My wife and I were on the maiden 12 day Mediterranean voyage of the Royal Princess, cruising from Barcelona to Venice from June 23 to July 5. This was our seventh Princess cruise having sailed previously on the Caribbean Princess (twice), the Crown Princess (twice), the Star Princess and the Sun Princess. The Royal Princess had some hits and misses as compared to the Grand class of Princess ships.
Stateroom - We had an extended balcony stateroom on Caribe deck. The extended stateroom seemed to be about 18 inches longer than a regular stateroom allowing enough room for a small sofa. We didn’t think there was any more usable space than a balcony stateroom on the other Princess ships, so we were disappointed. The balcony was only about 42 inches wide, comparing unfavorably to the balconies on the Caribe and Dolphin decks of the Caribbean and Crown Princess. The cabin had a 40" flat screen TV on the wall with an nice selection of video on demand which generally worked well, although was slow to startup. My wife thought the shower was significantly larger than on previous Princess ships. The shower has dispensers for shampoo/conditioner and body wash which pumped out small amounts at a time. As others have noted, the toilet paper holder couldn’t have been placed more inconveniently, but moving the spare roll to the counter worked as a substitute. Entering the stateroom requires putting a cruise card or similarly sized item in a slot inside the door in order for the lights to work. The bed was comfortable and the air conditioning worked well. One irritation - TV noise from the adjoining cabin, probably because of the mounting of the TV on the wall.
Elevators and Stairs - Yet another deck was added, the Marina deck, but no additional elevators were added. The Royal Princess has elevator banks forward, mid-ship and aft. Oddly, though, there are no stairs mid-ship above the seventh deck. We found that omission to be a major design flaw and made the elevators mid-ship slow and overcrowded. We often walked aft in order to take the stairs, especially down. I would suggest that those who are able bodied should avoid cabins mid-ship and my personal preference would be to choose an aft cabin where stairs are available and elevators easier to snag.
Promenade Deck - In order to offer balconies on Emerald deck 8, the lifeboats and related equipment were moved lower to deck 7, the Promenade deck which is now inappropriately named because there is no way to walk around the ship. Deck 7 outdoors only has small sunning areas on the sides - no deck at all front or rear, a real disappointment.
Piazza - The piazza or atrium area is greatly expanded on the Royal Princess. The International Café on deck 5 is larger. The area had frequent entertainment, mostly classical music. The piazza was a nice place to relax.
Sports and Recreation - The pool areas are relatively small, although there are lots of hot tubs. In my opinion, the music in the main pool area was far too loud in the afternoon and early evening. There is a retreat pool area which was much quieter, but far too small. Deck 18 had a nice walking/running track and a large basketball/volleyball court. While I did not use it, the indoor gym area was large and nicely equipped. The Movies Under the Stars screen had good contrast even on a bright day.
Food and Dining - The Horizon Court/Bistro area is much larger and spread out than on the Grand class ships - much less crowded, although the food selections were often repeated station to station. Seating on the Lido deck dining area was far easier to find. The dessert area was a nice addition. While I am not a coffee drinker, my wife is and the regular coffee served on board was a big improvement over the Grand class ships. There is a specialty coffee area at the dessert buffet. For breakfast, omelets are cooked to order and I suggest requesting an omelet made with fresh eggs instead of the stuff they pour from a carton. For dinner, the dining room service was good and the food variable. On the first night, we had the best fish meal (a basa filet) we have ever had on a cruise ship. Another night, though, I had the worst fish meal (a small bland cod filet on a large bed of lentils) I have had on a cruise ship. But if I didn’t like something, I felt free to order something else. The International Café is a no additional cost dining alternative as is Alfredo’s Pizzeria in the Piazza, Deck 6. One additional note - the Outrigger Bar on Deck 16 aft has an accessible place to fill water bottles and provides the best place to watch the back of the ship.
Entertainment - Generally, there is something for everybody. I am not a fan of Princess’s production shows - there is a reason why song and dance variety programs have largely disappeared from TV - I prefer shows with a storyline. (A “pub” themed show by the performers and staff was more to our liking.) The Princess theater was a nice place to watch a show, but omission of side aisles made entering and exiting the theater much less convenient. The new show venue, Princess Live, was more intimate, but was too small for some of the events that were held there. On the plus side, the last evening the Venice Chamber Orchestra performed in the Princess Theater, a wonderful experience for the few of us that were on board.
What’s the Point? - There are some features of the Royal Princess which sounded neat beforehand, but are really misses in the execution. The water show in the main pool area was always late in the evening (about 11 PM), a disappointment for us since we go to bed earlier. The additional cost fondue or crab experience was only occasionally available and required a reservation in a narrow time window. The additional cost Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar, Piazza Deck 7 appeared greatly underutilized. The Seawalk, Deck 16, is a curiosity, but beyond a single look, really didn’t add anything to the ship. Ship wide announcements were often difficult to hear.
Ship’s Crew and Staff - Generally magnificent. Thank you.
Excursions - We used a service we found on the internet, cruisingexcursions.com. Basically, they offered the same excursions offered by Princess at about half the cost. We bought a seven port package of tours. While you have to be a bit more adventurous to trust that excursions from an outside service will actually work as advertised, I strongly recommend this service and hope that it catches on. The excursions were at least as good as I have experienced using Princess in the past and the cost much less.
While some of my comments are negative, the Royal Princess is quite a nice ship. We certainly enjoyed our cruise experience. However, the ship really didn’t live up to the hype. My wife and I are planning a Caribbean cruise over the New Year’s holiday and while the Royal Princess is one of our choices, there is no compelling reason to choose the Royal over one of the Grand class of ships.