Our Royal Adventure – 9 – 27 October 2013
My wife Louise and I booked this trip within an hour of the voyage being published. Although we have sailed 18 times with Princess we have never done a TA and we thought that the opportunity to do it on a new ship could not be missed. Since there were many stops in the Med and we thought the Atlantic crossing could be cool we opted to settle for an interior cabin (A725). This is only the third time we have taken an interior cabin for more than two days.
Having keenly followed the construction of the ship and avidly read the posts of this summer’s early passengers we must admit to having some reservations about the ship to the point of considering cancellation of the voyage. We have spent considerable time comparing the Royal to our favorite ships the Sapphire, Diamond and Ruby. Despite what we consider to be deficiencies of the Royal design we decided we had to make our own observations.
Details of our actual cruise will be found after the summary. The summary expresses our opinions about the ship more or less as we discovered them and NOT in the order of their importance.
• As usual we were impressed with the friendliness and professionalism displayed by all of the crew we interacted with.
• Outstanding execution of the Piazza. It is larger, more elegant and welcoming than in other ships.
• Much improved Horizon Court. The new design reduces congestion, offers more seating options and allows for specialty areas. Pastry area very inviting.
• Great flat screen TV in the cabin with much enhanced programming.
• Ability to verify account from personal computer.
• The elimination of the Promenade has allowed for the creation of several new semi-private open deck lounge areas.
• A much longer and improved walking/jogging track on the upper deck.
• Enlarged and very up to date exercise room and equipment.
• Great Crown Grill as part of the Wheelhouse Bar with a pianist.
• Great theatre.
• We had the misfortune to have a clothing item go astray in the laundry. Our steward advised us to make a claim at the Purser’s desk. The agent there was empowered to give us an immediate credit to our account. Late our last night our steward arrived with several missing laundry items. We had the desk remove the credit. Well done all around.
• Elimination of the Promenade. We miss the opportunity to have our long morning walk there..
• Narrower balconies. I would never book a balcony cabin on this ship.
• Many balconies are exposed from above, in particular the stern balconies and those below the new Sky walk.
• The upper level walking/jogging track is subject to smoke and soot depending on the wind.
• Water show is a waste of space and money.
• New or increased charges for many items.
• Steam rooms no longer available for everyone’s use.
• Retreat area is of limited use when underway because of lack of adequate wind protection.
• The centre pool arrangement under the MUTS will be a madhouse when there are many children aboard.
• Princess seems unable to have their Spa tubs at the recommended 102 degrees F. At night they are barely body temperature and therefore uncomfortable.
• Loss of the Explorer’s Lounge.
• The terrible waste of space and environmental pollution devoted to and caused by the photo department. Why are they still printing thousands of useless pictures? Other cruise lines have fully digitized their operation allowing their guests to view only their pictures on kiosks then selecting what they want printed.
• We find that the dinner menu choices are not to the same calibre as before.
• Loss of the aft pool and spa.
• No longer have trays or even glass holders in theatre seats.
• Nautical chart of voyage not posted (usually posted on the LIDO deck aft of pools).
• Menus not posted on both sides of dining room.
• Senior Staff photos not posted as on other ships.
• We find the seating in the center of the Vista lounge impractical.
• The Princess Live Theatre is not a practical setting for the team games because of the row seating and its relatively small size.
• The Library seems to have been an after-thought. Barely the size of a cabin, few chairs and very few books.
• The laundry has been overwhelmed by the number of Elite passengers and their free laundry privilege. Many passengers arrived aboard with significant laundry because of previous touring. The laundry never caught up and it is taking 3 to 5 days to have things returned. Even then things come back piecemeal.
• This has been the worst internet service I have experienced on any voyage perhaps due to too many Elite passengers. Even alongside it is next to useless.
• Poor/broken TV reception of live TV programming. Might expect this in mid-Atlantic but not when tied alongside in Europe.
• We’re disappointed that there are no “Special Edition” souvenirs for this inaugural crossing. All that is offered are souvenirs stating “Inaugural Season”. On other Princess ships there have always been at least coffee cups depicting the route of a particular voyage. Princess dropped the ball here.
• In our opinion the ship is too cool. Not only that, but there are marked temperature differences between zones. What is the point of wearing a bare shouldered or backless dress if you have to wear a shawl? AC gone wild!
• The starboard side of decks 7 and 17 have been designated as smoking areas. The only notice of this is in the first “Patter”. There are no signs on the port side of these decks indicating they are non-smoking. People are smoking throughout these deck areas and staff is not correcting the situation. A complaint to the Purser’s office brought no results.
Considering the observations above the Royal is not the ship for us and we would not book another voyage on her or her sister the Regal. However, we remain loyal Princess passengers.
For the first time we made our flight reservations through Princess eZair. We required flights from Ottawa, Canada to Venice and return from Fort Lauderdale. This was easy to accomplish and we obtained good flights at very competitive prices. We requested departure for 6 October with a return on Monday the 28th. The routing provided was Air Canada to Toronto followed by Air Canada’s new discount airline “Rouge” to Venice then using Westjet for Fort Lauderdale - Toronto – Ottawa.
We arrived at Ottawa airport at 2:30 for our 4:00PM departure. To our surprise there was no one in line. We got our baggage tags from the kiosk and proceeded immediately to baggage drop off then to security. Again no one in front and quick process through security. This was the fastest airport processing we have ever encountered. Now we have time to kill. I hope the rest of the trip to Venice is as simple. Departure from Ottawa is on time aboard an A319. Easy flight to Toronto. After killing about three hours in the Terminal and a pub we board our Venice “Rouge” flight and push back about 10 minutes early. Flight is about 70% full and my gamble to re-book centre isle seats pays off with an empty centre seat. We receive an evening meal which was not indicated on our ticket. Nice surprise but it made up for a very disappointing continental breakfast. Overall good impression of this new airline.
Arrival in Venice is impressive compared to North American misery. We’re quickly off the plane and Immigration /customs consists of nothing more than a smile and a stamp of the passport. Not one question to any passenger we saw. Canada Customs take note! Our bags also arrive much faster than they do in Canada and the US.
We try to collect our pre-paid airport shuttle bus to the Mestre train station across from our hotel, from the available Kiosks, but the machines refuse. We go to the staffed counter, get the prepaid tickets and also buy a 72 hour bus/vaporetto pass. We get wrong directions to the bus platform and end up getting a bus to Venice proper. Eventually get returned to the right place. We drag our bags about 300 feet to our booked hotel the Bologna. We’re very pleased with the hotel and the price.
After check-in we locate an Ali grocery store about four blocks away which also sells wine, beer and liquor . We make a purchase to tide us over. After further exploration we find a shop, Antica Botreza del Vino, located at the corner of Via Cavallotti and Via Felisati, that sells bulk wine near Hotel Aaron but it is closed when we visit. We return in the evening and find that there are about 10 to 12 varieties each of red and white wine that sell for under 2 Euro per liter. Bring your own collapsible bag. We have dinner at Soul Kitchen across the street from the Bologna which was quite good. See report in Trip Advisor.
Tuesday 8 Oct - We enjoy a very good complimentary breakfast at the hotel. We are off early to visit Venice using our 3 day bus and Vaporetto pass. We no sooner board the water bus when I believe I failed to close the room safe. We get off at the next stop and get back to the hotel. Sure enough I had left the safe open but all is still there. I don’t believe anyone had yet been into the room. We return to Venice and spend about five hours walking about and exploring. The day is overcast with occasional sprinkles of rain. The tide is in and some canal side plazas have some water on them. We return to the hotel late in the afternoon. After a little rest we decide on an Asian dinner. We walk about 200 paces along Via Piave and discover Ristorante Oriental a small Asian restaurant next to the Ali grocery. This was an ideal for a casual inexpensive meal. See restaurant review in Trip Advisor.
Wed. 9 Oct – Boarding day - On the advice of an experienced Venice traveller we take the airport bus at 10:40 back to the airport then join a group for our pre-paid Princess shuttle. Princess people are very well organized. We are met, identified, our bags are dropped off to next appear in our room and about 10 minutes later we leave on our coach. A 20 minute ride finds us at the pier. Processing has already begun so we walk directly to check-in, go to the holding area and two minutes later our boarding color is called. We are in our cabin by noon. Very impressive boarding procedure!
While waiting for our bags we take the opportunity to have a quick walk about. The ships appointments are very beautiful. It’s a delight to be on a brand new ship. Unusually slow baggage delivery. We have received 3 of 4 bags by 3:50PM. Of course the missing bag is one that I surrendered just before check-in and it contains a med which required refrigeration. On the other hand all liquid supplies have arrived intact. Missing bag arrives at 4:00pm. We complete our unpacking and head off to the city on foot looking for a “grocery” store. Walking from the pier we make our way to the causeway leading to the city, about 20 minutes. We turn left beside the motorcycle parking and head to the main bus stop and city parking building. Within 300 feet we spot a COOP sign which is a local supermarket chain and the shop turns out to be adjacent to the “A” vaporetto stop. We find our way there and make a further purchase of “supplies”. This time we return to the ship using the “People Mover”, one euro/person, and have no difficulty with security. We return to our cabin, freshen up and proceed to the deck area aft of the Horizon Court to watch all the water traffic while enjoying a bucket of beer. We’re established!
First Impressions – Our cabin, interior A725 is a little larger than our previous experiences. The new flat screen TV is multi-purpose and seems to have much more capability than in the past. The TV has a USB pigtail to the right but no HDMI input. My wife’s opinion is that the overall cabin lighting is brighter. You can now check your account from the cabin by creating an account on your device. This is a separate account from the Internet account. Someone re-measured the shower curtain and it now reaches the inside of the shower pan. No more flooded bathroom! My wife reports the hair dryer which is installed and stored in the drawer is impractical as the power switch must be held on, there is only one heat setting with two speeds and no diffuser. Bring your own. On the other hand there are more power outlets. To the left of the vanity there is a 120 and 230v outlet, while on the right there is another 120v outlet. To the right of the wall mounted TV there is another 120v outlet. There is a duel voltage outlet in the bathroom. We are travelling with a “Belkin” three outlet surge suppressor with duel USB charging ports. This unit’s plug head rotates to four positions allowing it to be inserted to any wall outlets orientation. I purchased the unit on Ebay for about $15. In our opinion the vanity is wider and there is more space around the “queen” configured bed. We’re very happy with our cabin selection. We met Jason, our steward, shortly after boarding and we had an immediate rapport. This is a great start to our journey.
We have explored more of the ship and have found more differences and changes. There is no more “power hour” on any of the ships. The coffee card is more expensive and the mug is no longer included (add $5.00). The steam rooms are no longer available to everyone. They have created a new area called the Enclave that has all the features of the Thermal Suite. For this voyage they require $499.00 per couple for their use. Limited sales available.
We cast our lines about 4:30 PM. For us, long time boaters, one of the highlights was to watch the intense boat activity all around us. Many others have described the passage down the Grand Canal and out the lagoon so I won’t try to elaborate. Suffice to say that it was impressive despite the cool temperature and brisk wind. We had found a sheltered corner on the deck behind the Horizon Court. The very appropriate sailaway music was piped to this area as well as most of the ship.
Oct., 11 – This morning started with a treadmill walk followed by a light breakfast in the Piazza. At 10:30 we had the CC meet and greet. There are over 400 people signed up for this roll call. There was a great turn out and a warm welcome from Samantha our CD. At 2:00PM we will have a slot pull. The group has many other activities planned for the remainder of the cruise.
The slot pull resulted in a draw. Sixty seven people played 15 dollars each and after over an hour we were each about 17 cents ahead. Don’t think we would participate in this event again.
Internet service reliability is always inconsistent but on this cruise it is extremely slow if not dysfunctional. Perhaps it is because of the over 3000 Platinum and Elite members using up their free minutes. During the day we have spoken with a number of experienced Princess cruisers that are less than enthusiastic with the Royal design.
We attended our first Platinum/Elite lounge event. There are so many members aboard that the event is held in the Vista lounge. There was a very heavy turnout for a smoked salmon theme. We’re not impressed with the new layout of the Vista lounge which is now configured in essentially a theatre seating. We met a couple we had met in January on the Emerald and have agreed to meet for a walking tour of Messina tomorrow morning.
Oct., 12 – Messina, Sicily. We arrived here very early in the morning in order to take advantage of high tides. The ship was cleared shortly after six AM. We met up with Alain and Helene and proceeded ashore shortly after nine. We purchased tickets for one of the walk on walk off bus tours (15 EU each). We did a complete circuit in about 50 minutes. This provided a good overview of the city. We took the bus again to the main shopping area then walked back to the “Duomo” a cathedral having a bell tower containing the world’s largest astronomical clock as well as many animated features that are activated at the stroke of noon. We purchased some inexpensive wine at a nearby super mercato, about 5 blocks south of the ship on Corso Vittorio Emanuele. We returned early to the ship for lunch and a sailaway about 4:00PM. Temperatures improved so we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon on the aft deck.
Oct., 13 – Naples. We awoke today to a bright sunny day. The port stop is from 7:00AM to 7:00PM. We leave the ship shortly before 10:00AM with the objective of seeing Naples Underground. The entrance to this site is at Piazza San Gaetano, 68. This turned out to be about a 25 minute walk from the ship. If you are not physically fit don’t read any further about this adventure.
The entrance turned out to be down a short narrow alley left of a church. When we arrived there was a throng of people awaiting entrance. We discovered that tours were offered in different languages and those waiting were waiting for a specific tour. We purchased our tickets (EU9.5) and waited for about 10 minutes for the English tour. His tour takes your over 200 feet underground to the former Roman and Greek theatre, aqueducts and cisterns. Many of these areas were used as bomb shelters during the war. The tour lasted about one and a half hours and was really worth the visit. It is difficult to comprehend how these very extensive caverns were constructed about 2000 years ago. This experience is very worthwhile but you must be fit to climb the extensive stairs.
We followed this with a walk down Via Tribunali. It was a Sunday and the street was alive with the colorful Neapolitan life. Highly recommended! Next we went to the Galeria Umberto located near the Palazzo Reale a short distance from the dock. This structure is remarkable for its incredible dome. Although a major shopping centre most of the shops were closed on Sunday. Nevertheless there were throngs of people in the area and it was fun to be among the crowd. The disappointment about all this walking was the amount of litter we saw. The people are careless and the city is dirty.
Finally, we returned to the port area. Just outside the secure area there were several kiosks/restaurants catering to the ferry passengers. We enjoyed a large Peroni beer for EU3.5 each and were able to use the WIFI and toilet (may not be satisfactory for some ladies). That was the end of our day in Naples.
Tonight we enjoyed dinner in the Concerto Dining room. We had a table for two (348) which is well removed from a serving station and separated from other diners. The noise level was good and we had excellent service from Lesly and Julius. After dinner we attended the Majority Rules game hosted by the Deputy Cruise Director (DCD) Dan the followed this by the comedian Rikki Jay in the Princess theater. Dan is a great entertainer and could be a full time comedian. Rikki Jay was less entertaining and many of his jokes were stale or re-hashed.
Oct., 14 – Civitavecchia/Rome. We awoke to a sunny day and promising temperatures. The plan for today was to go to the town of Tarquinia about 20 km north of the port. We obtained bus tickets from a little ladies shop just to the south of the port exit. The tickets were EU5 each for a round trip. The bus runs about every one and a half hours (Blue bus route A) so check the schedule especially for the return. The purpose of the trip was to visit this walled town and in particular to see the Etruscan Tombs. Unfortunately our visit was on a Monday and the town visitor’s centre and the Tombs were closed. We returned to the port on the 13:35 bus and walked about the port and its walled portion. Many shops and restaurants were again closed because it was Monday. Walk up “Corso Centocelle” on the right side about 8 blocks (15 minutes) from the port to a Todis grocery store if you need supplies.
This evening we had dinner in the Crown Grill. Service and food were very good. We enjoyed the quieter atmosphere and occasional piano music. We followed dinner with playing Liars Game with Sam, Dan and Rikki in the Princess Live theatre. The theatre was filled to capacity and we enjoyed a great game. Our next attraction was first opportunity to see the Water show at the pool. This was advertized as being from 10:30 to 11:30 with the show repeating every 15 minutes. We arrived between shows and caught the 11:00 display. The display was given to the background of James Bond music. Great music but the show only lasted 5 minutes. What a waste of valuable space and money. Big disappointment!
Oct., 15 – Cannes. Arrive at about 8:00AM and anchor. Tender service began about 8:30AM. The Horizon Court area has experienced a really effective transformation on this ship. It has many more serving stations and corridors which go across the ship as well along the ship axis. This really disperses the crowd and allows for areas to offer theme dishes. This morning we used the Horizon Bistro. This is a relatively undiscovered area where you will find the waffle man and lighter breakfast fare.
We took the 20 minute tender ride at about 10:00AM. No wait for the tender. At the tender dock there is free WIFI available. We walked the shore size promenade (La Croisette) to admire all the yachts and high end hotels and shops on the off shore side of the street. We returned to the “Cannes Cinema Tour” mini train stop and took this tour, the Big Tour, one of three offered (EU10 each). This was a very worthwhile tour lasting about an hour and taking us to the less travelled streets and to a church located on a mount overlooking the city. This is a recommended tour.
Tonight we are dining in the Concerto dining room followed by the Name That Tune game then Showtime with Ventriloquist Jimmy Tamley and Vocalist Paul Baker.
The Name That Tune show was well attended. We had an unofficial team which I think did fairly well but we left a few minutes early in order to attend the Show. The ventriloquist was excellent. He was followed by Paul Baker a star of the London stage. He sang a number of his major stage songs. He is a wonderful singer.
Oct., 16 – Barcelona – We start the harbour approach about 8:00AM and finally get alongside and cleared about 9:00AM. Shuttles are provided by Princess and the Port Authority at a fee for transport to the World Trade Centre (About $10 round trip).
We decide to walk to the World Train Centre which takes us about 25 minutes. There we board the Barcelona City Tour one of two operators giving very similar tours. This company offers two Hop on Hop Off routes for EU26 or seniors rate of EU20. This was an outstanding tour and we would highly recommend it. We left the tour at stop #1 then walked the length of Las Ramblas, a broad pedestrian thoroughfare back to the Trade Centre and this time took the city shuttle back to the ship for EU2.50 each.
In our opinion Barcelona is the most beautiful and well maintained city we have ever visited. City planning at its best!
We departed Barcelona at about 8:00PM and set out for Madeira, our final port of call. After dinner we went topside to participate in a Latin night deck party. Dancers from the theatre performed and it was a well attended and entertaining party.
Oct., 17 – Sea Day -We awake to a bright warm day and find many ships around us. We are heading for the Strait of Gibraltar then out into the Atlantic.
We enjoy a wonderful sea day starting with a workout then we attend two lectures and end with a few hours on one of the decks. The most enjoyable lecture was given by John Maxtone-Graham, a maritime historian, on the subject of “The Only Way To Cross” ocean liners of the past.
We decide to go to the Symphony dining room for the first time. We’re warmly greeted by the Maitre D and given a very good table for two. Following a good dinner we are offered a standing reservation for the rest of the voyage. The warm welcome and better environment make us decide to accept.
We try to go the Marriage Game show but are unable to get into the Princess Live theatre. This venue is too small for such a popular show. We follow this with a movie at MUTS. It’s a cool evening and a poor Tom Cruise movie forces us to quit. We go to the rail at about 11:30PM to watch the coastline as we sail pass Gibraltar.
Oct., 18 – Sea Day - A cool and cloudy day. Too windy for the deck! We have an easy morning then attend the second lecture by Mr. Maxtone-Graham this time about Titanic survivors. He is a fascinating speaker.
Prior to dinner we watched comedian Darrell Joyce give an extremely funny routine in the Princess theatre. We dine again in the Symphony dining room table 165 with Sopha as the waiter. Another great dinner! We follow dinner by watching the International Music Event from deck 7 of the Piazza. This was a varied and thoroughly enjoyable spectacle.
Oct., 19 – Funchal, Madeira – We arrive here in the port just about sunrise around 8:00AM. From the sea the town looks very attractive.
We learn that there are two hop on hop off operations the Red and Yellow. We opt for the Red promoting a two hour tour for EU12. This turns out to be money well spent. We have a very extensive tour of the area as well as a climb to a lookout well above the city. Recommended! We had planned to take the cable car to a hilltop but when we get there we see that cloud is building at the summit and decide against this option. Instead we opt to visit the Madeira Story Centre (local museum about EU8) just behind the cable car station. This turns out to be a worthwhile stop. We follow this with a walk of the nearby streets, the local market and a beer stop near the market before returning to the ship about 3:00PM. All aboard is at 5:30 when we will start out across the Atlantic!
We had a good dinner again at table 165 with Sopha. Tried a couple of venues but nothing attracts. We make a nightcap and enjoy it on deck 16 aft. Good night.
Oct., 20 – Sea Day. Awake to a mostly cloudy day. Sea slight with SW wind about 15. Easy morning and then we attend the lecture by Mr. Maxtone-Graham with part two of the only way to cross. Dinner with friends and early evening back to our cabin.
Oct., 21 – Sea Day – Much the same as yesterday. Seas remain gentle. High wind across the deck make the Retreat area nearly unusable.
Oct., 22 – Sea Day – Sunny and warm day. Tried the shooting gallery. Ate at Alfredo’s for dinner. First visit. Disappointed. Food good but service very rushed and indifferent.
Evening entertainment very good tonight. We had comic impressionis Joey Vant then a Mentalist later. Mentatalist Brent Webb put on excellent show.
Decided to end evening with a visit to the spa tub on deck 16 under MUTS. Lone Ranger is the movie playing again tonight. Spa again too cool so we leave after about 15 minutes. Why can’t these small problems be addressed?
Oct., 23 – Sea Day. – We’re a little more than half way across the Atlantic. Terrific crossing so far. Warm day but seas a little choppy, maybe sea state 3. Afternoon turned out like the Caribbean. Seas abated to SS1 and very warm. Outstanding! Looking forward to comedian Al Katz before dinner tonight.
Oct., 24 – Sea Day - Awake today to high thin overcast and SS 0. Warm already. Last formal night tonight. No other commitments.
Oct., 25 – Sea Day – Another gorgeous day. SS about 1. We attended the final production show followed by a show in the Vista Lounge. We find the productions shows repetitive and dated. We ate in the Horizon Court then watched a new murder show in the Princess Lounge.
Oct., 26 – Last sea day. Awoke to generally low overcast and higher winds. SS4 to 5. Plan to start packing this morning. Clouds broke and winds abated resulting in another great day at sea.
Oct., 27 – Fort Lauderdale – We arrived alongside about 4:00AM. The ship plans to begin dis-embarkation at 7:00 with ours due at 10:10. At 8:00AM the usually difficult US Customs and Immigration have still not cleared the vessel. While waiting I’ve tried to use the Internet. Although I’ve been able to connect to the ship nothing downloads. This has been essentially an absolutely useless service on this ship.
This has been an exceptional voyage. We have been very pleased with the itinerary and we would be happy to repeat it at this time of year. We are amazed that we were fortunate enough to have light seas throughout. As usual the crew has been exceptional. We have been pleased with our inner cabin and would select this again for this type of crossing. We have not any significant complaints with the entertainment. We have found the food in the Horizon Count more varied and of very high quality. We have really enjoyed the enhanced Piazza and Horizon Count. We find the other design changes on the Royal have seriously detracted from the features we enjoyed on such ships as the Sapphire and Emerald. We are very unlikely to ever book another voyage on this class of ship.