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.
The Piazza is the hub of the ship and a marvelous destination. Located on Deck 5, the first deck of the three-story atrium, it serves as an impromptu performance venue and demo area. On one sea day, for instance, there was a chocolate demo from the pastry chef, followed by a mime, followed by magic tricks and then a "physical comedy" act. On another day, the young members of Princess' Fun Zone program had a "street fair" there. On the second formal evening, people thronged all three levels to watch the fabled "Champagne pour," a Princess tradition.
Beyond the Piazza, the ship has an overwhelming number of entertainment options, plus a variety of lounges, each with a different personality. Crooners, on Deck 7, is right in the heart of the action, overlooking the Piazza. It also features a vocalist. (On particularly boisterous evenings, the joint may erupt into a passenger singalong.) Crooners specializes in martinis, serving 52 different types. Explorer's Lounge is primarily an event venue for everything from art auctions to guest lectures. At night, it often serves as a secondary movie theater.
Club Fusion, also on Deck 7 (and not the nightclub, despite the name), is busy during the day -- with Ballroom Blitz, line dancing, bingo and Jeopardy -- and into the evening with activities from trivia and "Princess Pop Star," a take on American Idol, to Bee At Sea, a spelling-themed competition. This venue also hosts Captain's Circle meetings for frequent Princess cruisers.
The Speakeasy Cigar Lounge is the only place to smoke a stogie. It's tucked into Gatsby's Casino, which has an assortment of slots and game tables. On our cruise, the almost nightly Texas Hold'em Tournament was very popular. On sea days, cashiers open at 10 a.m. During port days, the full casino opens 30 minutes after sailing.
The Wheelhouse Bar, a Princess tradition, has nautical character but lacks the intimacy we've associated with smaller versions on other ships. And Adagio, located next to Sabatini's in a light-filled corner on Deck 16, is an elegant, Ritz Carlton-esque venue with a cabaret singer and pianist. Late-night action -- think DJs and dancing -- is to be found in Princess' trademark Skywalkers Nightclub.
The Princess Theater is the ship's main show venue, and it also hosts movies from time to time when not featuring production shows and comedy acts. The ship-produced shows -- tributes to everything from disco to the Beatles -- were okay, not great.
Facets of the overall "edutainment" program include culinary arts demonstrations (wine tastings, ice carving and the like) and a destination lecture series that, on our Baltic cruise, featured not only useful port information but also thought-provoking lectures on topics like "The Last Days of the Romanovs."
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 (with action flicks and such). Occasionally the line will program special events (like the Super Bowl).
We ordered all of our shore excursions online in advance of the cruise, something we had never done before. The selection was robust, but Princess' online brochure was descriptive and concise, making it easy to hone in on the tours that were just right for us. We also liked how Princess tagged its "best of" and "most popular" shore excursions. The process was very user-friendly, and the tours, with only one exception, lived up to their hype.
We have to give a special shoutout to the shorx desk on Deck 7. Our stayover in St. Petersburg coincided with the G-20 Summit. Our stop in Stockholm coincided with an official visit by President Obama. And our port call in Tallinn, Estonia, coincided with a marathon that attracted thousands of runners. In each case, Princess and our local guides on the ground managed the situation so deftly that there was very little disruption to the ship's tours on those days.