The Royal Princess is the newest ship I've ever sailed on, and I enjoyed being on a bright, clean ship with the latest technology. The finishes are of high-quality, and the furniture is crisp and new. The multi-level atrium makes a grand impression, and the lighting design throughout the ship, but particularly in the atrium, is quite nice. The layout of the ship, however, is far from ideal. On multiple occasions, I was wondering what the heck they were thinking. The spaces are arranged so that there is a lot of "up and over" travel. On most floors, you cannot completely cross the ship in public spaces. For example, on the sixth floor because of the location of the dining rooms, you can't cross the ship. You'll have to go up to the seventh floor (the main floor for traffic) and walk in the direction you're headed, then go back down at the aft stairs or the forward stairs. This problem occurs again on the upper decks which is quite unusual for cruise ships. They placed the gym so that you cannot make a complete circle on the Sun deck, but instead must go up/down and over to reach another sunbathing location (unless you want to walk through the sweat and testosterone filled gym).
Something very unique about the Royal Princess is that the outdoor area of the Promenade (7th) deck is mostly uncovered and receives a great deal of sun. Unfortunately, the deck does not wrap around or even connect between aft and mid-ship, so in order to move from one location to another, you'll need to walk inside. And finally, the features which Princess was hoping would really set apart the Royal - the SeaWalk/SeaView and the fountains. The SeaWalk is a two-level walking platform which cantilevers over the edge of the ship, and SeaView is the bar on the opposite end which also cantilevers over the edge. Definitely an interesting features, but for the amount of money they spent on it, they don't serve much purpose, and the aesthetics certainly don't justify the cost of this cantilever. As for the Fountains, it's a fun idea, but they were for the most part underutilized by guests. They went off between 5:15-6:15 PM, an hour when most guests are either eating dinner or preparing for it. There were rarely people on the top deck when the show went off, and those who were got surprised by how far the wind would blow the water out. The top deck became dangerously wet by the end of the hour.
Of the activities offered on the Royal Princess, we attended Celebrity Liar's Club, Marriage Match Game Show, and the Quest. We also watched the Yes/No Game Show on our stateroom TV. All of these activities were held in the Princess Live theater which is very small and hardly suitable for the large crowds which come for the Marriage Match Game Show (for this, I'd recommend the Princess Theater as a more suitable venue), nor the wild and craziness of the the Quest (which I would suggest they have in the Vista Lounge). I really enjoyed all of these activities. The cruise director and entertainment team did an outstanding job throughout the week - you can tell that they are on the Royal Princess because they're among the best of the best in the Princess fleet. My one complaint, besides the insufficient seating, is that the Quest was taken over by children. This is advertised as an adult game show and held at 11:30 PM.
Princess has very good service. Whether I go on vacation, to a restaurant, or to a store, I expect good service. Perhaps I am just spoiled by the cruising industry, but good service is something that I expect, not something that I am surprised by. We received good service all week, but no one went above and beyond my expectations. But most importantly, I have no recollection of bad service.
What I didn't realize before traveling on the Royal Princess is that two of the three dining rooms are dedicated to Anytime Dining. We decided to go with traditional dining, but by the end of the week, were kind of wishing we hadn't. Dining in Allegro was very slow, and there would be 10-15 minutes between courses. We would sit down a 8:15 and often not leave until after 10:30 which is ridiculously late. I enjoy an elaborate dining experience, but I don't like sitting at the table for over two hours on a nightly basis. On one night, we told our waitress that we would like to leave the dining room by 9:15, and she brought out all of our courses nearly back to back, and we were finished eating by 9:00, so it is possible for them to bring the courses out quickly and not a matter of the kitchen being too far away.
Horizon Court/Bistro seemed to handle a large number of people very well. They did a fairly nice job of varying their daily offerings - I didn't see the same thing every day. For breakfast, they even mixed something different into the eggs and quiche everyday - one day, it would be eggs with mushrooms, then eggs with cheese or eggs with spinach. Of course, they also always offered plain eggs.
When I sailed on the Island Princess and Princess kept advertising that they had the best pizza at sea, I thought that was laughable because the pizza on the Island had burnt, crispy crust all week. However, the Royal Princess showed me the light. Prego Pizzeria on the Lido deck always served fresh, wonderful pizza. And the pizza at Alfredo's on the Promenade deck is the best pizza I've ever had at sea. So Princess, I will now acknowledge you for your claim to pizza fame.
This is where Princess really misses the mark if they want to compete with the "big girls" like the Allure/Oasis of the Sea and the Norwegian Epic. Both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have sought to bring world-class entertainment to sea with the adaptation of Broadway shows. And the Royal Princess is just providing the same ship-hopping comedians, musicians, and magicians that are hardly impressive and make regular appearances on their other ships, as well as other cruise lines. Princess needs entertainment that will set them apart, and that's not the Princess Singers and Dancers (though I do applaud their flash mob in the atrium one night before dinner).
I had a great cruise. I think that Princess provides an excellent product. However, I was not as impressed by the new flagship as I was hoping I would be. Yes, it is a lovely ship, but it really isn't very special. I would definitely sail on the Royal Princess again if the opportunity presents itself, but it isn't on the top of my list. I think the Eastern Caribbean itinerary is too bland for this ship and that it might be more successful to take on a more unique winter itinerary like Southern Caribbean. Its Eastern Caribbean itinerary puts it in direct competition with ships like the Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Norwegian Epic, new Norwegian Getaway, and the Disney Fantasy - ships which are much more appealing to the families and young adults who typically seek this itinerary.
Compared to the other private islands I've visited (Royal Caribbean's Labadee and Coco Cay, and Disney's Castaway Cay many moons ago), Princess Cays is definitely the least-developed private island I've visited, and if you're looking for a side-by-side comparison, it is closest in development to Coco Cay. Though it provides a nice beach day where you don't have to take a cab or worry about lunch, it's very basic and really provides just the bare minimum. I think it's important to note that you can't use the soda card for soda on the island (the bartender gave us juice instead) because they don't have the soda dispensers, only cans. That's something really simple that they're lacking. They have basic water rentals and snorkeling, but now that they're bringing the Royal Princess, I think they're going to really need to step up their game and offer more amenities. I know that I'm especially critical, being an architecture major, but I found myself looking at things like their brightly colored cabanas or Christmas wreaths hung half-hazardly under buffet signs and thinking, "Oh, that's cute that you're trying."