My wife and I, together with two friends, cruised the Baltic on the Royal Princess May 11-23, 2014. It was the ship’s inaugural visit to Baltic ports, and its arrival in each was met with much fanfare. The itinerary was wonderful. We embarked in Copenhagen and sailed to Oslo, Gothenberg, Warnemunde, Tallinn, St. Petersberg, Helsinki, and Stockholm, then finally returning to Copenhagen. It was by far the largest ship we had ever sailed on, and the largest ship to visit several of these ports (over 4,000 passengers).
There were positive experiences aboard the Royal Princess, among them:
•Embarkation in Copenhagen was very smooth, very easy, possibly the best boarding experience of our many cruises. Cabins had been made ready earlier than on other cruises.
•The wait staff was superb, always friendly and helpful. Our cabin steward, dining room waitress, and buffet waiters were among the best. Every request, large or small, was always met with a smile.
•Shore excursions were excellent, especially since this was the first time the Royal Princess had been to these ports. The logistics of arranging transportation and timely excursions for a ship of this size was noteworthy.
•The cabin was quite comfortable, although a bit smaller in floor space than comparable cabins in this price range on other ships. Having the veranda helped the room appear more open and spacious.
•The food was generally good, but inconsistent in overall quality. Some of the dishes were among the best ever tasted at sea, and other dishes were of lesser quality, best typified as average cruise fare.
•And at risk of repetition, the itinerary was wonderful.
The ship’s onboard experience, however, had many negatives, most related to design flaws for a ship with 4,000 plus passengers:
•The Royal Princess had inadequate elevators. The elevators were in basically the same configuration as on ships half to two-thirds its size. Shore excursions, dining, and entertainment hours meant that the elevators were being used by many passengers at roughly the same times. Crowded and full elevators were the rule. Often one had to walk several floors to find an accessible elevator. On a ship with 17 decks, it was not realistic for those passengers in good health to walk up or down stairs consistently. It was completely unrealistic for disabled passengers, those with walkers, wheel chairs, or electric carts to use the stairs. When embarking from shore, usually on Deck 4, there were no passageways to other parts of the ship, meaning stairs or elevators from the gangway area were the only means of returning to cabins or other ship venues. This was a challenge for most; as noted, it was a horrible challenge for the disabled.
•The ship’s theater is exactly that, a theater with seats roughly the size of those in the coach sections of airplanes. It was difficult to walk over patrons to centers of sections. Gone was any sense of a comfortable lounge experience when watching shows. Without a small table here and there it was not possible to have a beverage to drink, and as a result none were offered (one wonders if lack of beverage service impacted the ship’s profitability). Providing theater entertainment for this number of passengers required having three shows a night, with shows limited to approximately 35 minutes. After watching several, it hardly seemed worth the crowding and effort to gain access to the theater.
•In general, public spaces were limited in number and size:
1.The library was among the smallest of any ship we have sailed. The volumes seemed varied and good, but there was no room for quiet time, for reading, for writing, for working a puzzle. Furthermore, the library was only staffed at minimum times.
2. Lounge areas, if not being used for activities or being otherwise reserved, were not adequate for passengers seeking a little quiet time to relax. It was difficult to escape the constant movement, the hustle and bustle of passengers and staff throughout the ship. The Royal Princess does tout its “Sanctuary,” a place for passengers to relax in peace and solitude. Lounging in the “Sanctuary” does come with a price, ranging from $20-$40 on a given day.
3. The ship had insufficient public restrooms, and most of those were located at opposite ends of the ship, accessible through crowded passageways, and some requiring access to different decks by stairs or elevators.
4. It was difficult to find a drink of water. Water was available in cabins or on the Lido Deck on level 16. A bartender was always willing to pour a small glass, but a number of bar areas were closed earlier in the day, or whenever the ship was in port. Of course, it was always possible to buy a bottle of water.
5. The ship’s corridors seemed narrower than upon other ships. A steward’s service cart in the corridor created stop-and-go traffic for passengers. In the buffet, both in the Horizon Court and Horizon Bistro, the corridors narrowed in certain areas, making it difficult for waiters and passengers to pass each other, and presenting challenges for the disabled. As a result, expect sudden stops, jostling, and wait times at service stations.
6. The “Piazza” (atrium floor) provides entertainment and an area for dancing or other activities. Limited seating, however, at the floor level, together with obstructed sight lines from both decks above the “Piazza” make it difficult to observe and enjoy those activities.
•The items above detail inconvenience aboard ship, but a real concern for the Royal Princess is having available sufficient Purrell dispensers for maintaining sanitation necessary to aid passagenger health and well-being. Those dispensers in evidence were among the fewest aboard any ship, and six of those that were available were empty. In the buffet area were several pairs of sinks for washing hands, but the idea that thousands of passengers would have ready access to those sinks is not realistic.
In summary, we were pleased to have had the opportunity to sail the Baltic and visit these wonderful ports. We were not pleased, however, with much of the time spent aboard the Royal Princess itself, not because of the staff and its efforts, but because of overall design. This ship is huge, and by all accounts, it appears that the objective in the design and construction of the Royal Princess has been to squeeze aboard as many passengers as possible at the expense of the comfort and ease of those passengers. Noting that a sister ship, the Regal Princess, has now been built, a fellow passenger suggested that the wave of the future for Princess Cruise line is to employ a Wal-Mart approach to cruising. In other words, Princess will attempt to attract the maximum number of customers while settling for lesser quality experiences for those customers (i.e., passengers). Personally, I would neither sail Royal Princess again nor try its sister ship Regal Princess.