My wife and I are just back from the first preview cruise on Royal Princess, I thought people might be interested in a review. It was very short - 2 nights - but that was enough to get a feel for the ship, although not to try everything out. Obviously what follows is highly subjective, and also what we noticed and remembered to write down; there's loads more not covered here.
First, some context. This review goes into a lot of detail, including about things we didn't like so much, but I want to make it clear that we like Princess a lot, and will definitely be going back as soon as we can. We'd gladly take a longer cruise on the Royal, or on any other of their ships.
There's lots to like, and a lot that's beautiful and stunning. Some things that stood out for us:
- The Atrium (Piazza). I always love a ship to have what I call a 'wow factor', and many of them don't really do so. I'm delighted to say that being in the Piazza on Royal is every bit as impressive as the photos led me to hope. It's a lovely space. (The ship was only half full on our cruise, but I don't have any concerns about its ability to cope when full.)
- Lighting - the ship, especially the public areas, are by far the best lit of any ship I've ever been on - again, especially in the Piazza, but elsewhere as well. It was stunning.
- The service - we've found Princess service excellent since we first sailed with them around 13 years ago. It remains helpful, professional and friendly on Royal, with staff always keen to find a way to fulfil requests, rather than telling us it can't be done.
- The photos - 1000 competition winning photos on the corridors for the staterooms, and these are wonderful to look at. Granted, I took a childish delight in this, as one of the photos is mine (outside B503 if you're interested), and it's hard to describe the joy and pride I feel at seeing my photo on display on Royal. But selfish pride apart, it's great, and I hope they follow suit for Regal next year. Another competition, perhaps?
- iPad info - this is a really good development, being able to see the Patter and all manner of ship info on the free intranet - though it's not working reliably yet.
- Bathroom: we had a deluxe balcony. Not sure the extra space in the living area was particularly worth having, but we thought the bathroom was very well done (with one exception, see below). The basin is bigger, the shower is bigger, with shower gel and shampoo dispensers fixed to the wall, the corner shelves are bigger. The floor space overall might be a bit smaller than other ships, but I'd rather have the extra space in the shower itself, where it's needed. We also found the shower curtain was long enough that we could shower without the floor getting wet.
- Seating for MUTS - tiered loungers, looks a better arrangement than we've seen before.
- Princess Live: a pretty good venue, we saw close-up magic, a lecture, and an enjoyable murder mystery - the first time we've seen something like that on Princess. It's not that big though, not sure if that may sometimes be a problem when the ship is full.
- Sea walk - I liked this a lot, my wife doesn't like the idea of looking down at a sheer drop. Two warnings, though - the balconies facing it (and on the other side of the ship) are the most overlooked I've ever seen, I really wouldn't want one of those cabins; and as you can see straight down to the deck below, remember that the people below can see up.
- The Chef's Table looked very good with its curtain of light, though it won't be operational until the maiden voyage.
- The little exercise stations on the track at the top of the ship - though it would be nice to have instructions or pictures showing how to use each one.
- Elite canapés on the formal night: the strawberries surpassed previous times we've had them, I'll say no more.
I've split this into teething troubles, which we were expecting given this is before the official maiden voyage, and more fundamental aspects of the ship.
Teething Troubles - as I said, we were expecting some of these, but not as many as we found. They were mainly organization and communication, rather than infrastructure.
- The room was arranged with twin beds when we arrived, rather than the requested queen. Quickly fixed by our helpful steward (Ivonne from Mexico City), but we were surprised something recorded a couple of months ago hadn't got through.
- Huge confusion over formal/casual night. The communication went out to the passengers over a month ago that there would be one formal night, but apparently nobody remembered to tell anyone on the ship: the Patter showed both nights as smart casual. Fortunately Princess reacted well as usual, so the second night was changed to formal and the penguin suits and smart dresses got an outing - but how is it that the ship's company aren't aware of every communication sent to the passengers?
- Several of the clocks had the wrong times. Given that (as I understand it), several of the crew had been on for a month, it surprised me that nobody had time to address something so visible, yet so easy to fix.
- TV on demand - this is a very promising system, but slow and a bit buggy at the moment. It took us about 5 minutes to load up a program, and it froze a couple of times in the first few minutes - but was fine after that. Again, a little communication to set expectations (there was no 'Loading' message or similar) would have made a difference. Also, they recorded the Wake show, but weren't able to broadcast it the first day; they got it working the second day, though.
- The phone system was set up with the wrong names, (possibly contractors who had been in the cabins before?).
- A couple of shower head nozzles were out of alignment. Very minor point, but I would have expected someone to check every shower worked properly as basic QA.
- One of our bedside cabinets was wobbly - didn't take time to find out what the problem was, it wasn't a big deal.
- Finally, more of a gripe on my part. As I said, we were surprised how many little issues we encountered. Why? Because Princess charged full price for the cruise. If you're still getting the bugs out and you want to test with paying customers, that's fine - but the normal thing is to cut them a break on the price e.g. any West End theatre run will have the tickets a bit cheaper in the first couple of weeks before the official opening night. If you're going to charge full price, surely you should deliver your prime-time product and quality.
More long-term Issues - some minor, some more important to us
- The biggest disappointment is that there's no promenade on the Promenade deck - it's no longer possible to walk all the way round the ship. A few bits outside on Deck 7 are for passengers, but most is crew only. I'd not seen any indication of that in the advance publicity (I can understand why), but I wonder if Princess have misjudged how disappointing that will be to a lot of people. Or maybe I've misjudged it, and I'm in a small minority. But I'll miss the walk round the Prom Deck.
I saw Rai Caluori's response to this point: "We acknowledge this will be a disappointment to some of our loyal passengers but felt the opportunity to optimize the balcony experience could not be missed." The problem with that argument is that the balcony experience is not being optimized - there are more balconies, so there can be more passengers with balconies; but the experience for each passenger is not better. Cruising is still great value, and cruise companies have to make profits, but this one feels misjudged to me. I wonder if it's too late to reconsider for Regal - probably.
- Perhaps related to this, the lifeboats/tenders jut out past the side of the ship, so they're half over the deck (but crew access only) and half over the sea. This spoils the sight lines from balconies on E deck where we were - perhaps not technically an obstructed view, but did cut off some of the view looking aft.
- Also, I couldn't find anywhere where it was possible to lean over a rail and look right down to the sea below. When I compare this to other Princess ships I've been on e.g. when going through the Panama Canal or watch a pilot embark, it's a real shame.
- There are no stairs midships above deck 7 - this was another unpleasant surprise for us, as we offset the over-indulgence by never using the elevators. Not sure if this is to get more cabins in, but we don't like it.
- I could only find one socket - not a problem for 2 nights, but I'd expect more rather than fewer on a newer ship. (Photos from another post suggest there are at least two sockets, at least in some cabins - I probably missed one.) Also, the positioning is unhelpful for UK passengers needing an adaptor. Nowadays many plugs for iPads, smart phones etc come with a USB connector, and there's not enough room to plug it in. Either there are more sockets we didn't find, or somebody didn't think this through.
- It seemed rather short on drawers space. Again, not an issue for such a short cruise, but not sure about for a longer one.
- Bathroom - as I said above, generally very good, but why no soap drainer by the basin (or moulded in)? Also, positioning of the toilet paper holder. Did anyone actually try this arrangement out? Unless I'm missing something, it would have been so simple to put the holder next to the door in front of where a person is sitting when they need it, instead of behind them. That just looks like poor design. I don't know if it's just a few of the cabins, but a maintenance person could probably fit it to the opposite wall taking just a few minutes per cabin. It seems such an unnecessary mistake, I hope Princess can fix it, and get it right for the Regal.
There's lots to like, and we look forward to taking a longer cruise on Royal. But I'm not sure if it will become my favourite ship. For me, that's Island, where I can walk all the way round the Promenade Deck without even needing to climb stairs at the front.
I hope Princess can sort out the teething troubles, and perhaps a couple of the other issues (move the toilet paper holders, guys!). As for the bigger issues, I suppose no ship's perfect.