We were a group of two families, four adults and four teens (12 - 17 years old), cruising for the first time with Princess.
It was overall a trip of our life time - a port intensive itinerary, sparkling new ship, fantastic food and services, great travel companions, to top it all we got to revisit some places where we went together as two young couples some 19 years ago!
Royal Princess met and exceeded our expectations in many ways. It is a beautiful ship with elegant interior design - I personally love the colour schemes and curves that are welcoming and classy. The Piazza is visually stunning and a hub full of activities all day and night long. It's a nice place to have a cup of coffee and enjoy the ambiance while people watching. The central pool deck is another place where passengers can enjoy the music and fun activities around the pools. The sail away party took place here, and the gigantic MUTS screen showed movies with excellent sound and viewing quality. There were plenty of lounge chairs around the pools, however many chairs were "reserved" by some passengers even though they were not supposed to. The adult-only Retreat Pool had the same problem except when it was too windy. If you are looking for a quite place to sit and read, the aft on 16th deck behind Horizon Buffet has a few nice sofa couches and lots of tables/chairs. It's also a lot easier to find available lounge chairs away from the pools on either side of the ship.
We found the cabin size adequate with plenty of storage space: lots of clothes hangers in the open closet, multi-shelved cupboard, desk with drawers, underneath the bed. We brought an extension cord which was quite handy to charge multiple electronic devices. The power outlets work for both North American and European plugs so there is no need to bring a converter plug (if you are from US or Canada). The bathroom had more shelf space than I anticipated so the hang-behind the door shoe organizer we brought was not put into good use. The toilet paper holder could have been better placed - but really you don't have to be a contortionist to use it! The balcony size has been a much debated issue on CC - we were in a standard balcony cabin, the balcony was a bit compact, but we could still sit there with our friends (4 people) sipping wine and enjoying the view.
The food on Royal Princess was delicious with great variety. We used Horizon Bistro and Buffet primarily for breakfast and lunch (on sea days). The variety of food in Horizon was good, they had really refresh melons which were my favourite. There was no problem finding seats in Horizon even at peak time and the waiter/waitresses were attentive providing great service with a big smile. We had our dinner in MDR almost every night except one night when we tried Sabatini's (extra charge $25pp) - the food was delicious and services excellent. We opted for anytime dining and usually only needed to wait for a few minutes before being seated. Our kids preferred the informal Horizon, Prego and Alfredo's, Trident Grill more while us adults had a great time enjoying the delicious meal over a glass of wine after a busy day of sight-seeing. We purchased soda packages for kids and coffee card/wine package for adults - there were certainly a lot of things to drink to on this memorable trip, cheers!
Port and Shore Excursions:
We used a combination of private tours, DIY, taxi, Princess excursion to optimize our experience in the ports. Toulon was our first stop and it was on Sunday most shops were closed. The ship docked in La Seyne and we used the Princess water shuttle to get to Toulon ($15pp). I agree with other CC members that Princess should probably pick another port in France as there was not a lot to see in Toulon and it's not close to any hot travel spots. We used the second half day to get acquainted with the new ship. For the next three Italian ports - Florence, Rome, Naples, we hired private tours: Florence Tours (licensed guide Giuseppe) for Florence and Pisa, Smart Cruise Tours for Rome (driver Ducio, Vatican guide Emma), AP Tours (driver Arturo or Art) for Herculaneum and Amalfi Coast. All of us were very happy with the services received from all three tour companies- Giuseppe was very knowledgeable and passionate about Florence; our Rome driver Ducio took us to places in a most efficient manner, our Vatican guide Emma showed us things in Vatican museum that we never knew before, our AP Tours driver Arturo drove us to Herculaneum and along the breathtaking Amalfi Coast - he made sure we were safely on the ferry from Sorrento back to Naples before waving us goodbye. It's money well spent and we would recommend all these private tours to family and friends. After a sea day, we did DIY tours in Mykonos and Istanbul. Mykonos was a beautiful Greek island and easy to walk around. For Istanbul, we used Rick Steve's guide book and Tom Sheridan's Port Guide for our DIY tour. The exit of the port is between two T1 tram stops, it took us a bit walking to find the tram stop (need to go across the street). We bought the tram token from the machine (cost 3 lira per token) and got on the next tram which took us to Sultanahmet where the main attractions were within walking distance. After visiting the main attractions - Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palance, Grand Bazaar - we took the same tram back to port. The next port stop was Kusadasi and we went with Princess excursion to visit Ephesus. The guide was very good and we learned a lot while she pointed out the ruins and explained the history. We also attended the obligatory carpet demo which was interesting and there was no hard sale pitch at the end. Afterwards we wondered around, bought some souvenirs and walked back to our ship. Our next stop is Athens. We were delayed for more than an hour to get off the ship due to custom clearance. There were plenty of taxis waiting outside. The taxi driver offered to take us around all day for 130 euro and we accepted which turned out to be a good decision as we wanted to use the time visiting ancient sites rather than finding our way in a strange city where all road signs were in Greek! Our final stop was Venice - everyone says don't miss the view of sailing into Venice and they are absolutely correct! As Royal slide into Venice, everyone was on the deck or balcony watching the breathtaking views of this beautiful city drawing closer and closer. There was Andrea Bocelli in the air, Champaign flowing, people hugging taking pictures, it was certainly a highlight of our trip! Once the ship docked, we used Princess's shuttle water bus ($15pp) to get to Piazza San Marco and walked to the main attractions. We've been to Venice before so this time we went to places missed last time. It's a beautiful city and hope one day we get to come back and explore more!
The staff on Royal Princess were outstanding and services excellent. The name tags showed their name, role, and country which was really nice. We met crew members from Philippines, Brazil, Ukraine, Mexico, Peru, Australia, England , US and they were all doing their very best to ensure passengers enjoy their time with Royal Princess. One night when we were having our dinner in the MDR, the power went out. All the waiters carried on business as usual while checking on each guest and cracking jokes to put them at ease. Almost immediate after the power failure, Captain Dino was on the speaker telling passengers what happened and what was being done . I think he did a good job communicating to the passengers, I didn't see anyone panicking because we were assured of our safety and confident the problem would be fixed quickly which they did.
Because of the busy ports itinerary we only got around to a small sampling of many activities and programs offered on the ship - the gym, Zumba class, art auction, product shows, musicians in Piazza - all of them were highly enjoyable! We hope one day we can go back to Royal Princess and experience more on the ship!
I also have suggestion for a couple of minor improvements on Royal:
Elevators - install panel buttons on both sides rather than on the left only, the colour on the buttons changes to a different colour when pushed (right now it's the same brighter white). Smart system on the elevators so they can carry passengers more efficiently in peak time (e.g. if the elevator is full bypass decks not selected by passengers in the elevator).
Laundry - the laundry room I used on deck 15 got flooded each time the wash machine was used (not sure if there is similar problem on other decks). This should be easily fixed with better design of the drainage system.
In a summary, the 12-day Grand Mediterranean trip on Royal Princess was a trip of our life time. We all had a fabulous time enjoying the great itinerary and wonderful experience on the ship!