This review covers the Crown Princess Scandinavia/Russia/'Berlin' cruise from 8/8/08 to 8/18/08. After being a CruiseCritic.com junkie for months prior to this sailing, I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute my own opinion.
Travel to port of embarkation: The biggest difficulty I had on this whole trip was the travel to and from the ship. Once aboard everything was worry free. I arrived in Copenhagen one day prior to sailing, but found my luggage did not make it. I wound up spending a couple of extra hours at the airport filing lost baggage reports and locating the Princess rep so he could get my bags to the ship if/when they did arrive. (NOTE - Although it appears that there is a line for the service window, one must actually get a number, like at the deli counter. They only serve people in the order of their numbers. Later, I met a family who travel to Copenhagen frequently who told me that they automatically go and get a number at baggage service, so they will be first in line when their luggage doesn't show up - apparently a common occurrence.)
It was very simple to take the train to downtown and find my hotel from there. This was made easier by the fact that I only had my carry-on bag to carry- (thanks, AirFrance). I stayed at The Square Hotel which was more than adequate. Great central location, nice buffet breakfast. Sorta small room, but large by European standards. I'm glad that I arrived a day early because it wasn't until the next morning that one of my bags arrived. I didn't see the other bag until on the ship after dinner the first night. The front desk called a cab but I think someone else grabbed it, so they called for another one which arrived within 10-15 minutes. I met a group of 6 in the lobby who were also on the Crown and ran into them onboard many times. Embarkation: I was planning to arrive at the port around 11 am. However, I was forced to go shopping in Copenhagen to replace the lost items from my luggage. None of the stores open before 10 am, so by the time I shopped and checked out of the hotel I didn't get to the ship until about 1 pm. Although Princess recommends avoiding this time of day, the lines moved quickly and I was aboard in about 20 minutes.
Stateroom: I had an inside cabin on deck 12. It was pretty spacious and I don't think it would have been worth the price difference for a balcony cabin. It was nice being on deck 12 as you only had to go up two flights for the Lido deck w/pool and buffet. The cabin was two doors down from the laundry room and I did hear noise from the dryer at 4 am on a couple of occasions.
Ship info: The layout of the ship was unimpressive to me, compared to Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas. The 'focal point' of the ship is its 3 story atrium but I didn't find it dramatic or impressive. I much preferred the Promenade on NOS. It took a few days to learn how to get around. The pools were nice and there was never trouble finding an empty deck chair, but there weren't many pool days though.
Dining: By reputation, this is the area where Princess is supposed to outshine other cruise lines. By my experience, it was only incrementally better than RCI or Norwegian. I would give it an A-/B+, versus a B+/B for the others. For dinner, I dined with other groups a few times with reservations which were easy to get near the times that we wanted. I also ate with a large group a few nights who had an extra seat at their table, and did anytime dining and the buffet a couple of times. I didn't have any bad meals, but I also didn't have any meals that were particularly memorable. I enjoyed the lobster tails one night and king crab legs another night, but the preparation was nothing special.
The buffet was ok, nothing different than any other buffet. The food was the same all the time, especially at breakfast and lunch. They did have a Bavarian night once which was the only time I saw different items.
It was a nice feature to have the burger stand and the pizza stand both available on the pool deck. I'm not a big ice cream eater, but I noticed the lack of a self-service soft ice cream machine, which other cruise lines have.
Last but certainly not least, THEIR COFFEE REALLY S*CKS!!! This was mentioned by many, many people on board. The coffee is definitely instant, it tastes exactly like the liquid concentrate Douwe Egberts that I have to suffer with at work, (not what I wanted to be reminded of while on vacation). And they have the nerve to charge extra for regular coffee at the International Cafe!!! Compare this to RCI's always free Seattles Best Coffee.
[To the Princess management (and I know you read these reviews): What does it say about your 'upscale' ship when I repeatedly saw people leaving the dining room and returning with 'real coffee' that they had to get (and pay for) at the International Cafe, rather than drinking the dining room coffee????] Ports of Call: Stockholm - Went to the Vasa Museum, which was very interesting, probably the most interesting thing in Stockholm. Walked around the Old Town, but there wasn't anything remarkable. Went to the Nobel Museum which took all of 15 minutes, but was included with my Stockholm pass. The ride into the city through the archipelago was very scenic though, and was worth waking up early for.
Helsinki - Took the Princess shuttle into town. Walked to the Stone Church which was impressive, and went to the open air market.
St. Petersburg - For most people this was the most anticipated port, and it lived up to expectations. I did the Princess 2-day comprehensive excursion and enjoyed it thoroughly. We never really experienced big lines except at the Hermitage. The guide was decent, nothing extraordinary. I wish we had had more than one hour to see the art at the Hermitage, but its a big city and you can't see it all in two days. I talked to people who raved about the private tours that they took, but this one seems just as nice and was worth doing for the simplicity of booking with just a mouse click and not having to worry about visas or being let off the ship in time, etc.
Tallinn - this was universally agreed to be the hidden jewel of the whole trip. An easy walk from the port, this is a beautiful city; the pictures don't do it justice. I noticed many people walking around w/Rick Steves book doing his walking tour. Don't miss this port!!!
Gdynia/Gdansk - We did a privately arranged tour of Stutthoff concentration camp. The weather was grey and cool that day, which seemed appropriate for such a somber place. It was worth seeing though.
Warnemunde - Decided not to go to Berlin as I didn't relish the thought of 6-8 hours on a train just to ride around Berlin for a few hours. Took the train to Rostock, which was quite easy. Just ask for directions at the Tourist Information desk when you get off the ship. I enjoyed Warnemunde more than Rostock however. It is a beach resort town, mostly catering to German tourists. Its quite easy to spend a leisurely day walking around, going to the beach, finding nice pastry to eat and great beer to drink.
Copenhagen - For no stated reason, the stop in Helsingor was cancelled and we went to Copenhagen on the last day. Having already spent a day here, there wasn't much that I needed to see, but we went to the Carlsburg Brewery which was enjoyable and they do have a very nice selection of beer in the bar; two beers are included w/ the tour and you can purchase more (or take the tour with some non-beer drinkers like I did, so you can use their coupons)
Service: For the most part, the service was very good. Some were excellent (Edgardo my steward, and Jimmy the waiter), most were very good, and some were indifferent. There was ALWAYS a medium or long line at the service desk. It seemed understaffed as there were usually empty counters - even when the lines were very long. I didn't use the excursion desk but during the few hours (very few) every day when they were open, the line snaked through the whole atrium.
Entertainment: These were long days in port and it didn't seem like too many people were up for much entertainment at night. I went to one show, which was just ok and didn't feel like I was missing anything the other nights. Karaoke was available most nights and was entertaining. After 10 or 11 pm it was hard to find anyone awake who was more than 25 years old.
Disembarkation: I did the princess transfer to the airport. It went smoothly, although I didn't like getting up at 4 am. What I really didn't like was finding out that AirFrance had cancelled every flight to Paris that morning (where I had to get my flight to the states). Seeing a long line at customer service I immediately went and got my number (having learned from experience on my arrival to Copenhagen). Eventually wound up getting re-routed through Frankfurt on Lufthansa and arrived at home about 8 hours late, having spent the day at the airport. Obviously this was not Princess' fault, but maybe this is something related to Copenhagen as I have never seen so many people whose luggage was delayed upon their arrival.
Summary: The itinerary made this a terrific trip. The complaints that I have about Princess are mostly in comparison to other cruise lines. The ship, service, and food were mostly very good to excellent. I just didn't feel like there was much to warrant their premium pricing.