Its "Movies Under the Stars" outdoor cinema, launched on Caribbean Princess, has been such a hit already that Princess plans to add it to Grand Princess, Golden Princess and Star Princess. Reporting from Caribbean Princess, now in only its second sailing, we can tell you that, for movie buffs, this retro back-to-the-future approach to the drive-in is a fabulous experience. The 300-square foot screen, which is like those you've seen in Times Square (it's an LED "light emitting diode"), is angled over a two-deck pool area and is clear as a bell -- not only during the evening hours, but also in the bright-of-day. Sound is provided by a 69,000-watt system.
Beyond the films themselves -- featured on this week's trip are "Master and Commander" and "She's Gotta Have It" -- the atmosphere really is movie-magical. Staffers close off the two-deck pool area around 5:30 p.m., outfit the loungers with special maroon "Movies Under the Stars" covers complete with built-in pillow, and crew members offer free popcorn and sell drinks and candy (the usual movie suspects, such as Raisinets, for about $2). Even in the Caribbean the temperatures were a bit brisk at night -- but the ship's already thought of that and each lounger is outfitted with a wool tartan rug. The ship's entertainment staff this week has also offered a 6 p.m. kids movie and plans to expand the variety to include everything from Broadway musicals to major sports events.
No word from the folks at Princess about the timing of introduction for "Movies Under the Stars" on the three original Grand-class ships. The concept will not be introduced on Princess' other new-for-2004 vessels -- Diamond Princess and Sapphire Princess. The second pool on those post-Grand class vessels, built in a Japanese shipyard instead of the "Grand" shipyard at Fincantieri, are equipped with magrodomes for indoor/outdoor swimming and so cannot accommodate the big screen. What's a bit puzzling is that Grand-class ships also have magrodome-covered pools. We'll keep you posted as Princess finalizes details.
On Caribbean Princess, the company has launched another brand new concept to its fleet (and to the industry itself, come to think of it). It is operating and administering its Lotus Spa facility on this ship, and on the upcoming Sapphire Princess -- making it the first cruise line to not (totally) rely on outside providers, like the U.K.-based Harding Bros. and Steiner, and the Paris-based La Carita, to operate its spas. First impressions at this point? Prices are lower and ambiance is warmer. The spa facility feels more personal -- less institutional. More as if it fits in with the Princess concept of cruising. In another revolutionary move, Princess allows passengers on Caribbean Princess (and, later, on Sapphire Princess) to pre-book some 40 treatments, from massage to hair, nail and facial treatments, via the web. Go to www.princess.com/onboard/spa. We highly recommend it for peak times.
Finally, in a fabulous new twist on an original souvenir, Royal Princess, the line's circa-1984 pathfinder ship, is offering passengers a nifty new option. At the end of each voyage, guests can bid on the captains' hand-illustrated "paper chart," which shows how he plots the journey. With obviously one available per cruise, it's created quiet a stir and is available only via a trip-end silent auction. So far, a Princess source says that in the first three weeks of the offering (suggested, by the way, by a Princess onboard staffer), the winning bid averages about $300. All proceeds are give to a marine seaman's charity. The program will expand fleetwide within the next few weeks (ask at the purser's deck for specifics).