January 29, 2011 Western Caribbean cruise on the Crown Princess
Background: This was our ninth cruise overall and the sixth in the past 20 months. The five previous recent cruises have been on Celebrity (3) and HAL (2). We are a ... Read More
January 29, 2011 Western Caribbean cruise on the Crown Princess
Background: This was our ninth cruise overall and the sixth in the past 20 months. The five previous recent cruises have been on Celebrity (3) and HAL (2). We are a couple in our early 50's traveling with another couple of about the same age. I am a customer service manager by profession and therefore lapses in serving us (the customer) really annoy me. Conversely, I am as quick to praise excellent service. This review is in the form of a log, with a few random thoughts thrown in as I tried to keep it up during the cruise. If you just want the summary, scroll down to the end.
Embarkation: We stayed the night before the cruise at the Homewood Suites in Dania beach. The room was very nice but breakfast a disappointment. Crowded and the hot food was cold. A quick cab ride brought us to the port about 10:20 AM. Luggage was immediately taken and we were whisked through security. It appears we were about the 45th or so to arrive who were not "Elite" as they sat us in rows. We were in boarding group one. Processing began at about 11:45 and within 5 minutes we were on board. Initial reactions to the Crown are that it is a beautiful ship. We are very impressed with the artwork and overall appearance of the ship.
Our friends we were traveling with were in boarding group 2 but were on board within 5 minutes after we were. Upon boarding a string quintet was playing in the Piazza, we would see them many times throughout the cruise and always enjoyed their performance. After some cabin photos of our cabin A311, a balcony cabin on the Aloha deck (#12), we began to explore the ship.
We had determined on cruise critic and it was confirmed in the welcome aboard Princess Patter that one of the dining rooms was open for an embarkation lunch. The Patter listed the times as 12:00 - 1:30 and we arrived at the DiVinci dining room about 1:00 PM. The person at the door tried to discourage us by saying that they had many back-to-back guests and they were reserving the DiVinci for those guests. After seeing our reluctance to retreat to the lido buffet, they welcomed us in. We are very glad we persisted as this was by far the best embarkation lunch we have enjoyed on any of our 9 cruises to date, and a promising start to this, our first Princess cruise.
After lunch we wandered the ship some more and discovered the International Cafe. We also met our cabin steward and obtained a coffee card. The muster drill was the usual thing - Princess makes you bring your life jackets and only put them on at the end of the drill. After the muster our cruise critic group had arranged an informal sail away meet and greet and the aft bar. This was very well attended and this week the Crown was one of the earlier ships out of Port Everglades so we really enjoyed watching many other cruise ships follow in our wake. We were surprised that the beverage prices seemed as high as or higher than we have recently witnessed on Celebrity.
We have fixed 6:00 PM seating and although had requested a table for 4 were seated at a table for 6. Our other dining companions are a very pleasant older couple. After the fabulous lunch perhaps our expectations were raised too high as dinner was not of the same caliber. I asked for an end cut of the Prime Rib and in 9 cruises this was the first time I have ever sent a dinner plate back to the galley as the meat was so tough to be inedible. Without my bringing it up, I heard the same comment from at least four others during the cruise (about this same Prime Rib, same dinner). It was quickly replaced with the Filet Medallions and they were adequate. The assistant waiter apparently has the job to up sell beverages and wine. There are no sommeliers in the dining room, a change from our experience on Celebrity and HAL. There is no dessert presentation (a tray with samples of each dessert) and we found that to be greatly missed. It's just not the same ordering off a menu and needing to ask "What is this exactly?" all the time.
We found a great band in the Wheelhouse bar and were able to get in a dance. During our dance, however, someone cleared away my wife's special (alcoholic and expensive) coffee of the day and my Patter. We notified a waitress who replaced the coffee mixture (but the original came from the International cafe so it was not the same) and the Patter. We attended the welcome aboard show and found the 15 minutes of real entertainment in the 45 minutes show to be quite good. The other 30 minutes we could do without. What we did not know at the time is this was the only show where the Orchestra played live music which the singers and dancers performed to. The rest of the week the shows were essentially "Karaoke."
After the show, we found our way up to the lido deck to check out the ten o'clock "Movie under the stars." The movie was not real good but the unique (to us) experience was fun. Popcorn, pizza, and ice cream were all nearby. The next morning we found out that the buffet had a seafood feast featuring rock crab claws, which had not been advertised. That would have been much better than the dinner we had!
Sunday was a sea day. We began by getting good coffee at the international cafe (this will be a standard routine) as the standard coffee in the buffet or the dining rooms is as bad as you read on cruise critic. We then went to the buffet for breakfast. I ordered a ham omelet and it was okay. I also took some French toast, waffles, assorted fruit, and 2 slices of bacon. The French toast and waffles were mediocre, not warm, and rather hard. The fruit was good, and the bacon was extremely fatty. Next time we will try the dining room. After breakfast we headed to the adult pool by the spa. It was still early so no trouble getting loungers and we enjoyed the heated freshwater pool a great deal. One of the hot tubs was too hot, the other was nice. There were one or two other couples there with us early.
Next we went for more good coffee, ran into our friends, and walked the promenade deck. We browsed through some of the shops and then retreated to our cabin to enjoy our verandah. Our cabin steward came to open our two bottles of wine and we enjoyed some wine on the balcony. At noon our cruise critic meet and greet was up in Skywalker's, not an easy place to find! About 50 of us finally did locate it though, and a good time was had by all. No officer or ship's representative attended. I found this bewildering as we had over 100 on our roll call list so expecting a 50% turnout, usually when 50 "Connected" people are meeting the ship's staff would want to welcome them.
Today a "Pub lunch" was offered in the Wheelhouse bar. I went with my friend to enjoy adequate fish and chips. The ladies went to the international cafe for healthy salads, and brought them up to the Wheelhouse to sit with us. All four of us decided to go to that same pool. Now of course, no loungers were available. We noticed a couple packing up to leave and after asking they confirmed they were so we got two in the shade (I need shade). The ladies found two in the sun up on the sports deck so all were happy.
Later in the afternoon we took advantage of the tea service in the DiVinci dining room. That had a live keyboard player who came over to our table and asked if we had any requests. This was a very impressive touch. Tonight is the first formal night.
We attended our dinner and quite frankly have never been so disappointed in a meal on a cruise. As we entered the dining room we overheard someone saying there were Lobster claws on the buffet. I asked our waiter if we could possibly be brought some Lobster claws as none of the menu appetizers were appealing, and he said that was not possible, with a lame explanation that others could see and would ask for the same thing! Well - yeah - who wouldn't want them? I don't remember what our party ordered, but after leaving the 2 hour dinner all four of us agreed to go up to the Lido to see what was available on the buffet. Sure enough, the buffet did have Lobster claws, pre-cracked, with drawn butter available, and they were delicious. We sampled various other items from the buffet, and spoke with one of the buffet dining room managers who informed us that they would again feature Lobster claws on the second formal night. Lest I forget, for dessert in the dining room I ordered a "Make your own Sundae" and it was brought out to me wrong two times. I can understand one error, but two in a row? My customer service training is that if a customer gives you a chance to "Make an error right," triple check it before making the second delivery!
Monday brought us to Grand Cayman. The four of us enjoyed a reasonably quick and good dining room breakfast and obtained tender tickets about 45 minutes after the all-clear. There was no wait and we were able to go directly to our tender. We took the public bus to Cemetery Beach and enjoyed the beach and snorkeling there. Took the bus back to Georgetown and after walking around a little and seeing Margaritaville, decided we had enough and headed back to the ship. We arrived back at the ship just in time to snag 4 shady loungers by the pool and MUTS. We got lunch from the buffet and the pool grille. I think the food at the pool grille is better as I ordered a hamburger cooked to order. We didn't really watch, but heard the soundtrack from Sherlock Holmes while we relaxed. We also enjoyed the pool and hot tub, not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
After previewing the dining room menu, we all agreed to do the buffet. This allowed us to participate in some other activities including a DJ "Ballroom dance" session. We followed dancing by dinner at the buffet which was okay. After dinner we went to the Wheelhouse bar where we first took advantage of the after 8 PM "Power hours" for $2.99 drinks. The band is quite good and we were able to get in a few dances. This night there was late night (10:15 is late for us!) ballroom dancing to the orchestra. They are excellent and we stayed as long as we could. Our travel mates participated in the "Super deck party" held the same evening and had a very nice time. During the evening the CD announced that due to expected wind conditions our arrival at Roatan was being moved up to 8:30 AM, and departure would also be moved up. We hoped the 26 people signed up through CC would remember our contingency plans for a time change.
Tuesday we woke early in order to be at the DiVinci when they opened at 7:30. This morning we had two wonderful, happy waiters (The "Double AA" team) who made breakfast a pleasure. During breakfast however the Captain came on and announced that after conferring with the local Pilot, a decision was made that docking in Roatan was too risky due to force 7 winds and we would bypass the port. The beautiful sunny skies teased us as we now proceeded at a snail's pace towards Wednesday's call in Cozumel. This was a great disappointment as Roatan was the primary port we wanted to visit on this cruise, having not been there before.
We quickly finished our breakfast and taking all our gear with us went to the lido in search of shady chairs. None could be found that were not already "Reserved" in the shade. On a hunch, I checked the spa pool and found three loungers as yet unoccupied. I put down our gear and spoke with a friendly neighbor that I just needed to get things from my room and would be right back (We were back in 5 minutes). We enjoyed the pool during the morning and then a revised Patter schedule was published. The ladies went to a Zumba class while the men went to a movie in the theater. We enjoyed lunch in the DiVinci, met the ladies at the International cafe for coffee, and relaxed away the afternoon watching a second movie on this "Extra" sea day.
A few notes at this point, not quite half-way through the cruise. The Crown is a beautiful ship, in some ways one of the nicest decorated we have sailed on. There are 14 passenger lifts. I am finding the lifts very annoying. Being on deck 12, we take the stairs to go to the Lido (deck 15) or Sun (deck 16). Going down to decks 5, 6, or 7, however, is 5 - 7 flights. It can take up to 5 minutes for a lift to show, as most often at least one lift from each bank of lifts is out of service. When you finally get one, they stop at every deck. We have been on ships with half to two-thirds the passenger count of the Crown that have 12 lifts. If we were unable to use the stairs at all (as some of the passengers are) then waiting for lifts would truly be a great inconvenience.
Tuesday evening was dinner in the dining room and our waiter is starting to show some signs of personality. Dinner was okay but at least it moved along. We danced a few in the Wheelhouse and proceeded to the Princess theater for the show at 8:05. 25 minutes before show time and the only open seats were some folding chairs added to the ends of a few of the front rows. Once the lights went out the show was so compelling that I was falling asleep, despite the uncomfortable chair!
Wednesday we again woke early as we arrived in Cozumel at 7:00 AM. Enjoyed breakfast in the dining room when they opened at 7:30 and went to Chankanaab Park. We enjoyed the beach and snorkeling at Chankanaab. Returned to the ship at about 12:30 for a quick shower, quick lunch from the buffet and pool grille, (buffet choices seemed very limited) and headed downtown for the afternoon. Back onboard about 3:45 and being quite exhausted from the day feel asleep in the coolness of the cabin. Awoke to find we had missed our dinner time! Our travel mates had the same affliction. About 6:50 we went to the DiVinci dining room and explained we had missed our dinner and they were kind enough to seat us. Kudos to the dining room manager as they did not need to allow us in.
We learned that tonight was the "Chef's dinner" with a limited menu however there was also a secondary menu one could obtain. Dinner was okay, but again just adequate. We told our waiter we wanted to make the 8:30 comedy show in the Explorers lounge and he got us through dinner by 8:00. We headed straight to the Explorers to find it was standing room only with not a seat to be found. On this I have to give Princess an "F" for ship planning. The public rooms and theater are simply too small for the number of passengers on board. It is silly to need to arrive 45 minutes or longer before a show to get any kind of seat, when the show length is 40 minutes. This is not our idea of a relaxing cruise vacation.
Thursday was a sea day headed towards Princess Cay. We slept in, wandered the ship in the late morning and ran into one of our traveling friends in Skywalkers, where we were drinking our International Cafe coffee before trying the "Princess links" mini-golf. The International cafe is one of the best things on the ship. Most of the staff there are very happy and always serve with a smile (there was one exception, a rude young woman who made it clear to everyone that this was her last week on the ship and she can't wait to get off). Vince is a showman at heart and likes to make the coffee a production; he is fun and always ready to please. The pastries at the cafe are also usually very good.
After finishing our coffee we played mini-golf. The wind made it a challenge and often seemed to affect the play. However, this was something different and it was not crowded there on deck 19! Other than the cafe, we had skipped breakfast so we headed to the DiVinci for lunch. Seeing nothing that interesting on the menu two of us ordered the burger. The burgers are rather tasty however they contain a lot of salt. I asked if I could have one without added salt and the waiter explained they are partially prepared ahead of time so to custom make one would take more than 35 minutes. Salt it is.
We were seated at a table for 8 and when the entrees were served found one of our table mates had a fried seafood combination of fish, scallops, and shrimp. We swear we didn't see that on the menu (it was there but called something completely different). The waiter was good enough to bring us one of those entrees to share. It was quite good and certainly better than the last few dinners!
During our lunch, our traveling friends DW had an experience that regretfully seems to characterize the customer service (or lack of it) component of this cruise. She is an avid table tennis player, and the ship hosted a mixed pair's tournament. She was paired with an 84 year old gentleman who had been playing the game for 60 years. The young woman on the cruise director's staff began by stating "These are the rules" and when questioned as they were not the normal rules of the game, threw an attitude and said "This is my game and these are my rules and if you don't like it you can just leave." Anyway, they won their first match, lost their second, and were paired to play a final match with another couple. During the break the staffer went to the pool grille and brought back a chicken sandwich which she proceeded to eat in front of the playing passengers. We've certainly never experienced this before - cruise staff eating while they are supposed to be working? Apparently she really didn't want to be working as when our team was discussing with their next opponent how they would play she accused them of breaking her rules, told them they forfeited the game, and gave the medals to the other couple. Three repeated complaints and follow ups with the front desk brought three repeated promises that Sam, the CD, would contact them. They never heard from Sam. The staffer involved should be made to "Walk the plank."
That afternoon, we watched a movie in the theater as no deck chairs were to be found anywhere. This is our ninth cruise and before this cruise we have never watched a movie on a ship; there is always so much to do! Princess does not enforce its unoccupied deck chair policy and people go to the deck at 6 AM, "Claim" deck chairs, and do not release them until late afternoon.
This was the second formal night and our dining room servers are becoming more personable. Actually, the assistant waiter has been great all week. He is also the greeter at the DiVinci for breakfast and lunch and always has a good word to say and a warm smile. We remembered him especially at the end of the cruise; this is also his last week on board. The lobster tonight was okay, but drawn butter was served by the wait staff and no cups were made available. After dinner we enjoyed some dancing in the Explorers (dinner was faster tonight and we got there 50 minutes before the comedy show) and the ship's orchestra is very enjoyable. The comedian was okay.
After the show, we went up to the buffet for lobster claws. The claws are some work as they were not completely split; however, they seem to taste better than the dining room lobster tails. Drawn butter was available in small cups in the buffet (so why not in the dining room?). Next we went to get changed and tried to watch MUTS as it was showing "Wall street" which we wanted to see. This was the late show and no one came around with blankets. We stayed about an hour but found that it was difficult to hear the dialog. We thought it was because we sat on the side but one of our traveling friends sat immediately in the center and had the same experience. It was quite windy and he conjectured that the wind was affecting the sound. In any case, we became chilled and called it a night.
Friday is Princess Cay day! We met for breakfast at 9:00 as the ship was anchoring. We obtained our tender tickets at 9:40 and were on the island at 10:30. I thought it took a long time first to get on the tender and second the tender bopped around a while in the ocean waiting for a spot they could tie up. On Princess Cay we found another ship's employee who needs to walk the plank. There are several large signs "Welcome to Princess Cay." These are not copyrighted backdrops like they use on the ship for their formal portraits; this is a SIGN. A ship's photographer was anchored directly in front of this sign. He had no current passengers looking for him to take their photo. When asked to step aside so we could take a photo, he refused and said "Not while I am here." What is with these Princess employees? They are either really really good or really really bad.
This is our ninth cruise but first "Private island" experience. We really enjoyed the Cay. I did a lot of snorkeling. No large fish but the area is shallow and there were hundreds of fish hidden among the rocks and coral. The lunch served on the island, even though the food came from the ship, seemed to be better than on the ship. Everything is very conveniently located and we wished it was a longer stop. Last tender was 3:00 so we arrived in a very long line to board a tender back to the ship at 2:00. 25 minutes later we were on a tender.
Upon arrival on board, we went to the spa pool and used the hot tub. No chairs were available (no surprise there) but we didn't need chairs. The farewell dinner was the best dinner all week. Finally a good menu selection of both entrees and desserts. Plus, a baked Alaska parade. I like the way Princess did the baked Alaska. Our waiter cut it up right on our table and served a large section to anyone who wanted some.
We all went to the Wheelhouse for music and dancing. The band took a one hour break which we used to pack up, and then met one last time back at the Wheelhouse. We were not sure we would see each other in the morning so we said our goodbyes.
Saturday morning we went to the DiVinci at 6:30, enjoyed breakfast at a table for two, and said farewell to our assistant dinner waiter who was working his last meal on board. We gave him a special goodbye and headed back for the last time to our cabin. We got our entire luggage together and noted that disembarkation had just begun. We had walk-off, "Express 5" disembarkation and snagged an upward elevator as all the downward ones were filled. We were off the ship before 8:00 AM and through immigration by 8:45. Princess seems to have embarkation and disembarkation down pat; the only delay was that immigration had only two customs officers on duty. While we were in line two others arrived, and once they had 4 the lines moved well.
There is much said on the cruise critic boards about smoking. We found as long as we avoided the casino it was not an issue. Someone within a few balconies of us would occasionally have a cigarette, but it was never so bad that it caused us to retreat to our cabin, and my DW if quite sensitive to smoke.
We found the comfort of the bed to be mediocre at best, and we generally like a firm mattress. In summary, I would grade Princess as follows:
Activity schedule - B-, (however, cannot participate in things when you can't get in the room.)
Customer Service - F
Enforcing policy (deck chairs) - F
Entertainment; main theater - D
Entertainment; other - B+
Food - D
Princess Cay - A-
Public rooms - F (too small for the number of passengers on board)
Ship's dEcor and maintenance - A
Stateroom - B (Would be an A but the bed is not very comfortable)
Overall - D+
Would we sail with Princess again? Not likely. We much prefer the food and service on Celebrity and HAL. On both of these lines, we can arrive at a show 5 minutes before show time and have never had trouble finding a seat. The dining room service on both is two steps above our Princess experience. We have never faced offensive ship employees on those lines. Read Less