My wife and I have sailed on Princess, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Costa, and other lines over the years and Princess had become our favorite. Their “Crown” class of ships (Crown, Grand, Ruby, Emerald, etc.) had been outstanding inside and out, and we always looked forward to our cruises on them. So with great excitement we booked a trip on the new Royal expecting a similar or better experience. Unfortunately the Royal has serious design issues; hard to believe that Princess would mess with a proven formula.
Let me start by mentioning what others have said. The Royal is beautiful and classy on the inside. The Piazza is bigger and nicer, the International Café is larger, Alfredo’s Pizzeria is delightful, etc. Unfortunately the outside of the ship and the cabins did not receive the same level of attention as they are a downgrade from the Crown class of vessels. While we no doubt enjoy the inside areas, we cruise mostly for the sea ambiance and to escape colder weather. If all we wanted was a beautiful Piazza we would stay in the Houston Galleria.
We booked a Deluxe Balcony cabin and to our surprise the balconies on the Royal were drastically cut in size. With balconies all the rage, the Royal went in the opposite direction, reducing their size to a mere 3 feet 7 inches. This is the case in essentially all Balcony, Deluxe Balcony, and Mini Suite staterooms. Our balcony was barely usable – a person could not face the ocean unless the chair was on the most upright position and even then it was practically unusable. Just like other passengers we resorted to turning the chairs sideways such that they faced each other and away from the sea. The shallower balconies are also windier and less protected. The table is much smaller making breakfast on the balcony practically impossible. Gone are the foot stools and the ability to turn the chairs into recliners. The Crowns have far superior space on all their balcony levels - hard to understand why Princess would shrink their size on their new flagship, ostensibly the prototype of the future (Regal is essentially identical). The cabins on the Royal suffered the same downsizing. Our so called Deluxe Cabin was pricier but smaller than the old standard balcony cabins and the mini suites suffered the same fate, their balconies are also 3’ 7”. In St. Maarten we docked next to a new Royal Caribbean ship (the Allure of the Seas) – what a contrast with their balconies and furniture.
We have always enjoyed the Retreat Pool of the Princess ships. This was a quiet area up front for adults and away from wind and noise. On the Royal the Retreat Pool was moved up one floor and has virtually no wind protection. On two of our three sea days the area was unusable as the wind made it impossible to sit there. The fancy cabanas that sell for $80 a day were left empty as were most of the lawn chairs in the area. The seas and wind were typical of a Caribbean day, nothing unusual, but somehow the designers failed to adequately protect this area. The fact that there is a tower-looking structure right behind the Retreat pool made the whole area worse as the “tower” catches the wind and redirects it downwards. This area is a bust when at sea - only usable on port days - what a shame. This was not the case in the Crown class of ships as their retreats were well insulated from the wind. We had a strong tail wind on one of the sea days making the Retreat area somewhat usable – it was still very windy but at least one could sit there for a while. The lack of a usable Retreat pool made the two main pools way overcrowded - this on top of the fact that the Royal skipped the customary aft pool. I understand that the Regal will have an aft pool and the Royal will get one sometime in the future. Princess needs to redesign the Retreat area to baffle normal head winds. Perhaps when in dry dock they can redesign it but it will not be easy as it would involve a substantial retrofit.
Also to our surprise, the Royal does not have a promenade deck. This was a signature item on the Crowns. Their promenade was unusually well designed as it not only wrapped around the ship but also allowed walking by the bow, a most enjoyable configuration. I remember standing on the Promenade of the Grand right out of Roatan and watching a school of dolphins jumping and frolicking on the bow wave. The Promenades on the Crowns allowed passengers to circle the ship and exercise while enjoying the scenery at sea; they even told you the number of laps to the mile. A treadmill on the exercise room does not compare (again I can do this at home). I understand that after repeated complaints the Regal will have somewhat of a Promenade deck however it will not wrap around the ship and it will be very narrow in most places as it is a retrofit not worked into the original design.
I think Princess blundered on the Royal and the Regal. They should have kept the good things that were well proven in their older ships while improving other areas such as the Piazza. Even the Piazza proved to be a mixed bag (this one is fixable however). In the Crowns the music in the Piazza was subtle and enjoyable. The Royal had a club band (Party Band Goodtimes Inc.) which played at very loud levels making conversation virtually impossible at dinner time in Alfredo’s (one floor up no less). While we enjoy this type of music, it is better suited for a club environment, not the Piazza.
My wife and I will continue to sail on the Crowns but as they age we hope that Princess learns from this mistake and comes up with a better design. One cannot fail to notice the ratings on Cruise Critic. The Ruby Princess, 8 years old, has an 85% approval while the Royal, their newest flagship, has only 66% (and going down). The Royal is their newest of their 17 ships but it has the lowest Cruise Critic rating of them all… should be the other way around.