For all her 70,000 gross registered tons, 13 decks, $200 million-plus price tag and 21st century design, what impressed me most about Crown Princess, newest and largest of Princess Cruises' Love Boats, was a basic amenity:
The scale in her Fitness Center on Holiday Deck.Let me tell you, this scale is user-friendly. It gives your weight in stone.
I decided 12-stone-4 sounded better than all those pounds back home.
Of course, that was before I found the Presto Pizzeria where you could get pizza all day long. Before the Crown Court dining room became a regular feedbag. Before snacks poolside or afternoon tea on Dolphin Deck got to be routine. And before the eating orgy called the midnight buffet in the Cafe Cabana.
If there was anything 1,447 passengers from 33 countries had in common on this 14-day cruise of the eastern Mediterranean, it was eating. That, and being aboard a spanking new liner that takes cruise ship design to new horizons.
When Crown Princess embarks seven-day Caribbean sailings from Ft. Lauderdale, she will turn heads used to seeing amorphous new ships. Inspired by nature and the sea, Italian architect Renzo Piano (he did Paris' Pompidou Center) shaped the Crown Princess after the graceful lines of the dolphin.
OK, so it takes some imagining - and the right angles - to see in the crown of the ship the rounded "head" of a dolphin. But she is a lady of fluency and style. For her size (passenger capacity 1,590) Crown Princess proves that big doesn't have to look bulky.
Under her cascading hood: a plant-filled Tomorrowland called "The Dome" with casino, observation area, dance floor and bar with wraparound windows on the sea.
"So many ships are like hotels on top of a pontoon," said Capt. Nicola Di Stefano. "This has a shape of its own. I like it because it's different."
Maybe boot-shaped was a back-up design to the dolphin look - Crown Princess is so Italian. Designed by Piano, built in Italy, Italian-flagged and christened in New York Sept. 26 by Sophia Loren, Crown Princess has Italian officers, Italian and Portugese dining and cabin staff.
Crown's crowning glory is her cabins, among the stateroomiest in the business.
Deep-six the old saw about big ship/skimpy cabins. Crown passengers get their space. Princess says the shipwide space ratio is 44. I don't know from space ratios but I know a roomy cabin when I see one.
You won't have to Vaseline your body to move about even the most "standard" of cabins (190 square feet!). Many outside standards even come with verandahs open to the sea (all 50 suites and mini-suites do). Besides being, well, a solid 44, all cabins have walk-in closet, refrigerator, remote-control TV, drawers galore, a safe, and twin beds that convert to queen. Ten are wheelchair accessible.
"This is my 13th cruise and all I've known are dinky cabins," said Kora Hollinger, 85, of Russell, Kansas. "What a difference. I didn't believe the walk-in closet until I saw it."
When passengers weren't putting on stones at mealtimes, there were activities galore from exercise classes to movies, fashion shows to lip-sync contests, nightclub acts to shore excursions to weirder stuff like napkin folding and "The Art of Scarf Tying."
Class shows in Crown's decor. Flash and sizzle are for other ships. Crown Princess is understated elegance afloat, wrapped in a million-dollar art collection. About the hippest she gets is the Dome, a waterfall pool and swim-up bar on Lido Deck and a sculpture fountain in the three-level "Plaza" atrium midships, ringed with shops and lounges, including a wine bar offering six different kinds of caviar.
Interior designers made thoughtful use of light woods, polished metals, recessed Art Deco lighting, and carpeting and wallpapering in soft, eye-pleasing hues of muted coral, blue and aqua. Nothing is glaring (maybe to a fault in the terraced dining room which could use warmer, sound-absorbing accents).
The thorns of Crown? Soundproofing in my cabin was, oh, 70 proof. With the constant padding of feet overhead I wished I was under the card room or library instead of the jogging track.
And try promenading all the way around the Promenade Deck. You can't. Blame it on the Dome but no outside decks wrap around the bow. Another shipboard tradition lost to progress, I guess.
There may be no place like Dome on the Crown Princess - but a casino and observation lounge in one room? Gamblers couldn't care less about view, and the clatter of slot machines spoils it for ocean-watchers.
End of complaints.
Cruising the Dardanelles, the Bosphorus and the Eastern Mediterranean, lapping up the history in this Cradle of Civilization.
Arrival in Odessa to a Soviet brass band playing "Stars and Stripes Forever." Departure that night: half the town turned out to wave their goodbyes and we blew back kisses (I think this glasnost thing is working).
Hundreds of happy passengers blissfully lost in shipboard nirvana, not knowing what day it was - or caring.
Andres Juarez of Mexico City, a 10-time cruiser with the Princess line, defiantly wore a "Royal Princess" sweater. "Crown Princess is good but Royal Princess is better, smaller and more luxurious," he said.
Juarez was spotted at Pub Night, a hilarious revue in the International Show Lounge.
After all those shipboard meals, after sunny days in Istanbul, Rhodes and Russia's Black Sea resorts, all I know is there's a lot to love about cruising's newest Love Boat.
Starting with that scale.
Even if I put on a few pebbles.
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Crown Princess features seven-day Eastern Caribbean sailings from Ft. Lauderdale to St. Thomas, San Juan and Nassau. Western Caribbean features Nassau, Montego Bay, Grand Cayman, Playa del Carmen/Cozumel.
For information/reservations, contact your travel agent. Princess Cruises is 25 years old in 1990.