The Crown Princess is a high-class resort in itself — but it also delivers you to unforgettable destinations around the Med, as Darren Norris discovered when he enjoyed a family trip on the cruise liner.
For as long as I can remember, my mother Liz dreamt of going on a cruise, a longing that, oddly enough, was not fully satisfied by taking my sister Linda and me on a 90-minute cruise of the river Blackwater back in the day.
No, she had far grander ambitions than a round-trip from Youghal to Lismore. Notions if you please.
Two years ago, as a landmark birthday moved into view, we — and by we, I mean Linda — began looking into the logistics of turning her fantasy into reality in 2017.
Sadly, circumstances would conspire against us, resulting in the postponement of the grand plan.
But the best things in life are worth waiting for and we — a word I’m using loosely here — finally booked our cruise.
Our home for the first week of September would be the Crown Princess and our journey would begin in Rome and end in Athens, taking in Salerno, Kotor, Corfu, Chania, and Mykonos along the way.
And so, as the longest winter in recent memory dragged on, we looked forward to what we hoped would be the holiday of a lifetime beneath the Mediterranean sun even if the frequent threats from my sister to throw her brother overboard were noted with no little trepidation.
Finally it was time to go. Flying from Dublin, mam and I linked up with London-based Linda in Rome before getting a train into the city centre.
From there we took another train to the port of Civitavecchia before a taxi brought us on the final leg of our journey.
Having not slept the night before, tiredness was kicking in, but seeing the Crown Princess for the first time would spark a corpse back into life. Put simply, it’s a magnificent sight.
The Cruise Princess can carry 3,080 passengers, and boasts a crew of 1,200.
In a nutshell, it’s bloody big, so vast that even with over 4,000 people on board, it never feels too crowded.
After checking in, it was time to check out our rooms. My mam and sister were sharing and their new home was a tastefully designed ocean-view room on the eighth floor.
My room was on the 14th floor and while I didn’t have a window I had a base that was perfectly located.
Less than 20 yards from my room was a door that brought me to the back of the Crown Princess, the location of one of the ship’s many swimming pools. For good measure, there was a jacuzzi nearby too. Bliss.
Wifi is available, albeit at an extra cost, so we instead opted to get our internet fix for free when visiting a restaurant in the places we visited.
In terms of food, Linda decided the pre-paid anytime dining was our best option, meaning we could eat whenever and wherever we liked — with the exception of Italian restaurant Sabatini’s and the Crown Grill, both of which required an additional cover charge.
For us, the anytime dining option was definitely the right move and the sheer variety of food available to guests was simply off the scale.
For instance, at breakfast there was even two different sorts of bacon, the type available in Ireland and England and the streaky bacon favoured by Americans.
On night one, having watched from the deck as the ship began the journey to Salerno, we headed to Michelangelo’s for grub.
Our waiter introduced himself and offered recommendations on what we should eat.
The bantz quickly flowed. Was it over the top? Yes. Was it entertaining? Absolutely.
The food was superb, my personal highlight being the scrumptious chocolate ice-cream, unquestionably the nicest dessert to ever pass my lips.
The majesty of the Crown Princess is such that you need never get off the ship, but the whole point of a cruise is to see different places. Salerno, our first port of call, didn’t disappoint. A shuttle service brought us into the city centre where we passed a few blissful hours wandering through the streets.
Finding the Salerno version of Penneys was a particular treat, and we returned on board with any number of bargains.
The following day was spent at sea, allowing guests to chill out on deck and fully appreciate our magnificent vessel.
The weather — as it would throughout the week — was playing ball too, touching 30 degrees under a cloudless sky.
A bit of family bonding, some swimming, a little reading, and a bit of alcohol added up to a perfect day.
That evening was the first of two formal nights. Having forgotten to pack suitable shoes, I had to improvise with sandals, thereby experiencing the odd sensation of simultaneously feeling both overdressed and underdressed.
Formal night saw us treated to superb music, introduced to key ship personnel — the captain included — and a stunning champagne display. Mam loved every second.
Of all the places we visited during the week, nowhere blew my mind as much.
Stunningly beautiful, it’s just utterly different to anywhere I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t been, go there — you won’t regret it.
We hiked to the Church of Our Lady of Remedy on the slope of the St John Mountain, a decision vindicated by the fantastic sights beneath us.
Back on board, that night we had a cinema experience with a difference beneath the stars.
Films were shown on a massive screen throughout the day and, at night, filmgoers were given fleece blanket to keep warm.
It’s a class experience, even if the film we watched, an American comedy called I feel Pretty was not just a chick flick but a bad chick flick.
Great views, great restaurants, and loads of market bargains to be had — what’s not to like? That said, something tells me the France soccer jersey I picked up for just €15 may not be the real thing… That night was a formal one, so we dressed up and headed for the Crown Grill.
The food was sensational. Linda had the rib-eye steak while mam and I devoured the New York strip. The additional charge of $29 (€24.62) was money well spent.
At this point, I should point out that money doesn’t actually change hands on board, at least not until the end of the cruise.
You simply present your room key to the waiter or waitress and the charge goes on your card. Then, the night before you disembark, you settle your account either in dollars or via your credit card.
Our main expense was alcohol but, while not cheap, the cost of booze on board wasn’t extortionate either.
Chania on the island of Crete had a more relaxed vibe than Corfu.
It still had the markets, the restaurants, and the weather, but where it had the slight edge on Corfu was in the views.
The walk to the Chania Lighthouse and back gave us time to put the world to rights, and was one of our standout memories.
One thing the places we visited had in common was a strong religious tone and without planning it — or being religious — we found ourselves in a church three days in succession, lighting candles for my mam’s mam.
Nan, a travel-lover, died in June of last year and it was nice to feel that, in some small way, she was sharing this journey with us. Even in her mid-90s she’d have certainly been up for it.
Our final full cruise day brought us to Mykonos. An enchanting island, its tight streets make it very different to Chania and Corfu.
It’s more upmarket and expensive than Chania and Corfu too but you can easily pass away a few hours roaming the town and, like the other venues on the itinerary, there are plenty of opportunities to get some quality pictures.
However, even the best of holidays have to come to a conclusion and the port of Piraeus in Athens marked the end of the road for us.
A bus brought to the airport where we began the long journey home, bringing with us a host of unforgettable memories from a truly magical experience.