Crown Princess Entertainment
Introduced to the Princess fleet on Crown Princess, the Piazza atrium is a marvelous destination. It serves as a mini-performance venue, demo area and, during down times, adjunct to the International Cafe. We loved it. At various points, for instance, there was a sushi, fruit and vegetable demonstration; "comedy juggler"; and string quartet. On another day, the Princess singers and dancers offered a few numbers from "Motor City," the Motown production show. On the second formal evening, people thronged all three levels to watch the fabled "Champagne pour," a Princess tradition.
Beyond that, the ship has so many entertainment options that my head literally was spinning as I tried to figure out which to choose. Each lounge has a different personality. Crooners, on the promenade, is right in the heart of the action, overlooking the Piazza, and usually features a vocalist or pianist. Explorer's Lounge is primarily an events' venue for just about everything, including art auctions, dances, standup comedy and guest lectures. Club Fusion was also busy during the day -- with Ballroom Blitz, line dancing, bingo and Jeopardy -- and into the evening with music-related activities, from trivia and the Newlywed, Not so Newlywed Game to "Princess Pop Star," a take-off on American Idol.
The Speakeasy, adjacent to Gatsby's Casino, is the only place to smoke a stogie. The Wheelhouse Bar, a Princess tradition, has nautical character but lacks the intimacy I've associated with smaller versions on other ships. And Adagio, tucked into a light-filled corner on Deck 16, is an elegant, Ritz Carlton-esque venue -- ideal for a chat -- with low-key piano music. Late-night action is to be found, natch, in Princess' trademark Skywalker's. (This version has a nice balcony off the end.) It then becomes a kids' and teens' disco early in the evening; it turns into an adults-only hangout later on.
The roughly 800-seat Princess Theater is the ship's main venue, and it also showed movies from time to time when not featuring production shows and comedy acts. Production shows, which have remained unchanged since the ship debuted in 2006, include "Motor City," a tribute to Motown, and "Destination Anywhere," a mishmash of songs and sets from different eras and locales (Africa, outer space, etc.).
During the daytime, beyond the aforementioned entertainment, Princess is definitely committed to its ScholarShip@Sea program. Some classes are more light-hearted -- I had a blast bringing out my "inner artist" during Ceramics@Sea (tucked into an alcove by the Neptune's Reef pool); you pay only for the plate or frame or whatever you choose ($15 to $30). The paint is supplied, and staffers fire your piece for you to take home. Other facets of the overall program include culinary arts demonstrations (wine-tastings, ice-carving and the like), an extensive array of Computers@Sea classes ($25 for a Photoshop class) and a guest lecture series (free).
Movies Under the Stars, in the Calypso Pool area, is a major attraction and is on all day (with family fare), as well as into the night. Films on our seven-night Caribbean cruise sailing included "Transformers 2," "Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince" and "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past."
The Grand Casino has the usual array of slots and table games, including one for dealerless Texas Hold 'Em.
Most impressive was the operation of the shore excursion department. Located on Deck 6, staffers there regularly provided visual updates of which tours were sold out (eliminating the need to stand in line and wait for something you couldn't book). Often, tours were added as demand required, and occasionally, they'd offer a last-minute option. The variety veered between sedate and almost wild-and-crazy; there was literally something for everyone.
Crown Princess Public Rooms
The Piazza, which is primarily an entertainment venue, is detailed under the entertainment section (above), but I mention it here because it does provide the ship with a central gathering spot. Just off the Piazza is the Escapes Travel Cafe. While not a "real" cafe (no refreshments are served), it's outfitted with personal computers for researching future cruises. Next door is the actual Internet cafe with 25 computers. Rates are 75 cents per minute, and packages are available for heavy users (100 minutes for $55 or 55 cents per minute, 150 minutes for $75 or 50 cents per minute, and 250 minutes for $100 or 40 cents per minute). You can also, via Wi-Fi, hook up your own laptop in public spaces and cabins.
The library and card room spread out across Deck 6 and offer games, daily news printouts and books for checking out; it's the usual assortment.
There are five shops onboard, and the fact that we found literally nothing worth purchasing offers a clue about their merchandise! It was pretty much the usual stuff – duty-free liquor that is actually cheaper in ports of call, T-shirts and other logo items, "brand name" fashion jewelry and watches (again, cheaper in ports of call on the ship's itineraries).
The photo gallery stretches a long way on Deck 7, between the Crown Grill and the Princess Theater.
Crown Princess Spa & Fitness
Speaking of something for everyone, Crown Princess offers a truly impressive variety of pools up on the sun deck. The Neptune's Reef pool is the spot for water games and entertainment, and it features hot tubs. The adjacent Calypso Reef and Pool is home to Movies Under the Stars (and Sun), so there is constant entertainment. For solitude-seekers, there are two options. The aft pool, mightily improved by the removal of Skywalkers and the shopping cart-handle design of earlier Princess ships, offers a mix of sunny and shady spots. The Lotus Pool, affixed to the spa but open to all adults, remains a popular spot for swimming against the current; it's small, though, and its nine loungers get snapped up pretty quickly on sunny days. It has two whirlpools.
The adults-only Sanctuary, which debuted on Crown Princess, has been such a hit that the line has retrofitted the majority of its ships with the serene feature. It's a lovely space, featuring a tent canopy (with a handful of loungers in sunny places), an Astroturf carpet and fabulous Italianate chaises and chairs with decadently thick cushions, covered with the plushest, thirstiest towels. An excellent aspect of the Sanctuary is its service element. Waiters are on hand, and a spa menu is available with a mix of healthy and unhealthy fare, ranging from tuna pate to cheeseburgers. You can also order drinks (again, everything from fruit drinks and smoothies to bottles of beer). There is a $3 service fee for orders, but that doesn't mean you can't order multiple items. You can also rent iPods (with Bose headphones), which have a variety of types of tunes downloaded onto them, for $10.
There is a cost of $10 per person, per half day, and the Sanctuary is open from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1 to 5:30 p.m. (A full day pass is $20.) Is it worth it? For anyone who wants a respite from all the "energy," absolutely. While there's no pool there, the fact that the Lotus Pool is downstairs is just fine. One note: On sunny Caribbean sea days, space in the Sanctuary will fill up quickly, so getting there 20 minutes early is advisable.
The Sanctuary also has two massage cabanas. Book massages through the Lotus Spa.
Speaking of which, the Lotus Spa is very similar in design and orient to those found on Caribbean Princess and beyond. It's shaped in a "U" style, offering an Asian ambience on the side of the treatment rooms and a utilitarian aspect on the other, where you can find the beauty salon and fitness facility. Interestingly, it seems that teeth-whitening has become mainstream -- the salon has designed a special cubby for folks trying that treatment. It's got a flat-screen television and a nice view of the sea. There's also a barber shop for men.
The Lotus Spa even features a Thermal Suite, which includes a sauna, two aromatherapy steam rooms and five hot-rock beds. Passes for the week are $99 per person or $150 per couple.
The fitness facility is slightly larger than those on earlier ships and has all the usual pieces of equipment (more than 20 Precor treadmills, 10 ellipticals, some bikes, various weight machines and a small area with free weights). Open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., it offers classes; some, such as "stretch and relax" and step aerobics are free, while others -- including yoga and Pilates -- are $10 apiece. One odd feature of the gym is that the ceiling is quite low. If you're taller than six feet, your head may just reach the ceiling if you're on an elliptical.
Spa treatments run the gamut from hydra lift facials to hot stone massages and from seaweed wraps to acupuncture. I tried the "Aroma Spa Seaweed Massage," ($195 for 75 minutes). I was smothered in a seaweed lotion, wrapped in a tinfoil-like sheet for 20 minutes, then ordered to shower. After that I had a traditional half-body back and neck massage. The massage was outstanding, but I honestly could have gone without the seaweed. A standard, 50-minute Swedish massage (in essence, the second half of the seaweed offering) is $119.
I had heard reports from other passengers of the famous Steiner sales pitch. (After your treatment, your therapist will strongly "advise" you that you need a myriad of beauty products, all of which are sold right there.) If you want to buy, go for it. If you don't, simply say no. I was given no such pitch after my 75-minute treatment, and I left feeling loose and unburdened by a slew of new products.