As the blueprint for the Princess Cruises fleet, the 2006-launched Crown Princess -- as well as its sister ships, Emerald (2007) and Ruby Princess (2008) -- aims to showcase everything that has come to define the line. This is quintessential Princess.
Those familiar with Princess will recognize its marquee features: Movies Under the Stars, a poolside big-screen theater introduced on Caribbean Princess (and since nicked by just about everyone in the industry); the bustling, three-deck Piazza, a combination bakery, Internet cafe, wine/sushi/tapas bar and performance venue; the adults-only Sanctuary, a mostly shaded top-ship retreat with thick, plush loungers, massage cabanas and a spa menu; and Princess' signature duo of specialty restaurants, the Crown Grill (steaks, chops and seafood) and Sabatini's (Italian multi-course repast).
The ship also showcases Princess' most successful smaller programs and amenities. The excellent Wheelhouse Pub lunch with its fish 'n' chips and bangers 'n' mash draws a serious crowd; Wii's and PS3's in the kids' areas; classes on drink-mixing and astronomy. Best of all are the phenomenal backstairs ship tours -- one that takes passengers into the galley during the frantic dinner rush (at 7:30 p.m.!) and a second that provides an insider's look at the inner workings of the vessel, from the sprawling laundry facilities in the bowels to the top-ship funnels.
There are even smaller, under-the-radar touches: With the exception of a cheese plate, sushi and tapas at Vines is included in the fare. And, suite passengers can eat breakfast in Sabatini's with a special menu and sip on reduced-price drinks and free canapes in a designated lounge each evening.
But while Crown Princess has solidified its place in the mainstream, there were a few things amiss. Sure, the food is always impeccably presented -- but serving 3,000 people a night has a built-in limitation. The 22-ounce porterhouse in the Crown Grill, a for-fee steak and seafood venue, was disappointingly fatty, but the potato, asparagus and other sides were, on the other hand, superbly memorable. There was also some grumbling about a fall-off in service -- understandable when the goal is to be all-things-for-all-passengers people ... from those looking for an upscale dining experience in Sabatini's to passengers who want to show off their yams in the men's sexy legs contest. (There's probably some crossover.) Several fellow cruisers complained of little service issues, like a tea-time eye-roll at the request for a second sandwich, debarkation day confusion and a purser's desk that was unsure of the answers to questions. Personally, I found the main stage production shows, which have been the same since the ship launched in 2006, a little tired.
Still, bonds quickly form with such a personable captain, executive chef and crew. A bartender in Adagio, the ship's top-ship lounge, told me about his wife's Twitter obsession (she's a Twilight fan); the sushi chef hammed it up for the camera; and the maitre d' brought an Italian chef puppet around during a multi-course feast that left us immobile.
The Piazza, which is primarily an entertainment venue, is detailed under the entertainment section (above), but I mention it here because it does provide the ship with a central gathering spot. Just off the Piazza is the Escapes Travel Cafe. While not a "real" cafe (no refreshments are served), it's outfitted with personal computers for researching future cruises. Next door is the actual Internet cafe with 25 computers. Rates are 75 cents per minute, and packages are available for heavy users (100 minutes for $55 or 55 cents per minute, 150 minutes for $75 or 50 cents per minute, and 250 minutes for $100 or 40 cents per minute). You can also, via Wi-Fi, hook up your own laptop in public spaces and cabins.
The library and card room spread out across Deck 6 and offer games, daily news printouts and books for checking out; it's the usual assortment.
There are five shops onboard, and the fact that we found literally nothing worth purchasing offers a clue about their merchandise! It was pretty much the usual stuff -½ duty-free liquor that is actually cheaper in ports of call, T-shirts and other logo items, "brand name" fashion jewelry and watches (again, cheaper in ports of call on the ship's itineraries).
The photo gallery stretches a long way on Deck 7, between the Crown Grill and the Princess Theater.
Crown Princess offers a limited variety of cabin categories but its 880 balcony cabins (out of 1,532 total cabins) means that plucking up an oceanview room is decidedly affordable. Decor is a little on the mundane side, with light pink, blue, cream and beige dominating the color scheme. In line with the subtle additions, Princess has added a dedicated romance channel, which features many an episode of the "Love Boat" and movies like Sleepless in Seattle, as well as a Leonard Maltin Movie Channel, which shows a combination of new stuff (Benjamin Button, Star Trek) and older classics. Each cabin comes with a little booklet outlining the options.
Each standard cabins (insides on up) is uniquely laid out with a little hallway off the main hallway that leads to an open-door closet and to the bathroom. It's like having a walk-in closet! Cabins include shower-only bathrooms, queen beds that can be split into twins, small sofas (some are sleepers), a desk/vanity area and flat-screen televisions. Further, all come with private safes and (empty) mini-fridges.
Cabins, especially at the lower levels, are a little snug. Insides measure 163 square feet, outsides are 168 square feet, and standard balcony cabins run about 233 square feet, including the verandahs. Those opting for more room should start by looking one of 178 mini-suites, at 323 square feet, which include separate living nooks and full-length couches, along with chairs and extra, remote-operated televisions. Mini-suite bathrooms come with bathtubs, though the ceiling is rather low-set. (At about six feet tall, I had just a couple inches of clearance.) The balconies for the mini-suites on the controversial Dolphin Deck jut out from the ship's superstructure, so they're exposed to the sky and the prying eyes of fellow passengers above. A similarly situated Cruise Critic reader had an interesting solution: She brought a beach umbrella.
Princess has a raft of names for its other suites (Vista, Penthouse, Owners), but they all come in between 468 and 591 square feet. Other suite perks include a separate sitting area, DVD and MP3 player (DVD's are available to borrow), free laundry and dry cleaning, and a more elaborate bathroom. Interestingly, there's no over-the-top, 1,000-plus-square-foot suite onboard.
There are two family suites onboard, which are, in essence, interconnecting cabins that share a living space and large balcony with a table, four chairs and two loungers. Bedroom one has a queen bed and tubbed bathroom within its walls; the second bedroom has two twin beds and a shower-only bathroom. Family Suites measure 607 square feet, which includes the balcony.
Thirty-one cabins are designed for the physically disabled, including 21 balcony, four oceanview and six inside.
Introduced to the Princess fleet on Crown Princess, the Piazza atrium is a marvelous destination. It serves as a mini-performance venue, demo area and, during down times, adjunct to the International Cafe. We loved it. At various points, for instance, there was a sushi, fruit and vegetable demonstration; "comedy juggler"; and string quartet. On another day, the Princess singers and dancers offered a few numbers from "Motor City," the Motown production show. On the second formal evening, people thronged all three levels to watch the fabled "Champagne pour," a Princess tradition.
Beyond that, the ship has so many entertainment options that my head literally was spinning as I tried to figure out which to choose. Each lounge has a different personality. Crooners, on the promenade, is right in the heart of the action, overlooking the Piazza, and usually features a vocalist or pianist. Explorer's Lounge is primarily an events' venue for just about everything, including art auctions, dances, standup comedy and guest lectures. Club Fusion was also busy during the day -- with Ballroom Blitz, line dancing, bingo and Jeopardy -- and into the evening with music-related activities, from trivia and the Newlywed, Not so Newlywed Game to "Princess Pop Star," a take-off on American Idol.
The Speakeasy, adjacent to Gatsby's Casino, is the only place to smoke a stogie. The Wheelhouse Bar, a Princess tradition, has nautical character but lacks the intimacy I've associated with smaller versions on other ships. And Adagio, tucked into a light-filled corner on Deck 16, is an elegant, Ritz Carlton-esque venue -- ideal for a chat -- with low-key piano music. Late-night action is to be found, natch, in Princess' trademark Skywalker's. (This version has a nice balcony off the end.) It then becomes a kids' and teens' disco early in the evening; it turns into an adults-only hangout later on.
The roughly 800-seat Princess Theater is the ship's main venue, and it also showed movies from time to time when not featuring production shows and comedy acts. Production shows, which have remained unchanged since the ship debuted in 2006, include "Motor City," a tribute to Motown, and "Destination Anywhere," a mishmash of songs and sets from different eras and locales (Africa, outer space, etc.).
During the daytime, beyond the aforementioned entertainment, Princess is definitely committed to its ScholarShip@Sea program. Some classes are more light-hearted -- I had a blast bringing out my "inner artist" during Ceramics@Sea (tucked into an alcove by the Neptune's Reef pool); you pay only for the plate or frame or whatever you choose ($15 to $30). The paint is supplied, and staffers fire your piece for you to take home. Other facets of the overall program include culinary arts demonstrations (wine-tastings, ice-carving and the like), an extensive array of Computers@Sea classes ($25 for a Photoshop class) and a guest lecture series (free).
Movies Under the Stars, in the Calypso Pool area, is a major attraction and is on all day (with family fare), as well as into the night. Films on our seven-night Caribbean cruise sailing included "Transformers 2," "Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince" and "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past."
The Grand Casino has the usual array of slots and table games, including one for dealerless Texas Hold 'Em.
Most impressive was the operation of the shore excursion department. Located on Deck 6, staffers there regularly provided visual updates of which tours were sold out (eliminating the need to stand in line and wait for something you couldn't book). Often, tours were added as demand required, and occasionally, they'd offer a last-minute option. The variety veered between sedate and almost wild-and-crazy; there was literally something for everyone.
Gratuities, which are automatically charged to onboard accounts, are $11.50 per person (including children), per day, for passengers staying in standard accommodations and $12 for passengers staying in mini-suite and suites. A 15 percent gratuity is added to beverage purchases onboard, including wine at dinner. Spa and casino staff members do not share in the gratuity charges -- if you use these services, tips are advised.
While Crown Princess' kids programs won't touch anything you'd find on Royal Caribbean or Disney ships, the blend of innovative activities (Wii on the big-screen by the pool) and traditional offerings (pizza and ice cream parties) are more than enough to keep the kids occupied. Located up on Deck 17, the Fun Zone is divided into two groups -- Princess Pelicans for the 3- to 7-year-olds and Shockwaves for the 8- to 12-year-olds. Activities include arts and crafts in conjunction with Klutz, a company known for its funky toy and how-to book combos (juggling, bubble blowing, etc.); video games (PS3, Wii); karaoke; shipboard Olympics; kids-only dining; and scavenger hunts. Port-day supervision is available, as is group kid-sitting (from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., $5 per hour, per kid). Some of the really cool new programs include Jr. Chef@Sea for the Shockwaves group; they get lessons in the ship's main galley on making sushi and fruit pizza, along with cake-decorating. Parents are required to participate, making for a nice family bonding exercise. Teens can take part in a makeover program at the spa.
When Crown Princess debuted in 2006, it marked a new interest by Princess in teen cruisers. The venue called Remix is hip and edgy, featuring Playstation 3's, movies and music, karaoke, giant-screen TV's, card games, board games and air hockey and foosball tables. Teens also have a separate Jacuzzi and sunbathing area. They can even mix their own dance tracks and take hip-hop dance lessons. On our cruise, an early November Caribbean sailing, there were very few teens signed up -- so the area was often empty. It's definitely busier during family travel seasons.
One of the most unusual aspect of Princess' youth program is a Youth Security Program, which comes into effect when there is a large number of young passengers onboard, usually during peak holiday seasons. Young folks (early 20's) wearing bright yellow -- and instantly identifiable -- polo shirts, patrol the ship (and even are waiting at embarkation) with the purpose of discouraging outrageous behavior before it has a chance to occur. What's more, these staffers, just slightly older than the kids they oversee, are of the same generation and come across as cool and hip. The teens look up to them. As an onboard staffer explained, "they come across as teen-friendly and are not perceived as a police force."
We can't think of any passenger "demographic" that wouldn't find something to like on Crown Princess. On our trip, there were seniors, families, gay and lesbian travelers, honeymooners and friends-and-family groups of all ages. The only folks who might find the ship's size a hindrance would be single travelers -- because of the vessel's size and its passenger capacity, it can be hard to meet people. On our cruise, a November sailing to the Western Caribbean, North Americans (2,800) and Brits (200) dominated.
On Crown Princess' seven-night Caribbean cruises, there are two formal nights, and the level of formality ranged wildly, from way-too-casual jeans and such to black-tie. Most women wore cocktail gowns and pants-outfits; men wore jackets and ties. In the daytime, again, there was a wide range of attire, but indoors, folks tended to dress country-club casual.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Speaking of something for everyone, Crown Princess offers a truly impressive variety of pools up on the sun deck. The Neptune's Reef pool is the spot for water games and entertainment, and it features hot tubs. The adjacent Calypso Reef and Pool is home to Movies Under the Stars (and Sun), so there is constant entertainment. For solitude-seekers, there are two options. The aft pool, mightily improved by the removal of Skywalkers and the shopping cart-handle design of earlier Princess ships, offers a mix of sunny and shady spots. The Lotus Pool, affixed to the spa but open to all adults, remains a popular spot for swimming against the current; it's small, though, and its nine loungers get snapped up pretty quickly on sunny days. It has two whirlpools.
The adults-only Sanctuary, which debuted on Crown Princess, has been such a hit that the line has retrofitted the majority of its ships with the serene feature. It's a lovely space, featuring a tent canopy (with a handful of loungers in sunny places), an Astroturf carpet and fabulous Italianate chaises and chairs with decadently thick cushions, covered with the plushest, thirstiest towels. An excellent aspect of the Sanctuary is its service element. Waiters are on hand, and a spa menu is available with a mix of healthy and unhealthy fare, ranging from tuna pate to cheeseburgers. You can also order drinks (again, everything from fruit drinks and smoothies to bottles of beer). There is a $3 service fee for orders, but that doesn't mean you can't order multiple items. You can also rent iPods (with Bose headphones), which have a variety of types of tunes downloaded onto them, for $10.
There is a cost of $10 per person, per half day, and the Sanctuary is open from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1 to 5:30 p.m. (A full day pass is $20.) Is it worth it? For anyone who wants a respite from all the "energy," absolutely. While there's no pool there, the fact that the Lotus Pool is downstairs is just fine. One note: On sunny Caribbean sea days, space in the Sanctuary will fill up quickly, so getting there 20 minutes early is advisable.
The Sanctuary also has two massage cabanas. Book massages through the Lotus Spa.
Speaking of which, the Lotus Spa is very similar in design and orient to those found on Caribbean Princess and beyond. It's shaped in a "U" style, offering an Asian ambience on the side of the treatment rooms and a utilitarian aspect on the other, where you can find the beauty salon and fitness facility. Interestingly, it seems that teeth-whitening has become mainstream -- the salon has designed a special cubby for folks trying that treatment. It's got a flat-screen television and a nice view of the sea. There's also a barber shop for men.
The Lotus Spa even features a Thermal Suite, which includes a sauna, two aromatherapy steam rooms and five hot-rock beds. Passes for the week are $99 per person or $150 per couple.
The fitness facility is slightly larger than those on earlier ships and has all the usual pieces of equipment (more than 20 Precor treadmills, 10 ellipticals, some bikes, various weight machines and a small area with free weights). Open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., it offers classes; some, such as "stretch and relax" and step aerobics are free, while others -- including yoga and Pilates -- are $10 apiece. One odd feature of the gym is that the ceiling is quite low. If you're taller than six feet, your head may just reach the ceiling if you're on an elliptical.
Spa treatments run the gamut from hydra lift facials to hot stone massages and from seaweed wraps to acupuncture. I tried the "Aroma Spa Seaweed Massage," ($195 for 75 minutes). I was smothered in a seaweed lotion, wrapped in a tinfoil-like sheet for 20 minutes, then ordered to shower. After that I had a traditional half-body back and neck massage. The massage was outstanding, but I honestly could have gone without the seaweed. A standard, 50-minute Swedish massage (in essence, the second half of the seaweed offering) is $119.
I had heard reports from other passengers of the famous Steiner sales pitch. (After your treatment, your therapist will strongly "advise" you that you need a myriad of beauty products, all of which are sold right there.) If you want to buy, go for it. If you don't, simply say no. I was given no such pitch after my 75-minute treatment, and I left feeling loose and unburdened by a slew of new products.
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