This was our fourth cruise, our second with Princess, and our second itinerary to the Baltics. We chose this particular cruise because we avoided the start of the main school holidays, the Southampton departure port is very good for us and ... Read More
This was our fourth cruise, our second with Princess, and our second itinerary to the Baltics. We chose this particular cruise because we avoided the start of the main school holidays, the Southampton departure port is very good for us and we found the previous, similar itinerary (with RCI on Brilliance of the Seas) to be a good blend of beautiful, quirky ports and ‘old Europe’ cities. You could also spend two lifetimes in St. Petersburg and never quite see it all, so just 2 days is just not enough.
We sailed to the Norwegian Fjords last year on Emerald Princess, so I was a bit disappointed to be going on a near-identical ship this year on Crown Princess. Not because I didn’t like Emerald; whilst the décor is a bit staid in some parts of the ship and the buffet dining a bit of a scrum, overall the ships are large without being overwhelming, well laid-out and comfortable. Actually, the sense of familiarity that Crown Princess gave us was good- we knew where everything was and had a ‘heads up’ on timings for meal times, bars et cetera. I felt Crown Princess was in better repair than Emerald in some areas. In addition, it is clear that the ship is a completely different experience in good weather. In Norway it was cold and wet for much of our 14 day cruise which clearly frustrated passengers with the boat feeling a bit dingy. On the Baltic Heritage cruise this year, we only had 1 poor half-day of weather in Helsinki with much of the trip bathed in sunlight (though it is worth noting the average temperatures for the region are, well, ‘Baltic’). As a result we spend a lot of our time on deck which was great.
Our stateroom was an ocean (restricted) view cabin- a calculated risk at the time of booking! To be honest, I actually felt it was better than our balcony stateroom last year in some ways. It was certainly ‘compact’ with two pull-down bunks for the kids, but light and easy to regulate the temperature with lots of storage space. The shower pressure was excellent though at over 6ft tall, it was impossible stand upright under the shower flow for me! It was a bit annoying that the TV was only visible from 3 of the beds.
Although our view was obstructed by a lifeboat, we could still benefit from natural light and see where we were. UK / European guests should be aware that there are only (that I could find) two plug sockets in the stateroom. They are far too close together to use adaptors (they use the American plugs). This resulted in bickering (from all of us!) about who’s turn it was to charge the numerous devices we took. If such a thing exists, a multi-plug / bar adaptor would be a good investment!
Our stateroom attendant Tito was a star. Always happy, great with the kids and really consistent in his unobtrusive service. Princess should be very proud of their staff. They work so hard and efficiently, always seeming happy and eager to please without being as overbearing as they can be on other lines. That said, it is about time Princess had a look at their photography offering. It feels out-dated and caused queues at times, particularly getting off the ship in port at Stockholm. I suspect the staff were under pressure to hit targets and as a result they were quite pushy, even though they clearly felt uncomfortable doing so. Perhaps moving to a cheaper, digital-only offering might encourage a few more people to spend money on it?
The food on board really does polarise opinions. We didn’t use any of the specialist dining options ($29 per person) as it didn’t feel good value for money for a family of 4, but the specialist restaurants are smart and quiet. We used anytime dining and rarely had a wait of more than a few minutes. This is a lot to do with our experience. Evening dining all revolves around the theatre show times (8pm and 10pm). So if you want to eat before the show and turn up at 7pm, you’ve had it. You will be in a long line then will probably have to miss dessert. However if you eat a bit later or a bit earlier, you’ll have no problems. The food is a bit frustrating in the main dining rooms. When they got it right, it was fantastic. I had a number of good seafood starters, the pick of the main meals was a lovely pheasant dish and on the whole the desserts were excellent. However, Princess seem to have ‘focus grouped’ their entire offering with 20 retired British people from Frinton-on-Sea. Said focus group, when they are not cruising, must spend their time campaigning for UKIP, eating spam fritters and watching re-runs of Murder She Wrote so serving up an 80s classic of Shrimp Cocktail, Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska is a massive treat for them. The menu is far too ‘meat and two veg’ for more modern tastes, and even though it was well-cooked and well-served, badly needs some more exotic variety. RCI, for example have a ‘curry of the day’ which gives some good, simple alternatives.
Thankfully the buffet had a lot of variety- the Indian night was really, really good with some excellent dishes- it really felt as if the chefs were showing off with some great, authentic tastes. Similarly, at lunchtime you could have anything from a full roast dinner to chow mein. It is great that they brought in dishes to reflect the local cuisine too, although the Baltics are not known for their culinary tastes! Being honest though, the buffet is not a particularly pleasant experience, particularly at breakfast time. The self-service areas are quite small and the seating areas are a free for all. Fine when people are respectful of others. Sadly, people regularly used tables too big for their needs and stayed on well after they needed to, exacerbating the congestion problems at certain times of day. Princess should empower their staff to be more assertive to move people on when they have finished their meals, or seating people more appropriately.
The bar areas were great- be sure to go to the Wheelhouse bar at 3pm for Happy Hour. It was rarely busy and is a great place for a drink (buy 1, get another for $1). The bar is very pleasant with good live music. It’s also worth noting that there is nothing to stop you buying a drink in one bar and drinking it in another – well worth it when happy hours are on. It’s not as if you have to walk too far to get a drink, and if you buy a re-sealable bottled drink (e.g. Grolsch) you can put it in the stateroom fridge for later! Club Fusion and Explorers are big and a bit dingy, but smart and comfortable. Drinks prices are high, particularly with the terrible exchange rate. A pint of beer is c.$7.50, a cocktail $8+ and a glass of wine from $7 which is c.50% more than local hotel prices. Princess badly need a more competitive drinks package. If you want to spend 14 days in an alcohol induced-haze, the $50+ dollars per day seems good value. However if you like a couple of drinks without piling into the tequila shots, it soon mounts up.
We didn’t go to the nightclub this time, but you can get amazing views from it (highest deck) and it’s pretty smart too. Overall I’d say that all of the communal areas are pleasant, clean and well served with some busier than others.
The on board entertainment was a mixed-bag. When they nailed it, it was fantastic. The Russian folkloric show was spectacular, as was the Encore show. It is not my taste, but Jonathan Ansell was very good and a genuine star. However, again it seems very focused on older Brits- the comic acts in particular must have been totally baffling to the international guests. They could easily modernise the offering without upsetting people. I was very impressed with the ship’s resident singers. They were polished and very talented. My kids loved the Cruise Director, Duke Christopher. He’s very cheesy, but actually very good at what he does. I didn’t go to the ‘celebrity encounter’ with Terry Butcher (again, aimed at older Brits), and you had to purchase a photo with him, but he seemed to engage well with the guests.
Having completed 4 cruises now, we’re used to upselling and pushing art / photos / jewellery / specialist dining, and Princess are no different really, although they are much more discrete than some. It’s actually quite amusing to be honest how wound up people get about it. We found it incredibly easy to avoid buying things by just saying no, and it certainly didn’t impact the enjoyment of the cruise. That said, I actually felt sorry for some of the staff- the photographers were clearly struggling for trade and were trying everything from ‘exclusive’ events to using different parts of the ship to hawk their wares. Similarly, Effy had up to 4 ‘exclusive events’ per day, ranging from ‘unveilings’ to pamper evenings and also seemed to be struggling for buyers. Clearly Brexit and a weak pound is affecting peoples’ spending power!
The staff on board are a credit to Princess. I hope they all did OK in gratuities because they really work hard. It’s not unusual to be served by someone at 10pm in the main restaurant then again by the same person in a different uniform in the buffet at 8am the next day without any perceptible change in the quality of service. They blend into the background whilst always managing to notice that your glass needs replenishing or your daughter has dropped her knife. They have to deal with some real, grade ‘A’ idiots, day in, day out in a busy, relentless environment so I hope they are well paid and well treated by their employer.
The enrichment activities were OK. The talk on the the ship and navigation was very short but interesting and some of the presentations about the ports were very good. We didn't attend the other ones.
There were a lot of activities on throughout the day, some looked good, others like thinly-veiled sales pitches! We loved the trivia quizzes and the musicians were excellent.
The pool areas are great- plenty of loungers and the Deck Staff are pretty good at preventing people reserving their spots. I imagine it must be very different on the hotter routes, but in the Baltics temperatures rarely get above 17 degrees at sea so the pools were rarely too full and it was easy to get a spot to sit down with a book. Our children loved it. They spent hours and hours in the water giving us some much needed peace!
The Movies Under the Stars is a good aspect of this cruise- really comfortable and felt really fun- the kids enjoyed it. However, the choice of movie was pretty limited for under 10s. More a reflection of current cinema releases I expect, but there was only 1 evening film suitable for the whole family (kids aged 6 and 8). The morning films were more suitable but started a bit early for us (10am) so it was a struggle to get everyone up, dressed and fed in time!
The itinerary was just wonderful. We have visited Copenhagen, Tallinn, Stockholm, St. Petersburg and Helsinki before and only Tallinn didn’t really warrant a second look (great for a wander and a beer in one of the micro-breweries, however). Bruges was brilliant- very easy to get a shuttle bus into town. You can also visit a WWII submarine just a hundred yards outside of the docking port. The town is stunning with lots to see and do. Copenhagen is very big and warrants some forward planning. It’s easy to walk into town from the ship (c.30min scenic walk where you’ll see The Little Mermaid statue and several other landmarks). We visited the Rosenberg Castle which was very good and the town is bustling and attractive. As with all of the Scandinavian cities though, it is very expensive, so if you’re on a budget look out for mini-supermarkets- they do good fresh food and fruit for a lunch snack. It is easy to find your way around Copenhagen but be careful of distances. You can wander around without realising how far you have ended up from the ship!
Stockholm is a wonderful city, but it’s very important to plan your trip. It is big and spread out and you can’t do it all in a day. I would recommend Skansen. It’s an open air museum of Swedish life where you can see real buildings from Sweden’s past and also animals including bears, wolves and moose. It was brilliant for adults and children and warranted a full day. It is also close to the Vasa museum if you want to do both. I’d recommend getting the hop on hop off boats. They are a good way to get about and include an audio tour. The red ones also link with the buses which stop very close to the ship. Sweden is also very expensive- lunch for 4 with a non-alcoholic drink cost nearly £50.
St. Petersburg is, frankly, epic. We did the 2 day deluxe tour with SPB. Our tour guide, Maria, was amazing. This is a fairly expensive tour, (c.$250 p/p, 6 and under go for free) not for the faint-hearted but it’s well worth it. We were lucky with our tour group – the 2 American families we were with were also up for it; we did as much as we could in the time available and Maria rewarded us with a rich and immersive experience. I particularly enjoyed the Hydrofoil ride to Peterhof and the Usopov Palace, but even 2 days doesn’t scratch the surface of this amazing city.
Helsinki was very easy to get into town on the shuttle bus for c.10 Euro pp. The weather was very poor which was a shame, but it’s an easy city to get around. Other cruisers spoke highly of the boat trip out to the Suomelinna fortress so we’ll definitely consider that next time.
Gdansk was probably the surprise package of the trip to be honest. It’s a great city to spend a day and actually, the docking port of Gydnia had a fair amount going for it too. Gdansk is beautiful with so much history behind it. My only criticism was the ship left at 3.30pm which was too early to make the most of it. We did an organised tour with SBP which was good, but the itinerary was too tight to allow much free time which was a shame as Gdansk is much more affordable than the other ports. It is a long way from port to the centre of Gdansk though, so be aware of that.
The cruise finished with 2 consecutive sea days where were well needed to recharge and relax after so much activity. This is a very active itinerary with 5 consecutive days in port, each of them in cities rich in history and activities. Some people found that too much and as a result didn’t make the most of some of the stops which is a shame. If you are up for it and do your research, you will love this cruise. It was definitely the best we have ever done, and we will definitely be booking with Princess in the future. I would even consider doing the same cruise again! Read Less