The Royal Princess is a beautiful ship. It has a fabulous crew. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to most.
Don't be put off by the weak approval rating thus far. I spoke with several Princess loyalists onboard and have discovered the source of much of their displeasure. For years, it seems, there was a certain "Princess way" of doing things. Each ship had many of the same offerings and a similar layout. The Royal Princess is completely new with a floor plan like no other in the fleet. The poor Princess purists can't find their way around. It's like someone took their favorite pair of comfortable Colehaan shoes or trusty Callaway golf clubs and completely redesigned them. Change can be difficult. But if you're new to Princess, like me, you'll wonder what all the fuss is about.
The Princess faithful do make two valid points you should take note of. First, the lack of a true Promenade deck that allows you to walk completely around the ship outdoors is a shame. That's part of the romance of a cruise ship. Sadly, the era of all-balcony stateroom ships may be the death of the wrap around porch at sea. Secondly, the absence of a midship staircase or elevator system is a real issue. It gave Princess room for a beautiful atrium or "piazza" but causes the elevators to be overcrowded and thus quite slow. It is frustrating. It's not a deal breaker but the Princess front office would be wise to listen to its long time clients and perhaps modify the Royal's sister ship, the Regal Princess, before she sails in 2014.
The Princess shore excursions, like most cruise lines are a little expensive but well done. The guides are knowledgable and fun. I chose a few Princess offerings in bigger ports of call to give me piece of mind I would get in a full day and not be left behind. Other ports I did my own thing. And I found Ekol Travel tours in Turkey quite good.
If you can afford the time, build in an extra day or two on each end. Barcelona and Venice are both worth some extra time.
The food on board is fine to good. Meals at the Crown Grill and Sabatini's are very good, but come with an added fee. The breakfast selection got a bit boring after two weeks, but no one has ever starved to death on a cruise.
The production shows were fine too. But I've seen more elaborate and extensive shows on other cruise lines.
The Lotus spa is quite nice and beautifully designed though pricey.
The staterooms are smartly laid out if not just a bit small to give everyone a balcony. I opted to spend a few hundred dollars more for a roomier mini suite and found it well worth it. It gave my wife more desk space to spread out all those beauty products while I stretched out on the couch sipping a cocktail before dinner. The beds are comfortable and the linens are high quality. The flat screen TVs are quite nice.
The center Piazza is the place to be each evening. It's the center of activity. You can sip on champagne, fine wine, or your favorite drink from one of many venues while enjoying talented musicians.
The pool area is beautiful. I agree with others that the center fountain area seems to take up valuable space, but the pizza bar and crystal clear, larger than life video screen will keep you smiling. That said, the jumbo screen at the pool is quite loud. If you're watching the movie shorts or music videos you'll love the central pool area. If you want to read or fall sleep in the sun you'd better be able to do so with the sound of a freight train all day. The adult pool area is quieter and nice but fills up fast. And its windy since its located close to the bow. Movies Under The Stars (MUTS) is a kick. Good popcorn.
The SeaWalk that hangs over the ship is quite fun, but after you've walked over it a couple times you're kind of done with it.
The real gem of the Royal Princess is its staff. I give 'em an A+ for customer service. The crew seems genuinely happy to be there. They are very pleasant and helpful. Each time you disembark in a new port and hesitate oh so slightly to find your way - there's a smartly dressed Princess employee at every turn offering their assistance. You're in good hands while on Royal Princess.
If I had younger kids I'd probably be looking for a ship with a wave machine and a super slide, but as a mid-50's empty nester the lack of these attracted me to this ship. I've got to wonder if its a bit bland for the Caribbean, but seems ideal for mid-lifers sailing the Mediterranean.
I imagine if Jimmy Fallon, Beyonce, and Justin Timberlake were on board they'd find the ship beautiful but a bit sleepy. It may not have enough of that throbbing Vegas vibe. Yet, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and Morgan Freeman would probably feel right at home engaging in conversation with other middle aged couples from the U.S., the U.K. and Australia.
The Royal Princess is not a muscle car with flashy rims. She's understated luxury. Think Volvo S80 or Mercedes C-class.
If you need zip lines or crazy pool games this probably isn't the ship for you. Fear not, you can find a way to party on board. The DJ rocks music videos on the big screen at day, and at the club at night. And the rock, pop band called Volume is quite talented.
I was looking for a beautiful ship with decent food; outstanding European ports of call; a comfortable bed with a view; and a cheerful, experienced staff. I found all of that on the Royal Princess. Happy traveling.