Editor's Note: Crown Princess' theater now hosts the line's new show, "Magic to Do," by Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz. It's also home to a spinoff of NBC's "The Voice," in which passengers who are handpicked from karaoke auditions earlier in the week compete for "The Voice of the Ocean" title.
In the Princess Theater on Deck 5, rows of rounded, rose-colored chairs seat 800 for movies, concerts, lectures and Broadway-style productions with some of the largest casts at sea. Clever architecture even maintains good views all around (though not quite enough leg space for some passengers, especially those who like to slip out during set changes).
While the shows have a terrific level of polish, some cruisers complain that the main staples -- like the Motown tribute "Motor City" -- have been running since the ship's launch in 2006. Guest performers, such as the Seahawks cheerleaders, add contemporary spark and verve on some sailings.
The ship really does take everything -- including the kitchen sink -- out to sea. The Princess Patter newsletter teems with activities of every stripe, starting with the goofy "Wake Show" on TV every morning. Options then range from flatter stomach seminars to Pop Star competitions and Spot The Fake Tanzanite. Meanwhile, wildlife enthusiasts dig into lectures by rangers and environmentalists, along with the Discovery at Sea programming, which puts on fun events like The Deadliest Catch Gameshow (catching crabs in the Neptune Reef Pool).
Princess Fine Art brings on the Champagne and fast patter at lively auctions, where anything goes -- from a 6-year-old spending his allowance on an animation still (with a parent's consent) to $40,000 paintings selling with the flick of a paddle.
The ship also has embraced football fans, both with theme cruises and also with nearly 100 annual "Game of the Week" tailgate parties.
The three-story Piazza on Deck 5 is a central gathering spot with a stage for small-scale shows throughout the day and night; they include performances by singer-songwriters and bands playing local folk music. Entertainers also work the crowd, doing everything from acrobatics to card games, martini demonstrations and bedazzling workshops. An especially popular event is Princess' famous Champagne waterfall (a cascade down stacked flutes), shortly after embarkation. Columns, inlaid marble floors and a spiral staircase add to the visual drama and beauty there.
Evening activities also cover a lot of ground, from acoustic melodies to karaoke, poker, ballroom dancing, folkloric displays and DJ all-request sets. The crowds definitively gravitate to more static, seated entertainment -- like the shows -- rather than dancing and late-night drinking.
A perennial favorite is Movies Under the Stars, a 300-square-foot, 70,000-watt screen on Deck 15 that shows films and concerts both day and night. Shaded against the sun, it looms over an outside pool, two hot tubs and two decks of seating. Complimentary popcorn, cookies and warm milk reign there as passengers snuggle into chaise lounges. Stewards pass out blankets when the temperatures dip.
The unexceptional but pleasant Gatsby's Casino on Deck 6 is next to a full-service bar. It features craps, roulette, blackjack, Caribbean Stud, Let it Ride and Three-Card Poker, alongside the occasional game of bingo and slot machines (sometimes open 24 hours at sea). Gamblers can apply for credit prior to sailing or cash checks, withdraw from an ATM, get credit card advances or access funds from their onboard accounts to play.
Crown Princess Bars and Lounges
The ship misses no chance to sell adult beverages, but it still manages to keep the atmosphere classy, in control and comfortable for children and non-imbibers. The scene only gets loud and frenzied in places you'd expect, like a tailgate party for American football fans or the last happy hour of a weeklong trip.
Adagio remains the most restrained, followed by Vines, which is energized by the bustling Atrium. Party-hearty types will feel most at home in Club Fusion or Skywalkers late at night, two hotspots that are all about the bass. The stern's outdoor bar, Outriggers, remains the best for sweeping views.
While Crown Princess' beverage selections shine elsewhere, the beer list plays to a mainstream palate (think Bud, Miller and Heineken). Princess has added Seawitch -- an exclusive IPA from Strike Brewing Company near San Francisco -- in honor of its 50th anniversary in 2015. This is the first in the line's new series of craft beers, which will be a welcome improvement -- especially since this vessel often sails America's West Coast, an area rich in breweries and passionate about quality suds.
Crown Princess allows each passenger to bring aboard one 750ml bottle of wine or Champagne, which doesn't incur a corkage fee if it's drunk in the stateroom. Additional bottles -- wherever they are consumed -- will add $15 per bottle to your account. Liquor, spirits and beer are not permitted.
Happily, Princess puts out a decent wine list with offerings by the glass, as well as bottles starting in the mid-20s, like Korbel Brut and Valpolicella Classico. It then runs into the three-figure range with Dom Perignon, Opus One and Robert Mondavi Reserve. Diners unable to finish a bottle can stow it for a future meal -- or walk with it to their cabins.
For $33.35, fans of specialty coffees can get a 15-drink punch card (transferable to other sailings). Crown Princess also offers unlimited soda packages from $5.18 per person, per day (includes a souvenir tumbler). Or passengers can have it all -- water, soda, beer, wine and cocktails (under $10 each) -- with an all-inclusive beverage bundle ($49 per day).
Vines (Deck 5): Set in the bright, airy piazza, this patio-style wine bar goes heavy on the rustic Italian chic with palms, weathered-looking wine barrels and terra-cotta floor tiles. A large communal table -- known as the Stammtisch (German for "regulars' table") -- invites conversation and also hosts tastings periodically ($15). Vines serves less common labels like Spanish Vall Llach Embruix, alongside standards like Veuve Clicquot Brut. Each purchase comes with complimentary tapas or sushi (not always at its peak freshness, unfortunately). While the menu has no vegetarian options, the waiters are willing to fetch cheese platters. This lively gathering spot is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Speakeasy (Deck 5): Set beside Gatsby's Casino, this nook features a cobalt carpet, cream-upholstered furniture and glorious yellow and gold stained glass. It's the only place to smoke a cigar onboard.
Crooner's Bar (Deck 7): At the top level of the central atrium, the classic Rat Pack-style saloon is known for its "Tee Many Martoonies" menu, serving decadent cocktails like the Chocolate Martini (Stolichnaya vodka and white creme de cacao) and 'Earsheys Kiss (Grey Goose vodka, Kahlua and dark creme de cacao). Crooner's pairs its Art Deco look with jazz and mid-20th-century standards.
Wheelhouse Bar (Deck 7): A nautical theme prevails with paintings, dark wood paneling and leather wingback chairs. A splashy map-themed carpet -- all gold, scarlet and turquoise -- helps keep the gloom at bay ... as do the frequent happy hours there. The bartenders knock out two-for-one drinks with aplomb during the crowded, but merry and friendly, happy hours. Do check your bill carefully, though, as table waitstaff can get scrambled in the fray.
Club Fusion (Deck 7): One of the ship's three main lounges, this area hosts mid-morning exercise sessions like Zumba and line-dancing, then brings in live music combos for partnered dancing as the evening starts to heat up. Keep an eye out for karaoke and theme parties there, as well as late-night discos.
Explorer's Lounge (Deck 7): Armchairs and loveseats -- seating around 250 -- dot this swooping nightclub space, illuminated by table lamps and splendid stained-glass ceiling installations. A hub both day and night, it hosts everything from comedy and magicians to movie trivia and Champagne art auctions.
Calypso Bar (Deck 15): Tucked under the giant movie screen and right beside the Calypso pool, this bar can get a little crowded and fraught. Patrons, often watching a film or supervising children in the water, have an urgency not found elsewhere onboard.
Outrigger Bar (Deck 15): Set at the back of the ship, the basic bar overlooks Deck 14's pool and the Crown Princess' wake. Many patrons like to bring out nibbles from the neighboring Cafe Caribe. With stools, chairs and loungers all within easy reach, Outrigger offers plenty of ways to get comfortable and sample its drinks menu, which includes an extensive collection of Bloody Marys and Cesars.
Mermaid's Tail (Deck 15): Another pool bar, this snuggles up against the Trident Grill, source of hot dogs, hamburgers and (sometimes at night) smokehouse BBQ.
Tradewinds Bar (Deck 16): This more relaxed outdoor pub caters to passengers relaxing on loungers. It only ever bustles during times when the ship is scenic cruising through spectacular landscapes.
Adagio (Deck 16): Attached to Sabatini's -- the sophisticated, extra-charge Italian restaurant -- this feels more like a private clubhouse than a cruise ship bar. High-backed stools encourage visitors to gather around the wood-inlay bar, while tables draw those more interested in listening to the pianist or jazz ensemble that plays nightly. It serves Cognac, scotch, and liqueurs like Amaretto, Frangelico and Sambuca, along with frilly drinks like tiramisu martinis. Be forewarned: The bartender might offer "limoncello," but it's blended with cream and sweet & sour mix -- a disappointment for purists ($7.95).
Skywalkers (Deck 18): This long, lean strip of a nightclub runs high across the ship's aft, resembling nothing so much as Geordi La Forge's visor in "Star Trek." By day, people read quietly there, soaking up the splendid views and ignoring the garish, psychedelic-swirl carpet. At night, it turns into a disco-ball-speckled tunnel full of blaring ABBA and other pop anthems. While Skywalkers has an impressive array of martinis, try not to miss The Isaac, designed by the bartender of the ship featured in "The Love Boat" (aka Pacific Princess). It features Bacardi, lime juice and pomegranate ($8.95).
Crown Princess Outside Recreation
Crown Princess keeps water babies happy with four pools, two splash areas and seven whirlpool spas. Its piece de resistance is the Calypso Reef and Pool (Deck 15). Dominated by the massive Movies Under the Stars screen, this midship space is all about Hollywood against the backdrop of the sea and sky. Submerged lights sometimes flash during concert footage. This isn't the place to lounge in the water and read a book.
For a more serene experience, try the Terrace Pool (Deck 14). Watch the ship's wake from this smaller basking-sized pool on the stern. It's surprisingly uncrowded, given the phenomenal views -- maybe because it has three decks' worth of sunbathers looking down on it? Deck 15's Lotus Spa Pool is also an oasis of tranquility. Connected to the ship's spa, the intimate pool -- and its two satellite hot tubs -- features a serene Buddha statue: a good indicator of the mood at this adults-only water feature and shaded deck full of loungers.
High on Deck 17 at the stern are a kiddie splash area, complete with trike toys; a family pool ("kind of like a hot tub, if you turned it down for children," a mother reported); and a teens-only hot tub. Unisex bathrooms nearby help parents easily assist with changing. Families also gravitate to Deck 15's all-ages Neptune Reef and Pool. A large rectangular swimming area is flanked by a shallow, beautifully mosaicked shelf that's perfect for splashing toddlers or even adults who want to bask. It also has two elevated whirlpools.
Deck 19 is the place to get your game on. At Princess Links, two small greens make room for putting practice and playing croquet (open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.). The netted-in Center Court can accommodate tennis, volleyball, badminton and half-court basketball. The jogging track is also up on Deck 19. It's easy to get a hamster wheel feeling on this tiny top-deck course; it takes 16 circuits to log a mile. Descend the port side exterior staircase to reach the Ping-Pong table on Deck 16.
One of the ship's crowning glories is the Sanctuary on Deck 17, a serene adults-only deck area. Tent canopies shade Italianate chaises and chairs, covered in deep, plush towels, while a few more loungers receive full sun. Windows wrap around the prow, cascading in light and revealing the scenery. AstroTurf and graceful trees add to the gracious, garden atmosphere. To access this Zen-like retreat, you'll need to pay: $20 for a half day or $40 for a whole one. Passes for the entire cruise run $30 per day.
Attentive waiters serve a spa menu there with a mix of healthy fare (fruit kebabs, lettuce-wrapped spring rolls, cantaloupe and cottage cheese cups) and indulgent classics (pizza, cheeseburgers and ballpark-style jumbo hot dogs). Likewise, the beverages run the spectrum from smoothies to Red Bull cans. Princess charges a $3 delivery fee for each order (which can include multiple items), but the food is free. The "Serenity Stewards" can also deliver bottles of Evian face mist ($3.95).
Masseurs work in two central pavilions. They only offer four selections -- Swedish, deep-tissue and chocolate-indulgence, along with chair massages. Rates for these services run the same as at the Lotus Spa. (Note: If you book a treatment, you can enjoy the serenity deck for an hour afterward.)
Watch for special packages on scenic cruising days. For example, while Crown Princess wove among icebergs in Alaska's Tracy Arm Fjord, passengers in the Sanctuary watched the glacier from lounge chairs, while wrapped in blankets and snuggled into earmuffs. They also got to sample rockfish chowder and beaver tail fried dough pastries, two local delicacies ($60 for an all-day pass).
Crown Princess Services
On Deck 5, the ship has a 25-computer Internet cafe that resembles a ghost town, no doubt thanks to the prevalence of laptops, tablets and smartphones now. Shipboard Wi-Fi costs $73 for 60 minutes, $103 for 240 minutes, $163 for 460 minutes, $203 for 680 minutes and $253 for 1,100 minutes, plus a $3.95 activation fee. Purchase on embarkation day, and receive bonus minutes. Princess also offers last-day Internet access -- a quick burst of 15 minutes for $9 so passengers can check their flight statuses.
Tech-savvy passengers should take advantage of Princess@SEA, the phenomenal, free app that works in airplane mode. (No cellular or data charges apply.) You can review the Patter, create a customized itinerary, browse restaurant menus and even access your stateroom account. Best of all, you can send text messages to other passengers at no cost, even when you're abroad.
Also on Deck 5 is the gallery. Crown Princess sails with roughly 1,300 works of art, valued about $2 million altogether. Each day it displays roughly 125 items, ranging from bold, poppy Peter Max sculptures to misty watercolors by Shan-Merry. Passengers can purchase on the spot or hope their favorites surface at an auction.
The shore excursion desk on Deck 6 is one of the most polite, friendly and dialed-in aspects of the ship. The staffers there guide passengers among the often-bewildering and fast-changing array of shore activities. (Princess will add more tours if the demand is high enough. So if something you love sold out, swing by to see if space has opened up.) It stands beside the passenger services desk, where, unfortunately, things don't run quite so smoothly. (Princess could stand to invest in more training or employee retention there, as employees couldn't answer basic questions more often than not.)
Around 2,000 books pack the glass-doored shelves in the serene library on Deck 7. It also contains board games and the Cruise Connections book, where passengers can note their interests and try to meet other folks interested in chess, dancing, swimming, etc. Pick up daily brainteasers and news printouts there, too. This level also contains the photo gallery, full of for-sale snapshots from your cruise. (Prices start at $10 for a 5x6 and $22 for an 8x10.)
Crown Princess has four unexceptional boutiques: Calypso Cover (liquor, tobacco, sundries and souvenirs) and Meridian Bay (fashion and accessories) on Deck 6, and Essence (fragrances, cosmetics and gifts) and Facets (jewelry and watches) on Deck 7. Save your money for onshore options.
The simple Hearts and Minds Wedding Chapel on Deck 16 hosts religious services, led by passengers, as well as wedding ceremonies and vow renewals.
Between the sports court and Princess Links on Deck 19 stands the Platinum Photography Studio. It's free to sit for a black and white portrait -- with no obligation to buy. Just tread carefully: Some travelers report falling in love with these professional shots but not having the funds for prints. Check the pricing before you get started.
Every residential floor has a basic self-service launderette with irons, ironing boards, washers and dryers. Swipe your cruise card to purchase detergent and tokens; a cycle costs about $6 to $9, depending on volume and fabrics. Crown Princess also offers washing, press-only and professional cleaning with express (same day) or 48-hour turnarounds for a fee.