This was our third time on the Crown Princess, fifth on Princess, and eighth overall. The charm of this cruise is the incredible port and tour selection. The itinerary was changed because of a general strike in Athens on our port day so Athens and Santorini were switched. Many tours on this cruise require a lot of walking over uneven surfaces and climbing many steps so choose tours carefully. This is also a get-in-shape cruise as I ended up losing a little weight. With seven port days in a row with extensive tours, it can be tiring before having two recuperating days at sea. There was a concern about an outbreak of norovirus on Day 2, but it seems to have been some cases of overeating. Unfortunately some people still ignored the hand sanitizer stations throughout the cruise. In addition to the ports and tours, the biggest plus of the cruise was that all 12 days were sunny and warm with no rough seas. Special Note: Make sure to be on deck for the cruise through main channel in Venice and through the strait of Messina for beautiful views.
Ship. The Crown has had a recent makeover and is spotlessly clean. The public areas are well laid out and you can always find a quiet spot for some reading. For photo-taking such as the cruise along Venice and the Strait of Messina, head to the rear of the ship as the bow area is just packed. The rails by the putting area are the highest points on the ship and were not crowded.
Cabin. Aloha deck, outside starboard, mid-ship. Tidy and efficient but with only one set of electrical plugs, so bring and extension cord or multi-plug for charging cameras, iPads, etc. On all previous cruises, we had been on the port side which did cause some quick changes in direction and we found this to be quite funny after awhile.
Entertainment. Went to the Venice chamber music concert on the first night while in port in Venice. They were excellent. My wife went to one of the standard evening shows - dancing was very good, but the singing appeared to be canned. Best ongoing entertainment were the trivia contests.
Food. After our last cruise on the Ruby Princess, we seriously considered not doing this cruise because the food was awful then. My wife requires a low salt diet and we need to limit our sugar intake. On the Ruby, the chefs were in love with their salt shakers. Not so on the Crown. We ate in buffet because we generally prefer simple food rather than some of the extravagant items in the dining rooms. While a few dishes were salty to my wife's taste, most of the food was good and well-prepared. Still usually only one choice for a sugar-free desert though in the buffet. Also check out the pizza and hamburgers - great for a late evening snack.
Boarding. Arrived by people-mover in Venice (1st stop, not the 2nd). Still a bit of a long walk to the terminal though there was a shuttle. Arrived about noon and were in our cabin in less than an hour.
Disembarkation. As we were staying in Rome for a few days, we disembarked later in the morning and took the Princess transportation to the city. We saw some literature that the transportation ended at Rome's Termini main train station, but it ends at the Ostiense train station, so be plan accordingly. We then took a taxi to our hotel near Trevi - about 20 euros.
Staff. Some previous reviews indicated that the ship's staff was unfriendly. We saw absolutely no cases of this as all of the ship's company we dealt with were helpful and friendly.
Internet. Can be slow when a lot of people are using it. Best to find a hot spot in the public areas for iPad use of the Internet. We pre-paid for 500 minutes which was useful for the two at-sea days.
Note: On the evening prior to arrival in Athens, all non-EU passengers had to surrender their passports to the cabin attendants and were not returned till after we left Athens. This was considered to be highly unusual according to the staff, but not unprecedented. We carried a paper copy of our passports and also took photos of our passports and there were no issues.
As there were 10 ports, Rome and Venice are included here and the other eight ports are in the port reviews.
Venice. Venice was at the beginning of our cruise and we arrived three days before the cruise started. Our vacation began badly with hotel problems at the Hotel Principe where we see told that they were overbooked despite having a pre-paid reservation six months in advance. Instead of having a room overlooking the Grand Canal, we were sent to another lesser quality hotel at the same price with a room overlooking the daily wash. Venice requires a lot of walking and was very crowded. Easiest transportation was the day-long ticket for the vaporetto or water bus, but make sure how far the bus is going later in the evening at it may end at a lonely stop. Some of the best Italian food we have ever eaten was in Venice. If you do not go to Murano island, the factory store is a few canals to east of San Marco. (Be careful when buying Murano glass at any place other than the factory store or authorized outlet.) The area near the main train station was under construction, so we took the water bus to the People Mover and then to the cruise port - the first stop, not the second. It is still a fairly long walk to the terminal. Venice can be done in about two days at an easy pace.
Rome: Rome has all the excesses of a large city, especially horrible car and motorcycle traffic, but moderated by an overwhelming sense of history and beauty found in unusual places. The Coliseum, Imperial forum, and Vatican City are everything they are expected to be, and more. Rome is a walkable city, but be prepared for hills, tiny streets, and crowds. Make sure you have a good map that shows every street, alleyway, and square. If you like art and architecture, stop at any one of the churches, large and small. Take a walk long the Tiber and it shady avenues. Go to Piazza Navona and spend some time people-watching while eating gelato. Treck up to the Borghese Gardens for a cool morning walk. Not sure what the excitement is about the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain other than to be constantly jostled when it is at its most crowded and not see a whole lot. Use TripAdvisor to find good restaurants because the quality does vary tremendously and many restuarants do not open till noon for lunch or 7:00pm for dinner. Watch for pickpockets at crowded tourist sites and on the Metro (which seems to be always jammed, but very efficient).
Coliseum/Forum tour. Used Viator with an early entrance and tour about 20 people. David was an incredible tour guide. General tour of the Coliseum with David providing an more historical perspective than the usual tourist stories. Tour was about 80 minutes. We then walked over the Arch of Constantine before beginning the walking tour of the Forum which was about 90 minutes. This part of the tour was especially informative and David had the remarkable ability of finding shady spots on a warm sunny day. All-in-all, this tour is highly recommended.
Vatican Museum/St. Peter's. Used Viator with an early entrance and small group of ten persons. Tour was led by Anna who we found out was from Boston. She was extremely knowledgeable, very nice, perky, cute-as-a-button, and kept us moving at a nice pace for the three hours. (Warning: There is a lot of walking and stairs in the Museum. Both the Museum and St. Peter's are spectacular for the art, architecture, and history. The only disappointment was the Sistine Chapel which was a mass of disrespectful humanity who pushed, shoved, and would not be silent despite numerous calls for silence. This tour is still highly recommended.
A431. Standard outside cabin on starboard side near mid-ship. Convenient as it was across from the laundry station. Nice, comfortable layout, and relative quiet. Small balcony. Clean. Only two electrical outlets on the far wall.
The highlight of the tour was the visit to the original site of the Olympics. This tour requires lots of walking but was mostly over level grounds and was quite shady. Very informative tour and we were lucky to be among the first groups to enter the grounds. This is one of those places with an overwhelming sense of history.