Having sailed with Princess several times, I followed the construction progress of Royal Princess with great (one might say obsessive) interest. When this cruise was announced, there was no hesitation about booking it. We had never booked a cruise so far in advance - over 500 days!
Travel To Port of Embarkation
We flew into Ft. Lauderdale three nights in advance. On our previous FLL departure cruises, we'd only stayed the night before, and we wanted to actually spend more time here, especially on Las Olas Boulevard.
We stayed at the Riverside Hotel on Las Olas Boulevard. It's an older hotel, but we specifically booked a room in the recently renovated Tower section. We had a room on the 12th floor with a view of the downtown area. The room was large and comfortable. The hotel's location worked well for us as there were numerous dining choices along Las Olas, and the water taxi stop was within reasonable walking distance.
Arrived at port just after 10:00am using C&G Transport arranged thru hotel. No lines waiting at check in. Took 10 min - passport reader system didn't work for mine so the check-in person had to manually key info in. As we have Platinum status, we had priority embarkation and got to wait in the Platinum/Elite/Suite lounge. Terminal 2 has upgraded facilities so it was more pleasant to wait in. Boarding time quoted as 11:30am. On board around 11:45am.
Went straight to Enclave to book voyage length pass for $109/person. Includes choice of one scrub - lavender, tangerine, vanilla/orange, or chocolate/peppermint.
After dropping off our hand luggage in our cabin, went out to finish embarkation to dos and have our 1st lunch.
Returning to our cabin, we met our stateroom steward Ramon who was very friendly & brought us our embarkation glasses of champagne.
Our luggage was delivered shortly before 3pm. Muster drill was at 3:15pm. Alas you still have to take your life jackets to the drill. Don't understand why Princess hasn't done away with this when other cruise lines have. Post muster drill was sheer gridlock trying to get back to our cabin, as our muster station was in the Piazza.
Due to delays in getting baggage loaded, Sailaway was delayed an hour till 5pm. Our CC group met up at Outriggers Bar.
As is customary with Princess, stateroom was ready upon boarding. We were originally booked for an aft deluxe balcony on Baja, but our cabin was done away with during construction. We were upgraded to a mini suite under the SeaWalk on Riviera deck (R415). There have been many complaints about the size of the balconies on Royal. Not ours - it's an angled balcony coming to the point of the curve. Plenty of room to face our chairs forward with the foot stools out and still space available. If you want a good size balcony but don't want to spring for a suite or aft cabin, then you want to snag any of the "point cabins" on either the SeaWalk or SeaView Bar sides.
New climate/light control system turns off the TV and lights when your cruise card isn't inserted. However it doesn't shut off the A/C nor the power outlets so you can charge devices even when not in the room. We wished we had more control of the A/C though - we had it set on max and there were times it still felt too warm.
Mini suite bathroom is well appointed with shower/tub and decent counter space & shelves. The location of the toilet paper holder didn't seem too awkward to get to for me -maybe it's different for regular balcony cabins? The lighting is much brighter than any other cabin bathroom I've been in. Linens weren't quite as plush as I would have expected for either being a new ship and/or being in a minisuite.
The safe features a nice upgrade - a shelf so you can have things on two levels inside - really maximizes the usual space so why hasn't someone thought of this before?
Plenty of closet hangars, shelves in the wardrobe, and there's a handy hook right inside the cabin door good for hats, umbrellas, or jackets.
9 drawers total in the bedroom & living areas plus three shelves along the side of the desk, and the handy little half moon shelf by the closet area.
No power outlets by the bed - two at the desk so bring power strips.
Bedding is vastly improved - most comfortable mattress, pillows, and linens I've had on any Princess ship. Still the pillows weren't perfect - one wasn't enough & two was too much for my liking. Initially, there was no top sheet - just the comforter that got warm, especially given my A/C comments previously. After the first night, I asked for an extra flat sheet. Not sure if this was just an omission to start.
Sofa is quite comfortable with soft coverings, good cushions, and ample throw pillows.
Desk has a shelf under the mirror with a little railing so that was handy to collect loose stuff instead of spreading all over the desk.
The mystery of where's the hair dryer is solved once you open the top left desk drawer. The hair dryer is permanently plugged into the wall thru the drawer, so you can only use it at the desk.
Fridge is large enough to hold an ice bucket and we stashed a 12 pack of pint size water bottles in there.
Mini suite has 2 large flat screen TVs - theoretically you could draw the curtain divider between the bed & sofa areas so someone could watch TV while the other person sleeps. TVs have beautiful clear displays. Limited number of live TV channels: ESPN International, ESPN2, BBC World News, Fox News, CNBC, Engage, MSNBC, & the ship webcam. Great section of video on demand movies - only wish we'd had more time to enjoy some of them.
A good size oval two level coffee table (great for setting my vase of flowers on that I always order) and a side chair round out the furniture.
The curtains for the balcony are well designed so they overlap plus Velcro strips so you don't have to worry about any light getting thru and waking you up too early.
Got our cardio in by taking the forward stairs (closest set to our room) up & down to deck 14. Lack of central publicly accessible stairs is a major design flaw as everyone has pointed out.
Piazza is spectacular - light open & airy. I expected it to be jaw dropping and it didn't disappoint.
Lotus Spa is ginormous and beautiful. Everything uses RFID bands - accessing the Enclave and your locker. The locker room/changing area is appointed in beautiful light wood cabinets & trim. You are given use of a spa robe & sandals. Large hydrotherapy pool with massage jets and showers. 3 sauna type rooms: Hammam, Caldarium, & Laconium. 8 heated stone beds. 2 waterbeds. 4 showers each with a speciality option: Tropical Rain, Cold Mist, Rain Shower Drops (absolutely the best with perfect water pressure & wonderful aromatherapy scent), & Siberian Shower. Well worth buying the cruise length pass. I'll get many more hours of enjoyment than springing for a spa treatment, which I can get at home for less money. Whereas I can't get access to all the features of the Enclave.
Because of our Enclave passes, we only went to the Retreat (adults only pool area) once. Holy frigid pool water! If that pool is heated boy you can't tell.
So happy that Vista Lounge is on this ship because its far better for bingo than Club Fusion. However the row of chairs in between the bench seating meant you had to keep climbing over people to move in & out of the rows. I don't remember it being that cramped on Golden Princess.
The Piazza staircase columns of light make a great formal night photo background.
Seems to be areas where the A/C is not working well - elevators, lower deck stairwells, and Vista Lounge in particular.
Have heard lots of complaints about the elevators being too small.
Had not done much reading on this cruise so spent a couple hrs one morning doing so, trying out the seating options on the limited promenade deck. There are rattan chairs outside the Piazza, and padded loungers in the aft. Neither area offers shade however.
Tried to use the new digital photo kiosks but they wouldn't scan our cruise cards. Repeatedly saw Windows error messages on the screens, and never saw them in working order the entire cruise. They still do the old school prints displayed on large boards, but the location of the photography area out of a walking corridor is a vast improvement compared to other ships.
Wifi access from our cabin worked well until the 2nd to the last night of the cruise through to afternoon of last day. Kept trying to log onto Internet - very slow & spotty. Worst access of cruise.
The new Princess Theater design is great for no line of sight obstructions. However there are no drink tables and the seats are very snug - large sized people wouldn't be comfortable.
Did our shopping for Royal Princess merchandise - plenty of inaugural season clothing & gift items available.
Went to MUTS to see The Way, Way Back. Video resolution is incredible, but the sound needed to be a little louder - hard to hear some of the quiet dialogue lines. 2nd night we saw Star Trek Into Darkness on MUTS. Happy to see the proper cushions & head pillows on the deck chairs 2nd night - they were strangely absent 1st night.
Saw the late night show of 2011 Princess Entertainer of the Year comedian Carlos Oscar. It was packed in Vista Lounge and the A/C was clearly having problems. So we were fine with seats in the far left near the doors though a flood of latecomers who decided to stand in the aisles meant we couldn't see Carlos on stage very much. Surprised cruise staff didn't turn people away as I'm pretty sure the maximum room occupancy was exceeded.
On Halloween night, the place to be was the Piazza. Tried the Milky Way martini at Crooners and listened to piano player Kory Simon. The Halloween party started at 11pm, and we had fun admiring some of the very creative costumes. Many people were in full costume, others had Halloween jewelry or selected accessories (ties, hats, headbands).
On the last night of the cruise, we finally saw a production show in Princess Theater - one of the new ones "Colors of the World". Most technologically advanced stage set up we've seen on a Princess ship. Great effects & colorful costumes. Some of the modern music choices didn't make a lot of sense with the theme of the show (what does Cindy Lauper's True Colors have to with Japanese culture?)
Also on the last night, we saw all 4 of the fountain shows: James Bond, songs about rain, Frank Sinatra, & instrumental. The shows are cool, but I'm not sure that the deck space wouldn't be better served with more usable pool area.
I did two morning Zumba classes, both of which were held on Center Court (basketball court) on Deck 18. About 20-30 people participated. Class lasted 45-60 min.
Consistently watched the Wake (aka morning) show on stateroom TV - with Princess Live studio the morning show is taken to a whole other level with a completely professional looking production.
Played all of the bingo sessions - no winnings sadly.
Cruise Critic Meet & Greet was held in Vista Lounge as we had more than 200 RSVP. I thought this was going to be hosted by Princess, but we had no officers or staff in attendance. We did group introductions, taped video greetings to Dave who couldn't join our cruise but had done the legendary "Everything Royal Princess" thread, and did a gift exchange.
Attended only one of the Elite/Suite/Platinum cocktail hours. Held in Club 6 - it was well attended but not too crowded. Appetizers were sushi and special drink was Japanese Slipper.
Attended the Captains Circle Party. We could only stay until 7pm as we had dinner reservations, so we missed getting to hear Captain Tony Draper speak. We did learn that 300 people were doing the BTB with the 7d sailing starting 11/3.
Port & Shore Excursions
Port #1 - Princess Cays
As we have been to the island a few times and since this cruise was all about enjoying the new ship, we opted not to go ashore so I can't comment on how the new tenders worked or the efficiency of tendering operations.
Port #2 - Grand Turk
See Port review of Horseback Beach Ride, Swim & Scenic Drive cruise tour excursion.
Day 1 Lunch - Tried to go to Alfredo's but the pizza ovens were having a problem so they weren't open. Plan B was Horizon Court - pretty much the typical embarkation mob scene so even though Horizon Court is greatly expanded on Royal, it was still pretty congested. After surveying all our options, we went over to Prego for our traditional first slice of pizza. Then had a sampling of chicken wings and finger foods from Horizon.
Day 1 Dinner - Attempted to dine in the MDR arriving about 6:50. We were told that the Concerto dining room was not available for Anytime seating until 8pm. No where is this documented - so I suspect that this cruise had an abnormally large demand for Traditional Seating due to high number of Platinum/Elites and therefore the Allegro dining room wasn't enough? Then we tried to go downstairs to Symphony dining room.It was filled to capacity, no pagers were available, and they couldn't quote a wait time. I think the delayed Sailaway time meant that no one ate early and since they weren't letting us Anytime folks into Concerto, it was a major MDR #fail. Plan B was take 2 for Alfredo's. A must try dish: the veal beef pasta pockets (Agnolotti Gratinati alla Piemontese) - delicious!
Day 1 Dessert - First Gelato indulgence of the cruise. By recommendation of the Princess social media folks, I got the Brownie Blast sundae but substituted Nutella flavor for the chocolate. Yummy! You get a very tall sundae glass filled with multiple scoops & toppings - well worth the $2.75 charge.
Day 2 Breakfast - Skipped in favor of sleeping in & exercise.
Day 2 Lunch - First of several of our progressive lunch days! Started with a few light breakfast items in Horizon Court. Then went down to International Cafe to have shrimp salad (a personal favorite) & a couple light bites. Returned to Horizon Court for some nachos (love they have fresh cilantro) & a couple treats from the Pastry Shop.
Day 2 Dinner - Decided to stay casual tonight and had dinner in Horizon Bistro for Italian Trattoria Night. Shrimp fra diablo, herbed focaccia, multiple types of arancini, caprese salad, and several good pastas filled two plates worth. Best Horizon Court buffet dinner of the cruise.
Day 3 Breakfast - Buffet in Horizon Court - waffle from Pastry Shop, one of my all-time favorite chocolate croissants (which are really called bear claws), & bacon.
Day 3 Lunch - As it was a sea day that meant the Pub Lunch was being offered in the Wheelhouse Bar/Crown Grill. We had the fish & chips - tasty as always.
Day 3 Dinner - First dinner in MDR - no wait for a table at 6:30pm. Ate with one other couple. I had the fettuccine Alfredo appetizer, goat cheese & apple soup w/grape tempura, lobster tail & king prawns, & milky chocolate-hazelnut soufflé. All delicious!
Day 4 Breakfast - Decided today was our once-a-cruise breakfast in the MDR. Neither of the daily specials was particularly appealing, so we both opted for the old faithful smoked salmon & cream cheese on toasted bagel.
Day 4 Lunch - Did another progressive lunch - started with a slice of pizza from Prego, then onto Horizon Court & Pastry Shop.
Day 4 Dinner - We tried the CrabShack on the only night of the cruise it was offered (Fondues had been the night before). Enjoyed everything! Appetizer was popcorn shrimp & hush puppies. Soup was Manhattan Clam Chowder. For entree, I had the peel & eat shrimp, while Scott had the mud bug boil. A few choices from the Pastry Shop were the dessert options.
Day 5 Breakfast - Had quick bite at International Cafe (2 warm & yummy almond croissants). Learned that what I've been calling a chocolate croissant is really called a chocolate bear claw. Went back to IC so Scott could try one of the almond croissants. I had the chocolate croissant (proper) and a healthy yogurt musli parfait.
Day 5 Lunch - Another progressive lunch - started at Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar. I had the chile & lime crab margarita. Totally delicious with lots of crab meat - well worth the $6 charge. Scott had the dressed king crab cocktail. Wish we hadn't waited till the end of the cruise to try OTSB - I would definitely have had another of those crab margaritas. Then back to Alfredo's for pizza & the fabulous veal beef pasta pockets.
Day 5 Dinner - Started dinner at the Trident Grill for the evening BBQ. Scott said the brisket & ribs were OK (nothing compared to the great STL BBQ places) but we agreed that the jumbo (not really) chicken wings were quite good. Moved onto Horizon Court where the buffet selection wasn't as good as earlier in the cruise - nothing was open in Bistro.
Day 5 Dessert - Second Gelato indulgence of the cruise. I tried the Fluffernutter sundae but substituted Dulce de Leche flavor for the Nutella, just to try a 2nd flavor. It was good but the Brownie Blast w/ Nutella was better.
Ramon was one of the best stateroom stewards we've ever had. Very responsive to any special requests we had and always had a smile & enthusiastic greetings for us in the hallways. Oddly though we didn't get any towel animals. We gave him an extra tip at the end of the cruise.
Food servers were generally good in the Horizon Court, MDR, & specialty dining areas.
Bar service was a mixed bag. Crooners & Ocean Terrace Bar seemed understaffed.
Awoke probably 5am to sounds of pulling into Port Everglades. 3 other ships in port with us: Allure of the Seas, Eurodam, & Nieuw Amsterdam.
Had our final breakfast in Horizon Court. 2 chocolate bear claws to tide me over for a year!
Left our room about 7:30 and headed to Platinum/Elite/Suite disembarkation lounge. Our Captains Circle host Crissy started calling the first tag colors at 7:50 and ours (Red3) was called at 8:00 - about 10 min behind published schedule.
Quickly retrieved our luggage but then had a 20 min wait to get thru customs & immigration. Boarded our Princess transfer bus and arrived at FLL airport shortly after 9am. Lines at Southwest check-in and TSA security were pretty light, and we were into terminal area by 9:30 for our 11:10am flight.
Absolutely glad we did this maiden Caribbean cruise, though I wished we would have also booked the following 7d as a BTB to have more time to explore & enjoy other aspects of the ship.
We loved our minisuite w/angled balcony - and I think I'd have a hard time being in a regular balcony stateroom because those balconies are so narrow. I'd still like to try the deluxe balcony category that we were originally supposed to be in.
No doubt the Piazza is a home run. I'd say the Enclave is as well - thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing time in there. MUTS screen is phenomenal. And if you're a foodie, I'd say unequivocally that Royal is the ship for you.
Did I miss some of the features found on the Grand/Super Grand class? Sure - most notably the dumbfounding lack of a center staircase and the shaded wraparound promenade deck. The Wheelhouse Bar is better designed on the older ships, as are the elevators. Would any of these stop me from booking again on the Royal? Absolutely not.
So is Royal my favorite ship? Right now I'd have to say it's a tie with Emerald.