My wife and I recently sailed on the transatlantic cruise from Fort Lauderdale to St. Petersburg. To sum things up we had a ball on this trip. Great cruising company, fantastic crew and a beautiful ship. But things were not perfect all the way. To contextualize the following information you should note that my wife and I are cruisers who definitely like to do our own thing in the ports we visit. At the end of this cruise we left the Royal Princess in St. Petersburg to do some independent self-organized travel through Russia and Europe.
Embarkation was all things considered handled pretty well by Princess. Due to no fault of our own we arrived at 12:30 pm, an hour earlier than our designated time so we have no complaints about the long lines. As a "preferred" customer we were ushered into "preferred" queue which funnily happened to be longer than the normal queue. We spent our time amused at the antics of some customers who thought they were more preferred than others as they attempted to queue jump. Suffice to say they weren't treated well by their fellow cruisers. Princess did extremely well getting the large numbers of cruisers through the necessary protocols and on board the ship.
The inside public areas of this ship are amazing. The aesthetic detail is a real credit to Princess. The well documented lack of stairs amidships was no problem for us as we were happy to walk forward or aft to use these stairs or lifts. It should be noted that there is an ability to move between the amidships public floors using stairs. However, most passengers tended to use the amidships lifts to move a single floor (no wonder they are busy!).
We were disappointed that there wasn't a full length promenade deck as we are "ship" people and love this aspect of cruising. We did take advantage of the small promenade deck projections. Whilst we were disappointed in this part of the ship we don't consider this to be a deal breaker as the positives of this ship outweigh the negatives.
While discussing the less desirable aspects of this ship I have to mention the cabins. Yes they are small, really small. And yes the balcony is tiny. But it wasn't these details that have already been discussed in detail by previous contributors that irked us, it was the noise. We could easily hear the neighbours T.V. on more than one occasion. The noise insulation in these cabins is atrocious. This is something I hadn't noticed on other princess ships and it would be the only thing that would sway us from not cruising on this ship again.
We found the staff to be in the main outstanding. They were attentive and went out of their way to please the passengers. We did have some hassle from a maître d' who thought his calling in life was beyond his current role but we consider this to be a small aberration.
The new Horizon Court layout is a significant improvement on what we’ve encountered on previous Princess ships. We found ourselves eating there more frequently than we had planned! We did use the dining rooms and found the food to range from excellent to satisfactory. The waiters were generally excellent as well.
The itinerary for this cruise was a real draw card for use. In the main the size of the Royal didn’t pose too many problems as it ventured into previously unvisited ports. There were some pretty major delays boarding at Southampton but this was due to a significant number of people hitting an undermanned customs and security point at the same time. We just sat it out.
We were also somewhat disappointed in our visit to Gothenburg, Sweden. It had previously been advertised in a port lecture that the ship would dock relatively close to Gothenburg. Inadvertently someone had failed to calculate the size of the ship and it was diverted to a container port somewhat further from town and with no pedestrian nor taxi access. Given the only way into Gothenburg was via a shuttle bus we were a bit perplexed that we were charged for this service. On previous Princess cruises we had also docked in container ports with similar access restrictions but we have never been charged for a shuttle bus when there were no other access options.
Apart from these two small negatives the rest of our port visits were fantastic. Yes she is a big ship but she generally squeezed into port without a problem. As we tend to avoid shore excursions we found that for most ports that we could simply walk off the ship and either walk or catch public transport to the main tourist attractions. A tip in Copenhagen is to catch the number 26 bus directly from the front of the new port terminal to the centre of town. Just make sure you have some Danish Kroner before getting on the bus. We actually walked from the Copenhagen port into town and returned by the bus – the walk took about 45 minutes but it was good exercise and a pleasant introduction to Copenhagen.
Disembarkation in St. Petersburg was extremely easy. As we took responsibility for disembarking with our own luggage it was as simple as walking off the ship with luggage in tow.
We had a Russian Tourist Visa permitting us to extend our stay in Russia. To get from the port to our Hotel we took a taxi paid for at the terminal after clearing Russian Immigration and Customs. There were 2 ATMs at the terminal where you could get Russian Rubles. The one we used could be changed to English. We found out later that the taxi fare we paid was a little more expensive than what we later paid to return to the port to catch a ferry to Helsinki. We paid about 1200 Rubles ($35 USD) which we thought at the time was reasonable to get to our hotel. When we later returned to the port for our Helsinki ferry the fare was 480 Rubles. Admittedly the Helsinki ferry was a bit closer to our hotel than the terminal used by Princess, but nowhere near twice the distance!
In sum we had a fantastic trip. We would travel on the Royal again but we would probably be a bit more selective about our cabin choice. The itinerary was fantastic. The crew were great. The food was good. And we had a ball. Thank you Princess for a fantastic trip.