In the summer of 2013, nearly five years after our first cruise on the Diamond Princess, we received an email offering us a late deal on the Crown Princess leaving Southampton on a round trip to the Norwegian Fjords with the bonus that if we booked an inside cabin we’d get a free upgrade to an ocean view. The reason for no cruises since the first one had been partly because of circumstances (I’d taken voluntary redundancy at the place I had been working immediately prior to our first cruise and it had taken a little longer than planned to find a suitable new job which had eaten up cash reserves nicely) and partly because as much as we’d loved that cruise it had been special (it was our honeymoon) and it hadn’t really occurred to us to treat cruising as the primary driver of general holidays. Oh, how things change. A few years later and we were in a better position financially and the email turned up at just the right time for us to give cruising serious consideration again. Our first cruise had been inside (a recommendation from my cruise-experienced in-laws at the time to save money) so with this offer and the great price we thought it might be nice to see what a cruise would be like if you could look out of a window. We checked our bank balance, made sure we’d be able to get the time off work, shrugged, thought “Why not?”, and booked up.
We weren’t assigned a room until embarkation so had no idea where we would be on the ship. Having checked out the deck plans and pictures online of ocean view rooms we knew roughly where we might be on the ship and what the room was like so I was already puzzled when we were given our cruise cards and told we’d be staying on the Riviera deck in room R209. I couldn’t remember there being any ocean view rooms on that deck but didn’t express my hopes to my wife until we opened the door to our cabin. It was a lot brighter than we thought it might be.
“I think we’ve got a balcony,” I said.
“What!?” said my wife in a tone that carried with it an unsaid “Don’t be so bloody stupid” with it.
“I think we’ve got a balcony,” I said again, stepping into the room and heading straight past the bed towards the half-drawn curtains and fully-closed net curtain in front of the bright window behind it.
“I thought we were only supposed to get a porthole,” said my wife with a more puzzled tone as she too began to realise things didn’t look quite how we thought they might.
I pulled open the curtains. “We’ve got a balcony,” I said.
“You are fucking shitting me,” said my wife, but she knew I wasn’t.
“Yay! We’ve got a balcony! We’ve got a balcony!” I may have danced a little jig as I opened the door and stepped out.
With the benefit of hindsight we have to applaud the Princess Cruises people here because this single upgrade for us was directly responsible for us parting with far more money over the years than we otherwise would have had we not had it. We decided we really liked balconies as a result of this cruise and room, far more so than we liked trying to save a few quid here and there with cheaper selections. This is not to say that once we retire and find ourselves able to take more trips each year we might not consider less expensive rooms to make our money go further but while we’re of working age and limited in the amount of annual leave we can take we figure that if you’re going to have a holiday then make it the best you can.
As is nearly compulsory we went on an explore of the ship’s deck areas, finding it to be very familiar to us despite the half-decade gap between cruises on Princess ships. The small, adults-only Sanctuary Pool turned out to be one of our favourite outside areas providing a reasonably decent location for a quiet swim on most days. Quiet in terms of people being around, that is; when we had the current machine switched on to provide resistance for swimming against I think it would be best describing the atmosphere as anti-quiet.
Walking around the promenade deck became a regular event for us on the sea days or around dinner time in the evening. Some people use the promenade deck walk as a means to get fit or burn off some calories but I don’t think we ever achieved that critical pace that would enable either of those two results to have taken place. For us it was enough that we could look out at the churning sea and feel the wind in our faces and simply feel that we were right where we needed to be.
In terms of inside areas we spent a lot of time in the Explorers Lounge thanks to quizzes (we won some) and art auctions (we bought some art), and a lot of time in Crooners because of the ambiance and great cocktails. Mostly the cocktails.
Our evenings always ended with us visiting the Grand-class Princess Cruises ships’ nightclub, Skywalkers. It took me a long time to realise that the name of the club was not referencing anything from the Star Wars universe but instead was because on the original Grand-class ships the nightclub was farther back on the ship and accessed via a travelator known as, you guessed it, the Skywalker. Later ship designs removed the travelator and shifted the club into the position it was in on Crown Princess for stability and improved fuel efficiency but the name stuck.
Skywalkers was prone to a little bit of vibration on Crown Princess. We didn’t mind it at all and it seemed to add something to the venue.
We’re not the world’s greatest dancers and we’re probably not even in the top 98%, nor do we actually dance unless we’ve had a lot to drink (has been known to happen) or something exceptional is played by the DJ (chance would be a fine thing). What we do enjoy, though, is listening to music and people-watching plus critiquing their dancing and coming up with back stories for them. Three people stood out for us on this Crown Princess cruise to Norway, all of whom were regular attendees in Skywalkers.
Firstly, there was the man who was perhaps in his sixties, bald, moustachioed, built like he’d fought a bit in his youth and potentially even recently too, clearly travelling on his own but gregarious with people he bumped into, always sporting his cruise card on a lanyard (a pet hate of ours) which showed he was Elite-level (a pet desire of ours). We called him Bronson on account of his resemblance to the prisoner and effectively assumed he was a similar character, just escaped from prison, and who had assumed the identity of a suite owner so he could get out of the UK and into the heart of Norway where he planned to join a wolf pack.
Secondly, there was a couple, in their forties. She was a former disco dancing champion who’d found the love of her life and tried to teach him her disco ways. He was a detective who was keen to ditch the life of criminal investigations in favour of dancing to sounds of Chic and Kool And The Gang but on a final case he was attacked by a mysterious assailant which resulted in him needing crutches to move around. By day the pair of them pursued the attacker who had wrecked his dancing career, following leads that would take them to far-flung places such as the fjords. By night they would find a dancing joint where he would hobble and sway while she shook her tail feathers at him. We called them Crutchy And The Mandrill and if you know your MST3K as well as us then you’ll know where we got that name from.