Just how big is Princess Cruises'new Crown Princess?
So big that, at 70,000 tons, it is by tonnage the third largest cruise ship in the world. Carrying 1,596 passengers, it is the biggest in the nine-ship "Love Boat" fleet.
So big that it turned heads at the European ports it visited this summer on its shakedown cruises, and made more familiar Mediterranean cruise ships look like mere yachts.
But big was not necessarily better in all aspects. The crew sometimes seemed unhappy, the food was sometimes forgettable, and the much-touted spare design was not always user friendly.
Still, the Crown Princess knows how to turns heads in port. In Odessa and Yalta, it attracted whole families who trooped down for a look at it. In the Black Sea, even the Soviet navy was checking it out from a tactful distance. Tied up in Istanbul, it overpowered the famous Galata Tower. Anchored off Rhodes, it out-colossaled the Colossus.
Five short cruises were scheduled in Europe prior to its christening by film star Sophia Loren in New York City on Tuesday. These sailings, which carried a mix of Europeans and North Americans, helped point up the ship's strengths and weaknesses prior to its debut in the lucrative Caribbean winter season.
Based on the cruise we took in August, there's good news and bad news.
The usually ebullient Italian waiters seemed grumpy and harried, perhaps because European passengers--particularly the English who arrived by the chartered planeload--are notoriously poor tippers. However, anticipation of a high-income winter should cheer up the staff for fall.
The food--Italian-accented continental cuisine--was adequate though largely forgettable except when special-ordered and cooked for one or two tables; then it was delectable.
In the cheery pizzeria, you could get pizzas and calzone made to order (usually only late at night), but even the mass-produced squares served the rest of the day were gobbled up as quickly as they were set out.
Italian architect Renzo Piano's much-discussed "dolphin brow" design for the dome high atop the ship generally seemed to work well inside and out. It will be repeated on sister ship Regal Princess, due to arrive next July in the Caribbean.
Inside, the 19-foot curved dome's glass walls and white plaster ribs surround a triple-use area--the large casino with 120 slot machines, eight blackjack tables, a craps and a roulette table; an inviting bar and dance floor with before- and after-dinner live music, and a daytime observation lounge with windows that were, alas, not always clean due to malfunctioning automatic window washers.
The pool deck, also part of Piano's domain, fared less well. The spare, unadorned stretch encompassing a self-service cafeteria, sunbathing deck, two swimming pools, a bar and a pizzeria reminded us that he is more famous for designing museums than residences or hotels.
When they can't coexist with the established configuration, cruise passengers will inevitably rearrange it to suit themselves, settling into their temporary nests by shoving cabin beds together or apart, sliding lounge chairs around or moving seats in bars and show lounges.
Thus did passengers, the ultimate critics of Piano's overly sparse plan, mar the symmetry of his pool deck early every morning when the first to arrive moved his lounge chair to face the sun.
The good news--and it's very good news indeed to people who feel cramped in the typical cruise ship cabin--is that cabins and bathrooms are big and comfortable with lots of storage space. Every cabin on the ship contains features that many lines offer only in top-grade suites--walk-in closets with built-in drawer storage, safes, mini-refrigerators and color TV sets with remote control.
And Crown Princess prices are relatively low this winter in the Caribbean.
A bottom-category inside double measuring 190 square feet costs $199 a day per person, double occupancy, and a bottom-category outside, also 190 square feet, is $254 per person a day, including round-trip air fare.
Compare this to, say, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's gigantic Sovereign of the Seas, where a standard inside double, measuring only 120 square feet, starts at $180 per person a day, and a 123-square-foot standard outside cabin is $257 per person per day, including round-trip air fare.
On Crown Princess, a 210-square-foot stateroom with private balcony will cost $297 per person a day. The top suites, which come complete with big marble bathrooms and private veranda, measure 550 square feet and are priced at $412 per person.
Ten wheelchair-accessible cabins with wide doors, low ramps over the bathroom sill, pull-down shower seats and enough room to turn around in will cost $241 a day per person, double, for an inside cabin, $260 for an outside. Some measure 280 square feet, others 228.