OnboardMore than any other mainstream cruise line, Princess Cruises successfully balances cruise traditions with cruise innovations to offer an experience that suits a variety of travel styles. It offers set-seating dining and more flexible Anytime Dining. Princess' Movies Under the Stars (MUTS) is one of the most popular innovations in cruise entertainment, yet its traditional production shows typically play to standing-room-only crowds.
Another tremendously popular innovation, which first debuted on Crown Princess, is the Piazza. It was retrofitted onto several older ships, and it's being vastly expanded on Royal Princess (2013) and Regal Princess (2014). Loosely modeled after the custom of Italian towns as a place to gather, Princess' version, spanning three decks, offers a variety of temptations that include spontaneous performances, a wine bar, shops, and casual eateries like Alfredo's pizza and the 24-hour International Cafe for sandwiches, pastries and snacks.
Princess ships also feature expansive spas and fitness facilities, kids clubs that serve ages 3 to 17, and entertainment venues like casinos, discos and nightclubs. Beyond the main restaurants, the ships offer a mix of culinary themes from the New Orleans-inspired Bayou Cafe on Island and Coral Princess to the popular Sabatini's, serving Italian fare. (Restaurants vary by ship class.)
Princess Cruises is one of the only lines to feature a "ye olde" tradition: cruise travelers can invite friends and relatives to visit them onboard before sailaway and see them off on their grand voyage. Via the program, called the "Bon Voyage Experience," passengers' guests can join them onboard for approximately four hours, including lunch (with wine) and a tour. The line charges $39 per person, banking on the fact that you will get enough of a taste that you'll come back for a real cruise (with or without grandma). If you bite, Princess is willing to apply the $39 toward a future cruise booking.
About Princess CruisesWhat began as "the little cruise line that could" has evolved into a cruise industry giant. Beginning with a 6,000-ton converted ferry chartered from the Canadian Pacific Railway, Princess operated the small luxury liner between Los Angeles and the Mexican Riviera in 1965. The line now has 16 ships sailing the globe offering approximately 100 itineraries that range from one to 100+ days and visit more than 300 ports.
The cruise line will add two more ships to the fleet soon. Royal Princess, currently in the final stages of construction at Italy's Fincantieri shipyard, will launch in June 2013. Its sister ship, Regal Princess, will debut in spring 2014.
Princess is part of the industry's giant Carnival Corporation, a merger that occurred in 2003 when Carnival acquired Princess' parent company, U.K.-based P&O Cruises, in a hostile takeover tug of war with Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. From what we've seen, the operation of the line has, by and large, remained the same, although some repeaters say they are starting to notice the Carnival influence.
Princess Cruises FleetPrincess' fleet basically falls into five categories. Its Explorer Class consists of Ocean Princess and Tahitian Princess, a pair of identical 680-passenger ships that offer both a cozier onboard ambience -- and, due to their small size, exotic itineraries.
Its Sun Class ships, which include Sun Princess, Dawn Princess, Sea Princess carry 1,950 to 1,970 passengers. These days, they're considered medium-sized ships, with some of Princess' contemporary innovations, such as a high percentage of balcony cabins, a handful of alternative eateries and expanded kids clubs.
Its two 92,000-ton Coral Class ships -- Coral Princess and Island Princess -- divide their time between Alaska and the caribbean, offering transits through the Panama Canal: the only two Princess ships in the fleet small enough to get through the locks.
When Grand Princess, the cruise line's first Grand Class ship, was launched in 1998, it heralded a new era for Princess. Successors, ranging from Caribbean Princess and Crown Princess to Sapphire Princess and Ruby Princess hold between 2,594 and 3,080 passengers. Innovations that debuted with this class of ships (and that were later expanded to others) include MUTS, the Sanctuary adults-only sun deck, and the controversial jutting-out balconies of its mini-suites.
Princess' newest series of ships, the Royal Class, debuts in mid-June 2013 with 3,600-passenger Royal Princess. A nearly identical sibling, Regal Princess, will launch in spring 2014. Signature features of this newest ship evolution include an expanded Piazza; the first-ever SeaWalk, a cantilevered, glass-enclosed walkway; and an interactive television studio called Princess Live!.
Fellow PassengersPrincess Cruises attracts a widespread passenger base, but as its ships vary so widely in style and services, choosing carefully is a good idea. The large and mid-range ships attract broad, multigenerational demographics -- everyone from solo travelers to family groups will find something they like.
Because they're more exotically minded, the line's pair of smaller ships -- Pacific Princess and Ocean Princess -- cater more to mature travelers who want longer itineraries, more offbeat ports of call and fewer family-friendly elements.
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