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Copyright © 1995-2003 
Linda Coffman

 

Crown Princess
December 10 –20, 2000
The Panama Canal
 

by Linda Coffman 

Part Two

Crown Princess at Anchor in Gatun Lake

At slightly under 70,000 tons, this lovely ship has the feeling of a smaller, more intimate vessel. Christened in 1990 by film legend Sophia Loren, Crown Princess was Princess Cruises’ first ship in this “larger” size range and served as the fleet’s flagship—sharing that honor when twin sister Regal Princess joined her the following year. Sadly, these sleek ladies will leave the Princess fleet to join Aida Cruises (P&O's German operation) in the coming years.

After a multi-million dollar refurbishment, Crown Princess gleams with polished wood, marble accents, and an overall elegant, yet understated combination of pastel fabrics and carpeting. The centerpiece of the makeover is the three-story atrium lobby with its stylish chrome-like dolphin wall sculpture, delightful murals, sweeping grand staircase, and trio of rippling waterfalls. New windows added behind La Patisierie bar on the lowest level admit cheerful sunlight to an area that must have previously felt confined and gloomy. 

The Crown Court dining room also received special attention with rich fabrics and an arrangement of room dividers that create an intimate ambiance. Unfortunately, the tables are quite close together and the noise and lighting level was often high. Candlelight was a nice touch on formal evenings and a traditional afternoon tea in the Crown Court was served with musical accompaniment. 

A new addition, the well-stocked Youth Center kept the small number of children on our cruise entertained.

Lounges – Feeling sophisticated? Try the Intermezzo. For dancing  cheek-to-cheek, Kipling’s is the spot. To sip bubbly, Chianti offers a selection of champagne, wines, and spirits with a view overlooking the atrium. Try your hand at cards or the slot machines in The Dome or brush up on karaoke and the Macarena and join the action in The Stage Door. Or slip into something cool at Flipper’s swim-up bar. Characters is a whimsical bar populated with stuffed animals where funky drinks are served in a no smoking allowed atmosphere. By far my favorite spot during our Crown Princess cruise was Intermezzo where pianist David Crathorne entertained before and after dinner. 

Not technically a “lounge” in the usual sense, La Patisierie deserves special mention—complimentary fresh brewed coffee (the very best on the ship) was available with pastries in the morning and cookies in the afternoon. I loved it for its alternating morning serenity and afternoon activity. Only Chianti’s rivaled it for people watching.  

The Champagne Waterfall, a Princess Cruises tradition

Entertainment – The International Show Lounge hosted a wide variety of daytime activities and nighttime acts. From Bingo to production shows and magic acts, there was something to appeal to every taste. A real crowd pleaser was the Panamanian Folkloric Show depicting the musical and dancing cultures of Panama. 

Days at sea were filled with self-improvement lectures, art auctions, dance lessons, pool games, arts and crafts classes, wine tasting seminars, and trivia games. And those are just a few of the available activities. Many passengers enjoyed the well-stocked library and card room for quieter pursuits. Rather utilitarian in appearance, the card room nevertheless contains a fascinating array of Crown Princess memorabilia, including a display case with photos of her christening. Crown Princess has a real movie theater and a different film was featured every day, repeated four times.

One of the most popular entertainers onboard was David Crathorne. An extraordinary showman, he sings and plays the piano with genuine zest. His “Salute to Andrew Lloyd Webber” concert was so well received that every chair in the atrium was filled and the audience lined the upper floor railings and sat on the grand staircase.

We were somewhat disappointed that evening deck parties were cancelled because of high winds, but calm seas and a spectacular Champagne Waterfall more than made up for them. Since this was our first Princess cruise, we relished the festivities. With streamers raining down from all levels of the atrium, it was like an early New Years Eve celebration. Formal nights on Crown Princess were particularly gracious because passengers didn’t dash to their staterooms after dinner to change into casual attire—a real consideration for those of us who enjoy dressing up for the entire evening. 

Spa & Gym – This is one area where the facilities are showing their age and could use some sprucing up. Despite the rather Spartan surroundings, the sauna and steam room were great and I had a relaxing massage with no sales pitch for Steiner products whatsoever. 

Food – We all know how subjective the matter of cruise cuisine is and my taste is far from gourmet. Mel and I generally had a buffet breakfast in Café Cabana or pastries and coffee in La Patisierie. Lunches were either from the poolside grill or in Café Cabana. One evening we enjoyed pizza in Presto, but for the rest of our cruise we had dinner in The Crown Court dining room. We thoroughly enjoyed our meals (I didn’t have to grocery shop, cook, or wash the dishes—what’s not to like?). Several dishes stand out, including a spicy shrimp dish freshly prepared at the lunch buffet, the evening pasta selections, and yummy, sinfully rich chocolate desserts and soufflés. 

Service – It would be difficult to find fault with the wait staff on Crown Princess. After a somewhat shaky beginning with a tardy room service order, our cabin steward provided exemplary service. Our waiter and his assistant were somewhat hampered in their efforts by a couple assigned to our table who were invariably late almost every evening, but overall their performance was very professional. The absence of proper sommeliers certainly wasn’t missed; our waiter served wine and cocktails without missing a beat. 

We were a bit surprised that the white-gloved stewards who greeted us upon embarkation didn’t show us to our stateroom. However, they helped us with our carry-on bags as far as the bank of elevators closest to our cabin and gave us directions to find it. 

And why has Princess eliminated butler service for suite passengers? Well, it seems that many past passengers are upgraded to suites and then reward the cruise line’s generosity by complaining about another person to tip! As first time Princess cruisers, we weren’t upgraded but would gladly have tipped a butler for the privilege of sailing in a suite for the cost of a balcony stateroom. Actually, our room steward was wonderful and took care of picking up and delivering laundry/dry cleaning and even had Mel’s dress shoes shined. We really couldn’t have asked for more pampering.   

Renewal of Vows--Social Hostess Kay Coxall, Mel, Linda, and Captain Andrea C. Poggi

Extra Touches – We were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and made it very special with a Renewal of Vows package. We truly felt like we were on the Love Boat when we renewed our vows at a private ceremony presided over by Captain Andrea Poggi and Social Hostess Kay Coxall. It was a romantic occasion with flowers and champagne and we’ll never forget it. There were quite a few couples on board celebrating anniversaries, honeymoons, and birthdays on our cruise as well—the Princess staff was kept busy preparing luscious cakes and balloons decorated the hallways.

This ’n That – This is a minor rant, but the daily Princess Patter doesn’t list meal times for the various dining venues. The stateroom directory lists times, but we discovered that bistro service in Café Cabana didn’t begin until an hour and a half after buffet service concluded. Thus, we were too late for the buffet and too early for the bistro, yet the directory listed continuous service. Since Presto was open, we had pizza the evening when we didn’t feel like a full course dinner. Not a big deal, but the same thing held true for the lounges—having the hours posted in the Princess Patter would be a nicety. We were never sure if a lounge would be open until we got there. 

Stunning contemporary artwork graces the Crown Princess. Two particularly striking pieces are the Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann still lifes hanging in the lobby outside The Crown Court. But why, oh why, do the “art auction” displays have to intrude on the carefully selected collections that enhance ships’ décor these days? I understand on board revenue enhancement, but I hate tripping over easels and being assaulted by “art.” 

On the other hand, the location of the casino in the dome is refreshing.  Unless you really wanted to gamble, you didn’t have to pass noisy, clanging slot machines. 

One of the ship’s several laundry rooms was right down the hall from us—very convenient for pressing out a few wrinkles in my dresses. I was amazed to see men leaving the laundry room with freshly folded clothing the last night of the cruise. It wasn’t one of my priorities. 

Shore excursions were handled quite well and the ability to pre-book them is an added convenience. The Purser’s staff was extremely efficient and cheerful, even when faced with an intractable curmudgeon. For convenience, personal two-way radios were available for rent for a nominal charge per unit/per day.

Did I mention the live plants and fresh flowers? Crown Princess had some of the loveliest flower arrangements at sea. Christmas trees and other holiday finery lent just the right touch for the season.

To sum it up, we thoroughly enjoyed our first Princess cruise. Now, I can’t wait to get our Captain’s Circle membership credentials and begin planning our next Love Boat cruise!

Back to Crown Princess Part One

Copyright © 2000 Linda Coffman
Photo Credit--Princess Cruise Line & ©CruiseDiva.com


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