As the blueprint for the Princess Cruises fleet, the 2006-launched Crown Princess -- as well as its sister ships, Emerald (2007) and Ruby Princess (2008) -- aims to showcase everything that has come to define the line. This is quintessential Princess.
Those familiar with Princess will recognize its marquee features: Movies Under the Stars, a poolside big-screen theater introduced on Caribbean Princess (and since nicked by just about everyone in the industry); the bustling, three-deck Piazza, a combination bakery, Internet cafe, wine/sushi/tapas bar and performance venue; the adults-only Sanctuary, a mostly shaded top-ship retreat with thick, plush loungers, massage cabanas and a spa menu; and Princess' signature duo of specialty restaurants, the Crown Grill (steaks, chops and seafood) and Sabatini's (Italian multi-course repast).
The ship also showcases Princess' most successful smaller programs and amenities. The excellent Wheelhouse Pub lunch with its fish 'n' chips and bangers 'n' mash draws a serious crowd; Wii's and PS3's in the kids' areas; classes on drink-mixing and astronomy. Best of all are the phenomenal backstairs ship tours -- one that takes passengers into the galley during the frantic dinner rush (at 7:30 p.m.!) and a second that provides an insider's look at the inner workings of the vessel, from the sprawling laundry facilities in the bowels to the top-ship funnels.
There are even smaller, under-the-radar touches: With the exception of a cheese plate, sushi and tapas at Vines is included in the fare. And, suite passengers can eat breakfast in Sabatini's with a special menu and sip on reduced-price drinks and free canapes in a designated lounge each evening.
But while Crown Princess has solidified its place in the mainstream, there were a few things amiss. Sure, the food is always impeccably presented -- but serving 3,000 people a night has a built-in limitation. The 22-ounce porterhouse in the Crown Grill, a for-fee steak and seafood venue, was disappointingly fatty, but the potato, asparagus and other sides were, on the other hand, superbly memorable. There was also some grumbling about a fall-off in service -- understandable when the goal is to be all-things-for-all-passengers people … from those looking for an upscale dining experience in Sabatini's to passengers who want to show off their yams in the men's sexy legs contest. (There's probably some crossover.) Several fellow cruisers complained of little service issues, like a tea-time eye-roll at the request for a second sandwich, debarkation day confusion and a purser's desk that was unsure of the answers to questions. Personally, I found the main stage production shows, which have been the same since the ship launched in 2006, a little tired.
Still, bonds quickly form with such a personable captain, executive chef and crew. A bartender in Adagio, the ship's top-ship lounge, told me about his wife's Twitter obsession (she's a Twilight fan); the sushi chef hammed it up for the camera; and the maitre d' brought an Italian chef puppet around during a multi-course feast that left us immobile.