Crown Princess - 13 May 2017
My wife and I have completed 25 previous voyages with Princess and six with P&O. Princess is one of our favourite cruise lines and their ability to cater for my wife’s gluten free diet has always been an important factor. We have also sailed with Holland America, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Azamara Club Cruises and Regent Seven Seas. We are not keen on the largest ships, so we have also patronised Azamara and Regent.
We booked this ‘no-fly’ cruise as a late deal, because we had not been to Corsica for many years and had never visited Genoa. We also hoped that the weather in the Mediterranean would be better than in the UK.
Loyalty benefits on Princess are more attractive than on P&O. Although these benefits do influence our choice of cruise line, the price, itinerary and the type of ship are equally important. The published itinerary for this voyage from Southampton included Barcelona; Ajaccio (Corsica); Civitavecchia; Livorno; Genoa; Marseille, Gibraltar; with six days at sea.
We drove to Southampton and having delivered our bags to the porters outside the Ocean Terminal, we left our car in a pre-booked space in the nearby “Triangle” car park. Preferred check-in for the cruise was fast and efficient and having located our cabin, we discovered that it was ready. Our bags arrived within the hour.
Our cabin – E216
The cabin was as expected – fairly compact but with a one comfortable chair, a refrigerator, a safe and sufficient drawers, shelves and hanging space for our clothes. The accommodation was perfectly adequate for a two-week cruise and the view over a lifeboat was only partially obstructed. Everything was spotlessly clean and our beds were comfortable, although the shower room was very small. Princess did not offer the usual bowl of fresh fruit – but that did not bother us, because fruit was always available in the Horizon Restaurant. Service from our steward, Ariel was first class.
This cabin was more basic than cabins on some of the other Princess ships – and very different from the luxurious suites on Regent Seven Seas. However, we hadn’t paid Regent prices, so we got what we paid for.
As Elite members of the Princess Captain’s Circle, we qualified for unlimited free laundry, plus an allowance of free Internet. The Wi-Fi service in our cabin was fine, even though the satellite Internet connection was fairly slow.
As a gesture to British passengers (who were in the majority), TV channels included Sky News (in preference to CNN), Sky Sports News, several entertainment channels from the BBC and ITV, various European sports channels, and the customary BBC World and CNBC.
The cruise staff organised a range of activities on sea days. Examples included trivia contests, dance classes, Zumba, carpet bowls, hoopla, name that tune and other game shows, bingo, arts and craft classes – and the “Princess Passengers’ Pop Choir (which performed towards the end of the cruise). On one morning, the cruise director conducted an interview with a guest celebrity, Harry Redknap, the football manager.
My wife enjoyed the free Zumba classes and she used equipment in the fitness centre virtually every day. However, she was disappointed that she was not allowed to use the spinning bikes without attending or paying for a class. Other classes, including Pilates, were also chargeable.
Humberto Neto, the Port Lecturer, delivered presentations for the various ports. Although his presentations included details of the ship’s organised shore excursions, he also offered useful guidance for passengers who preferred to explore independently.
There were various events in Club Fusion, Explorers Lounge, Wheelhouse Bar and the Piazza. A pianist, Ziggy abused the piano in the Piazza and reminded me of the famous Morecambe & Wise sketch with Andre Previn (when Eric Morecambe played the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order). The Prima string quartet also performed classical music in the Piazza.
The “Movies under the Stars” big screen showed a selection of movies and live sports events throughout the day and into the evening. Love or hate it? I didn’t enjoy the constant noise in the pool area, but I was not prepared to pay $40 per day for peace and quiet in “the Sanctuary”.
Most shows in the Princess Theatre started at 8 pm (which clashed with our preferred dinner time), followed by a repeat performance at 10 pm – which was rather late, after a tiring day ashore. I wish Princess would revert to occasional pre-dinner shows at around 6:30 pm.
The first production show, “Magic to Do” was written specially for Princess Cruises by Stephen Schwartz, the composer of “Wicked”. It included a guest magician and was one of the best production shows we have ever seen on a cruise ship. The choreography and special effects were outstanding and the show was certainly on a par with the excellent Cirque de Soleil performances that Regent used to offer. Sadly, most of the other production shows were rather ordinary.
There were also various guest performers. Tony Lewis (a Robbie Williams tribute act) was not to my taste, probably because I am not a fan of Robbie Williams. I didn’t attend Comedy Showtime “Laughs from London” by Jeff Stevenson although my wife said he was good. Impressionist Darren Altman (from Britain’s Got Talent) performed at 8 pm and should have returned at 10 pm. However, I understand passengers were unimpressed, so his second show was cancelled.
The International Café in the Piazza was available 24/7 for teas, coffees pastries, toasted sandwiches and other snacks. The café is an attractive venue, although service tended to be slow at busy times. Desserts usually included several gluten free options.
The Pizzeria and ice cream bars were situated close to the pool. Gluten free pizzas were always available to order. The Trident Grill served burgers and similar fare.
We preferred to eat our breakfasts and lunches in the Horizon Court Buffet Restaurant. Many of the menus were geared to British tastes and we were impressed by the quality and range of options. Breakfast choices always included English smoked back bacon, as well as crispy bacon. English sausages, black pudding and grilled kidneys featured from time to time. Healthy options were always available.
The extensive lunchtime display was much better than on P&O ships and my wife was impressed by the range of gluten free dessert options, which included mousses, filled meringues and gluten free pastries.
Ordinary coffee and tea were always available from drinks stations in the Horizon Court. Various types of Twining’s teabags were available (in addition to the usual Lipton’s yellow label brand) teabags. The chilled lemonade was lovely. Cappuccino and similar espresso based coffees were chargeable options and passengers could purchase a coffee card costing $31 plus 15% service for fifteen specialty coffees.
We prefer waiter service in the evening so for dinner, we patronised the Da Vinci Restaurant. We felt that standards had deteriorated since our previous Princess cruises. Some of our meals were first class. Others were disappointing. The cruise line used to source top quality beef from the USA. This time, some of the beef was very “chewy” and on one evening, none of the passengers on our table finished their strip steaks. Choices on the “always available” section of the menu have dwindled and beef fillet medallions have been displaced by burgers. Cheeseboards used to include four different cheeses, rotated daily. This time, the choice had dwindled to the same two cheeses every evening, Brie and Gouda.
My wife must pre-order gluten free meals the previous evening. That is when the problems started, because many desserts on the standard menus are pastry based. Attractive gluten free alternatives were always on display in the buffet restaurant and should also have been available in the MDR. According to our head waiter, the diet chef could not prepare modified desserts or offer alternatives in the MDR. He offered to serve the chef’s special surprise dessert. I hope he was joking, because the special surprise was a bowl of jelly – or tapioca pudding as an alternative!
The constant disappointments and aggravation were spoiling our cruise and we began to dread the repeated arguments with our head waiter. Consequently, my wife submitted a written complaint to the Food and Beverage Director, which had the desired effect. The chef started to offer a full range of gluten free alternatives, including delicious soufflés. The maître d’hôtel also presented us with a delicious gluten free cake, to celebrate our wedding anniversary.
We did not use room service or any of the ship’s specialty restaurants.
Ports of Call
Barcelona - we had explored Barcelona on many previous occasions so this time, we used the metro and the FGC suburban train to visit the Monastery of Pedralbes, a delightful church, monastery and museum on the outskirts of the City. Highly recommended, as an alternative to the better known tourist attractions. During our return to the City, we visited El Corte Ingles, to purchase quality wines and liquor, to take back to the UK.
Recommendations: Prior to the ship’s arrival in Barcelona, Princess encouraged passengers to purchase shuttle bus tickets costing $10. There is no need to use the ship’s service, because the port operates a shuttle bus, which runs frequently to the Columbus Monument, and costs 4€ for the round trip.
Barcelona has an excellent integrated transport system (but beware of pickpockets). A one way ticket by metro, bus, funicular or train within zone one, costs 2.15€, but does not permit changes between different modes of transport. Consequently, a T10 multi-journey card costing 9.95€ is a useful alternative for passengers travelling together, who can share one ticket for 10 trips within zone one. Each trip, not exceeding 75 minutes, permits changes between different modes of transport.
Ajaccio - We usually arrange independent excursions. Public transport in and around Ajaccio was limited and car rental for one afternoon would have been prohibitively expensive. Consequently, we booked a ship’s tour to the Prunelli Gorges, followed by a visit to a honey farm. This was an enjoyable excursion, through spectacular scenery.
Civitavecchia - Having visited Rome on many previous occasions, we booked a rental car to travel to Lake Bracciano. We visited the castle and the three villages around the lake. The total cost of our full day tour by car was a fraction of the ship’s half day bus tour to Bracciano.
Comments. You can travel into Rome very cheaply by train. To do so, you must use the free shuttle bus to the port gates, followed by a public bus to the railway station. We also noticed many vendors at the shuttle bus terminal, selling day tours to Rome for less than 30€.
Livorno - Comments. Passengers are not allowed to walk within the port area so unless you purchase a ship’s excursion or use a taxi, you must purchase tickets for the shuttle bus, which costs 5€ for a day pass – or 12€ for a return ticket to the railway station.
Having visited Pisa and Florence previously, we travelled by train to the medieval walled city of Lucca. There are plenty of interesting museums etc. Lucca is worth a visit and I also recommend a walk around the walls. There are two trains per hour from Livorno to Lucca, via Pisa.
Genoa - The ship’s visit to Genoa was cancelled for “operational reasons” (which were never explained). Consequently, Crown Princess anchored off Santa Margherita. We were very disappointed, because Genoa was one of the reasons we had booked this cruise. Having visited Santa Margherita on three previous occasions, we decided to stay aboard the ship. We were glad we had not purchased tickets for the official walking tour of Genoa, organised by the City Tourist Information Office.
Marseille - Recommendation: Princess charged $14 for their shuttle bus to the Old Harbour. However, the port also operated a free shuttle bus, which terminated near to the Cathedral – an easy fifteen minute walk to the Old Harbour. The free bus was crowded and some passengers had to stand. It was not as frequent as the ship’s shuttle bus, so for this port, passengers might prefer to pay.
We travelled into Marseille on the free shuttle bus and purchased tickets for the passenger ferry from the Old Harbour to the island fortress of Château d'If. The Château is a former prison which featured in Alexander Dumas’ book, the Count of Monte Cristo. The location was also the backdrop for the film, the Man in the Iron Mask. Well worth a visit.
Gibraltar - As far as we were concerned, this was a shopping destination. We walked to the Main Street to compare prices, but returned to the duty free shop at the cruise terminal. Prices in the port’s duty free shop were much lower than in the Main Street or aboard the ship.
This voyage was very different from any of our previous Princess cruises. The ship sailed from Southampton so not surprisingly, most of the 3,000+ passengers were British, with a sprinkling of Australians and a few other nationalities. The cruise lacked the usual international flavour, because many activities were aimed at the British market. With so many Brits aboard, most passengers observed the dress code on the three formal nights. The Captain, the cruise director, some of his staff, and most of the entertainers were British. So in many respects, this voyage resembled a P&O cruise.
On-board sales generate a significant proportion of the company’s profits and we experienced “hard sell” tactics. Prices were geared to American, not British, expectations and many items were more expensive than on P&O. Very few bottles of wine cost less than $29. One pint of draught Heineken beer cost $7.25 (or $8.25 for two pints, during happy hour) and all drinks attracted an additional 15% service charge.
We were deluged with invitations to “champagne art auctions”, offers of reduced price spa treatments, promotions from the EFFY jewellery shop and repeated “half price sales” from the boutiques. All of the ship’s excursions were over-priced (although that criticism applies to most cruise lines).
The ship’s photographers were a menace, when they obstructed the gangways at every port and tried to take passengers’ photographs. Port shuttle buses were a rip-off and we were not impressed by some of the sales tactics. None of this came as a surprise.
We got what we paid for and enjoyed many aspects of the cruise. The only real problem was caused by chef’s reluctance to cater adequately for passengers who must adhere to a gluten free diet. Princess Cruises in Southampton have not yet acknowledged my wife’s letter of complaint, which says little for their concept of customer care. However, we know from past experience that Princess can do better.
So would we book again with Princess? The answer is a definite maybe, although I am not sure we would choose another cruise from Southampton. However, Princess offer some attractive long haul itineraries, so the destination and itineraries will be deciding factors. Read Less