EMBARKATION: I arrived by shuttle bus from my hotel quite early, around 9:30am, and was third in line. Before the main entry doors opened at 10:15am, they had already handed out the Health Questionnaire, then all the Priority Embarkation passengers (Suites, Elite, Platinum) were allowed in first. It only took a few minutes to get my key card, and then we were all directed to a separate seating area on the backside of the first floor that faced the ship. This seating area quickly filled up over the next hour.
Just after 11:30am this section was moved upstairs to another seating area, then we boarded the ship in orderly fashion by rows, passing the Embarkation photo backdrops before entering the gangway. Once aboard I went straight to my room to drop off my carry-on, went to Sabatini's on Plaza Deck forward and made my dinner reservations for that evening, then ate lunch at the International Cafe. All this before 12:30pm.
By 1:30pm the line of cars and vans to get to the drop off point for the ship was backed up well out of sight. I'm sure for those folks it was a bit of a nightmare.
CABIN: I had C406, a 'sideways' inside, for two weeks. Location was perfect, with no cabin forward of me, and quick access to the amidships elevators, or just a bit further walk to the forward elevators and stairs.
The cabin layout has it that both bathrooms and closet areas of my cabin and the one aft of it are back-to-back, so noise from the other cabins bedroom area and TV were never an issue, nor did I actually ever hear anything at all from the other cabin during the two weeks I was aboard ship. The head of my bed was facing the bow end, the foot of the bed facing toward the aft end.
Storage space was plenty for me, and I never used most of the drawers in the bedroom area or shelves in the two smaller closet areas. A lot of my items I just kept in my suitcase or carry-on and pulled them out as I needed them. My large suitcase fit easily under the bed. The pump dispensers in the shower were a nice addition, but I always bring my own from home. The position of the toilet paper dispenser was a non-issue.
WiFi from the cabin worked quite well using my iPhone, as did the A/C, and TV. No issues with shower water pressure or temperature.
The interactive TV offered a lot more options than I could ever have used in the time I was aboard ship.
The Intranet was great, and although I save the Patters as a keepsake, I never really used the paper version, always opting to use my iPhone instead. Not only does the Intranet list all ships activities and venues, but also lists menus for most all restaurants except the MDR.
EMERGENCY DRILL: Being that my cabin was near amidships, I took this opportunity to use the crew stairwell to get to my station in the Concerto Dining Room. In case of an actual emergency this stairwell will be used for passengers, but it is not open under normal conditions for passenger traffic. I took some pictures to show it being used, and just how 'industrial' this area is compared to passenger areas.
FOOD: As this is probably the most subjective matter aboard ship, these opinions are of course mine only.
I never ate a single meal in any of the main dining rooms with the exception of one evening at the Wine Makers Table (which was fantastic!) in the Concerto Dining Room. There were 12 of us from Cruise Critic and it was an incredible night, great food and drink, and I highly recommend it.
All of my meals (and snacks) were taken at either the many other complimentary venues aboard Royal Princess or the surcharge/a la carte venues:
- International Cafe (always a great selection, all day long; breakfast pastries and egg muffin sandwiches, loved the Shrimp Salad and Cuban Sandwiches at lunch, fresh cookies and several desert choices)
- Alfredo's (great pizza, wonderful antipasta, pastas, and deserts, LOVED the Summer Sangria!)
- Horizon Court, the Pastry Shop (don't forget the fresh made waffles at breakfast), and Horizon Bistro (I was very happy with the vast selections for all meals, good quality, and very tasty)
- Trident Grill (daytime, great hamburgers) and Trident Grill BBQ (evening, enjoyed the pulled pork sandwiches and chili on more than one occasion)
- Prego's (pizza was much better than last year)
- Swirls (great soft serve ice cream, popcorn at night)
- Outrigger Bar (chips and salsa with drink order, made to order burritos but you had to ask for them)
- Pub Lunch (two different menus, and the food was really good)
- Princess Cafe! (small selection of breakfast snacks, coffee machine)
- Room service for breakfast on turn-around day (a wonderful option, delivered on time and nice selection)
I also ate at all of the surcharge options including: Sabatini's (twice), Crown Grill (twice), Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar (twice, and the chef there was a true artisan), Gelato's (too many times), Fondue's (once), and the Crab Shack (once).
Other than the MDR's, there was not a single venue I didn't eat at during the two weeks I was aboard ship, and I thought the food was very good to excellent. Was it 5-star gourmet cuisine? Maybe not, but to me it was all very, very tasty and there was never an item that I ordered that I didn't like. All of them were quite excellent, but I'd be hard pressed to justify the expense of Fondue's again although I really did enjoy the one time I ate there.
The Lido Deck buffet area is huge, and a vast improvement over previous Princess ships. One complaint I heard was that it 'didn't flow'. But I thought it was much better than the closed in caged area from previous ships. As many have said, walk the entire venue from one end to the other, decide on what you want, then fill your plate. Waitstaff will bring breakfast drink items (OJ, coffee, water) around table side, or take drink requests and get them for you. I also really liked the hand washing stations at the entrance to the Lido buffet areas. Very convenient.
The service in all of the eateries and restaurants was excellent. Best advice is to get there shortly after they open, because it can get quite busy later on. This holds true even for places like Alfredo's, where service can range from 30-40 minutes from start to finish, to well over an hour if you happen to hit it when it's busy.
I also enjoyed an adult beverage at every bar on the ship at least once, and found the service quite acceptable even during busy times.
The one complaint I did hear from someone about the International Cafe was that they didn't like the way the new coffee ordering system was set up, sort of like a land based coffee shop where you order at one counter and then pick-up at a different counter. To me this was a much better method, and prevented congestion of everyone standing around the same counter as on the Grand-class.
ENTERTAINMENT: We happen to hit quite a few acts that were in transit, there for just one sailing or ending their tour and heading off to another ship, and felt quite fortunate to have had such high quality entertainers for the most past. At times there is simply too much going on, and even with two weeks aboard ship I somehow missed major shows like the magician David Cats and Ye Old London Pub Night.
I did see all four of the new production shows, and although they were quite nicely done, not all of them were exactly to my personal taste. I did like 'Colors of the World' and 'Sweet Soul Music', not so much 'Spectacular' and the other one whose name escapes me at the moment.
The entertainment in the expanded atrium was much better than I had imagined. I wasn't even sure at first how dance classes in the atrium would work, but that, along with everything else, just worked better having the extra room for dancing and the various acts to perform.
The best show of the cruise was without a doubt The Beatlemaniacs. Superb in every aspect, and they really got the entire atrium hopping during the second show I watched. The first show in the Princess Theater was less conducive to getting up and shaking your booty, but people were on their feet clapping to the music and having a great time.
The Princess Theater has an odd layout, and took some getting use to. I must say that I do prefer the design from the previous class ships. More than once I saw people trying to climb over the seats at the end of rows trying to get out. And the seats in the far back had pretty bad sight lines with everyone else's heads in the way. I did prefer the new digital backgrounds during the shows as it allowed for more options for backdrops and added to the productions. I don't drink during the shows as I can wait until I'm back at a bar, but I did see staff with tablets taking drink orders, and as noted by many others there is no place to set you drink when it arrives. You have to hold it in your hands during the entire show, then take the glass out with you or set it on the floor hoping it doesn't spill out any left over contents.
Club 6 is a venue that seems to work best during the day to host gatherings or shipboard activities. I never went there at night, but can't imagine how the layout works well enough as a disco, but maybe better as a low key nightclub for gathering and socializing? It's sort of divided into two spaces, a smaller area by the bar and dance floor, the other larger area just past the bar area where most of the seating is. It has lots of large windows but for some reason the shades were always pulled. I think it may have to do with the forward and lower location of the venue, and salt spray accumulation outside from the waves coming off of the bow.
Loved the expansive new Crooners. The location of the venue does compete with entertainment from the Piazza, so there wasn't something going on at both venues at the same time as far as music. But it was great to sit and listen to the piano, people watch, and just relax. Lots of seating and great views if you sat near the numerous floor to ceiling windows during the day.
Vines was also a nice place to sit and watch or listen to the entertainment from the atrium. Lots of ocean view windows and plenty of seating. I enjoyed several long conversations here, especially on the days we anchored at Princess Cays. It was a nice place to enjoy the views and have a drink and tapas.
The International Cafe also has quite a few large windows, twice as many as the Grand-class in the same venue. Lots of seating and a great place to grab a snack or a meal, a coffee beverage, or a drink from the bar.
Movies Under the Stars was very, very nice. There was a slight discoloration in a small part in the upper left side, as if maybe it had been struck by something (a bird?), but it didn't take away from the amazing clarity of the screen overall. I did watch one full length movie and all of the water shows, as well as the generic scenic and wildlife clips that were played to soft music and shown during the day. Not having constant, blaring noise all day long was a nice change, although I did hear complaints of not having movies and concerts playing all the time was a bit boring. Can't have it both ways.
I enjoyed Princess Live! on more than one occasion for Trivia and lectures. The seating is a bit stiff but it wasn't horribly uncomfortable. It's a novel idea for a venue, and although it doesn't replace the Explorer's Lounge from previous ships, it was quite interesting to watch the shows. Did I miss the Explorer's Lounge from the Grand-class ships? Sort of, but I never really used it that much on Ruby Princess to begin with.
The seating in the Vista Lounge is quite tight, especially the barrel chairs place directly behind the bench seating. The entire venue just seemed claustrophobic to me, but so did the same location venue on the Grand-class ships.
TOPSIDE: I'm not a 'sun worshiper' or pool user, but I made it a point to go up several times a day every day to check it out. The cabanas in the Retreat were almost all always reserved, the loungers around the cabanas almost always in use, but you could always find an empty one.
The main pool areas stayed quite busy, but seemed to handle the crowds well enough, and depending on the time of day and which direction the ship was headed, there were lots of shaded loungers on the Sun Deck aft of the pool, as well as on the tiered decks forward of the pool. The large seating areas adjacent to the pool and under the Sun Deck overhang were also quite nice, and I enjoyed sitting on the sofas and reading during the day or enjoying the cool breezes away from the direct sunlight.
The water shows at night were entertaining and nicely done, and the fountain play for kids during the day was mostly done when the ship was in port. The stage area of the fountains was used during the day for additional loungers, and at night for either additional MUTS padded loungers or as a huge dance floor on several occasions, most noticeably during Hot Latin Nights. But I agree that this real estate could have been put to better use, maybe instead just a small artsy fountain and another larger pool.
During my two weeks aboard ship I never really noticed the soot topside, but it was quite bad on two days in particular. On those two days it was most visible on the back half of the walking and jogging track, but on the final day of Week 2 it was quite noticeable from the amid ship jacuzzi's above the pool deck all the way back to the aft portion of Deck 18 past Center Court. They did have crew members up there sweeping away the residue, but on this second incident it was very bad, and the deck was literally spotted with soot chunks. This is a real problem that Princess Cruises must solve, regardless of cost to the company. As for fumes, I did smell them briefly at the back end of the jogging track but it wasn't bad enough to deter me from using that venue.
The Atrium and Piazza are simply stunning. The vast array of eateries, lounges and bars, shops, and the entertainment held here, make this the hub of the entire ship.
Twice I took the tour of The Enclave at Lotus Spa and had it been in my budget would not have hesitated in buying a full-week pass. It looked very nice and most of the 40 passes available were sold out within the first day aboard ship. The entire venue feels quite exotic.
I never accessed The Sanctuary and wish now that I had bought a full-cruise pass. Maybe next time.
The Fitness Center looked very nice as well, with lots of different machines available. There were no steam showers, no saunas, no steam baths, just two regular showers in the men's changing room. Oddly enough, the location of the Fitness Center in relation to the Sun Deck loungers amid ship by the funnel, those loungers aft by the ships mast, and the Youth and Teen Centers, turns the Fitness Center into a thoroughfare. I can't imagine this being conducive to those trying to concentrate on exercising with the constant pedestrian activity.
The Platinum Studio looked very nice, and the gentleman that ran the venue was all the more welcoming.
The Youth and Teen Centers are key card accessed, so not just anyone can walk in. I did go up on two occasions to get the total head counts and the facilities looked very nice.
The Center Court sports zone area is another vast improvement over previous ships, and there always seemed to be someone up there playing basketball on the huge court, in the game lounge area playing table tennis, using the batting cage and golf simulator, or using the putt putt course. It was also used for everything from Zumba to morning exercise rituals by the large Asian contingent of passengers aboard ship.
The Jogging and Walking Track on Deck 18 was rather nice, sometimes a bit windy, and it was used a lot in the early morning and late afternoon. Very few times were passengers walking in the 'wrong direction', but it really wasn't an issue. The stationary exercise pieces were also used, but not a whole lot.
SeaWalk was a lot neater than I had imagined, and for some reason a bit more daunting. I guess only then did I realize I have a fear of heights at times, and seeing the water rush by underneath was a bit scary. Yes, I'm a wuss, and had to hold on to the handrail. It also was a bit slippery, so be careful when walking across it. Also liked the SeaView Bar, and had the opportunity to sit and enjoy drinks on several occasions, although I always seemed to miss the Flair Shows they had there.
There was plenty of truly nice art work on the ship, and more than once I walked the entire passenger stateroom deck areas, and both the forward and aft stairwell columns from top to bottom, enjoying the many photograph contest winning entries, as well as the numerous paintings and sculptures. And it made for nice exercise as well.
The elevators were never really an issue for me, even those amid ship nearest my cabin, which I used a LOT. I guess I'm a bit more patient than others, and when an elevator would arrive full, instead of grumbling, I'd wait for the next one. Even at the busiest of times I can't ever recall waiting more than a few minutes to catch a ride to wherever I was going. However, the elevators are an issue for those in scooters, and I'm not quite sure how they could remedy the situation. On more than one occasion I heard it recommended that there should be an elevator dedicated solely for those in scooters or need H/C accessible lifts. The elevator lobbies seemed to become a parking lot for scooters overnight.
The self service laundromats were quite nice, and I used them on more than one occasion to either wash clothes or iron my shirts. The token dispenser is a huge improvement over using quarters.
Although I did not use them, the Concierge Lounge and small Wedding Chapel looked nice enough for their intended function. Sure, I've seen better on other ships, but it is what it is. And even though I didn't have access to the Concierge Lounge I was able to walk in from the Wedding Chapel.
Never once did I smell cigarette smoke coming up from the Casino into the shops areas, although some said there was a faint odor. I'm pretty darned sensitive to the smell of cigarettes, and never smelled it. I did walk through the Casino in the evening during normal operations, and was able to transit without any trouble. Yes, at that point you could smell the cigarette smoke, I just sort of held my breath until I got to the other side. And I lived to tell about it. The casino seemed to be a bit smaller than the ones on the Grand-class, and I'm not sure if it's because Club 6 takes away from part of that venue on Royal Princess, or it's the design with all of the slot machines packed in around the spiral staircase that goes up to Deck 7 that makes it feel smaller.
The gifts shops aboard ship are also quite nice, and I made it a point to visit each one, including Essence, Meridian Bay, and Facets. I did see people in Celebrations on several occasions, but the merchandise is overpriced IMHO. Calypso Cove had a nice sale on Inaugural Season merchandise and I grabbed several items including a small silver serving tray ($9.95) and several boxes of tasty English Toffee in specially made wooden boxes that were marked down from $40 to 4.99$ and gave them away as gifts. Once that price was discovered on the toffee, the entire inventory sold out in less than five minutes, and I walked away with about 1/2 of it.
The Captain's Circle Hostess and Future Cruise Center reps were always slammed when they were open, and lots of people waiting long before they did open. Someone mentioned they should be open all day from early morning to late night, but I imagine the staff there also have other jobs. On the day we anchored at Princess Cay I swear I saw the CC hostess running the tender ticket distribution in the Symphony Dining Room.
The Princess Art Gallery across from the main souvenir shop was a nice small space to wander through, and they clogged the Vista Lounge on more than one occasion for the art auctions, but I wonder if this really is the best use for these spaces and how much revenue is actually generated.
The Internet Cafe was very busy at times, and the internet connectivity on the desktops there sort of finicky, but I never had a problem sitting outside near Gelato's (or for that matter almost anywhere else on the ship in the public venues) in getting a signal and logging in with my iPhone. I received 150 minutes complimentary as part of the Platinum Benefits, and upon logging in that first evening was offered another 100 minutes for only $25. During Week 1 I used 450 minutes total. And through the incredible generosity of several Cruise Critic members, on Week 2 I again purchased a followup package of 200 minutes ($99), using 900 minutes total in two weeks. THANK YOU to all who gifted me, I can only hope that the Live commentary I did from the ship on the 'Bon Voyage Dave' thread on the Princess Cruises Forum here on Cruise Critic was worth your investment in me.
I also received a Deluxe Canape Tray gifted from a Cruise Critic member, and it was quite tasty. THANK YOU!
During dinners at Sabatini's and Crown Grill on Week 1, I could easily hear music from either the Atrium or Wheelhouse Bar, but it wasn't enough to ruin my dinner.
The Photo Galley was an expansive space that took up the entire port side of the atrium on Deck 6. As nice as it was, it sure took up a lot of space. This might have been a better location for Facets, and maybe put another lounge up on Deck 7 instead with all of those floor to ceiling windows to look out of. I bought one picture, taken of our group during dining in Crown Grill, and one DVD of the building of Royal Princess. I also received as a truly wonderful gift from the 10/29 Roll Call group, a DVD taken of them during their Meet and Greet, and I was delighted to finally put 'faces to names' and 'see' everyone. It brought a huge grin to my face that was ear to ear, and I couldn't help but tear up during the whole thing. It was such an honor to have them take time for me as an absent member of their gang to say HI and THANKS. And it's my turn now to say THANK YOU to all of them for such an amazing gift.
The Library is quite small, but I did see a lot of passengers around the ship with various types of e-readers or tablets accessing books they had already downloaded at home. There is a nice selection of books for those who want something more substantial in their hands than a tablet, and I did see quite a few who had taken books on loan or brought their own.
I found the Medical Center one day, and was given a tour by one of the doctors. I must say that I was very impressed with the size of the facility as well as the various treatment rooms and their abilities to treat various patients.
As for the 'porches' on Promenade Deck, they were quite nice, and the furniture groupings amid ships, and the loungers aft, were very nice. Also, there were almost always shaded loungers on the Promenade Decks if you were looking for one, again depending on ships heading and time of day. It always seemed one side of the ship was always in the shade at one time or another. One afternoon while the ship was at sea I was lounging on the port side promenade deck near the Vista Lounge all the way aft at the stern and fell asleep for almost an hour. It was very, very nice, and there were only three people back there including me. Did I miss the Promenade Deck from the Grand-class? Yes, maybe just a little bit, even though I never really used it that much on Ruby Princess last year, it was nice to be able to step outside on occasion under the lifeboats or use it as a short cut to avoid traffic congestion after a show. But it is what it is.
Yes, the shades were often drawn closed in Club 6 and along the Promenade Deck outside of Princess Live!, but some passengers took the initiative to actually open them to let the daylight come in.
One of the biggest complaints I heard in regards to the layout of the ship was regarding Deck 6, namely the area near the aft dining room. On the day of the big Yard Sale Event in the Symphony Dining Room I was walking the ship taking pictures and ended up at the Allegro Dining Room taking pictures of it and of the peacock in the lobby around 9:45am. I ended up directing traffic for no less than two dozen people who were lost thinking they could access Deck 6 amidships from there (I think they were coming from Bingo in the Vista Lounge). One woman, on her first ever Princess Cruise and learning that most all of the Grand-class ships are similar in that layout, proclaimed she would never ever cruise Princess again because of that horrible design fault. Go figure.
And finally, during the 14-nights I was a guest aboard ship, Princess Cruises, the Manager of the Media and Public Relations Department for Princess Cruises, and two of the Department Heads (Maitre d' and Hotel Manager) aboard Royal Princess extended their gracious hospitality and gratitude in the form of:
- Elite Level Benefits (I'm only Platinum) for the two weeks I was aboard ship along with all the perks that come with that status
- One complimentary meal at Crown Grill with a bottle of wine (During Week 1)
- Bridge Tour (During Week 1)
- One bottle of wine and one bottle of champagne during each week delivered to my cabin (all were re-gifted along with the bottle of wine from Crown Grill as door prizes for our M&G on Week 2, or to other CC members going on the following cruise, since I don't really drink wine or champagne).
All of these were indeed very nice gifts, quite unexpected, and very much appreciated (I felt bad about not being able to drink all of the wine and champagne, so re-gifting them was the best option I could think of), but as one fellow Cruise Critic member phrased it, it was not enough to have 'bought my opinion' or swayed my thoughts one way or another. I was also very concerned that if I had received a stateroom upgrade from an Inside Stateroom to a balcony or suite, that some people would have viewed that as an attempt at 'buying' my opinion of the ship and it's services, so I was relieved that I actually ended up in the original stateroom that I had booked. I know there were quite a few that had written or wished for me to get a nice upgrade, but in the end I was quite comfortable in C406.
From the amazing crew and wonderful staff in all of the venues aboard Royal Princess, the delicious food I ate, the gorgeous Royal Princess herself, the incredible people I met from both Cruise Critic Roll Calls, and the special activities and events that we planned and participated in together, as well as of those that were unplanned and spontaneous, made this entire cruise the best I have ever experienced. This marked cruises #49 and #50 for me, and without a doubt the most memorable.
A heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone.