We have sailed a significant number of times on Holland America, Seabourn, Celebrity and Princess. We have sailed more often on Princess (4 times) and have always enjoyed it; however, the Royal Princess is not the same. First off, the Royal Princess is a much larger ship that can carry over 4,000 passengers. Although the ship is new and the finishes very nice, the changes to accommodate 4,000 passengers have been at the cost of the ambience of traditional cruising. Let me first say what is definitely "Princess" quality:
1. The service staff from stewards to waiters and waitresses are excellent, with the same pride of service and attention that has drawn us back to Princess for four cruises.
2. The ship is new and the "newness" is evident in polished surfaces, pristine cabins, and the feel of being on a "new ship."
3. The Horizon Deck buffet is large with the buffet divided between a bistro and more traditional buffet centers, with a special pastry buffet that should delight any dessert fan, including my wife.
4. The multiple dining rooms allow for a variety of dining options, from traditional to anytime, with a variety of other choices at an additional price.
5. The dining room food is very good with ample choices for a variety of palates, from escargot to traditional steak and potatoes. The food is consistently presented cooked to the preference of guests and hot. Desserts are varied and beautifully presented with an artistic flare.
6. There are a large variety of entertainment venues presenting something to please most any age level or taste, from music to dance, from show spectacles to individual artists.
7. The boarding process was exceptionally well organized and went quickly with luggage delivered to our stateroom in record time.
8. If you are a shopper, the prices on board, at least in the Baltic, were far cheaper than on shore. Add the fact you don't have to pay a sales tax that averages around 25% in the Baltic , the ship is a shopper's paradise for buying gifts for the grandkids and friends.
On the other hand, if you go on board the Royal Princess thinking you will have more of the Princess traditional cruise experience than on other ships, you are in for a disappointment. The ship is overly large as reflected in:
1. If your stateroom is at either end of the ship, you can expect to walk a city block to get to either end of the ship.
2. There are not enough elevators, period. The elevators are crowded, packed, sandwiched, stuffy and filled with irritated passengers who have waited to board one after another, only to find them already packed. This is consistent at meal times and when embarking and disembarking the ship. Add to that the center elevator bank doesn't have an accompanying staircase and you feel trapped. If you are handicapped and coming aboard on deck four where there is no access to the rest of the ship except by stair or elevator, you may not get on the elevator for 30 minutes because other capable folks have figured out you can go up the stairs and ride it faster.
3. There is little encouragement for hygiene. The hand sanitizing containers are frequently out of solution and not found throughout the ship. Entering the food areas are two sinks for "washing your hands" with a sign about a full 20 seconds. Simple calculation would indicate that if a 400 seat dining room has four sinks that it might take more than a half hour for everyone to fulfill the ritual. It doesn't happen. Encouraging use of the dispensers at least would provide a better level of protection.
4. The staterooms are nice, but the rooms are smaller and the nice wide balcony doors open onto a small patio that has room for two chairs and a small table. Although other reviewers say it is too small to have breakfast on, it is better than the very small allocated space for one small lounging chair and one desk chair in the room between the bed and the balcony. The bathrooms are ample size and the shower is adequate, but the use of dispensing bottles in the shower includes one shower gel and one "combination shampoo and conditioner," that doesn't condition the hair at all.
5. The grand theater is definitely grand, but if you enjoy an after dinner drink while watching the show, it won't happen. The theater is designed to hold probably 1200 plus or minus passengers in seats that are as small or smaller than economy seats on airlines. There's no place to hold a drink (but then none will be offered either), no room to get across an aisle past other passengers, and limited access to the theater levels. There are three shows a night, which means the shows are shorter to accommodate all passengers. It appeared that the attendance dwindled as passengers decided it wasn't worth the inconvenience and discomfort. Other venues such as the central atrium Piazza had some nice performances, but viewing was limited with some seating each level rising above with crowded banisters and people leaning over to watch. Again, a large ship built on many traditional concepts requires one to adjust to the fact that this ship was built to control costs and maximize profit by "herding " passengers.
6. Talking with a Princess employee from the central office about the ship while on board, he indicated that people on board don't drink as much, probably because they are "older." I pointed out that I think the reason is that venues like the theater and other areas on board ship don't provide the access or ambience that encourages drinking, particularly social drinking. He thought about and then suggested I put that in my write up. Here it is! I mean, come on, older folks do like to have a drink, sit and talk, laugh and have fun. Also, some of the bars cover large areas and the number of wait staff in these areas appears limited. On a number of occasions I had to go up to the bar itself to order because no one came around after 10 minutes of waiting.
7. I did injure my toe on a door stop when bending down to pick up an envelope on the narrow entryway of my stateroom. The rubber bumper was off and the edge was sharp. Sliced off a piece of skin and applied pressure to stop the bleeding. When I called for a band aid and antiseptic wipe, I was told I would have to go to the medical center and they would take care of it. Of course, I also had to pay $90 for them to give me an antiseptic swab . But I was assured that I could get reimbursed with my Princess Platinum Insurance after I submitted a bill to my own insurance, for which they would gladly pay the difference. When I mentioned that it was a faulty piece of their equipment that caused the injury, there was silence. When I submitted a request incident report and it was "investigated" by security, the security officer couldn't believe I wasn't sent a swab even though I was adamant that I didn't blame anyone, that I just needed to treat my toe. Never did get an antiseptic swab, but I did receive a very large bouquet of flowers, which he also thought was strange. Me too! (By the way, they did take pictures of the door stop and missing bumper, but, alas, not my toe. I took a picture of the bouquet :) which was even bigger than the one I had bought for my wife for our stateroom when boarding.
8. When I did have to use the doctor's office for a bronchial infection (see lack of hygiene above), it cost me well over $250 to get some antibiotics and Sudafed. They even charged $15 to put an oxygen monitor on my finger for 30 seconds while taking my blood pressure. For an extra $17 I could also have had some Robitussin, which was available in the store on deck for $12 (still overpriced). The point here is that for a known problem of respiratory and other ailments on board ships, the medical service appears to discourage passengers (4000 of them) from seeking early intervention. When we last sailed on Celebrity, they offered free consultation for anyone having a respiratory or flu-like symptom. Could it be that the medical service is seen as a profit point?
9. The food was very good in the dining room. On the Horizon Deck the buffet is about the same quality as one might find in HomeTown Buffet, which is okay but not exceptional in my experience. In both venues, the quality of the meats was not consistent. One time your steak or beef might be tender and tasty, while the next it was tough and flavorless. I would not rate the food quality up to the standard of the other Princess Cruise ships we have sailed. Still, I would rate it as acceptable with an occasional dish that was memorable.
10. The disembarkation from the ship was a nightmare. Now, in large part that was a problem of the new Copenhagen Port and the first time the Royal Princess and two other ships were in harbor. The roads couldn't handle the traffic. So, we had to vacate our rooms at 8:00 a.m. and our disembarkation was scheduled for 9:15 a.m. Actually, we didn't disembark until 11:30 a.m. and got on a very uncomfortable bus with luggage rolling around on the floor for over an hour ride to the airport for a paid transfer. The fact is, however, that the Royal Princess is not a "typical" ship and planning needs to take into account not only the fact the ship is larger, but handling that number of passengers puts a demand on a port that may exceed the ports capacity. For example, taxis were not available for those who made private disembarkation plans because there were enough in port for regular business and the number of ships' passengers. Walking wasn't an option.
11. We managed to get our excursions booked early, but the excursions booked up quickly and were oversold. I cannot tell you the number of people who were disappointed that they couldn't get any excursion. Again, a big ship with more than twice the number of passengers on a "regular" ship go beyond the capacity of most ports to handle. Big ships require big infrastructures, not just for the ship but the ports as well.
12. Silent spaces to relax and read are mostly non-existent when the ship is sailing.
SUMMARY: Would I cruise on Princess again, yes! Just not the Royal Princess. I am sure there are those who like it for whatever reason, but for us and most passengers we overheard on board or spoke to us that had sailed previously, they wouldn't sail on Royal again, including a number who were "Elite" members of the Captain's Circle (sailed 15 or more times). Royal is an attempt to remain competitive in an ever expanding market, but becoming the "Wal-Mart" of the open seas may cost it a large block of valued customers. Based on reviews I have read on-line, I suspect those will be replaced by others that find value in a ship that offers a wider range of options at the cost of traditional sailing leisure and relaxation.