DW & I just returned from the inaugural 18 day Western Med/Trans-Atlantic cruise on the Royal Princess. This was our seventh cruise in a row on Princess and the fourth time we've done this itinerary. I must admit that I really love the sea days. We spent the previous eighteen months preparing for this cruise on a brand new ship. Our roll call was very active and was a great way to get to know everyone and to gather information.
For our three night pre-cruise stay in Venice, we again stayed at the Locanda Orseolo Hotel. The "LO" as it's referred to by us regulars is a wonderful boutique hotel. There are only 12 rooms and I believe many, if not all, we're taken up by roll call members. Since there are only 12 rooms and the hotel is so popular, we actually booked the hotel about a week before we booked the cruise in March 2012. The staff at the LO is amazing. I can't say enough good things about them. During our three days in Venice, we just played it by ear. I walked around and look a ton of pictures and we had dinner each night at our favorite pizza restaurant which is just off St. Mark's Square. The weather for the three days was a little dreary. The highlight of our pre-cruise stay was watching the Royal as it sailed into Venice. I must admit that I was impressed now that I had finally seen her in person. The Royal is a beautiful ship and has very impressive lines. When it came time to make our way to the Royal, we hitched a ride on a water taxi that was per arranged by a fellow roll call member.
When we arrived at the dock, we made our way into the terminal. I was dreading the embarkation process due to the absolute bedlam we experienced during the 2011 embarkation on our Ruby T/A. I must admit that I was blown away by how smoothly the entire process went. We were on the ship in no time. After boarding the Royal, we walked directly into the Piazza. All of the artist renderings and actual photos, I had previously seen, do not do it justice. The Piazza is simply amazing the first time you see it. After looking around the Piazza, we made our way to Dolphin deck aft to our Owner's suite D726.
At this point in my review, I want to say that my initial disappointment with the suite somewhat clouded my judgment about the ship overall and caused me in some instances to judge rather harshly. I knew going in that all of the cabins were going to be a little smaller but when we first walked inside, I was amazed on just how small this "best suite" on the ship really was. In my opinion, the suite was nothing more than two cabins joined together. The living room area consisted of a small sofa and one chair. There was also a desk with one US plug and one European plug. In addition, there was a dry bar. There was no wet bar due to the fact the small refrigerator was directly under the dry bar. The bathroom was divided into two sections. In one section there was the toilet and a sink. The other section had a full size tub and a separate shower. The tub was not whirlpool equipped as in previous suites we sailed on other ships. The shower gave us issues flooding the bathroom on three occasions. We received prompt attention fixing the issue when I called passenger services. Our balcony was arguably the best balcony we had on any of our cruises. We were however unable to fully enjoy it due to a daily buildup of soot. To my knowledge the soot problem was also experienced by a number of fellow aft facing passengers.
I cannot say enough positive and great things about our cabin attendant, "Gina", from the Philippines. She always had a smile on her face and did everything in her power to ensure we had a great cruise. Our room was always spotless and every request was handled promptly and professionally. Gina is a true asset to Princess. Interesting enough was the fact that Gina’s supervisor "Frank” was a newly promoted housekeeping supervisor. Frank was actually our cabin attendant on the Sapphire in March of this year.
The new on demand television system was a little temperamental in that it was out over several days. Another bone of contention was that before the cruise, I noted that Princess was still marketing the suite perk of having a DVD player available for suite passengers. I was also told this personally when I called Princess two days before we left for Venice. When we boarded the Royal I discovered this was not the case as DVD players were not provided in any suite. I did bring a Blue Ray player that did not work when I tried hooking it up via a HDMI cable. I did remember that information was promulgated prior to the cruise that hook ups to the televisions would not work. However being a little stubborn, I wanted to see it for myself.
Public areas on the ship were generally very beautiful and appealing. There were however a couple of areas I failed to understand the purpose of including. Princess Live seemed like an afterthought. I also did not understand the concept of Club 6 as about the only thing I saw it used for was daily trivia games. The previously mentioned issue of no central staircase did seem to be a problem. This seemed made worse by the central elevators that always seemed crowded and at times, seemed to go right by a floor without stopping. The Piazza was definitely the focal point for entertainment. There were two bands, along with a string quartet, that performed nightly. These groups were very good. We didn't make it to the Princess Theater so I can't comment on any production shows. I was able to enjoy Vines and the Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar. Both venues were great and had very knowledge and friendly staff.
DW and I both liked the Lotus Spa. I paid the extra fee and had use of the Enclave. She enjoyed several massages and hair appointments. She stated the Steiner girls were very professional; adding the hard sell was somewhat noticeable but it didn’t really bother her. I also spend a number of days in the Fitness Center. I found a nice variety and quantity of machines that were always in good repair. I never spent much time by the pools, but saw they were being used. I never once saw a for fee cabana being used in the Retreat pool area. I also noted only a few people using the Sanctuary. It will be interesting to see how the Royal’s pool areas handle the Caribbean crowds.
For the very subjective point of food, we had chosen late seating traditional dining in the Allegro dining room. The Allegro seemed to be designed differently than the Concerto and Symphony rooms which appeared to be more of the old traditional style. The Allegro was also the location of the Chef’s Table. We never got a chance to try it, but heard it was a very enjoyable experience. We only ate in the dining room one time. We found the food and service very good.
On other days we ate at Sabatini's, Crown Grill, Alfredo's, and the Horizon Court. Since we were in a suite, we also ordered several dinners from the dining room menu. We also enjoyed the suite perk of breakfast in Sabatini's on a number of days. We found food in Sabatini's, Crown Grill, and Alfredo's to be very good to excellent. We especially enjoyed Alfredo's as the head waiter, "Franco", was a true gem. The dining room food we had in our suite was very good as well. The food served in the HC however was not so good. Again with food being very subjective, I thought 90% of the HC food was truly terrible. I noted that a majority of hot dishes were barely warm at best. Many of the dishes also, to me, appeared to be way over spiced. The presentation left something to be desired and the variety in my opinion was also sorely lacking. In the HC we also experienced some less than good service. One instance involved a waiter who tried to grab my DW's plate before she was finished.
In addition to the previously mentioned areas, we also enjoyed the tasty treats served in the International Cafe and the Trident Grill. I was not however overly impressed with the "Smoke House BBQ" which was served nightly in the Trident Grill. A couple of other negatives regarding dining concerns dealt with the location of the Crown Grill and Sabatini's. On the Royal, the Wheelhouse bar is joined with the Crown Grill. In the Wheelhouse there was a piano player that performed nightly. While his playing was good it, along with the audience participation, made it hard to enjoy a quiet meal. In Sabatini's I noticed music coming from the Piazza that made it also hard to enjoy a quiet meal.
Bar service throughout the ship seemed not up to the usual Princess standards. I spent a number of nights in the casino where I saw very few bar waiters. I also noted they wouldn’t ask you if you would like a drink. On another night in Crooners’ I waited over 30 minutes before I was asked if I wanted another drink.
As far as excursions go I had organized private excursions for Messina, Naples, and Rome. All of the participants seemed to have a great time. We also participated in a private excursion in Maderia. We did one Princess excursion in Canne that I enjoyed but thought was overpriced for what we actually experienced. In Barcelona, we didn't get off the ship since this was our fourth time visiting this port.
We had a very large roll call for this cruise. There numerous events scheduled that were well attended.
In closing, I'd like to say that overall I did enjoy the cruise and the Royal itself. The only real drawback for me was paying top dollar for the best class of suites on the ship but ended up with something worth far less. Another related disappointment was the fact I had cancelled a cruise in March so I could afford the OS suite. The inability to use the balcony (soot issues) was also a big letdown. I will continue to sail with Princess, but will find it hard to book the Royal or Regal unless there was an itinerary I just had to sail.