Crown Princess Isn't Your Daddy's Grand-Class Ship!

June 25, 2006
It's clear on its second official cruise that Crown Princess, the latest ship to roll off Fincantieri's shipbuilding dock for Princess Cruises, is serving as a bit of a test kitchen for the line's future vessels.

Reports Cruise Critic Editor Carolyn Spencer Brown, currently onboard for a nine-night Bermuda/Eastern Caribbean itinerary, Princess fans will certainly find much that is familiar -- and even more that's fresh and intriguing. She'll be posting additional insights and discoveries as the cruise unfolds; check those out on Princess' board via a thread entitled Live from Crown: Carolyn's Crown Princess Blog. Go there often!

So far, the highlights:

Crown Princess' atrium has been redesigned and feels more intimate -- and much more like a bustling Italian piazza -- with new-to-Princess features such as Vines, a wine bar, and International Cafe, a 24-hour coffee-bar-cum-patisserie (pastries are baked right on site and you can smell the cafe even before you see it). Salads, afternoon tea (you can even order chocolate fondue!) and panini are available at the appropriate times. The drinks, from coffees to a full bar are a la carte as are some of the food items (chocolate covered strawberries, the aforementioned fondue) -- but there's plenty to choose from on the "no charge" menu.

The serene Sanctuary, an adults-only outdoor lounging area, is one of the loveliest outdoor sundecks at sea (it's right up there with SeaDream's two ships in terms of ambiance pampering and that's high praise). Highlights include service, with stewards to bring you cold towels and MP3 players loaded with a variety of titles -- and at-your-chaise food and beverage options (mostly healthy but a full bar is available as is grill food). It inhabits a lovely, mostly shaded space where, on earlier incarnations of this vessel, a sports area was located. The ambience is exquisite with plush recliners and puffy chairs.

So far, however, the Sanctuary has been the most controversial new feature on the new Crown Princess. On Crown Princess' maiden voyage admission to the Sanctuary was complimentary to all (note: there was and is a minor $3 service charge to order free food and a la carte beverages). But the space was so popular, a few crew members told us, that riots nearly ensued. This cruise, management's trying a new tact. Now there's a $15 per-person charge per half day (in an effort to stem the tides, so to speak). As a result, the area (which is just above the spa) was almost deserted today, our first sea day. My hunch is that the fee is just a bit too high for most -- and it'll probably be downgraded to something somewhat more reasonable. But I don't see any way around the fee, whatever it will wind up to be. There's no other way I can think of to manage the demand.

One hint: The Sanctuary is open until 8:30 p.m. (sundown), and from 5:30 p.m. onward there is no charge to enter (and enjoy the facility and services).

It's hard to imagine that the redesign of one bar -- Skywalkers, the disco that famously debuted on Grand Princess with a design that resembled a shopping cart handle hanging off the ship's back -- would have such a great impact but it does. Skywalkers has been scaled way back (no more escalators up a ramp to get there). It's still nice and even has a small outdoor terrace. But it gets better. Now the aft deck pool, which used to be shadowed by the shopping cart handle, gets much more sunlight. And even nicer than that? Sabatini's, Princess' trademark Italian restaurant, has been moved up to Deck 16 and occupies a gorgeous, curved area with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to sea. New is the adjacent Adagio (a bar that only Princess purists may recall; its only other incarnation is found on Regal Princess); and it is as elegant as any lounge on cruising's luxury ships.

There's a perk for those who dine at Sabatini's: After the main course, passengers can move to Adagio for desserts and after-dinner libations (one passenger commented that it felt like dining in an English country house hotel, where you move from dinner to the salon!). And it's got a great pianist who loves all the good sentimental stuff -- Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Henry Mancini.

There are more surprises to come but this is just a start. Spencer Brown will be posting new insights and discoveries on our Princess board -- Live from Crown: Carolyn's Crown Princess Blog -- on a daily basis (as long as technology permits).