Thanks must go to the great seminar organised by the team at CLIA UK and Ireland headquarters and Princess Cruise Lines for the invitation to see the worlds newest cruise ship.
Having just paid a similar ship visit only days earlier in Barcelona on board the MSC Splendida, comparisons were inevitable as both ships are around the same size at just over or under 140,000 tons.
First impression was how nice the lines of the ship looked and once on board we were told mostly all outside cabins were balconies. So the ship has been designed to achieve that aim and for me be the cause of some of my reservations.
Some cruise lines go for wow factor or a few extra gimmicks that may create a stir or at the very least entice a wide range of age groups to their ships. From rock climbing walls to zip lines and longest tube slides at sea there is bound to be interest created by such facilities. Princess have never really been known for this so it was with intense interest to see what they would come up with on this new larger vessel, knowing the competition have such goodies already out there?
You may be disappointed from this point of view because no such fun elements have been introduced. Yes there is the 'Seawalk' extending 26 feet out over the side and some 16 decks high but once you try that, the novelty is over but I'm sure comes into it's own when at sea, particularly a rough sea! Immediately noticeable on deck is the wider expanse of Royal Princess than her smaller cousins. The pool area is bigger of course. Taking center is a raised divide between a samller dipping pool and the main pool, a central platform if you were for performers, cruise staff hosting games etc. At night this platform is in fact a 'dancing array of water fountains' set to colored lights and music. This is very attractive and I liked it but a feature which again is lost once seen a few times in passing? For such a big area why no water slide? No innovative swim up bar? No river ride around the wider expanse of deck? Nothing really new here then that would entice a bigger range of age groups? Above the pool staring down is a giant screen (the biggest at sea) and while that may be nice for 'movies under the stars' I would have preferred the screen placed in a more comfy area for night time movie watching.
The most anticipated thing about Royal Princess was the new 'Piazza' instead of the traditional atrium. On ships such as RCCL Voyager class and others since, they have had the boardwalk element where food options and shopping abound in this specialized area. I can only think this was Princess's answer or variation of that theme. Sadly for me, it doesn't work well. Some will think this is unfair as it has been done very nicely. However the whole space was basically an atrium over-expanded and shops, restaurants, bars and even pizza and gellato stations all sprung off from it. The problem for me was that while sitting in a bar I never felt I got away from the noisy Piazza. Lit up like a Christmas tree it was so bright I felt I needed sunshades for the most part and this contributed to destroying any ambiance you may be seeking at the 'Vines' bar or trying to eat in 'Alfredos'. It was in fact so open plan that where ever you went the themes of each bar or restaurant were lost. I say this because I much prefer to wonder off and find that secluded 'wheelhouse bar' or a fine restaurant in some other quarter far from the madding crowd as it were. My explanation for this faux par in design I believe is to achieve the extra space for all these outside balcony cabins and much like an airline craming in extra seats,I felt this was to make way for the design to have more cabins. This became even more obvious when I saw that the theatre was not particularly big for such a large ship?
As with Grand class and others that followed the flow of the 'activity' decks below such as deck 7 stretched fore to aft. Apart from finding the trusty Vista Lounge, there was the new Princess Live studio. This new feature was small, holding a few hundred at best this is where a show will be recorded on live TV no doubt screened on the big screen on deck or in your cabin.
In fact this larger ship repeats what it's older sister ships already have, apart from this TV studio, there is nothing new? As I said most bars and restaurants have been placed in the central piazza. If only they would tone down the lighting at night at least? The best way to describe the Piazza is like being in a shopping mall food court. No intimacy and a feeling of being on show. No thanks not for me. Soaring elevators there are not, though the two that did pass through were hidden bizarrely by a designer mesh obstructing the view for both the observer and the the elevator rider! The wow of 'floating' bars did not appear so in reality. I don't want to meet at Grand central Station each day or evening where everyone else is congregating.
So am I being too critical? Let me say Princess is one of my favorite cruise lines. A sense of style and an abundance of contoured carpet and use of marble make up a delightful appearance and as always some furnishings are beautiful. Everywhere was too bright though. In the Horizon Court buffet area the increased size seemed a little demanding when all I want to be there for is food on the go.
The new 'Pastry' section is huge and I just could not help feeling I was walking into a Spa with it's over emphasis on marble walls and flooring. Cold and uninviting. 'Sabatinis' failed to look Italian in design. In fact much of the ship seemed to follow the same decor of pastel shades of beige and while meaningfully understated did become repetitive. The buffet area is too large and the two main dining rooms are very underwhelming. Such is their design I was stuck in a side area at dinner and facing a main elevator lift area. I did not feel comfortable at all. There are no 3 story main dining rooms on Royal Princess and you may have guessed it....it's all in the soaring Piazza! It's rather like a one size fits all scenario. You may love it or you mat hate it. In the UK we say it's like Marmite (Vegimite to my Aussie friends).
So briefly lets look at some positives I loved about this ship. The adult only Sanctuary is beautiful and a place I would spend lots of time. Just off the secondary pool area (which by the way lacks a open and closing roof) but lacks it's own hot tubs or small pool. With soft beds and cabanas it's a lovely area.
The teens and little tots have fantastic spaces of their own with great play areas, ipod docks, computers, large screen TV's and laid out in rooms akin to having your own clubs for meeting, where all the facilities you need are right there. Sad then that there are no slides or other such facilities for younger folks to enjoy in the main pool area?
The Lotus Spa on Royal Princess is fantastic....one of the best at sea and huge. A fun item spotted was the bar at Princess Live Cafe The bar area had a unique feature with projected images down onto the glass bar top surface like watching projected TV, a cool feature but one of few on board. The over use of large elongated TV screens all around the ship was over use for me and I find can be tacky.
Cabins are much the same as ever with minor design changes. It would be remiss of me not to mention the fact you have to be a contortionist to reach for the toilet tissue placed under the sink area! The main faucet is so placed that washing your hands will mean water goes everywhere over the molded sinks - two annoying issues if I were occupying a cabin for a week or more.
A huge 42" flat screen TV is placed on the wall directly in front of the bed. This is easily operated with a simply remote and Princess have made it interactive with movie selections and TV choices easy to navigate. The balcony is like any other but I much prefer a table to eat my delivered breakfast on rather than a foot stool!
Before I forget the Casino is not as large as one would expect with tables too close together. Finally the Nightclub. Having enjoyed 'Slywalkers' on other Princess ships this was a new room altogether at the side of the ship off the Piazza. Narrow and a dance floor big enough for about 20 people, smaller and very 'under-tech' compared to what has gone before. This view was confirmed by fellow guest with most asking if there was another club somewhere? And again the bar area was so bright the ambiance of a nightclub was lost.
So to summarize I can only say the ship is pretty, nicely finished workmanship in most areas with some luxury feel but for a much bigger ship than it's older sisters, I puzzled as to what they had achieved for that? Strange how I would actually prefer to sail on a Grand Class ship than this newer offering from Princess.