We’ve cruised three times before, previously with Cunard. We booked this 2-night preview cruise to Guernsey, on Princess Lines’ brand new cruise ship. The Royal Princess was named the day before we sailed by Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cambridge (the American cruise director referred on board to Kate as ‘Her Royal Majesty’ – I winced, it sounded so crass). The blue carpet in the entranceway and the beautiful blue and white floral arrangements throughout Southampton’s Ocean Terminal bore witness to the earlier event.
This was the third time we’ve embarked from Southampton and this was easily the worst. We arrived at 11am (car parking and luggage was handled well) but it was past 1pm before we were actually on the ship. Long queues built up at security, check-in was halted twice to clear the backlog but we were told only that the problem was ‘with the ship, not the port’. All green card holders were processed first – privilege and elite passengers – but those of us with red cards were left waiting for simply ages. The ship was not booked to its capacity of 3,500 guests and I dread to think how long embarkation would have taken if it had been! There were a lot of travel press on board and the ship was going on to the Med after a short round-trip to the Channel Islands in this its inaugural week.
We loved the ship and had an enjoyable cruise, but it seemed a work-in-progress for the staff. Based on this short experience in admittedly a new ship, I think we will be sticking to Cunard in future. It was very expensive for what it was and should have cost a lot less for what felt like a training and orientation voyage for the crew. However, they were unfailingly pleasant and helpful, but I couldn’t help feeling that the systems let them down particularly in the dining rooms where service was especially slow.
The ship is very easy to navigate and to move around. Basically, everything happens either on Decks 5-6-7 (eating and entertainment) or Decks 16-17-18 (top of ship activities and food) with all other decks for accommodation only. We experienced fairly high winds throughout and the ship appeared to be very stable with only limited movement.
We had booked a deluxe balcony cabin on Deck 15 (Marina). It seemed to be the equivalent space to that of the Queen Elisabeth balcony cabin but the bathroom was better designed with more space. The shower towels are way too small and we had to request robes which should have been provided. The open hanging area was far better especially as there are no wardrobe doors to get in the way. However, drawer space is very limited and the balcony itself was very small; much smaller than those on the Cunard ships we’ve been on. The bed was very comfortable, if somewhat on the firm side. The bed linen was really lovely. There was no choice of pillows, unlike Cunard. One electrical socket in the cabin – of European type – is simply not adequate and UK users, please note, an adapter is required.
The TV screen is vast but the content rather limited – a good choice of movies but extremely poor and inadequate voyage and weather information. I still have no idea as to where we had sailed as there was no map update available during our trip. Details from the bridge were negligible - a sea day was announced at 7am on the second day; the ship could not anchor off Guernsey due to high winds which would hamper the tendering operation – a real disappointment but understandable in the circumstances. After that we were left to our own devices; an update from the Captain should have been forthcoming if only to say where we would be going or indeed where we had gone as by the evening no-one was any the wiser!
The self-service Horizon Court and Bistro were a disappointment. The menu signage was too small and the walking route confusing with some food areas tucked away making it hard to work out where best to go first! Apart from the Pastry Shop, there was a poor choice of desserts and I simply do not understand why plastic melamine plates and mugs more suited to picnics are in use on such an expensive ship – a horrible experience to say the least! At least linen napkins were provided. Lemonade, water, tea and coffee are all freely available from the waiting staff; all other drinks have to be purchased from those same staff. Service in this area was quite efficient. Breakfast here, however, was a free-for-all, in a hot and unpleasant environment.
As we were on ‘Anytime Dining’, we used both the Symphony and the Concerto dining rooms (but not Allegro). These are lovely spaces, if a little dark. Overall, the food was OK but not great and the menu not that extensive. The service in Symphony was extremely slow with one server handling a large number of tables on her own. I did not think this was fair on her at all. Service was a little better in Concerto - lunch there was fine - but the food was not as hot as it should have been as trays was left on the service areas for a long while before being brought to the tables. This really needs to get sorted out, as in my view; the food quality or service is not a patch on that of Cunard.
The entertainment was superb with the ‘Colours of the World’ presentation and an Abba tribute band playing on the two nights. The theatre is very comfortable, with soft blue lighting, good seating and no pillars to obscure sightlines. However, I did not like the rather intrusive drinks service during the performance. We enjoyed the illuminated outdoor fountains and lighting show with music and visuals on the large TV screen. We watched Les Miserables outside on this mega-screen in strong June sunlight without any loss of colour or definition – quite incredible!
Birthday celebrations were done well. We had balloons and a card in the cabin as well as a hearty ‘Happy Birthday’ sung by the waiting staff plus a birthday cake provided at the end of the meal. We also liked the leisurely disembarkation – ours was at 9.45am – allowing us to get up at 7am, at a time when others were already leaving the ship! We had to be out of our cabin by 8am.
Sadly, our final breakfast was an appalling experience with many people leaving the restaurant before their breakfasts had been served in order to disembark. We ourselves had a wait of over an hour for cooked food! The Concerto Restaurant was simply not geared up for the sheer numbers of passengers wishing to have breakfast before disembarkation. Service was dreadfully slow and uncoordinated; a case of too many foot-soldiers hampered by rather poor leadership. It was a far from happy end to such a short cruise. In future, we shall stick to Cunard!