Christmas sailings -- WONDERFUL!!!!: Crown Princess Cruise Review by spingal

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Christmas sailings -- WONDERFUL!!!!

Sail Date: December 2011
Destination: Southern Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
I sailed with my entire family. Mom, Dad, sister, BIL, niece (11) and nephew (5). Mom, Dad and I are Elite and my sister achieved the status by the end of the second week. We sailed for two weeks, 12/17 and 12/24. This was my 27th and 28th cruise on Princess and 5th and 6th on the Crown. This was our first experience sailing at Christmas.

Flying to Fort Lauderdale
We live in San Diego and drove to Los Angeles so we could take a non-stop flight to Fort Lauderdale. We spent Thursday night, 12/15 at the Embassy Suites South at LAX. It is convenient to the airport and we parked two cars at the hotel for the 2+ weeks. The hotel takes you to the airport and picks you up. There are many hotels at LAX that provide this service. I would never stay at this Embassy again. It really needs to be re-furbished and the rooms are tired and outdated.

We took a Virgin America flight and it was very nice. The hardest part was check-in at LAX. That was a MESS!! But the More flight was great. The in flight entertainment is so nice because each seat has their own screen. It makes a 5+ hour flight so much nicer!

Pre-cruise hotel
We spent Friday night, 12/16 at the Renaissance by the pier. The rooms are great and I would definitely stay here again. It is across the street from Walgreens and we were able to do some last minute shopping the night before the cruise. Our room rate included breakfast. The food was good but the restaurant is very small and we had to wait awhile to eat. The lobby was a madhouse with everyone leaving for ships. We took a shuttle to the ship. It was very convenient but we paid $35 to take us the ½ mile to the pier! That was an expensive ride but we would have needed at least two taxis so we decided to go for the convenience.

The previous sailing had Norovirus outbreaks so boarding was delayed. My Mom had booked the Bon Voyage Experience for her close friend and her husband but unfortunately it was cancelled. Mom was disappointed but we would rather board a ship that had been disinfected.

We took our time getting to the pier and arrived around 2. Check-in was at the convention center directly across from the pier. We arrived when a bunch of other folks did so there were some lines. Once we checked in, we were asked to take a seat in the bleachers. Princess had brought in lots of chairs and there were tons of folks sitting around waiting for the boarding announcement. At 2:30 the announcement was made that in-transit and Elite passengers could board. Well Princess did not control the crowd and tons of folks starting running to the pier! Many of the crowd were first time cruisers and it was a bit scary for us because my folks are elderly and my Dad walks with a cane. I was concerned that someone was going to knock him down. Not a great start! So it was chaos during embarkation.

We did bring wine onboard. Hulagirl was nice enough to give me some wine boxes they had used to bring wine to Fort Lauderdale. They didn't need the boxes anymore because they had one of the Winecheck carry on containers. So we were able to pack 8 bottles of wine. We placed luggage tags on the boxes along with cases of water and we gave them to the pier porters. Everything arrived just fine! We also had some wine in our carry-ons. Absolutely no problem!! This is one of things I LOVE about Princess. I understand most cruise lines either limit the wine or completely disallow it.

My folks were in a suite and had the same cabin for both weeks. My sister, BIL and nephew and my niece and I had adjoining balcony cabins during the first week and moved to insides for the second week to save some money. We were all on Riviera deck. I will never book on this deck again.

Every morning we heard the deck attendants moving and dropping chairs. Sometimes it was as early as 6:30am. And the night of the deck parties was extremely noisy. It sounded like there was a herd of elephants jumping up and down over our cabins. It was especially bad the second week. The party continued until 12:15am. We had gone to bed because we had an early excursion in Belize and had to be on a tender around 7am. I am not sure why Princess planned the deck party for a night prior to a 7am port call. It would have made more sense to plan it for a night prior to a 9am port call. I did end up calling down to Passenger Services a few times during the 2 weeks to ask them to have the deck attendants be more careful moving furniture. Passenger Services was very nice and even called me to find out if the noise had decreased. But unfortunately they really didn't do anything about the problem.

We had booked Riviera deck because that is where the mid-ship suites are located. Because of the noise issues, I do wonder why Princess put the suites on this deck. On some of the older ships, the suites are on Caribe deck. That is so much nicer because there aren't any noise issues and the balconies are much deeper. The Riviera deck balconies are very narrow and the furniture on the balcony is a bit cramped. Princess all I can say is who did that deck planning!?!? LOL!

The cabins are in good shape. Mom and Dad's bed in the suite was very nice. It was a pillow top mattress. But the rest of us had those old hard mattresses. I understand that Princess is slowly replacing these old worn out mattresses. I can't wait!

Room Steward
We all had Dax Supan from the Philippines. What a nice young man! He was very attentive and always had a smile on his face. He made some towel animals that the kids loved. And every night he made sure that Mom and Dad had wine glasses and ice. On turn around day, Dax told us to place all of our stuff that was in drawers and on shelves in our suitcases and to leave all of our clothes hanging in the closet. He moved everything to our new cabins for us. That really helped us since we had to get off the ship for immigration and there was no way we had time to move everything ourselves prior to disembarking. Overall Dax really took good care of us.

Dining Room Staff
We started the two weeks at late traditional dining but decided that we wanted to eat a little bit earlier since late seating was at 8:15. We talked to Neville Saldana the Maitre D' and he was very accommodating. Neville is by far the best Maitre D' I have had the pleasure of sailing with. He was very visible and very interested in making sure everyone was having a great dining experience. He moved us to the DaVinci dining room where we had a standing 7:30 reservation at table 488. This dining room in used for the 5:30 early seating and then opens for anytime dining at 7:30. The only challenge we faced was trying to enter the dining when the doors open. Almost every night there was a large group of folks lined up and we had to navigate our way through the crowd.

We had the dining room team of Melinda Ambrusics and Elena Andonova. OMG they were ABSOLUTELY the BEST team I have ever experienced!! They are very attentive, sweet and caring. They were always right there when water or wine glasses were empty. They knew the drink orders and the drinks were always waiting for us when we arrived. They spoiled the kids by even cutting their meat and making them feel very special. Melinda and Elena are both quiet and never disturbed our meals. I HIGHLY recommend anyone that is sailing on the Crown to request their station. You will not be sorry! And if you do sit with them, be sure to tell them that Jamie said hello!

Alternative restaurants and food in main dining room
Our travel agent gave us vouchers to use for Sabatini's. We had decided we only wanted to do one formal night each week so decided to go to Sabatini's on the first formal night of week one. Overall I was not impressed at all and did not care for the food. I had the new chicken dish and found the sauce was overwhelming. Everyone agreed with me and I don't think we will return to Sabatini's on future cruises.

The second week we went to Crown Grill on the second formal night. It was very good but wow it is a lot of food!! My steak was OK -- not fabulous but better than the dining room. But the sides -- yum! Especially the corn casserole. And that black and blue onion soup -- WOW!! We do like Crown Grill and normally visit this alternative restaurant at least once during our cruise.

I thought the food in the main dining room was pretty good. Some nights the menu was STRANGE!! Caribbean night we all looked at the menu and ended up ordering pasta or something from the "always available" menu. My favorite part of the menu is always the pasta. The pastas on Princess Ships are WONDERFUL!! And Neville ordered macaroni and cheese for us many of the nights. Now I could eat that every night as my entrée -- it is that good!

Christmas decorations and activities
The ship was beautiful!! When we boarded on 12/17 we were so impressed by the Piazza. There were garlands hanging from all of the rails and a large tree on deck 5. But on 12/24 it got better!!! They brought in gingerbread houses, a sleigh and additional decorations. It was so nice. There were other trees all over the ship including a live tree in a bucket on one of the upper decks.

During the first week there were Christmas carols playing all over the ship, including a stateroom channel that showed a fireplace while carols were playing. But it was during the second week that the activities kicked into high gear. Since Christmas Eve was turn around day, the staff was trying to fit in all of the activities while folks were settling in. The staff sang Christmas carols in the Piazza while it "snowed"..........I was impressed!!! But for some reason Lisa Ball did not read "Twas the night before Christmas" for the kids. Not sure what happened. Midnight mass was celebrated in the Princess Theater. I planned to go but was just too tired to make it.

On Christmas morning, my niece and I took my nephew's Santa gifts up to Adaigo and placed them under the tree. We had stayed in our Christmas pajamas and were wearing our Santa hats!!! I had recommended we go up there because the bar is always quiet in the morning and we could tell my nephew that Santa came to the ship. I guess Santa needed a drink so that is why he left the presents in a bar!!! LOL! The Head Waiter from Sabatini's saw us and brought over some orange juice and coffee! He knows me because Dad and I go to breakfast there every almost every morning since Dad is a suite passenger (Mom is not a breakfast person and I am the lucky replacement for Mom!!). As we were opening gifts people started arriving for trivia so we stayed. We didn't win but had fun. After trivia, my sister and BIL took the kids to the Piazza. Santa was there and the kids could go sit on this lap. Each child was given a stuffed animal. Very nice touch!

In the afternoon there was a Christmas show in the Princess Theater. Somehow we all missed it! I was bummed when I saw it on the Reflections video. It looked fun. But we did make it to the gingerbread house contest. What a blast!!! There were about 30 teams. We were in Club Fusion and each team had a station with a boxed kit. On "GO" we opened our kit and began the decorating process. We had about 45 minutes to complete our house. They had pre-made icing that we could use so we didn't have to mix our own. We brought extra candy with us and I must admit our house was the best!! Overall it was a lot of fun.

That night was a formal night and the ship was very festive. There was a special menu in the dining room and there were actual lit candles on every table. Overall Christmas on board was very special and I would not hesitate to do it again. Even given that there were 800+ kids on each week's sailing. The kids were well behaved and did not cause any problems.

We have finally learned to not use the ship excursions!! We now booked independently and pay less for what typically is a better excursion with more amenities. Here goes...........

Week 1 -- Curacao and Aruba
My sister, BIL and kids walked off the ship and hired someone to take them to the Hato Caves and the distillery. I forget how much they paid but they really enjoyed their time ashore. Mom and I walked to over the floating bridge but it was open (meaning you could not cross the river) so we had to take a ferry. It was very crowded with both tourists and locals and we found that the locals were not very friendly. We walked around downtown for maybe 30 minutes and went back to the ship.

It POURED!! This is my second time to Aruba and the second time it poured!! My sister had booked the Jolly Roger pirate ship independently. We still had a great time even though it rained. They took us to two snorkeling sites that had wrecks below. And we enjoyed the rope swing. We had all the rum punch we could drink and lunch (just OK). And there was another boat out with us that had the folks that booked via Princess. They paid more and did not get lunch!!

Week 2 -- Grand Cayman, Roatan, Belize and Cozumel
Grand Cayman
My sister and niece booked a Stingray City tour through Captain Marvin. They loved it. And there were only 9 people on the boat because an RCCL ship was 4 hours late to port (they picked up some refugees) and those folks didn't make the tour. Mom and I once again walked around and did some shopping. We had a bite to eat at Breezes. I bought my favorite Tortuga Rum Punch prior to re-boarding the ship!! That is the best punch in the entire world!

The whole family took a Victor Bodden tour. My sister, BIL, niece and nephew went horseback riding. It was strange because our guide pulled the van over to the side of a road where the horses were standing. No stable at all. The horses looked a bit worn but they all had a great time. While they were riding, the guide took Mom, Dad and I to Half Moon Bay. It was OK -- nothing special.

The pier area is wonderful. It was built by Carnival. When we returned, all of the girls did some shopping and ended the day at Fat Tuesday's. In retrospect I wish we had just gone to the Mahogany Bay beach. It is right next to the ship and looked nice. Hulagirl and her family went there and really enjoyed it. Next time!

My sister, niece, nephew and I went cave tubing and zip lining with Major Tom. Once again we booked independently and paid less and lunch was included. We paid $89.50 for all of that! Tom met us at the pier and we had a small group of 10. We got to the zip lining and tubing place prior to the big buses from the ships (there were two NCL ships there with us). That saved us from waiting in long lines for zip lining. I highly recommend Major Tom. He personally joined us on the tour and told us a lot about Belize. It was a great tour.

My sister, BIL, niece and nephew went to the beach. Mom, Dad and I did some shopping and went to Pancho's Backyard. Yum!!! Great margaritas and food. We were docked downtown and went to the one near the ferry terminal. I highly recommend Pancho's! There were 7 ships in port that day include the "Behemoth of the Seas", aka Oasis of the Seas. So there were at least 20K+ passengers roaming the town. It was busy!

We had seen all of the shows. I am ready for some of the new shows that are now on other Princess ships. We did go to "What a Swell Party" the first week and "Motor City" the second week. I enjoyed both. On the second week we had a GREAT comedian, Phil Tag. I highly recommend him if you have a chance to see him. Very funny! James Michael was on-board too. He was good too but Phil was funnier to me. Most nights we had dinner and just hung around. We did watch some of the football games on MUTS. That was fun!

Most traveled passenger lunches
Yes lunches!! I was invited both weeks and these meals were a huge highlight for me. The first week I took my Dad and we sat with a very nice family from Quebec. Our host was Jo-Ann the future cruise consultant. Each guest gets a picture with Captain Nash. The food was out of this world!! Dad had halibut and he said it was the best meal he has ever had onboard. I had the rack of lamb.

The second week I took Mom. Hulagirl also went with her family and requested that we sit together. We had a blast sitting with them!! The Chief Engineer and his wife sat with us and we learned about many aspects of the ship's operation. The food was decadent! Mom and I both had the filet with stilton cheese. And the appetizer was a yummy pasta dish. Dessert was a sinfully rich chocolate cake. And I forgot to mention that they pour nice wine! Thank you Princess for spoiling me and my parents!!!

The cruises were great but there were a few challenges. A few I already mentioned.....noise, mattresses. But our biggest challenges came during the second week.

My folks and I are elite passengers. And my parents were in a suite. As elite passengers we were entitled to one mini-bar setup each week. And my parents were entitled to a second set-up each week since they were in a suite. We are wine drinkers so we take Princess up on the option to switch the mini-bar for a bottle of wine. The first week my folks only got one set-up. They didn't know you have to ASK for the second one.....HUH!?!? Is Princess hoping people either don't know about the second one or forget to ask??? So the second week my Dad went Passenger Services to ensure they got 2 set-ups for the second week and the missing set-up from the previous sailing. And we had decided we didn't want our normal chardonnay but instead wanted to order bottles of Riesling. Well we were HASSLED!!! It took many phones calls to passenger services and room service to try to resolve both the request for the suite second set-up and the request for a different and CHEAPER wine. You would have thought we were asking for the moon. First off, the majority of the folks we talked to had no idea that an elite passenger in a suite is entitled to 2 set-ups. We were repeatedly told that was not true and that our request would be escalated to guest relations. I was so frustrated that I finally packaged up my entire mini-bar set-up and took it to a head waiter in the dining room at dinner to ask for a bottle of Riesling. And the head waiter in the dining room had no idea you could exchange the set-up for wine! We finally got it resolved by talking to Neville the Maitre D' and we got all the set-ups and the Riesling! I suggest that Princess advertise that you can exchange the set-up for any bottle of wine up to a certain price point. Wouldn't that be easier? And it would allow passengers to select the wine they enjoy!

There was one incident that I want to mention that happened when we tried to board a tender in Belize. As an elite passenger, I am allowed to go directly to the tenders when I am ready to go ashore. We had to be on one of the first tenders since we had an early excursion and as we boarded we joined one of the ship's tour groups. A nasty young man questioned whether we were on the tour. I told him that we could go ashore when we wanted and showed him my black elite card. My sister heard him make a smart remark about "who do they think they are". Well I thought it was a dead issue until that same young man saw me in Cozumel and proceeded to hassle me. I was at Pancho's Backyard and as I was trying to leave the restaurant he came up behind me and shoved me as I was trying to negotiate a long line of customers waiting for their tables. Thankfully my folks were in the restroom and not in his path. This guy and his GRANDMOTHER (who claimed she was also elite?!?) continued to hassle me to the point where I was afraid it would continue to escalate. Many in their party (including grandma) were very drunk so I can only assume he was too. But wow -- what a jerk!! The only reason I mention this is that maybe Princess could inform people that elite passengers are able to join tenders whenever they want. That might prevent situations like I experienced. Elite passengers -- beware!

Other ship personnel
Lisa Ball was the cruise director. She is nice and I did see her quite a bit talking with passengers. The rest of the cruise staff was OK -- nothing memorable. The passenger services desk was great. It is nice that they have finally trained the staff to understand customer service. Marko and James were especially nice! Marko even sent me chocolate covered strawberries as an apology for the cabin noise issues. Now that is a wow to me!

Other miscellaneous thoughts
We did deal with two weeks of Noro-virus. Thankfully no one in our group got sick. But it was all around us. The people across the hall from my niece and me and the people next door to Mom and Dad were infected. It was amazing to watch the staff wear masks into their staterooms and then take everything out of the stateroom in red bio-hazard bags. Overall it was just a minor inconvenience in the delayed boarding times (both weeks) and in the dining areas because you could not serve yourself any food.

We had rough seas the first week. We were eating in Sabatini's' (deck 16 aft) when the ship hit a major swell. Wine glasses and dishes went flying!! That was a first for me. Later that same night Captain Nash told us that we were going to experience even rougher seas and it was the first time he has seen a gale storm warning in the Caribbean in 20 years! Mother Nature was kind to us and luckily the seas never got worse. I was amazed at the number of people who complained about the Captains warning and felt he was deliberatly scaring people. Really?! Would it have been better to not tell people and potentially have objects flying around cabins and people getting hurt? We are on the ocean and the seas don't always cooperate. And that is not the fault of Princess. I think Princess and Captain Nash did a GREAT job of preparing us for what could have been a tough night.

Disembarkation was painless (with the exception that we did not want to go home!!). We had breakfast in the dining room and went to the Platinum/Elite/Suite lounge. Since we were staying overnight in Fort Lauderdale we were one of the last groups to disembark. We spent the night at the Hilton Marina. Nice hotel but I prefer the Renaissance. The best part of the Hilton was that it was close to the water taxi which we took to Las Olas that night. The next day we had an 8:30am flight on American back to LAX. We were regretting that time since the previous night was New Year's Ever!!

In the end it was so sad to leave the fabulous Crown Princess and I wish I was still onboard!! Less

Published 01/07/12

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