January 2015 - Crown Princess to Mexico
My wife and I (in our 50’s) just debarked from the Crown Princess after a 4 night cruise from Los Angeles to San Diego, then Ensenada and back to LA (Monday thru Friday). We had a great time and I thought that I would write a review while it is still fresh in my mind and am waiting for my flight home. For background, we have taken three prior cruises – Princess to Western Caribbean about 15 years ago, Celebrity to the Mediterranean in ’06 and Carnival to Western Caribbean in 2013 (with three teenagers). We do non-cruise traveling quite a bit as well.
Travel: This is the first time that we have flown in on the day of departure because LA is only a 2 hour flight. We were worried about delays so we booked our flight to get into LAX at 8:00 am and it was on time. We only took carry-on bags and small backpacks, so no checked luggage. We looked at a few transportation options, but pre-booking a private shuttle seemed dicey since if there were a delay, we were not sure how our reservation would work. In the end, we just decided to show up at LAX and see. We walked over to the Super Shuttle guy and he put us on the list. We waited about 20 minutes and ended up being the only two passengers to the port. The attendant told us that it would be $37 but the driver ended up charging us $41 plus tip. Not sure why. Oh well. He was nice and we had plenty of time. It was still cheaper than the Princess transfer for $68 or a taxi for about $65. We did not have any rush hour traffic and we arrived at the cruise terminal by 9:30 am – way too early to get in but at least we were where we needed to be. Better early than late.
Embarkation: They let us into the cruise terminal around 10:30. In the meantime, we sat outside with some other over-eager folks like us. They let us in and we sat down and waited for them to start boarding at 12:00 pm. In the meantime, I went back outside to the food truck parked just outside the entrance and got some decent lunch for a good price. At noon, they called us up and there was virtually no line and a quick check in process. Then we sat with our boarding group until called. I think we ended up actually getting on the ship around 1:30 pm. Overall very organized and smooth. One caveat to my entire review is that I am not sure if the ship was full. Some people said that they did not think so. Also a surprising number of people were doing back to back cruises on the Crown Princess, so they did not need to check-in the same way.
Cabin: We had mini-suite cabin D406. We booked a mini-suite toward the aft of the Dolphin Deck as recommended by our travel agent. We were upgraded twice, once to D622 and then to D406. This just moved us closer to the middle of the ship but I probably would not have paid for it since you will be walking more or less the same either way. It may have helped the motion a little though. Our agent did suggest staying away from the mini-suites on the deck below Dolphin (Emerald?) since they would be above Club Fusion.
This is our first cabin with a balcony. Our first cruise was an inside cabin, second was a porthole, third was window and this was a mini-suite. I chose the mini-suite because it seemed like a good deal on the 4 night cruise. We ended up liking the extra sitting area as much as the balcony. One of the big selling points was the bathtub because my wife greatly prefers a bathtub. So I thought that I would go with the mini-suite and give both of us a better experience. Was it worth it? It was for us. First, as we get older, we like hanging around the public areas less, and enjoyed having our own space. We did not use the balcony a lot (maybe a hour a day total), but it was nice to start and end the day outside looking at the water. It was a little chilly so we asked to bring down some blankets from the Movie Under the Stars. That was much better. It is true that the balcony sticks out farther than the floor above, so they are able to look down on you, but it was never a problem and I actually enjoyed having the open sky above to see the stars.
Second, we were not planning on taking any guided excursions, so I knew that we would be spending a little more time on the ship. Third, the overall effective of the room was a little more romantic with the tray ceiling, additional closet space, etc. Fourth, the bathtub. I looked at several youtube videos of Princess mini-suites (Crown and Emerald) and they were perfectly accurate.
Ship Shape: We found everything on the Crown Princess in great shape. Our room was clean, everything worked, no smell problems, no noise other than a few minutes of repairs in the afternoon, all of the woodwork was in great shape. Lots of hot water. Likewise all of the interior public places looked great. We took the stairs all of the time so I cannot speak to either the condition or wait for the elevators. I was intentionally looking for problems (after reading some reviews) but found only some insignificant maintenance issues in the outdoor spaces – a couple of places where the deck paint was bubbling or peeled, a few rust spots, some wood deck railing with the varnish worn. Really minor in my opinion, but that’s just my opinion. No Norovirus or other sickness issues that I am aware of. The staff was very diligent about hand washing and purell.
Demographic: Definitely an older group of passengers. We heard that the weekend cruise just before ours was much younger and more lively. But most of our passengers were retired. Night clubs were less than half-full at night, which was fine for us as we are not party people and don’t drink.
Service: The staff was excellent. Always said “hello.” Always “Sir” and “Madame.” Cabin steward was good and our room was always clean. We are low maintenance people, but the one time we did call to ask for some ice, she was there within three minutes. The wait staff was generally good, no complaints. Purser’s desk very helpful. I am not sure how the staff could have been more accommodating.
Food: If there was anything that did not exceed our expectations, it was the evening dining. It was very good, don’t misunderstand. Maybe not as good as our first Princess cruise, but that is hard to tell because we were a younger, less discerning and probably had no idea what to expect. We also don’t eat as much as in our 30’s, so the unlimited quantities of food is less appealing. I do not think that it was as good as our Celebrity Cruise, but was definitely as good as our Carnival Cruise, maybe a little better. No specific problems. Everything was prepared well. My New York strip was good, our tablemates said the prime rib was excellent, good variety. Just not a lot of “Wow, that’s awesome” moments. Table service was quick. We did anytime dining (our first time for this) and never had to wait more that a couple of minutes as long as we were willing to sit with other diners. We had two nights at a table of six and one night at a table of four. All of our dining companions were very enjoyable and we liked having a different group each night. Favorite desserts – crème brulee, peach blueberry cobbler. For breakfast and lunch, we did the Horizon Court every morning – good selections, no complaints. The International Café had some nice salad choices (pasta-type and similar cold salads), but we never tried them. The pastries at the International Café varied and were pretty good. Never tried the Caribe Café, Vines, or the Trident Grill. Milkshakes – not good but it may have been the person who made it. Pizza – very good.
We did one night at Sabatini’s. Was it worth it? I’m not sure. The atmosphere was great and it was different. The food seemed less mass-produced. My wife did not like the spices on her appetizer (a cold mushroom plate) but her lobster was good. I liked my Calamari appetizer but my veal shank had a sauce that also had a heavy spice (too much rosemary maybe). My wife liked the citrus lime tart for dessert. I would do it once, but not twice.
San Diego: We had previously been to San Diego to visit Sea World and Coronado. On this trip, we walked off the ship and grabbed one of the bike taxis for a tour around the port and a ride to the Seaport Village – charged us $25 which is probably high but he was funny and I don’t mind somebody who is working hard to make a living. We got off the ship after most other passengers. We shopped until noon and had an excellent lunch at Buster’s at Seaport Village. We then boarded the hop on hop off trolley (about a 2 hour tour if you don’t get off) at the Seaport Village stop for $80. (There is also a seal tour option using an amphibious vehicle.) The trolley driver’s narration was a lot more interesting that I expected and it made us want to go back to San Diego to visit some of the neighborhoods and museums. We decided not to get off and ended up back at the trolley stop at the port about 3:30.
Ensenada: Again we slept in and got off after most of the tours and passengers. We walked into the shopping area. It is a really easy 15 minute walk and only about three blocks once you leave the cruise port security. I would not take the shuttle unless you are having problems walking. Most of the shops did not open until 10 am. Like a lot of Mexican ports, most of the shops carry the same items with heavy emphasis on leather goods (sandals, handbags, wallets, etc.), silver jewelry (if it’s you first time, do your research on the .925 issue), Mexican clothes (embroidered dresses, ponchos, etc.), t-shirts, trinkets. We bought a pair of sandals for $20, a hoodie for $10, a leather belt for $30 and a beaded belt for $35, earrings for $14 (not real silver obviously). We were not that interested in dickering on the prices although we did start to walk away a couple of times to get a better price. We ate lunch at a good taco restaurant. There were lots of local taxis lined up on one of the cross-streets ready to take you to the water spout but I did not ask how much. They looked very reputable and official though. I would not have had any concerns about using them if we had wanted to go. We watched the water spout on youtube before we left and decided to skip it. Overall, I liked Ensenada. It has a smaller feel than Cancun or Cozumel. The sellers are not shy but they were not aggressive and overall very polite if we said that we were not interested. There is some heart-wrenching poverty that is occasional visible in elderly ladies trying to sell small items on the street or mothers and children asking for money. It looks as though the cruise business is helping judging by some of the construction projects but who knows.
At sea: I think that we must be unusual because we do not love the days at sea while some people prefer them. We ran out of things to do by the afternoon. Seas were calm for the whole trip and we had no motion sickness (I had it on our first cruise). We started taking ginger capsules about a week before the cruise.
Shows/Activities: Comedian – I thought he was funny most of the time; my wife thought not so much. Some of his material was a little borderline for our sensibilities. Magician – we both like him. Productions – we only saw one and were ambivalent. But this is true for all of the cruise production shows that I can remember (or can’t remember to be more accurate). All of the shows in the theater were crowed and we were usually sitting 30 minutes early. Karaoke – we stayed for about an hour one night and it was little painful to watch sometimes. Movie Under Stars – actually a fun idea but it was in the 50’s by that time. Fortunately, they provide free blankets which was brilliant. They also provide popcorn. They were not well-attended, maybe too cold or maybe the age demographic. Pools – looked nice, but hardly used. I tried once but the water was too cold for me. Hot tubs – we went once but we decided that they should be called warm tubs. We did not use spa, basketball court, miniature golf, adults only area, casino.
Communication: I signed up for the Internet on a “pay as you go” for $.79 minute. I spent about $40 during the cruise checking email, etc. I had good cell service in LA and San Diego. I received a call while in Ensenada but could not make calls without calling the carrier. I had my cellular data turned off except at the US ports.
Disembarkation: Getting off was very smooth. We went down to our assigned area at the Fusion Club and waited for our group to be called. We were off by 9:15. Took a taxi to LAX for $57 plus tip. There are numerous taxis waiting. It may be possible to sign up for one of the shuttles that were there, but we just decided to get going.