turning off of the new age music. I suggest wind-chimes for up there....lull you to sleep, guaranteed.
Curacao- we took a Princess tour to the countryside which is hilly and overgrown by scrubby bushes fighting with tall cacti for supremacy. Gardens along the way tended to feature all the crap the residents have thrown out over the years in the hope that someday the Landfill will be invented.
We stopped at a slave museum which was interesting and lovingly narrated by the docents there.
Back onto the coach for a trip to the coast where the waves crashed in spectacular fashion against the rough volcanic rocks. Great photo opportunity and the sea breeze and spray on a hot day was refreshing.
Back to town (Willemstad) we strolled across the pontoon bridge and sat by the water at a cafe for a drink. Oddly the shops there had closed by 6 PM even though the ship was in port until 9. The sun set behind the Crown. The bill for the drinks-an Amstel beer and a club soda with lime was $3. Great price! The server was multi-lingual and US Currency welcome. As we sat after the sun set the bridge ,which was our way back to the ship, began to swing open in the dark and pivoted all the way to the other side of the channel. A ferry immediately sprang into operation to get people across. The bridge opened to let two ships pass out to sea, one of them a huge cargo ship. Another great boat-nerd photo op!
When the bridge returned we walked back to the ship and sailed away leaving the lights of Curacao behind. I had been there before, 20 years ago, on the Carnival Celebration, in the days before balconies, specialty restaurants and the things no seafarer can do without-towel animals.
Aruba, our last port of call, was on Wednesday and our excursion here was an Atlantis Submarine trip. An hour under the sea surrounded by all manner of fish, coral and sunken boats. We stopped on the bottom at 145 feet down. Great excursion which we would do again if ever back in Aruba.
Later a taxi to Palm Beach where we rented two plastic-lattice loungers and an umbrella for $30 for the afternoon. There was a bar out on a pier nearby which sold expensive drinks but it was hot and we were on holiday so I forked over the cash (US dollars). A nice lazy afternoon of sun and occasional dips in fairly warm water. Taxis were $14 from the ship and we didn't have to share. It was a 15 minute drive and the beach was just by the Radisson hotel. No hawkers trying to sell you seashells or your own flip-flops as I encountered on some other Caribbean islands in the distant cruising past.
Two leisurely sea days were to pass before we woke up, moored back in Fort Lauderdale. We chose late disembarkation as we were in no hurry to leave the great ship that had been our home for a fantastic week in the sun, while Chicago got another dumping of 7 inches of snow and ice.
A Hertz bus awaited and soon we were parking at the Marriott Harbor Beach resort for a decompression day in Florida before the flight home on Sunday.
At 4 PM that afternoon I was perched on the rocks by the harbor entrance to watch and tape the ships leaving. Soon there was about 100 people there watching and photographing.
The Grand Princess glided by....no Skywalkers....how sad! Then the Crown, blasting the horn in typical Nash fashion ( I teased him about that during the ship tour and he took it in good humor) and from the apartments where the webcam dwells rose a cacophony of air horns, bells and someone playing a cavalry charge on a trumpet!
The Crown turned her big beautiful stern towards us and it was painted orange by the setting sun....There was our balcony and no one was on it....certainly not us.
We put down a deposit on another Princess cruise while on board ($100 each but with a $50 on board credit coming back to us). Within a week of suffering Extreme Cruise Withdrawal (ECW is what my doctor diagnosed) we are already booked on the Diamond Princess-North to Alaska! This August.
Only our second cruise together, both on Princess. Both fantastic value for money. Looking forward to # 3 and Beyond.
Two thumbs up for the Crown and her fine crew.
Two more thumbs up ( I was born with extra thumbs) for Princess customer service on land and sea and particular our liason Terry who is always ready to help.
Previous and latter voyages have been stricken by outbreaks of Noro virus but they wouldn't prevent me from sailing on the Crown again.