My wife and I started cruising with Princess 12 years ago. This was our second cruise on Crown Princess (our first being 3 years ago). We took our family and had 4 balcony cabins on the Aloha deck. The ship is generally well maintained, although the carpeting and mattresses in the cabins seemed "tired" and in need of replacement.
MAJOR NEGATIVE - For the most part, the cruise was fun for all of us. The biggest negative for us involved the internet and the ship's other communication services. Unlike many people, my sons and I need to maintain business contacts during a cruise, and we are vitally dependent upon the internet. My internet bill on ships is typically several hundred dollars. On the Crown Princess, this service is the worst of any ships we have booked. Its internet speed is in virtual "freeze mode" while you are using it. Moreover, we are certain that we were billed for more time than we used. One son showed them that he was billed at the same time as charging drinks while dining in the dining room. Passenger services was not willing to make any adjustments of any kind. So, if use of the internet is important to you, you should book a competitor's ship or plan a land-based vacation. Unless Princess does better in this regard (or until I retire), it is doubtful that we will continue cruising with Princess.
EMBARKATION -- This process (once they began) was fairly smooth. We arrived early, so we had to wait a couple of hours before they let us start boarding at 1:00 p.m. We liked the fact that they let us go immediately to our cabins. With many other cruises, we have not been able to do this until mid or late afternoon. Our rooms were not completely ready. But, we would rather have this quick access to the rooms in order to change clothes, then let the room steward finish after we leave to get to the sun (and drinks) on the pool deck. Our luggage arrived in plenty of time for us to change for dinner.
NOROVIRUS - Concern about norovirus was somewhat of a problem. The Crown Princess had recently had some serious outbreaks of norovirus. We don't know of any such health issues that occurred on this cruise, but for 4 days we were on virtual "lockdown" re sanitation. We could not serve anything for ourselves. I could not even put my own ketchup on a hamburger. For a couple of reasons, the public bathrooms had the doors always wide open. First, they wanted you to only use your own cabin bathroom. Second, they wanted to avoid contact on door handles. If you wanted to use the public bathrooms, you had to be willing to potentially give up some modesty. Because of no self service, the length of buffet lines increased and so did waiting for everything else. Waiters in the dining rooms were delayed a lot, and that led to irritated diners. Finally, on the fifth day of the cruise, they let things go back to normal, and that sure was a relief for the crew and passengers.
POOLS -- The ship has several pools. It is nice that they are all fresh water as opposed to salt water from the sea (which some ships that we booked have had). There is a good variation of noise and activity (near the big outside movie screen near the stern or at the pool midship where there were games and live music entertainment). Aft there are adult pools with a quieter environment.
Princess does not do much about the "chair wars". Unless you want to get up at daybreak and save lounge chairs in the good areas, you had to settle for chairs in the "hinterlands". In the "Princess Patter" news letter, they kept saying that unattended chairs for more than 15 minutes would have the articles removed (and stored) so that others could use the chairs. The deck attendants never did anything to enforce that. Our last cruise a couple of months ago (on another line) did this differently. On that other ship, they would stick a tag on chairs with a notice (that the tags needed to be removed and the chairs used within an hour, or the deck attendants would gather and store the "squatter's" items). That ship enforced this, and I think most people welcomed that. On the Crown Princess, we saw chairs that had "stuff" on them from the time of breakfast, but not used until about 3:00 in the afternoon.
Other cruise ships generally have towels on the pool decks to use. We only got two skimpy beach towels each day in our cabins. When on deck, I asked an attendant for extra towels, I was told, "I am sorry, there is just nothing that I can do about that."
This gets to another point. I don't think I have ever heard a ship crew say to me more the statement that "I am sorry there is nothing that I can do about that". Customer service seems to have taken a retreat for Princess over the years. Most of this came on little stuff. (BUT, the above mentioned refusal for relief on the internet charges was a "big stuff".) Another little thing was that there is no longer the completion of the survey by each passenger at the end of the cruise. The say they will send an email with these surveys. My wife asked for a printed one. She told the purser's desk that she does not have a computer and had some important comments she wanted to make. She was also then told, "I am sorry there is nothing that I can do about that." Except for this unfriendly approach to many things (which appears to be derived from unfriendly company policies), the crew was friendly and engaging.
For a cruise line so intent on safety, it surprised me that we were served beer in bottles and some drinks in glasses right up to the pool / water edge.
This ship and its sister ships do not have the retractable roof for use in windy or rainy weather conditions. We were lucky with good weather, but anyone interested in pool deck use even under bad conditions should probably choose ships with a retractable roof feature.
FOOD / DINING -- The dining room food was better than most cruises for us. The buffet food was about the same. The buffet, however, was not as big (nor with as much variety) as other mega ships. For example, other ships have waffle and omelet stations for the breakfast buffet with complements (e.g. various toppings). Here there were waffles in serving pans with only maple syrup, and omelets had to be made back in the kitchen and brought to you.
The pizza and the burgers served from the grill on the Lido pool deck were outstanding.
Dress code enforcement is puzzling. During the first couple of casual nights, good looking shorts were permitted. Then, all of a sudden the ban on shorts was enforced with some crazy results. On a hot day in Aruba, one of my sons wore some expensive nice looking shorts to dinner. He was sent away. He put on his workout sweatpants, and then returned. He was admitted. A classy and good looking young lady had pants that had elastic hugging her legs right above the ankles. She was sent away. She returned with a mini-skirt that tightly hugged her "posterior". She had conformed herself into the equivalent of a back alley prostitute. She was admitted.
SHOWS / ENTERTAINMENT -- We tried to attend different shows in the theater, but all were filled at the time of the earlier show when we would arrive. We had a 6:00 p.m. assigned dining time, and generally finished around 8:00 p.m. Even if we virtually ran from the dining room to the theater, we were too late for a seat at the early show which began at 8:30 p.m. The second show at 10:30 had room, but my wife and I are not night owls, and we have seen so many shows on ships that we valued our sleep more.
The comedians and the mind reader at the cocktail lounges were great. However, seating was generally not available, and we had to stand and watch from the bar or at the back.
The big outdoor movie screen is novel and nice. On a couple of the warmer nights we sat outdoors and watched movies.
GETTING AROUND ON THE SHIP - The Crown Princess and its sister ships upon which we have traveled (i.e. the Caribbean Princess and the Grand Princess) are confusing ships to learn and get around on. For example, our dining room (Botecelli) was aft on the 5th floor/deck. If you are on the 5th floor at the atrium, you cannot just walk toward the stern and get to the dining room. You have to go up and over the kitchen by going up one or two floors and then back down on the other side of the kitchen. On some floors (e.g. where there are bars, etc.) you can only go from forward to aft on one side of the ship, and this varies from floor to floor (which serves to mix things up). Elderly people were especially confused. Other ships are much more "user friendly" in this regard. You need a special effort at learning the layout of the Crown Princess before going out and about from your cabin.
I took walkie-talkies for everybody in our group and that worked out great to keep track of everyone. A couple of times (in quiet areas) we had sour looks from people around us as we used them, so we tried to get into more "removed" areas before starting to communicate with them.
The cruise lines seem to want to jam as many people on these mega ships as possible. Waiting for elevators is routine. So, we often simply used the stairs to go from floor to floor. We got there faster and worked off the overeating that is common on a cruise. In other words, on this ship you need to be very patient for elevators or in very good shape.
PORTS / EXCURSIONS - Curacao was nice, but the ship did not dock until 1:00. So, we did not get ashore until about 1:30. About half of the town shuts down at 4:30 and the rest at about 5:30. That was a disadvantage. There was not much point being there in port between 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. (when the ship finally left).
As we have previously experienced, Princess Cays was nice for a day on the beach. Unfortunately, we had to wait 45 to 50 minutes to be tendered in. Fortunately, we had only about a 10 minute wait for the return. The island barbeque luncheon is about the same as other private island facilities of other cruise lines. But, people were still standing in line waiting for food when it closed down (i.e. at 1:30 p.m.).
In Aruba, we went on the catamaran / snorkel excursion. We enjoyed it, but unfortunately it was not as good as a previous similar excursion we had in St. Marten (when we cruised with the family last time). The main reason was overcrowding this time. There were 82 people on our boat. For the snorkeling at the wreck of the Antilles, there were two other identical catamarans then viewing the same thing. With so many people in the water at the same time, this actually was (in my opinion) a dangerous condition. I was kicked in the face repeatedly by other swimmers.
ACTIVITIES FOR YOUNG - The ship is no place for teenagers. We did not have any with us, but we talked to 4 different teenagers that came with their parents. They complained about the ship having nothing to do for them. The average age of passengers appeared much older than I expected. I am "mid-sixty", and I felt clearly on the young side. Our kids (in their 30's) specially pointed that out to me. On our last family cruise, the nightclub bars were hopping. Not so with this cruise. Fortunately, our family made their own fun at these places. Our kids did not like the DJ in the Skywalker Lounge because the DJ would not play requests from the audience. This guy had his own plan, and audience satisfaction did not mean much to him.
PHOTOS -- As with other ships, there seemed to be photographers everywhere, taking your picture doing about anything. The quality of our pictures was good, and they were less expensive than on many of our previous cruises. Recently we have found that, for an extra modest charge (on Crown this was $14.95) you can buy a flash drive upon which the gallery people will place the digital image of the photo and a copyright release. So, for our big group pictures, I bought a print of each (with the digital image) and will have copies made at Walgreens or CVS for everyone. From our last cruise, my wife and I also did this to produce our photo Christmas cards.
DISEMBARKATION - Disembarkation was organized and swift. But, here I noticed another lapse in safety. They did not want us to use the elevators during disembarkation, and they gathered various groups on different floors to wait for their "call" to leave the ship. Then, we could only use the steps while being led out by a crew member. One couple had to carry their stroller with their infant down two flights of stairs. Others had to carry their roll-on items down steps. One elderly gentleman could not manage this, and his roll-on bag tumbled down a flight of stairs into the back legs of another couple. The crew should assist these folks or let them use the elevators.