This was the ship’s first ‘shake-down’ cruise with passengers and we accepted that not everything would be functioning – the maiden voyage was still a week away, and there was still a huge amount of general organisation and staff training to do – but all the staff proved to be really friendly and helpful and the level of service was good.
Our initial impression as we drove onto the dock was that the ship looked more RCCL than Princess. Gone was the vertical stern structure that you find on the Ruby and Emerald ships, together with the cantilevered bridge supported by the angled struts; but the Princess stack profile was still there as was the blue glass.
Once on board it was clear that the general internal layout seems much the same as the older ships – a good point if you like it, not so good if you don’t - and you would have thought they would have overcome the problem of the rear dining room that cannot be accessed without changing levels. But the larger size has meant a much grander central atrium with more bars, shops and eateries, with the new Alfredo Pizzeria and a seafood bar that you pay for – though I am sure sushi used to be free at Vines. Potentially this space should be buzzing when the ship is full of passengers - but we were only 50%. They tried out the champagne waterfall and that went well with good views all round.
The theatre at the front looks to be smaller than usual, but is apparently the biggest in the fleet, and a real plus is that it’s column free. However access to the end of the rows, for those of us who like to leave early sometimes, is not so easy now. The new separate television studio is a great idea and will work well for demonstrations and talks.
The public circulation spaces on the stateroom floors seem low (a short person could touch the ceiling easily), and the stairs feel tight (with very high handrails), as do the lifts. The library is small as is the Internet Café - we assume they expect everyone to have their own laptops/tablets. The carpets in the lift lobbies reminded us of Cunard but the traditional Princess idea of having different coloured carpet in the port and starboard corridors has gone – a pity.
Overall the décor is very ‘brown', lots of dark 'wood' panelling - and where it is not dark it's a beige colour. It felt old fashioned.
The deck space is generous and the water feature between the two main pools looks good. The walkway with a glazed floor overhanging the sea is fine, but it's a gimmick, and it means that the stateroom balconies below it are completely open to public view. Using the front of the ship at high level to be a pay-for sun deck is a good idea we thought, and moving the spa to a lower deck is even better.
On the food front there are three main dining rooms, the Symphony, Concerto and Allegro (accessed by stair and lift only). Any time dining is our preference and the food and service was fine, and the wine seemed reasonably priced. The rooms are still too low in our view and the décor was again uninspiring. There are no new specialty restaurants, Sabatinis looks the same as usual, and is now lower down in the ship, but the Crown Grill is now more open to the Wheelhouse bar, prices are a reasonable 20 and 25 dollars. There are also a ‘variety of other specialty 'offers', held in part of the upstairs buffet in the evening,
at a 20 dollar premium.
Upstairs the buffet is split into two, the Horizon Bistro - more geared for salads and sandwiches, and the Horizon Court, where there are more hot choices and Chinese, Italian counters etc – the food range was not well sign posted and you have to look hard to find what you want. We thought the Bistro had much the best feel with its bright off-white tables and chairs – we also liked the new higher ‘bar style’ seating.
Our standard balcony cabin seemed small. The entry door was very narrow as was the entry corridor. There was no sofa but the bed was large and comfortable. We looked in a couple of rooms with single beds and they looked very crowded. The bathroom is not generous - a well-designed integral basin and worktop is spoiled by no provision for a soap dish, and whoever designed the toilet paper dispenser behind, and under, the unit, should be shot. There are no UK spec plug outlets in the room - but maybe the ship won't sail out of Southampton again, but there is a good sized flat screen television – unfortunately with an unbelievably clunky operating system - or perhaps it had not been sorted out yet. The balcony was also very narrow. You felt that the cabin had been seriously cost engineered and the junior suites that used to have the more generous balconies at low level are now the same as all the other cabins.
Overall we were under-whelmed, we had looked at the promotional videos again at home the night before and were expecting something more radical, it’s just more of the same and, in one to two instances, less of it.