Princess Cruises doesn't set out to dazzle with gimmickry (no bumper cars at sea, ropes courses or simulated surf pools for this Princess), and it's never wanted (or needed) to. The line opts for a more traditional style of cruising, even as it does occasionally push the bounds in terms of innovation. It's certainly come up with some great ideas -- Movies Under The Stars, the adults-only Sanctuary and the transformation of a functional ship's atrium into the buzzing Piazza -- that are now widely copied by other lines.
Arguably, what Princess does better than any other mainstream cruise line is embrace innovations and enfold them into an otherwise traditionally minded cruise experience. Royal Princess is no exception. Here, the Piazza has been significantly expanded, Movies Under the Stars is the biggest in the fleet, and the Youth Center has some exciting new features, including a private, outdoor sun deck for teens. New twists onboard Royal Princess include the SeaWalk, a walkway that hangs off one side of the ship 16 decks up and offers vertigo-inducing views through strengthened glass. On the pool deck, a magical fountain -- between the main pool and the upgraded Movies Under the Stars screen -- does a Vegas-like water and light show at night. And there's Princess Live!, the first television studio in cruising, featuring with audience seating and participation.
A renewed focus on food means that, of the 16 eateries, several are new, including the Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar, Pastry Shop and Gelato parlor, as well as pop-up restaurants Crab Shack and the Fondue Dispensary in the Horizon Court buffet area. Old favorites get new twists, including the expanded Alfredo's, the line's stand-out pizzeria, with a few menu additions and a lot more seats.
Tradition is honored, as well: one dining room is dedicated to set-seating, cocktail lounges have an elegant ambience, lovely classical music performances are mixed in with jazzier tunes, and afternoon tea is still a staple.
One aspect where Royal Princess does fall down is cabin sizes, which, in certain cases, come in significantly smaller than those found on Grand Princess. It's particularly noticeable with the balconies, which are tiny -- barely enough space for two chairs and a table.
You could argue that Princess is merely "playing it safe" with Royal Princess and trying to please everyone, but as a prototype -- cruise industry parlance for a new design, rather than the "third ship in a series of" -- the first impression is a simple one. Royal might represent an evolution for Princess, but it's still offering an experience that will feel familiar to fans.