We sailed on back to back Crown Princess cruises from Jan. 14-28, just after an 11 day Holland America cruise from Jan. 2-14. This is a report on the Princess cruise with some comparisons to HAL. The perks on Princess are impressive. At the Platinum level (5 cruises or 50 days completed) we had preferred boarding (by-passed all lines and in our cabin about twenty minutes after arriving at the port) and, on this two-week cruise, had 250 minutes of free Internet time. HAL never gives such free time, and requires a lot more days or cruises for fewer perks. I found the food excellent on both cruises, but neither one able or willing to serve small portions, basically encouraging the waste of food and the waists of passengers. Compared with earlier Princess cruises and with HAL, the service on this cruise has declined. Though the waiters were helpful and friendly, they are overworked. No wine steward means means extra responsibilities and, in spite of waiters often almost running, service is slow. The dining rooms are noisy, with limited views of the ocean, almost none in the Da Vinci dining room. And we had difficulty getting assigned to a table for an early seating. Evening shows, almost always "sold out" (had to arrive a half hour early to get a seat), tend to the loud Broadway type of song and dance. Varied informal events in the atrium were very good, unlike anything HAL had. This larger ship (about 3000) meant some lines to get off in ports and some waiting at busy times for the buffet. The library is small, poorly lighted, with books locked up except for the limited hours a crew member (not a librarian) is on duty, in contrast with an excellent library and librarians on HAL ships. A variety of movies plays on several movie channels at set (but not always convenient) times, not half as good as the 1000 DVDs available free on HAL. The CNN channel is not at all like the one in the USA, and not as good as HALs, but highly repetitive (Constantly Nothing New, one comedian called it) and limited. Several good music and dance venues, about the same as HAL. Somewhat younger passengers. All things considered, I have a preference for HAL, but would be willing to go on either, depending on itinerary and cost.
We also visited, by tender, Princess Cays, the company's port on Eleuthera in the Bahamas. It is a lovely place, with beaches and water sports. The swimming and snorkeling, with many and varied fish, are distinctly better than HALs Half Moon Cay.
I have some qualms about the cruise life in general. The ships exploit third world labor, though the workers seem happy and are making better wages than they could in their own countries. Carnival owns most of the cruise companies, including HAL and Princess. They tend to build million dollar ports and docks on many of the islands, where they peddle the same expensive, posh merchandise in the same stores: Diamonds-, Tanzanite-, and Colombian Emeralds-International, plus Swiss and Little Swiss watches and some liquor stores. They employ cheap local labor and export the profits to the foreign companies. They try to confine passengers to these business by lectures, TV specials, and maps that show the stores but not much of the cities. I never patronize them and escape the port area ASAP; I can't understand how the stores survive in port after port. But they seem to thrive. We sailed Jan. 2-13 on HAL Maasdam, and on Jan. 14-28 back to back on Crown Princess. This is my evaluation of HAL with some comparisons with Princess. HAL gets a plus for a large, excellent library, with open shelves, a real librarian available most days 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and magazines. It also has a selection of over 1000 DVDs with a player in every room. Every evening an excellent string quartet plays in a quite lounge. The other entertainment is varied. The clientele is older with more walkers, scooters, and wheel chairs that can slow things down (but I'm getting there myself). The comparatively small ship means almost no waiting in line. On the other hand, the perks for HAL (I have over 100 days, 3 stars) are negligible compared to Princess where, with 50 days (Platinum) we get preferred boarding and 250 free minutes on the Internet. The decor on the Maasdam is OK, but inferior to most HAL ships. Decor on Princess, so-so. Food and service on both I consider excellent, though the dining experience on HAL is better.