April 2017 - Crown Princess to Caribbean
My family and I had a good cruise on the Crown Princess. There were plenty of good memories and firsts for the kids, as well as a few for the adults. I would recommend this cruise line and this ship. It wasn't a perfect cruise, but for the most part, we could find what we were looking for on the ship.
The spring break season tends to make things crowded on board, and the ship was completely full. The crowded conditions reduced some of our options. For example, it was impossible to find seats for the evening shows unless we showed up 30-45 minutes early, so we skipped them. Finding a large table to seat the whole family for buffet meals was difficult, occasionally forcing us to eat outside in the heat of the day. The kids center was crowded and generally very rowdy, so our children generally preferred to strike out on their own. It was also occasionally difficult to find a quiet corner of the ship, though not impossible. Skywalker's Lounge was the best place outside our cabin to have some family reading time.
There were several aspects of the cruise that were outstanding. Seated dining was particularly good, especially our waiters, who went out of their way to accommodate the dietary needs of my grandfather and were wonderful with our children, delighting them with magic tricks and elaborate napkin folds. Similarly, the food was uniformly excellent for both seated dining and the buffets.
Activities aboard the ship were a mixed bag. I wasn't terribly impressed with the staff that handled the social events, especially the trivia events. Some of them spoke such heavily accented English that the audience couldn't understand the questions they were asking. Others simply didn't understand the subjects of the questions they were asking, especially for the trivia event based on space and astronomy. I was also somewhat disappointed at the number and variety of events each day. A ship as big as the Crown Princess can host more activities, and more varied activities, than what was on the daily schedule. Additionally, many of these events overlapped with seated dining hours, which prevented us from going to them, and these events had no alternate times. I've been on ships with a fraction of the capacity that had just as much going on. I would have loved to have seen some daily educational and fitness events, but maybe I'm just weird that way. That said, there were enough that we generally could find a couple that interested us every day.
On the shore side, most of the excursions are tourist traps that aren't worth the money. Even if I was a beach enthusiast, 70 bucks per person to go to a beach is just silly. Roatan is particularly bad, as the ships dock in an isolated, dedicated-tourist-trap part of the island, and the taxis charge 40 dollars per person to go anywhere else. That said, there are some worthwhile excursions. The SCUBA diving at Roatan was reasonably priced and well-managed. For those in the family who don't do SCUBA, the Atlantis submarine ride provided an awesome alternative experience. I went with my daughter to the Chichen Itza at Cozumel, the second time I've been there. It's 6-7 hours of travel time to spend about 45 minutes walking around one of the wonders of the world. The tour guide, Angel, was particularly good, almost single-handedly making this excursion worth the time and money.
If you know what you want and where to find it, this cruise ship has just about got it all, and despite the various shortcomings I've described so far, I might have given it a 5-star rating. However, I'm deducting a star for one reason, which I call "cruise-isms." It used to be that most of Princess' ships were areas open for a variety of activities, and you'd have to go out of your way to come to an area or activity that required you to spend money. Increasingly, Princess is dedicating large portions of its ships, its staff, and its time to paid tourist-trap events on board the ship. A large, central lounge of the ship was home to an almost constant art auction (who goes on a cruise to buy mediocre art?), where before there might be ballroom dancing, lectures on the next port of call, or some other social event. The Lotus Spa takes up half a deck so it can overcharge people for backrubs, baths, and putting rocks on top of their spines. Despite having no interest in buying jewelry, I heard more about Tanzanite than I ever wanted to, to the point where I found myself fantasizing about chucking those pretty rocks into a gravel pit and bulldozing them in. Despite the fact that virtually every adult has a phone with a good camera these days, there is a photo crew trying to stop you every time you get on or get off the ship, as well as interrupting our meals. The ship has several restaurants that take up prime real estate and are mostly empty, because who wants to blow extra money on a ship that's already a giant floating high-quality food trough? The advertisements and announcements for these "pay more money" events and services are everywhere, even in your cabin, and it detracts from the experience. I get that Princess wants to make all the money it can off these cruises, and this sort of thing has been around for a while, but it's getting excessive.
That pet-peeve-rant aside, the overall experience was quite good, and we had a great vacation. Although this wouldn't be my first choice of cruise destinations or times, I would recommend this cruise and ship to other people who want to get away.