Having sailed on 17 Princess cruises, my husband and I have experienced 11 of the current 17 Princess ships (Sun-class Sun, Sea and former Ocean Princess; Coral Princess, and all of the Grand-class ships except Golden and Diamond Princess) as well as the original Royal Princess. We have sailed a few ships in their inaugural season so we were excited to book a cruise on the latest new ship. After reading the many, very varied reviews on Cruise Critic we were very curious and maybe a little concerned about how we would like Royal Princess. However, there was no need for concern at all.
As we walked onto the ship into the Deck 6 atrium area we were immediately struck by how sparkling and beautiful the ship was. Despite any of her shortcomings, Royal Princess is absolutely stunning. The interior décor is understated elegance. No garish colors or lighting here. The atmosphere of the ship is soothing and sophisticated in the choice of colors and materials. When we stopped by the Captain's Circle desk, we noticed the light fixture above the desk is circle of glass... how appropriate.
THE “NEGATIVES” – A FEW MINOR ONES
One of the biggest complaints about the ship has been the lack of a mid-ship staircase. There is in fact a staircase but it is for crew only. However, in an emergency, this staircase would be used so no worries there. The mid-ship elevators may have been crowded at peak times but that was also true of the forward elevators after a show in the Princess Theatre. Funny thing, there is a staircase in the forward elevator bank but hardly anyone used it anyway. Other than after a show, many times we were able to get an elevator on Deck 5 that did not stop until we reached our deck (16).
Another complaint was no promenade deck to walk around. We went to a lecture by one of the design engineers on the construction of Royal Princess and even he admitted that was probably a mistake. But everything is a trade-off. There were so many other things to enjoy on the ship that we hardly missed it. My husband and I (and many other people) made use of the jogging/walking track on Deck 18. There were some interesting workout machines scattered around the track. We found it adequate for our purpose – walking off dinner from the night before.
As for the toilet paper…there was a lot of talk on board about the infamous toilet paper holder. The deputy cruise director even joked about it at one of the shows. It was not really a problem though, certainly not enough of one to avoid the entire ship.
THE POSITIVES – PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING ELSE
Although Royal Princess is much larger than any of the Grand class ships, she never seemed overly big or crowded. Of course there were a lot of people in one area when a show let out or during the emergency drill, but there were other times we wondered if there really were more than 3,600 people on the ship.
We arrived at FLL before 9am, retrieved our luggage and were greeted by Princess staff. We were told the buses would be available around 10:30. Just about 10:30, the Princess rep escorted us to a bus and we were on our way. There was a bit of traffic at the terminal since they were still disembarking the previous cruise but within a few minutes we were dropped off near the entrance of the terminal. Since we are Elite members, our experience may differ from that of other passengers. We went to the preferred check-in line (for Platinum and Elite members) and within 5 minutes we were through security. Check-in went very quickly with only one other couple ahead of us. By about 11:00, we proceeded to the Elite lounge to wait to be called for boarding. Just about noon, the ship was cleared and we proceeded to the gangway. Our stateroom was ready so we dropped off our carry-ons, met with Joel, our stateroom steward, and went to the Horizon Court for lunch. We were enjoying our lunch by 12:30.
We like the forward section for the sound of the waves crashing against the side of the ship and the gentle rocking motion (great for falling asleep). After all, this is a ship, not a hotel. It should have at least SOME movement. The deluxe balcony is a new category on this ship so we thought we would try it for the extra room. It did feel a bit larger than the standard balcony stateroom we are used to. The good-sized loveseat was nice to have for watching TV rather than always sitting on the bed. There was plenty of room for two people to move about, might be a bit crowded for three adults but I think that’s true with any stateroom other than a full suite. The bed was very comfortable, firm but with a pillow-top so it did not feel hard. The décor is elegant and calming in neutral shades with dark green and black accent pillows. The refrigerator was the same as usual, plenty of room for the ice bucket, water, Perrier and beer. The drawer above the refrigerator has a fairly useless hair dryer but there was plenty of room for my own plus some other items. The room was very quiet – we did not hear any noise from the adjacent cabins.
The TV on the wall is very large and clear with good viewing from either the bed or the loveseat. It took a little while to get used to navigating the TVs menus but we soon got the hang of it. The live channels were mostly news & sports – we would have appreciated having The Weather Channel to keep track of the snowstorms at home though. The other programming is On Demand so you can watch a program at your convenience. There were comedy shows such as The Middle, dramas such as Bones & CSI, some Discovery channel programs and, of course, episodes of The Love Boat. We were able to watch some recent movies as well like Gravity and Captain Phillips. Some of the shows taped at Princess Live! were also available (more on that later). A nice feature was that you could pause a movie, go to dinner, and come back later and pick up where you left off.
The open closet was very roomy with plenty of hangers. The shelf cabinet is a bit narrower than other ships and there is one less shelf but it was still adequate for a 7-day cruise. Our check-in suitcases fit perfectly under the bed and there was plenty of room on the upper shelf in the closet for our carry-on bags and other items.
The bathroom is arranged differently than on other ships. A big plus is that the shower is larger with a hand-held shower and a ledge on one side that is convenient for shampoo bottles and putting your foot on for balance. We liked the larger sink and there was plenty of counter space and roomier corner shelves for storage. They had to take the extra shower space from somewhere so there isn’t much floor space when you step out of the shower. We found it was easier to stand in the shower to dry off. (Thanks to those of you who suggested using flameless candles in the bathroom at night…it was nice to be able to get up in the middle of the night and not blind myself turning on the light!)
I measured the balcony – it’s 4 feet by 9-1/2 feet (38 sq ft). I never measured the balcony on any other ship (I will next time though) but to me the balcony felt about the same as those in standard balcony cabins on the Grand class ships. There was plenty of room for my husband and me to while away the hours enjoying the warmth (we are from the northeast) and watching the flying fish pop out of the water. However, this ship does not have the “wedding cake” design with larger protruding balconies on Caribe and Dolphin decks so the even the mini-suite balconies are all the same size with a few exceptions. Therefore, anyone used to the larger balconies on the Grand class ships may be disappointed.
I did hear some people complaining of soot on their aft-facing balconies. We hadn’t noticed any soot on the jogging track until the last day when there was no wind. According to the design engineer, the stacks are shorter than on other ships because of the extra deck and height limitations of bridges in various ports. They are looking at the situation to see what can be done.
Of course this ship has all the latest technology built in. In addition to the On Demand TV and Internet Café, the ship had an Intranet available for use on tablets and smartphones. It used the ship’s WiFi but it was not necessary to purchase an Internet account to use it. The application showed the complete event schedule for the day (as shown in the Princess Patter), locations of all the venues with opening and closing times, some of the restaurant menus and a “Map It” button that you could tap to bring up a deck plan and find a location (similar to Google map). It was great to be able just to carry my iPhone instead of carrying a folded up copy of the Patter in my small dinner purse. It also enabled you to check your stateroom account (after creating a user ID and password for security) and access the Internet if you purchased a plan.
The Atrium is absolutely stunning with spiral staircases enhanced by sparkling glass. There was always something going on with different bands, dancing, martini demonstrations, etc. An expanded Vines was a great place to enjoy some wine and music before dinner. Sabatini’s is just next door but we did not go there this time. Gelato’s is a nice addition with many flavors and toppings (3 scoops is just $2.75 or 1 punch on your coffee card). They also had crepes on sea days but we never managed to get there for those.
Alfredo’s is much larger than on Grand and Sapphire with an expanded menu including salads and calzones. We weren’t very hungry the night we went so we did not want any of the pizzas on the menu with all the toppings. But there was no problem getting a regular Margarita pizza, and they will put on any topping on it you want. Bellini’s is a very nice little bar opposite Alfredo’s. The specialty is the bellini but you can get anything there. My husband and I don’t gamble so we did not go to the casino. We only went to Club 6 to avoid walking through the smoky casino and on Super Bowl night. There is a very nice bar and comfortable seating. Crooners was the same as on other ships but just a bit larger. However, because of the bands playing in the Atrium there was no piano player there until very late.
The shops were typical to all Princess ships and I was once again disappointed in the selection, especially of souvenir logo items. There was only one style of t-shirt, one Royal Princess baseball cap and beach bag, but nothing “inaugural”. But this seems to be more of a general cruise line issue rather than a Royal Princess issue. I still have two different tote bags I purchased on Crown Princess in 2006 but in the past few years the selection has become very slim. There seems to be more emphasis on designer items now. But I can buy Tommy Hilfiger t-shirts at home at Macy’s on sale with a coupon for much less so why would I want to buy that stuff on a cruise and lug it home?
The Internet Café was a decent size and most times we were able to get a seat without waiting (except of the last sea day when everyone was trying to check-in to their flights). At times the system was slow but no slower than other ships…it’s the nature of satellite. Not a big deal, I’m on vacation and I don’t need to be that connected. There was a Library opposite the Wheelhouse Bar where you could pick up the daily puzzles. Yes, it was small but it was large enough to hold all the people I ever saw there - none.
The photo gallery takes up too much space in my opinion. With the facial recognition system they shouldn’t have to display all those thousands of photos that no one buys anyway. I tried using one of the facial recognition terminals and it’s really quite remarkable. You slide your cruise card, then it scans your face and finds your pictures. You could select the pictures you like and purchase them (or not) and they are ready for pickup later that evening. No more wasting time looking through the whole photo gallery. I think soon they will expand the use of this technology – it’s quicker, easier and would waste a whole lot less paper.
We had Anytime dining and went to the MDR twice on this cruise. The Symphony dining room is always Anytime dining but the Concerto dining room has an early traditional seating at 5:30 then opens for Anytime at 7:30. The first night we went to the Symphony and there was about a 20-minute wait at 7:15. We went up to the Concerto and, since the traditional seating was almost cleared out, we were seated at a table for 2 in about 5 minutes. The second evening we went straight to Concerto at 7:30 and were seated immediately and at the exact same table as last time. These dining rooms seem to have more tables for 2 available than on the Grand class ships. Our waiter Adrian and his assistant Claudia were very efficient and attentive. One night I ordered the Fettuccine Alfredo as an appetizer. It usually comes in a parmesan cheese bowl but it was served in a regular bowl. When I asked Adrian about it he said it was because I ordered it as an appetizer, only the dinner comes in the cheese bowl. I was OK with that and told him to forget it but within two minutes I see Adrian emerge from the galley with a cheese bowl in hand. That was typical of the excellent service we received on this cruise.
My favorite restaurant is the Crown Grill. The filet mignon was cooked to perfection and absolutely delicious. My husband also had the filet mignon but he added the lobster tails as well. I was disappointed they no longer have the au gratin potatoes or corn casserole that I loved but the new side dishes including grilled asparagus were also very good. You could get as many side dishes as you wished but with that big steak we could barely eat one each (and I wanted to save room for dessert). The service in the Crown Grill was excellent as usual. Only the best waiters are selected to work in this restaurant.
The Horizon Bistro and Horizon Court are two separate areas. In general, the Bistro has the lighter fare with a salad bar, make-your-own tacos and sandwiches, and a Japanese hibachi with grilled breakfast burritos and chicken satay. The décor in the Bistro is beautiful with light woods and granite table tops. The Horizon Court with dark woods and tabletops has the more typical buffet food such as eggs, bacon and sausage for breakfast and hot entrees and multiple carving boards for lunch and dinner. One night they had a Brazilian Churrascaria. It was very good but we are spoiled with what we have available near our home.
Both the Bistro and the Court are very well laid out. They are both very easy to navigate with wide aisles open port to starboard instead of the more confined areas on the Grand class. So there were no bottlenecks at the entrances and there was no need to walk around through an elevator bank to get to the other side. There are two sections of the Horizon Court with a salad bar aisle connecting the two. There is so much to choose from it takes a little getting used to where everything is. On the first day, I recommend walking through the entire area to see what is available before making a selection. After that, it is really no problem figuring out where everything is.
We never had a problem with lines at the buffet or getting a table in either area. But our favorite place to eat our meals was the Horizon Terrace. There you could sit at a table or at the aft-facing Outrigger Bar stools and enjoy the gorgeous view. We had breakfast and lunch there almost every day… so relaxing. Adjacent to the Bistro buffet was our favorite - the Pastry Shop. For breakfast they had fresh waffles, pancakes (plain and a flavor of the day) and all sorts of rolls and pastries. From lunch time on, there were cookies and brownies and every imaginable type of dessert. We had more than our fair share of the excellent oatmeal cookies. The coffee on Lido deck was much, much better than on other ships – it is actually brewed from real ground coffee. After the first day, I no longer had to make the trip down to the International Café just to get decent coffee. Hopefully, Princess will make this change across the entire fleet.
The poolside pizza was very good as usual. We did not have burgers at the Trident Grill this time but we try out the BBQ there one night. The ribs were good and the brisket was tasty but a little tough (could have been cooked longer).
We are not big pool people and we don’t like sitting in the sun so we did not spend an awful lot of time on the pool decks. However, we loved the adult-only Retreat pool on deck 17 in front of the Sanctuary but not part of it. There is no fee for this area except for the private cabanas. It was very quiet with soft music playing - and you did not hear the music or the MUTS from the deck below. The pool was nicely heated and there were two hot tubs (and they were actually hot). There is a regular staircase for entering the pool which is great for anyone with mobility issues. There were plenty of loungers with sun shades that filtered the sun but did not fully block it. The cabanas looked nice but to me they are not worth paying extra money for. There was of course a bar available to quench your thirst. We always like the Terrace pools with the Outrigger Bar on the Grand class for the quieter atmosphere but I think I like this larger Retreat pool and the hot tubs much better.
The Lido/deck 16 pools were not overly crowded but there were not many children aboard this cruise. I can imagine it being a lot more hectic at other times of year when there are more children. There was never anyone in the small splash pool. The water fountain area is… odd. We never saw the water show as the timing of it was not convenient. It was also cancelled a few nights because of the wind. So they probably should think about revamping the area, maybe expanding the pools. At least they were able to get some use out of the area. They put the fountains on in the morning for the kids to play in (the half dozen or so of them seemed to enjoy it). In the afternoon, they used the area for deck chairs and it became a dance floor for sailways and the Island Night deck party.
The Sea Walk was interesting but could be a little slippery if wet. It’s a strange sensation to look down and see the waves rushing under you. You can see down to some of the balconies below but you could not see into any of the rooms. I think the large balconies on Caribe and Dolphin deck on the Grand class ships have less privacy than those below the Sea Walk. The Sea View Bar on the opposite side was a great place to enjoy the view while enjoying a drink at the bar. In the afternoon on sea days, the bartenders put on quite a show juggling bottles and dancing around while mixing drinks.
As with anything else, everyone has different tastes when it comes to entertainment. For us, production shows are good but we can only see one of them per cruise. We only saw the show “Spectacular”. The singers and dances are very talented and obviously work very hard but we thought the production was just a disjointed collection of unrelated songs. After reading how everyone thought the Beatlemaniacs was such a great show I was disappointed they did not appear during our cruise. I really don’t enjoy magicians or illusionists so we always pass on those. We both enjoy comedians and this cruise we had a very good one – Al Katz. He did two different shows and both were very funny.
After reading all the reviews here about the new configuration, we checked out the Princess Theater during the day when it was empty. The seats are a bit narrower and my husband found them to be a bit tight for his hips, kind of like the bulkhead seats on an aircraft. We found some seats on the aisles in the lower part of the theater (easily accessible from Deck 6) that had a moveable arm rest making it more comfortable. So we made a point to go early for the show to get those seats and have a drink while we waited. There are no longer the pull-up tables in the arm rests but I never used those anyway. I always hold on to my drink so someone doesn’t accidentally knock it off the table into my lap. The service was much faster thanks to a new system they have. The waiter takes your order and enters it into a portable computer and someone else brings it to you very quickly. We found it was much easier and faster to exit the theater from the lower level as well.
The Vista Lounge, a throwback to the Sun-class and Coral/Island ships, was a nice space but you needed to get there early for the bench seating so you have a table for your drinks. The round swivel chairs, while comfortable, were a bit of a pain to get into. There isn’t a whole lot of room between the chairs and the bench seat in front of them. We saw Al Katz there the last night and the Pub Night was quite amusing. Other than that, there were trivia games and a 50s sock hop. Even with the older demographic on this ship, 50s nights just seem outdated and were under-attended. Maybe fast forward a decade or two. I would rather have seen a Beatles show, especially since that week was the 50th anniversary of their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
I thought I would miss the Explorer’s lounge so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Princess Live! studio instead. Here they taped the Wake show every morning at 10am for the next day. It was very interesting to watch the production… like being on the Kelly & Michael Show. In between takes, Cruise Director Ron and his Deputy Ryan would chat with the audience, ask trivia questions and give out prizes (like mugs, pens, etc. - no free cruises here). They also held the game shows, culinary shows, and lectures including a very interesting talk given by the warranty officer of Princess (a design engineer in charge of ship building). Most of these shows are shown the next day on the stateroom TV so you could watch them in your room if you couldn’t catch them live. The venue is small (with those narrow seats again) but you could get in most of the time without a problem. Some shows like the Marriage Match Game was popular so you need to get there early to get a seat. There is no drink service inside the studio but there is a bar outside where could get a drink, specialty coffee or a sweet.
The Wheelhouse Bar on other ships has a dance floor and a small band. This one, situated next to the Crown Grill, just had a piano player. What I thought would be a loss wasn’t really. The same type of bands that usually play in the Wheelhouse and Explorer’s Lounge on other ships were now located in the Atrium. The Wheelhouse was now a quieter, relaxing bar with piano music which was just as enjoyable, a nice place to stop before or after a meal in the Crown Grill. If you wanted to dance, the Atrium was the place to be and the floor there was always hopping.
They chose the cream of the crop from other ships for this new ship. Hopefully when half of them leave to join Regal Princess in the spring the service on Royal will remain as excellent as it was.
In the Horizon Court/Bistro you would think they received 25 cents for every dirty plate they picked up the way they were always cleaning up the tables. The waiters and assistant waiters who worked in the dining rooms for dinner also worked in the Horizon for breakfast or lunch. That’s a long day. But they were always ready to help you or just say hello. In the dining room and Crown Grill, the wait staff was superb. The bartenders at every single bar were very friendly and attentive - Ameer in Club 6, Edwin in Vines and many others whose names I unfortunately can’t recall.
Our stateroom steward, Joel, was excellent. We are very easy to please – just keep 3 towels in the bathroom and ice in the fridge and we are happy. He did that and much more. One afternoon, we were out on our balcony and didn’t hear him knocking on the door. He thought we were in the room and did not want to intrude so he called to us from the balcony next door that he had a fresh ice bucket for us. Very nice.
We had an issue with the air conditioning in the room the first night. As soon as we boarded we turned the thermostat all the way down and drew the drapes to keep the sun out so the room could cool down. The room didn’t really cool off and was very warm throughout the night so we didn’t sleep well. The next day I mentioned it to Joel and he reported it. While we were out, someone left a card saying they fixed the problem. We could feel cool air in the vent but there wasn’t enough airflow to cool the room. By dinner time, it was still too warm in the room and Joel was not around so we went to Passenger Services to report the problem. We explained the air flow issue and the front desk officer said she would have the ventilation manager check it out. Well, by the time we returned after dinner and a show, another card was left for us and the room was noticeably cooler. We both slept much better that night and every night thereafter.
I heard some people complaining to the Passenger Services desk about various issues. Some of them were nice about it but others were downright rude and obnoxious. All of the staff at the Passenger Services desk treated everyone the same – with patience, courtesy and professionalism. I give them a lot of credit, dealing with the public is not easy.
Princess has this down to a science. We reported to the Platinum lounge at our meeting time and we were told they just called our tags for disembarking. We walked right off, got through customs quickly and boarded the transfer bus to the airport. We had the EZ Check-in so we did not have to pick up our luggage in the terminal and check-in at the airport. The only problem was we were too early for our flight and had too much time to kill.
A ship can’t be all things to all people. That’s why there are so many different ships and cruise lines. What’s important to one person could be inconsequential to another. Some people are just not happy unless they have something to complain about. People need to realize that nothing is perfect so you can’t sweat the small stuff.
Many of the issues mentioned in reviews have more to do with fellow passengers than the crew, the ship or the cruise lines themselves. Some people are just selfish. In the Princess Patter, they always request people to not reserve chairs by the pool or in the theaters. But people do it anyway and there is little the crew can do about it. People hog the pool chairs for hours even though they are not using them. They lie down across seats in the theater to save them for other people. And, no, they were not 8-year-olds either, they are supposedly mature adults. In the Princess Theater, one woman was lying across two seats with her bare feet on her husband’s lap! The poor woman seated next to him had to get up and move so she wouldn’t have the woman’s feet right next to her. Disgusting. Others are rude and obnoxious to the crew, treating them like they are inferior. One man even shouted “no F'ing pictures” at the photographers by the gangway in St. Thomas. Really? A simple “no, thank you” would suffice. After all, they are just doing their jobs. Cruise lines want to be nice to everyone so they can only “suggest” certain behaviors. But some people either don’t pay attention or just don’t care. For those that just don’t care, please choose another cruise line next time.
In our opinion, the cruise, the ship and her crew were absolutely wonderful. We had an excellent time. My husband, who I thought would be more disappointed with the lack of Promenade deck, said this was, by far, the most beautiful ship we have sailed and the cruise was one of his favorites. We will surely be back on Royal Princess and her sister Regal sometime soon.