Losing Our Virginity To A Princess | Princess Cruises 4 Day West Coast Getaway With Santa Barbara
Before you start getting concerned (or possibly excited), this Princess Cruises story isn’t an erotic tale of sexual encounters in a royal palace – it’s the tale of our first ever cruise. We’ve not even been on a ship before – aside from The Staten Island Ferry in New York and a very choppy sea fishing experience off the coast of Brighton. But the Crown Princess – just one of the 18 ships in Princess’ fleet, was simply something else – our eyes were opened to a whole new way of traveling.
We didn’t know what to expect, having spent all our lives dismissing cruises as something that older people do. We had visions of it being a cross between The Golden Girls and an audition for The Biggest Loser with a little snobbery thrown in from the ‘elite’ cruising professionals. Yes, we had watched The Cruise on ITV earlier this year, where some cruise superfans have spent up to eight years of their lives at sea. Eight!
Our preconceptions couldn’t be further from the reality. Sure, there was the fair share of oldies and those larger guests who were obviously only interested in the ships well stocked buffet (but more on the food and dining options later). The passengers on board were varied – families with young children, twenty-somethings parading around the pools showing off their ripped bodies or, like Saff and I, couples who just wanted to spend a few days relaxing, catching some winter sun and do a little sight-seeing.
Quite aptly, one of our ports of call was in Mexico which was, almost 51 years ago to the day, the destination of Princess’ first ever cruise. Founded by Stanley B. McDonald in 1965, the company has been right up there with the best of them ever since. One for all you trivia fans: in 1975 Princess agreed to become backdrop for the TV show The Love Boat developed by producer Aaron Spelling.
We felt that this four-day West Coast getaway would be the perfect opportunity to see just what life on board a huge cruise ship would be like. And the Crown Princess was huge. When we received our booking confirmation and saw that our Balcony Stateroom (they’re NOT called cabins) was on deck level 12, it struck us just how massive this thing was.
How does it stay afloat?’ Saff asked. I didn’t really have the answer but I could only reassure her of Princess’ safety record and distracted her by reminding her that our little cruising adventure would start and finish in Los Angeles – Saff’s happy place.
The day before the cruise we decided to stay in Long Beach, partly as we hadn’t explored this borough of LA, mostly because it was near to the World Cruise Center saving us a journey. We took full advantage of Princess’ pre-cruise package which included airport transfers and an overnight stay at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach (this pre-cruise package is obviously an additional cost, see their website for full details).
So after munching our way around Long Beach for 24 hours it was time to embark the Crown Princess. Considering there was nearly the full capacity of 3,080 guests the whole process ran like clockwork and roughly an hour after dropping our bags off to the porters outside we had checked in and found our stateroom. Having a balcony helped ease any claustrophobia creeping in and waking up to the sea lapping gently away outside is truly spectacular. Yes the rooms are a little dated but we slept like babies, being gently rocked to sleep by the waves.
Once unpacked it was time to explore and explore we did. In and out of lifts, up and down stairs, around and about the swimming pools and jacuzzis. We found the Lotus Spa, the casino and the numerous restaurants, cafés and bars. The layout of the ship is really clever, although the Crown Princess is vast the innovative use of space gives the illusion of little intimate areas (but we still managed to get lost every single day). There’s even a full-sized theatre. We snuck in at the end of a late night performance of Magic To Do one evening. An impressive production, we forgot that we were on a ship and not in the west end back home, our minds were blown.
The Piazza was the only really open area – you know that end sequence in Titanic when the ghostly Kate ‘look Jack, I’m flying’ Winslet sweeps down the staircase to be reunited with Leonardo ‘King of the world’ DiCaprio? Well the Piazza felt a little like that, maybe not as grand but a stunning space nevertheless. A bright three deck atrium surrounded by cosy bars creating a casual street café atmosphere by day and transforming into the lively heart of the ship by night.
A cruise isn’t all about the ship, it’s also about where the ship takes you. Yes, it maybe true that the Crown Princess is designed as a destination in itself but we found the most exciting part of the cruise was disembarking our ship to do some exploring ashore.
As mentioned before this was a mini cruise with the first stop at Santa Barbara. Getting off and on the ship couldn’t be easier, but be prepared for a wait when queuing for a tender back from shore. We booked the Eat This, Shoot That! food tour in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone and we’re so glad we did – a fab way to eat and drink your way around the city.
Our second port of call was Ensenada in Mexico (the town with the countries largest flag), we decided to do our own thing and explore unescorted. Read all about our foodie adventures in Santa Barbara and Ensenada (and LA) here.
As you well know, our blog is really about food and the dining options offered by Princess were so much better than we imagined. Sure, the buffet style restaurants (Horizon Court and Café Caribe) up on deck 15 were a case of quantity over quality, at least it kept the more formal dining rooms clear from the hordes.
We opted for the ‘Anytime Dining’ where we weren’t limited to eating at a fixed time or place on the ship, a really relaxed and flexible way to enjoy your meal. This is in direct contrast to ‘Traditional Dining’, where you eat at the same times at the same table with the same waiter throughout the duration of the cruise. Our idea of hell but some people just love routine and at least the option is there.
Beyond this there’s the casual dining options scattered around the ship. Our favourite was the 24 hour International Café and Coffee shop in the piazza, perfect for those who haven’t quite got over their jet-lag. TOP TIP Although filter coffee is available free on board, speciality coffees (including iced drinks) come at an extra cost. So if, like us, you like an early morning latte, it’s well worth your while buying a coffee card where you get 15 coffees for around $35 (other drinks packages are available).
There’s also a few fast food outlets, including a pizza & ice cream bar and the Trident Grill (serving up freshly cooked burgers and hot dogs). Unfortunately due to doctor’s orders, I had to steer clear of these, luckily for me there were plenty of healthy choices on board too.
As if this wasn’t enough, you could crank up the gourmet dining to the max. For a cover charge of $20 each you can really treat your taste buds to the very best cooking that Princess has to offer. We were lucky enough to dine at both Sabatini’s and the Crown Grill.
Sabatini’s is a traditional Italian restaurant offering fresh, bold and sophisticated flavors. Their signature pastas dishes (especially my Short rib penne) are worth paying the extra dollars for. Saff ordered one of the daily specials – a delicate, perfectly cooked fillet of sea bream. I had the other special, Ossobuco, an amazing Milanese dish of cross-cut veal shanks. I’d never had meat so rich and full of flavour.
As we’re on the subject of meat, you must unleash your inner carnivore at the Crown Grill. The quality of ingredients and standard of cooking was top-notch. OK, to be honest we’ve been to better steak restaurants in London. That said, we’ve been to many, many more that have been so much worse.
The selection of cuts was pretty comprehensive and our meat was cooked perfectly medium rare, but we felt that a little something was missing. The fabulous fatty marbling was there as were the charred edges, perhaps the fact that the steak is stored in the ships freezers has an effect on this. We weren’t too sure about the clingfilmed display cuts when you first walk in either.
Apart from eating there is so much else to do on board – Gatsby Casino is great for people watching. The player’s rollercoaster of emotions, from winner highs to loser lows, are fabulous to experience. So much so Saff and I decided to have a go on the roulette table, we lost $50 but it took 45 fun-filled minutes to do so – thank you lucky number 28.
If hanging with the high rollers isn’t your thing, there’s the Lotus Spa. I had one of the best treatments I’ve ever had and, believe you me, I’ve had a few. My Elemis exotic lime and ginger scrub and massage was incredible – relaxing yet invigorating.
A little word of warning though, beware of the hard sell tactics from the therapists. After my treatment I was presented with a long list of ‘suggested’ cleansing lotions and scrubs. My eye scrolled down to the total at the bottom – nearly $500, OMG! Nothing ruins a perfectly relaxing treatment like having the therapist hit you with sales patter while you’re still in that massage afterglow.
Again, whilst Saff’s Ionithermie cellulite reduction treatment was perfectly performed, it was the hard sell during it that tainted the experience. Saff was ‘promised’ the procedure would detoxify and lose inches from her stomach after one treatment (hence why she chose it). However when the session was half-way through and Saff declined any follow-up treatments (long story cut short), the therapist turned to Saff and said ‘Do you want to get fat?’ – charming!
But this was the only complaint during the whole cruise. The service from the rest of the staff was amazing, we really couldn’t fault it at all. Special mention to Andrew our stateroom attendant and the waitress at Sabatini’s.
We definitely see how people get the cruising bug, what other hotel moves about allowing you to visit different cities and counties without the need to keep packing and unpacking? We’ve been checking out other destinations online, some even depart from Southampton and Dover so we wouldn’t even have to get on a plane – result!
We cruised as guests of Princess, this does not affect our review in any way.
We always write with complete honesty.