This is our (much delayed) trip report from our April 15 to 22, 2000, trip on the Crown Dynasty. I apologize that this trip report isn't up to my usual standard, as I didn't take that my usual amount of notes, and it has been a couple of days since we sailed. This was our thirty- somethingth cruise, as we have stopped counting a while ago. This was our second trip on this particular ship, although the previous trip was when she sailed for Cunard Crown in 1994. Physically, we found her little changed from 1994, and just as physically attractive, although some parts of Crown's service and presentation otherwise could use a little brushing up.
The Crown Dynasty sails from Aruba during the winter, from various ports along the Eastern seaboard during the summer, headed to Bermuda. The Dynasty is an unusual ship in these days of mega-ships, holding only 800 passengers. She sails again for Crown Cruise Line, which at this time, is only the Crown Dynasty. Our itinerary was Saturday, leave port 10 P.M., Sunday at sea, Monday, St. Lucia, 8 AM to 6 PM, Tuesday, Barbados, 10 AM to 8 PM, Wednesday, Grenada 8 AM to 1 PM, Thursday, Bonaire, 1 PM to 7 PM, Friday, Curacao, 8 AM to 7 PM, Saturday, home. We docked at every port.
As I said, we had sailed on the Dynasty before, and had also sailed on her (then) sister ship, the Crown Jewel. Our cabin on the Jewel had been one of the suites with the large balcony. The major reason we had booked this particular cruise was to get the same cabin on the Dynasty that we had previously had on the Jewel, and to have the experience of sailing out of Aruba again, and to visit Bonaire, where we had not previously visited. Because it was SO much cheaper than booking the air ourselves, we decided to go with Crown's cruise air charter from Ft. Lauderdale, which was Falcon Air. The cruise line had charters from FLL and from Tampa, but the Tampa charter going down did not leave Florida till around 4 PM, which left very little leeway to reach the ship before sailing, and we thus chose the FLL charter. We heard that about two weeks before our sailing, the Tampa charter did not in fact make it to meet the ship, which sailed without those 150 or so folks, who ended up missing the whole next day at sea. Bummer!! The only problem was that the FLL charter was on the other extreme--it left FLL at 8:30 AM, necessitating an overnight in FLL for us. We chose to stay at the Airport Ramada Inn. Due to late connections from DC, we didn't arrive till 1 AM. Since we put in a wakeup call at 6 AM, that didn't leave too much time for sleep. At $72 per night, with free airport pickup, the place was cheap, which is about all I could say for it. There is no way that we would stay there again, but it served the purpose for us to lie down for a couple of hours and get a shower in the morning.
Check-in at Falcon Air started before we arrived at the airport at 6:30 AM and we were quickly checked in and given the welcome news that we had been assigned three seats for the two of us. Not sure what type of meal to expect onboard, we had breakfast at the airport, but we had a full nice hot breakfast on the plane. The flight left right bang on time, which was apparently somewhat unusual, as when we arrived at the Aruba airport, the folks there said, "Oh, the Ft. Lauderdale flight is here already??" (We should have known to expect bad things on the way home, I guess! G!!) Anyway, the landing procedure was an absolute breeze. We landed at the airport, where a huge bus pulled right up to the plane and we boarded the bus, which arrived at a special gate and we literally walked straight through the airport without stopping. No customs, no nothing. We walked straight from the bus from the plane, through the airport and out the front door, where there were busses waiting to take us to the ship. That part was tremendous. Unfortunately, since we were actually on time, not late, as they apparently always are, they were not yet checking in folks when we got to the pier.
They started checking in folks at noon, but did not allow folks to actually board until 1 PM. We were surprised to see that there was no separate check-in line for the suites, but in all, it didn't take much time to check in. Since we had probably 45 minutes before we could get onboard and we had some carry-on stuff, Eric went to the (very high priced) grocery store to get some liquor and mixers and I sat with the carry-ons. When he got back, it was time to board, check out the cabin and get some lunch. The cabin was the same cabin we had had on the Crown Jewel, and was basically laid out exactly the same except that it had a full curtain between the living room and the bedroom, which was nice if we were on slightly different schedules and also nice to hide my "morning" face from the butler when he brought in the morning coffee and croissants. G!
Luncheon buffet was very presentable, with pasta, cucumber salad, carved ham, cheeses and desserts. After the buffet, we headed back off the ship to do a little shopping. We dropped our purchases off and then got back off the ship to go to one of our favorite places in the world, Manchebo Beach Resort. We spent our honeymoon there, ump-te-umph years ago, and returned about 4 years ago for an anniversary trip and have often visited there on day trips from ships. Manchebo is an older, low rise hotel, with an absolutely fabulous wide beach and a great full face view of the sunset. We watched the sunset on the beach, with a few cold ones, and debated whether to eat at the French Steakhouse there or travel to El Gaucho, which is, to our mind, just about the best steakhouse in the world. We were just having too good a time on the beach to leave, so we decided to stay there at the French steakhouse, and had an absolutely lovely dinner there. Later on, we told a couple of folks on the ship about our evening out, and they all couldn't quite figure out why we had eaten off the ship when we could have eaten onboard. If you don't know, we can't explain it to you..........
All right, well we were back onboard in time for the sailing, of course, and enjoyed a bottle of champagne before getting a well deserved night's sleep, although the seas were very heavy. Sunday was a day at sea, and we had put out our hang tag to order breakfast in our room between 8:30 and 9:00. 9:00 came and no breakfast, so we were preparing to go up to the buffet for breakfast, when we saw our butler, Scott, in the hallway. He apologized and said that he was really running late and that lots of folks were sick and that he would get our breakfast as soon as possible. It was close to 9:30 by the time we received it. Inasmuch as we were in a suite, we could order anything we wanted off the dining room menu for breakfast. The regular room service breakfast was continental breakfast only.
Sunday was a day at sea and a chance to really check out the ship. Maintenance overall was excellent. The one exception was the chair pads for the chaise lounges. They all looked like they were the ORIGINAL ones from when the ship was new in 1993 (I think) and were extremely sad looking. Otherwise, the ship was lovely. Our suite looked like it had brand new carpet, bedding and curtains. On our balcony, which was roughly 30 by 8, there was a dining- height table with 4 chairs, without pads, and 2 chaise lounges with chair pads. All suites feature refrigerator and safe. There are several different layouts of the suites. If you are thinking about booking one of them and want some more info, drop me a note. The seas were heavy most of the day on Sunday, with 12 foot waves and 35 knot winds. Saturday night had been really rough. We were not sick, but understood why a lot of folks were. We ate lunch in the dining room dining on ginger beef, and fish, and went upstairs to the buffet for dessert. Both were merely OK. We spent the afternoon variously up on deck and in the casino. The casino had my absolute favorite, 50 cent roulette in the afternoons. There was one roulette table, one Caribbean stud table, five blackjack tables, including one $10 table. There was no craps table, as there was before on the ship. It probably didn't get much action and it's removal did help to make the casino a little less crowded than before.
Sunday was the first formal day and the day of the Captain's Cocktail party. While dressing for dinner, we watched The Sixth Sense on TV. There was a very good selection of movies on the cabin TV, although The Sixth Sense was the only one we watched. Around 6, Scott brought us glasses of champagne and some cold hors douvres. We showed up for the end of the Captain's Cocktail party and were startled to observe them serving drinks, including champagne, in PLASTIC champagne glasses. What is the world coming to?? Ah well, it's off to dinner, to meet our table mates. We were somewhat unlucky with our table mates for this cruise, as the table for 8 was a table for 7, and one couple showed up for dinner I think only 2 nights out of the week. The other 3 folks at the table were a couple and their 10 year old son. We didn't have a lot in common with them. Dinner for Eric was salmon. I had a VERY overcooked beef entrecote. Dessert was cherries jubilee, which we declined in favor of a dessert off the menu. Our coffee was served with cream served in little plastic creamer packages, like ones would find in your neighborhood diner.
Monday morning was one of the big highlights of the trip, as we had breakfast in the morning on our balcony, as we sailed past the Pitons of St. Lucia. We were on the starboard side of the ship, which is the absolute best place to be for a great, close up view of the Pitons, as well as picture taking opportunities. It was a special morning. After a slow cruise past the Pitons, the ship sailed into the harbor in Castries and docked downtown, which, as those who have done it before know, is quite a feat by your captain. Other ships in port were the Galaxy and the P & O's Oriana. We did some shopping at Port Seraphine, across the harbor, and then came back in the afternoon to rest onboard the ship, sleep and read. It was a lovely afternoon.
Monday dinner we finally met our other table mates, who were nice enough folks from Florida. They were more kind of "Carnival" folks than Crown folks, as they didn't like dressing up for dinner and in fact he had not brought a suit coat, and he enjoyed gambling almost as much as Eric and I. If it had just been them and us at our table, we probably would have gotten along famously. Dinner was a respectable pork loin and some infinitely missable desserts. We had a new waiter for dinner, who was a VAST improvement over the previous night's waiter, and he was actually a very good waiter.
Tuesday was Barbados, a port which we apparently are still missing the charm of, as we have never really enjoyed ourselves there after the first trip when we did the island tour thing. Lots of ships dock there though, so you usually get the chance to take some really good shots of other ships! G!! We almost missed breakfast this morning, as they closed up the buffet at 9:30 in the morning, which seems a little early to us. The morning started off a little drippy and we stuck around the ship for a while. Other ships in port today were the Ocean Princess, the Galaxy and the Costa Classica.
On the suggestion of our butler, we decided to go the Boatyard, which is a restaurant and bar and beach. We had some trouble getting a taxi driver to take us there, as it was not one of their standard stops. Most of the really good beaches are quite a ways from where the ship docks and since the weather didn't look the greatest, we didn't want to spend a bunch of money and 45 minutes each way for a taxi to get there and have it pour on us, so decided to go with Scott's suggestion. It was a respectable enough beach, with lots of crew members hanging out there, live music and a lively restaurant and wave runners, banana boats, etc, for rent. We had a good lunch of a seafood platter and a pizza and a couple of drinks apiece for $30. We lazed on the beach for the day and headed back to the ship for dinner, with the ship sailing during dinner at 9:30.
Wednesday was a short stop in Grenada, which is a very pretty port. After taking some nice pictures from our balcony as we enjoyed our breakfast, we headed over to town to do some small bit of shopping. We kind of allowed ourselves to get taken in for a mini tour of the island, along with a stop over in town for some shopping, at $20 altogether. It was certainly $20 worth of enjoyment. The ship sailed at 1 PM and we enjoyed an afternoon of sun and gambling. I have no notes about dinner that evening, but I'm sure that we ate dinner, or I would have noted THAT! G!!
Thursday was Bonaire in the afternoon. We were the only ship in. Prior to leaving home, we had communicated with Sorobon Beach resort (which is a private nudist resort) by email, about spending the day at their resort. They told us it would be fine. We arranged for a taxi at $40 roundtrip and were somewhat dismayed when we arrived to discover that the lady there originally was not going to let us in. We produced a copy of our email from them and she finally consented to letting us in, which was very good, since we had let the taxi go already! G!! For anyone that is interested, I will write up a separate little report on Sorobon. Suffice it to say, it ain't no Club Orient!! G!!
Well, it was back to the ship, to enjoy our little party that we had planned for ourselves. We had ordered some hot appetizers to enjoy just for ourselves and had told Scott it was going to be just the two of us. There was a charge, which we knew there would be, of course. Well, the platter when he brought it was HUGE, and we ate about a third of it, then handed the remainder of the platter around the outside of the ship to our next door neighbors, who were having a party of their own on their balcony.
Before dinner was the Crown Repeaters Party, which was attended by about 20 people. We were probably the only two actual REAL previous Crown cruisers, as we had been on Crown in 1993, during Crown's former incarnation, before they merged with Cunard and became Cunard Crown, then went away altogether. We were quite proud of ourselves, however, as we were able to stump the cruise director and the captain. I asked them what was wrong about the painting of the Dynasty which is above the purser's desk. That painting shows a sign hanging below the balcony cabins, done in navy, that says Crown Dynasty. That sign was there, true enough, when the ship sailed for Crown before. However, it's not there now, or at least it certainly wasn't there, as of April, 2000, when we took this cruise. The cruise director claimed that it was a newly commissioned painting, but it must have been drawn from an old model of the ship. The reason why we knew that sign was there before is that it hung right below our balcony. We used to prop our feet up on it on the Crown Jewel and we knew that it had been in the same place on the Dynasty before, but wasn't there now. I thought our powers of observation would have been worth at least a bottle of their house champagne, but the cruise director didn't offer. :( At least for this cocktail party, they did NOT serve the drinks in plastic glasses.
Dinner this evening was lobster and prime rib. The lobster was certainly fine. Eric's prime rib was overdone, as all beef was. If you are a typical "medium" person, order beef on this ship RARE. After a very successful evening in the casino, it was off to bed. BTW, don't ask me what the entertainment was on the ship, as I don't have a clue. They had a decent enough Caribbean band, provided you didn't want them to sing. Now, would I kid you?? The band was an instrumental band. They played their tunes pretty well, but some of those tunes just cry out for a VOICE, you know! G!!
Friday was Curacao. Curacao is one of the most picturesque ports in the Caribbean to sail into. I got up early to watch us sail into the channel and Eric kind of watched with one eye open, looking out the window from the bed from time to time. There were no other ships in port. The day was Good Friday, so a lot of the shops in town were closed, although a few were open around 9:30. After breakfast at the buffet, we walked around quite a bit downtown and peered into the windows of the closed stores and wished it were another day, so we could buy some of that stuff! G!! We had lunch onboard the ship, packed up most of our stuff and spent the afternoon lounging on deck. Just before the ship was getting ready to sail, we checked out one of the shops right by the pier and found a really cool painted parrot made out of a tire. Sounds weird, I know, but we had seen them before in St. Martin, made out of semi tires, which were MUCH larger than these. Anyway, we bought one to take home, along with some beach towels that we hoped to use on the beach the following morning.
When we received our disembarkation information in our cabin Friday night, we noted that our flight from Aruba was now allegedly supposed to depart at noon instead of 1 PM, so we decided to skip our original plan, which was to go to the beach that morning. They basically MADE us take the bus to the airport which left at 9:30, so we arrived at the airport around 9:45, for what we thought was going to be a 12 o'clock flight. The check in lines were long, when we had to check bags, then go through customs and reclaim them, and stand in a huge line of only two folks checking in all the folks through U.S. customs. We were finally through all that mess around 10:45 and were ready to sit down for the big wait.
At one point, around 1 PM, we were looking up and down the terminal and saw about six planes which were theoretically supposed to have either left already or within a few minutes. Theoretically is the proper term, as they were ALL still sitting there, and ALL of them ended up leaving at LEAST two hours late. All were charter planes, serving basically the Dynasty and the Sunbird (former Song of America). After many false reports of earlier departures, we finally boarded the plane about 2 PM and sat on the runway for over an hour waiting to take off. It was a surreal experience, as there were no planes taking off or landing, and we had no clue why we were just sitting there, getting hotter by the minute. One lady had to receive oxygen while we were sitting there.
Of course, even though we had planned for 3 hours in Ft. Lauderdale on the way home, this would not prove to be enough, as our flight ultimately left the ground in AUA over 2 hours late. Since it was Easter weekend and we knew that all the planes were way over-booked and I had to be in Court on Monday, we decided to have me RUN to try to make our original connection to our US Air flight into Dulles. I ran all the way and they held the plane door to let me board. Eric stayed behind to collect the luggage. As we knew, there were no connections to ANYWHERE available that would get him home on Saturday and possibly not even Sunday, so he took one of the last seats on a flight to Philly, rented a car there and drove home, arriving around 2 AM.
Miscellaneous--Looking over this report, it's a fairly negative report, I guess. The end of the trip certainly didn't contribute to an overall great feeling about the trip. I hate charter air, because of stuff like happened to us. The problem is that it is pretty hard to do cruises out of Aruba without doing cruise line air, as the cost for regular air is so expensive. I don't know what Celebrity is going to do with their air for the Horizon, when she starts being home-ported there this fall.
The ship itself is a beautiful little ship, a wonderful size that allows you to know your fellow passengers. The cabins in general are small but functional. Buffets were certainly acceptable, with breakfast being quite good and lunches also providing a nice variety. Both buffets seemed to be a little short in the length of time that they were served, however. Dinners in the dining room were middle of the road good, with only the beef getting really bad marks for being horribly overcooked. After the initial night's experience with the horrible waiter, our waiter and busboy were very good and attentive. Our cabin stewardess was wonderful. She was personable, she and her assistant kept the place immaculate and always had the cabin cleaned to perfection as soon as we left.
Our butler, Scott, sad to say, was bad. No other word to say for it than that. He was very late that first morning for breakfast, and we often did not see him all day. He often seemed to have no clue what he should be doing. Early on, we asked him about having hot hors douvres served in our cabin one night and he kind of looked at us like we were crazy. We asked him to find out what kinds of things were available, and his response a few hours later was that they told him the kitchen that they would prepare a selection and that was it. Surely, he could have asked "a selection of WHAT?" Then, when we did get it through to him that we really did want that, he got the day wrong. We waited in the cabin 15 minutes past when we were supposed to get it and called him. Somehow he had gotten the day wrong. He told us that he had worked on Princess. I think it's fairly safe to say that either he got fired by Princess, or that he wasn't a butler on Princess, as he had no clue what he was doing.
I was very surprised at the age group onboard this ship, as I had somewhat expected it to be a fairly geriatric crowd. Even though we did not book through them, the ship is being sold mostly by Apple Vacations and it was apparently pretty heavily marketed to the spring break crowd. Walking through deck 7, we saw many cabins with 4 college age kids in them. That was kind of a feat, considering they are not exactly large cabins! G!! Two of the dance hosts from the ship left the ship with us, as they had each been with the ship about a month. One of them reported that two weeks before, that, of the 800 pax, 400 had been college kids! YIKES!!
In summary, she's a beautiful little ship, a nice unusual itinerary with some great scenery, particularly in St. Lucia, Grenada and Curacao, reasonable food and service, although not outstanding. If you have to take the cruise line air, be prepared for possible unpleasant surprises. We will have pictures of the trip up on our web site, at http://www.info-res.com/ehill in a few days. In the meantime, please visit our brand new bulletin board, at http://www.traveltalkonline.com
Carol & Eric