We are experienced cruisers (approx. 40) on many different lines but have always been partial to Princess. When we first learned of the Royal being built we knew we had to experience her early on. We chose the inaugural 7-day eastern Caribbean sailing and booked the first day cabins were available. We watched all the videos as she took shape and were even more excited when we learned Captain Tony Draper would be the master. We’ve sailed with Captain Draper twice before and love his wit and dry sense of humor.
Reading the initial reviews during the Royal’s Mediterranean season began to cause us some concern. Normally we attribute negative reviews to personal observations but there seemed to be recurrent issues reported by the Princess faithful. Nonetheless, our sailing day arrived and seeing her in Port Everglades made us giddy with excitement!
Initially embarkation went very quickly and smoothly right up to the time we got our cruise cards and saw many passengers queued up inside the terminal building. More and more people arrived and there was no information from Princess what the delay was. We were early, but not that early (1030 AM), and we sat not knowing what the issues were. Finally we heard that the boarding was delayed due to a back-to-back passenger who failed to get off the ship between sailings (as required) and could not be found. This caused thousands of others to wait up to two hours before boarding finally commenced. Not Princess’s fault but some info would have been helpful.
Once on board, one cannot help but be overwhelmed by the beauty of the atrium and the gleaming "new car” look the Royal has. Everything shines and we were anxious to check out the rest of the ship.
I will try not to be too repetitive on comments already covered in other reviews but some do warrant further discussion.
Cabin: Our favorite category is the mini-suite and we loved the soothing decorations. We don’t watch TV on cruises (or much any other time) so the new flat screens did nothing for us. Yes, the balcony is much smaller but we were able to enjoy our morning coffee out there. The cabin seemed completely soundproof and we never heard anyone next to us or above us- very nice! Cabin steward was friendly, very efficient, and much deserved the extra gratuity.
Elevators & Stairs: Much has been written on this and most of it is accurate. What concerned us was not so much the inconvenience for able-bodied persons but if one has mobility challenges we could see a lot of frustration (if not downright danger) should one need to move quickly. I’m sure the Royal has an excellent evacuation plan, but I couldn’t help wondering what one would do if the elevators went out.
Horizon Court: The newly designed and expanded Horizon Court is just fantastic. So many choices, no lines, and excellent food. In the rear is the new Horizon Terrace where we enjoyed all our breakfasts and several lunches. It is covered from the sun, has comfy chairs, and never felt crowded.
Dining: We always choose Anytime Dining on Princess and the Symphony Dining room is dedicated to that group. We loved that there are many, many tables for two now and we never waited more than 15 minutes for a place to enjoy a quiet dinner. The headwaiter quickly learned of our location preference and the waiter team treated us famously. Princess has upped their game in the food department and one meal was better than the next. As a side note, I was also very happy to see enforcement of the dress code on formal nights. A passenger was very upset to be turned away but the staff stuck to their guns and I complemented them on this. We were very disappointed last year on HAL when people in shorts were allowed into the dining room at night. If one chooses not to dress up, there are plenty of other options on the ship. Speaking of other options, don’t miss Alfredo’s Pizzeria for great pizza and salads. Pub lunch was offered twice- it was good as always.
Pools & Spa: We had read much about the pool situation and agree that during the Caribbean season this may lead to a lot of overcrowding. We liked the adults only Retreat Pool but unfortunately were not really able to use it. A very large charter group (several hundred) chose this area to gather each day so there were no chairs to be had and the pool was filled with people to capacity. For those liking sauna or steam rooms, your only option is the Enclave located in the Spa. This involves an extra charge ($159 per person) and gives access to the thermal pool, heated benches, steam, and sauna. We went for it and used it each day but this, too, was a favorite of the group on board and it was quite crowded at times. One should be able to at least use a sauna without having to pay extra each time, especially on longer voyages.
Gym: We work out regularly and were looking forward to seeing the facility onboard. All the necessary equipment was there but the area was very tight and claustrophobic. I wanted to participate in the TRX classes but found $60 to be ridiculous. Without paid classes, one cannot use the TRX equipment.
Library: As others have noted, it is painfully small for a ship this size with very little in the way of interesting reads. Not everyone has an e-reader and this would again be an issue on a longer cruise.
Entertainment: Wonderful choices all week long no matter what one’s taste is. The highlight was comedian Carlos Oscar, the Princess 2011 entertainer of the year. If he is on your ship, do not miss it! We also very much enjoy the art auctions and have decorated our home with many pieces purchased onboard Princess ships. The art director, Daniel, was knowledgeable and very personable.
Ports of call were standard Eastern Caribbean with Grand Turk being substituted for Princess Cay due to high winds. Grand Turk is, unfortunately, beginning to look a lot like Disney Land or Vegas with loud music and people crammed into Margaritaville. We fled back to the ship after a very short time.
All- in- all we loved our cruise on the Royal. Yes there are some design decisions that make experienced cruisers shake their heads, but we have to defer to the experts and enjoy the ship- or not. Clearly with the Regal coming out next year it will be interesting to see if passengers warm to these ships or if they become deeply discounted just to fill them. Only time will tell. For now, we say go and enjoy the first class service, great food, and wonderful entertainment.