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Crown Princess 2008-2009 cruise ship review

Independent cruising tips for the professional at Leisure

October 2008

We just finished the 18-day transatlantic voyage of the Crown Princess, a cruise which was largely appealing because of the promise of visiting Iceland and Greenland.  We did not have high expectations for Princess Cruises since their purchase by Carnival, and our expectations were also lowered because of the insanely low price (less than $6k for two, for 18 days with a balcony room!).  But we had to see if the comments we had heard about the Crown Princess were true.

Lots of deck space on the Crown Princess Nice deck top bars

If you plan on doing the Crown Princess trans-Atlantic in 2009, beware that Copenhagen is super-expensive (see my notes here), and also note that there exists a likelihood that the typical September bad weather may prevent the Crown Princess from visiting Iceland and Greenland.

The embarkation in Copenhagen was amazing, the fastest and smoothest we have ever experienced.

The overall feel of the Crown Princess reminded us of a Holland America cruise, with hundreds of elderly refugees from the nursing homes, clogging the passageways with their walkers and electric wheelchairs.  The Crown Princess transatlantic cruise definitely attracted a mature crowd, and the average age of the passengers is well above that of a typical Carnival, Celebrity or Royal Caribbean cruise.

The elderly folks love the slots

Any cruise of more than two weeks duration attracts the geriatric crowd, especially since cruises are now cheaper than nursing homes.  Be prepared for senile passengers, and old people habits for 18 days.  We saw drooling at the dinner table, demented tirades, and one poor old fellow who crapped his diaper in the elevator. 

The Crown Princess does not say how many body freezers they keep in their on-board morgue, but judging by the sad state of many of the passengers (many of whom appears to be on their last cruise), it’s a safe bet that a few passed-away during our voyage. 

See my notes here on how cruise ships have become a less expensive alternative to assisted living, floating nursing homes.

On a positive note, activities for the younger crowd were less crowded (e.g. the gaming tables, Cybergolf), an unexpected side benefit of riding on the Crown Princess.

The Crown Princess is one of the Princess’s larger ships, with a capacity of over 3,000 passengers.  The cruise price was very, very good, and if you leave any high expectations at the door, you can have a great time.  The Crown Princess was built to hold many staterooms, and you will not find the expansive open areas that you find on the Freedom Class vessels.  There is also an acute elevator shortage, and it’s not uncommon to wait many minutes to get a lift.  Also beware that many Crown Princess passengers don’t know basic elevator etiquette, and the fogies will rush the doors as soon as they open, not allowing the existing passengers to get off!

The staff on the Crown Princess appears disorganized at times, and they do not always do a good job policing the decks.  Left is a photo of a broken glass shard that I saw on a deck stair. 

It was clear that someone cleaned-up the bulk of the broken glass, but they did not do a through job.

In the Caribbean waters you will see lots of sea life from the ship including playful dolphins and flying fish:

Flying fish are abundant


The Dining aboard the Crown Princess

Cleanliness on the Crown Princess is an obsession, and we were well-pleased to find their commitment to good practices.  Dining on the Crown Princess was fair to average, on par with a typical Carnival or Royal Caribbean fare, nothing special, but not bad either. 

In our 18 days afloat, we ate many meals on the Lido deck at the pizzeria, hands-down the best food on any of the dining areas.

The main dining rooms (Botticelli, Da Vinci and Michelangelo) are nothing special, the typical “pretend” elegant food.  Wafer steaks and crawdads pose as Surf and Turf, etc, and if you have a vivid imagination you can have a world-class dining experience, as the Crown Princess staff does superb job in making mediocre ingredients look appealing. 

The Crown Princess also has the “Café Caribe”, which features a gringo take on regional cuisines, but it’s not authentic, and the flavors are toned-down to meet the blandness requirements that old codgers demand.

Elegant Crown Grill - Ask for Ariel

Menu at Sabatini's

  • Italian – The Sabatini’s restaurant is at the rear of the Crown Princess.  Unless you specify “fast” service, they will keep you for more than two hours, which is great if you want to linger and take-in their cheesy fake Italian ambiance.  As for the food, it’s quite authentic, and if you like fish you will love it.  If you are a beef or chicken lover, you will find the menu disappointing.

  • Steaks – The Crown Grill has a super-helpful staff with outstanding service, but sadly, only mediocre beef.  For appetizers, try the French onion soup, and lobster cakes.  Their fish is superb (try the paper-wrapped Barramundi), but the steaks are thin and not up to USDA Prime quality.  The Crown Grill is highly recommended for shellfish, especially the Brazilian lobster tails.  If you don’t want to spend two and a half hours dining, just ask Ariel for faster service and he will happily speed-up your food delivery.

  • Top Deck Snacks – The Trident Grill has the same old mediocre fried burgers and hot dogs, but they have knockwurst and sauerkraut, a nice touch.  The best restaurant on the Crown Princess is their Lido Pizzeria, fantastic, some of the best pizza afloat.

The Crown Princess has the best pizza afloat Skip the mediocre Ice Cream


Port shore excursions on the Crown Princess

The Crown Princess’s shore excursions exhibited vast differences in quality, from outstanding to poor, and we were pressured to book quickly because many of the tours were marked as “full” when we boarded the ship.  Resist the pressure to book quickly and take the time to research each tour on Google (priced at only $24 per hour).

Tour rip-offs – Many of the shore excursions offered by the Crown Princess are thinly veiled sales pitches, taking the passengers from gift shop to gift shop.  Also, beware of “shuttle” tickets, which for groups of three or more, are more expensive than hiring a taxi.

While some excursions are spectacular (Oasis Divers scuba tours on Grand Turk), others are giant rip-offs.  Here are a few that we were suckered into on the Crown Princess:

  •  Belfast -Our first experience with a port tour rip-off was in Belfast, where we took a tour led by an elderly racist woman who reeked of stale whiskey and cigarettes.  Within five minutes, she managed to alienate almost every person on the bus.  To offend Americans she said “You are such a lovely people, I’m so sorry we lost you”, and she was even more offensive in her open hatred of the Scottish people.  Janet suspected that she was drunk.

  • St. Johns – This was one of the worst rip-offs of all.  We took the “Rum and Rascals” rip-off tour, which sounded like a pub crawl, but which was, in reality, nothing more than a $99 each visit from gift shop to gift shop.

The Crown Princess Staff

We found huge differences in the quality of the cruise staff that ranged from super-friendly and helpful to extremely rude and surly.  We also noted a sharp decline in spoken English skills.  One morning I was served a frittata where the cook had dumped an entire salt shaker into the batch, effecting perhaps a dozen servings.  I tried in vain to alert the Maître’ De, who could not understand me, and I have no doubt that his poor English caused other passengers a salty surprise.

Also, beware that the Crown Princess is not a “high end” cruise option, especially when it comes to dinner room service.  The morning room service was always exceptional, prompt, correct and friendly, but beware of their shoddy evening room service.

Several evenings we ordered room service from the dining room menu, only to have the order delivered cold and incorrect, each and every time.  On one formal night, we attempted to order room service, only to be told by the Crown Princess staff that it would take at least an hour and that they would deliver the food cold.  We got the distinct impression that they had no interest whatsoever in accommodating the passengers.

The dining room staff aboard the Crown Princess

The dining staff went out of their way to be attentive, often to the point of showing bad manners.  To be fair, the majority of the elderly passengers love being fawned over with, “Russian Tea Room” style service, with people hovering over you and watching your every move.  While elderly folks love this type of service,  we found it annoying to be interrupted in mid-sentence by a pandering waiter, selling tickets to a lame wine tasting (it’s really clear to us that they are given a financial incentive to sell these things).  On one occasion a waiter eavesdropped on us and he felt like he had the right to interject himself into our conversation!  It goes without saying that we spent many evenings dining in our cabin.

Again, overall the cruise ship staff was very helpful, they had clear ulterior motives, and I suspect that the cruise staff was given cash incentives for selling junk to the passengers and our Crown Princess cruise seemed like a constant sales pitch.  The Crown Princess claims to have a low customer/staff ratio, but they use it to annoy passengers with incessant pandering of services.  The Crown Princess staff will interrupt you at lunch and dinner, trying to sell you things (cookbooks, wine tastings), and they will even interrupt you in your stateroom, calling your room to try to sell unwanted spa treatments.

  • Skip the Cybergolf – Don’t even think of using the Cybergolf facility.  It’s overpriced ($40/hour) and poorly designed, with a busy passageway right between the hitting areas.  When we played, we were constantly interrupted by old farts asking inane questions “is it free”, “how do you play it”?  When we played Cybergolf, Lisa (a Crown Princess assistant cruise director), chatted loudly on the phone with friends, and when we asked for courtesy silence when we hit out shots, she became very rude and surly.

  • Watch the Casino staff – During my voyage on the Crown Princess, I hit big on a penny slot and changed $191.75 in quarters, receiving only $119.75, an obvious transposition error.  When I complained, I was told that I was mistaken!  I asked for the manager and was told that they would do an audit in a few hours.  They called our stateroom a few hours later saying that the books balanced perfectly.  It was only the next morning that they admitted that they shortchanged me, and their free bottle of wine was a small consolation for the unnecessary outrage at the Crown Princess’s inept staff.  To add insult to injury, the Casino manager made me come to the casino three times before they paid me.

  • The dealers also vary widely in quality.  At the roulette table, the staff varied from exceptionally competent to real dullards, some of whom required supervisor assistance to compute the payouts properly.  If you play roulette on the Crown Princess, watch the staff carefully.

Missed Ports

All cruise lines have a nasty habit of making unverifiable claims of “acts of God” in order to skip ports.  On our voyage, the Crown Princess skipped Iceland claiming storms, yet the Web showed waves of only 14 feet (far less than the 18 foot wave which we experienced enroute to Greenland.  On the cruise we spoke with other passengers who claimed that the seas are rarely calm enough to visit Iceland, and one person said that this was their third aborted attempt.  From what I’ve read, missed ports are often not what they appear to be, see my notes on cruise ship missed ports. 

Also note that as of September 2008 the Crown Princess port at Grand Turk Island is closed indefinitely, ostensibly due to the storm damage.  I have lots of friends on Grand Turk, and while the island was devastated, the cruise ship port received very little damage.  The Cat4 Hurricane (Ike) that clobbered Grand Turk devastated many popular tourist attractions (the Salt Raker Hotel), the Front Street was clogged with debris.   The folks on Grand Turk are hopeful that there will be enough shore excursions open by early 2009 to resume the Grand Turk port. 

Grand Turk is noted for some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the northern hemisphere, and if the port is open, make sure to book an excursion.  It is still unclear if the reefs were damaged, but you should contact Oasis Divers before booking a scuba dive. 

From examining the daily activities it’s clear that the Crown Princess caters to the over 80 crowd, lot’s of ceramics, plus Jenga, bridge and bingo and sedate activities, I reminds me of a first-class assisted living home:


The Princess Patter - Caters to geriatrics


Overall, the Crown Princess is the place to be if you are among the over-80 crowd, an affordable cruise with activities that are designed to meet your needs.  In the broader market, the Crown Princess 2008-2009 itinerary will be competing with a flotilla of competing vessels, clogging the Caribbean Sea with tens of thousands of passengers every week.  When evaluating the Crown Princess for their 2009 Caribbean voyages, it all boils down to the ports and the prices.  Dollar for dollar, The Crown Princess cannot be beat, but you get what you pay for, so leave your high expectations on the gangway.

Architectural features of the Crown Princess













Note: The opinions expressed on these pages are the sole opinion of Donald K. Burleson and do not reflect the opinions of Burleson Enterprises Inc. or any of its subsidiaries.

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