January 14, 2012
A Royal Caribbean Fan Impressed by Princess
We (DW & I, 50's), did a Southern Caribbean cruise on Crown Princess (private island of Princess Cays, Curacao, Aruba). Crown Princess, (in our opinion at least), offered a great cruise with nothing lacking.
PRE-CRUISE: We booked Embassy Suites through Princess (included transfers from the airport to the hotel to the ship the next day). No complaints about the hotel itself (Princess arrangements were another story). They had a free manager's reception for two hours Friday night (free drinks, snacks), plus a very nice breakfast the next morning. I would stay at Embassy again, but I probably wouldn't book through Princess. We had to be with our bags in our room at 9AM (they came to take the bags around 9:45), then we had to go to the lobby at 11AM, identify our bags, then check in with a Princess Rep to get a seat on the bus to the Port. That basically blew the whole morning which could have been spent seeing more of the local sites. We were assigned the first of two buses to leave the hotel for a five minute drive. Our luggage has a mind of its own apparently; it decided to take the second bus. By the time we got our bags, tipped the porter for moving them two feet, and approached the embarkation desks, it was after 1PM. I can't really comment about Embarkation itself: it was very easy, but by time we went through the whole process, almost everyone else was onboard.
THE SHIP: Crown Princess: immaculately clean, a very beautiful ship. We had a Caribe Deck Balcony cabin, mid-ship with a large balcony. No towel animals (Does Princess not do this? Talked to others who had none), but a very attentive Room Steward. Small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion, along with medium sized soap bars were provided in abundance. CNN and ESPN (but often the International versions) could be found on tv along with numerous other channels. Lacking: many newer ships allow you to view your portfolio on your tv screen (some even offer face-recognition technology for the photos they take of you). Those are not available on Crown Princess; you have to go to the service desk to get a copy of your statement. I was told that they will shortly have self-service kiosks where you'll be able to check by yourself instead of standing in line at the Service Desk. Our balcony had four chairs and a table; some rust was apparent on the balcony, but nothing major. The wooden rail was freshly varnished.
FOOD: We were impressed. I thought the portions in the Dining Room were more than ample; presentation seemed nicely done to me. Let's face it: food is very subjective, and I spoke to another cruiser who said the food quality and presentation was better on her previous Princess cruise. For us we could only compare it to Royal & Celebrity, and, while my pre-cruise expectations were to find food in slightly lesser quality, I feel Princess had a more creative and varied menu. I tried several main courses I never had before in nine cruises and enjoyed them all (strange way of serving cold soups though). Have to mention: I'm not much of a fish eater, but the fish choices looked so interesting I had fish 3 nights in a row (You can always get a good steak somewhere, but unless you live near the ocean, seafood is a different story). One night I had Cioppino, a fish stew. If you had told me before the cruise I'd be eating (and enjoying!) a fish stew, I would've called you a BS'er. Good hamburgers and hot dogs on the pool deck (also grilled chicken, more). Best pizza I've ever had on a cruise ship. Free ice cream on the pool deck (soft or hard). I had the deluxe soda card (included virgin drinks and shakes); DW went for the regular. Iced Tea was a little hard to find, but bartenders or waiters would usually honor a request for Iced Tea even if the buffet area was closed.
The buffet: food quality equal to other ships, but Royal and Celebrity have a better system. Crown's buffet area seems too crowded. We had fish & chips at the Wheelhouse Bar (offered for lunch twice this cruise), had one DR breakfast, and had many snacks on Deck 5 at the little café there. We did not try the specialty restaurants (we were very happy with the main DR); spoke to some who did and raved about them. There are many complaints on CC about coffee. I found it okay; so did our table mates. . We had the Botticelli DR, late seating (8;15PM). To me the late seating interfered with some activities we wanted to see, and most cruisers seemed to think Anytime Dining was the way to go.
The Pool areas were nice (larger pools than many ships). We looked at The Sanctuary, never felt a need to book it - plenty of space near the pools on most days. Some people complain MUTS is distracting. You have your choice of several other pools without MUTS, so that's not a valid complaint. We wanted to see a movie on MUTS, but late dinners and a few cold nights prevented us. I like the concept though. Another case of misleading info on CC: The Theater - many posts about it always being overcrowded. Maybe it was because we had the late seating, but we never had trouble finding good seats, and the theater was never full for any shows. The lounges used for comedians, Karaoke and games: Now THOSE tended to get crowded, but we never missed anything.
CRUISE DIRECTOR STAFF: Lisa Ball did an excellent job in our opinion. She and her assistant Chris hosted a slide show of "Behind the Scenes" crew areas and spent an hour answering questions about Ship Life. She was also visibly present after every theater show. And Chris (Deputy CD) is certainly capable of having a ship of his own some day soon.
ENTERTAINERS: Crown had a very good mix. Wayne Hoffman, a mentalist, had a bizarre (meant as a compliment) show. James Michael offered a "Hello Kitty" segment in his act; it was funny but I'm trying to keep that mental image out of my head. Phil Tag: hilarious comedy. Good mix of entertainment (even jugglers and more) each day in the Piazza. Not too many cruisers would think a piano player would be an entertainment highlight, but Kory Simon had a last night show that was as entertaining and amusing as anything else we saw. He performed to packed rooms in the Crooner's Bar several nights also.
EXCURSIONS: On Princess Cays I rented a Kayak. Fun, but in retrospect I'd spend a few more bucks and rent a Hobie Cat Trimaran - more speed and fun, less work. In Curacao we did the Sunset Cruise - disappointing, (there was no Sunset!). The catamaran took us out to sea (always trolling speed), returned to shore 5 minutes before the sun set. On top of that I just found out we actually returned 45 minutes earlier than scheduled; therefore, no reason to miss it. In Aruba we did our own thing: local bus to Palm Beach, rented two loungers for $5 each, rented a float for $5, had lunch at Senor Frogs.