Royal Princess, the first of two 141,000-ton, 3,600-passenger prototypes, will debut in June 2013 with a series of 12-night cruises out of Barcelona and Venice. A sister, Regal Princess, will arrive in spring 2014. (For a look at other upcoming new-builds, check out our new cruise ship
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, will name the ship in Southampton
on June 13 -- 29 years after Princess Diana served as godmother to a ship of the same name.
The new-build, which is some 20 percent larger than Princess' next biggest vessels, represents more of an evolution than a revolution for the line. Princess has revealed a handful of novel-sounding touches for Royal Princess, which is being named in tribute to the line's first purpose-built vessel. These include the innovative SeaWalk, a cantilevered, glass-enclosed walkway that will extend 28 feet beyond the edge of the ship and 128 feet over the water; cruising's first "television studio"; and a fondue dining option.
Other features announced so far include:
All outside cabins will have balconies, which translates to 80 percent of the ship's accommodations. Princess is making a number of tweaks to standard cabins. These include expanding the size of showers and making shower heads hand-held, and introducing pillow-top mattresses, upholstered headboards and bigger television screens. Cabins will also feature key card slots that turn lighting on and off.
Suite passengers will be able to access Royal Princess' new Concierge Lounge, where they can get refreshments and make reservations for dining, spa services and shore excursions.
Royal Princess will debut a new entertainment concept for the line, called Princess Live!, located just aft of the Piazza. With seating for 280 passengers, the space is a television studio that doubles as an intimate performance venue. The ship's "The Wake Show" will broadcast daily from here with a live studio audience. Game shows, cooking demos, art house films, enrichment programming, murder mystery and trivia games, and acoustic and smaller-scale performances by the ship's musicians will also take place in Princess Live!
The adjacent Princess Live! Cafe will offer specialty coffees and teas, as well as fresh juices and baked goods in the morning. Specialty coffees will incur a fee, but no decision has been made yet regarding pricing for other beverages and snacks. The cafe's decor includes wall-mounted screens showing cruise-related information.
The ship will feature the fleet's largest Princess Theater, which will host production shows backed by hi-def screens and a hi-tech lighting system. The smaller Vista Lounge will function as an alternate evening performance venue for musicians, comedians and illusionists. A third space, Crooners, will host a resident entertainer intent on getting passengers to sing. The 50 varieties of martinis may help his or her cause. The venue will also feature a new dueling-glass-piano show.
Club 6 is Royal Princess’ dance club, located on Deck 6 near the Atrium. Nearby, the Italianate Bellini’s bar will serve a variety of Bellini-inspired drinks.
The Princess Casino will feature a selection of slots and table games, including blackjack, Texas Hold’em and roulette.
Royal Princess will feature the largest ever version of Princess' signature Movies Under the Stars concept. The poolside theater will have a variety of movies and concert playing on the big screen. Film-goers will be able to grab fleece blankets, fee-free fresh-popped popcorn, and cookies and milk. A water and light show will take place nearby.
On Royal Princess, the marble-swathed Piazza -- a central hub for dining, lounging and entertainment found on a half-dozen Princess ships -- will balloon by some 50 percent compared with the next largest version, according to the line. Royal's three-deck space will debut a number of new venues, including a gelateria (extra charge); the aforementioned Bellini's; a gift shop; and a seafood bar, Ocean Terrace, serving sushi, ceviche and caviar (also extra charge). Click the image to the right to see renderings of the space.
Other venues in Royal Princess' Piazza, done up in golds and whites and punctuated by a pair of marble spiral staircases, will return in expanded form. These include the International Cafe, with its (for-fee) specialty coffees and (gratis) pastries, panini and salads; the aforementioned Crooner's lounge; and Vines, a wine and tapas bar (wine for fee, tapas free). Alfredo's, a fee-free, stone-oven pizzeria introduced after Grand Princess' 2011 refurbishment, makes an encore here, though with expanded seating. Finally, Sabatini's, Princess' hallmark Italian restaurant, will be found in an adjacent "Mini-Piazza."
More Dining Options
Royal Princess' Horizon Court buffet will have a new action-station layout with options food "venues" including a taqueria, rotisserie, a sandwich shop and a Japanese hibachi grill. The line is also debuting a pair of for-fee options in the buffet complex. These include a "crab shack" and a fondue dispensary. Princess will levy what it called a "nominal" fee for the melted cheese and fried seafood. "It's not really done for revenue purposes -- it's done for controlling demand," said Rai Caluori, Princess' executive vice president of fleet operations. A third new venue, a dedicated pastry shop (gratis), will be situated adjacent to the main buffet area.
Royal Princess' buffet venue will also have double the number of seats -- to 900 indoor and 350 outdoor -- found on its newest ships, Crown Princess, Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess, and offer a greater variety of table-styles, including two-tops and "counter-height" bistro-style dining tables.
At night the Horizon Buffet will become the ... Horizon Bistro, offering nightly themed dining. Diners might find a Brazilian-style churasscaria one night, a British pub the next. There will be no added fee for the bistro dinners.
"Chef's Table Lumiere" is a new approach to Princess' pioneering "Chef's Table" concept, during which an executive chef cooks dinner and explains technique to an exclusive group of passengers (for a $95 fee, including wine). Royal Princess' version adds a "curtain of light," which surrounds the diners and creates a private, softly lit space in the center of the bustling main dining room. Additionally, new private dining spaces inspired by wine cellars will be integrated in the main dining room. Costs of these spaces have not been revealed.
Crown Grill ($25 per person), Princess' signature steak and chops house, and the aforementioned Sabatini's ($20 per person), its Northern Italian restaurant, will be found on Royal. This time though, each is paired with a complementary lounge. The Wheelhouse Pub, a popular Princess lounge featuring an ersatz British vibe and unobtrusive piano music, will be coupled with the Crown Grill; Sabatini's will be grouped with Vines, the ship's wine bar, together in one convenient area.
The Retreat pool, a new adults-only pool will be situated near the Sanctuary, a signature Princess space (think massage cabanas, ultra-plush loungers and a lot of bathrobed cruisers) that's similarly kid-free. There will be six private cabanas next to the Retreat pool and two within the Sanctuary -- Princess' first foray into the world of for-fee cabanas.
Two more pools will bump up against a "tropical island" that will transform into a dance club at night, replete with a light show.
Both the Sanctuary and Movie Under the Stars, another Princess staples, will be expanded. The high-def poolside screen for the latter will be the largest on a Princess ship, at 33 by 18 feet.
Lotus Spa & Enclave
Royal Princess will have a relocated and expanded spa with more treatment rooms than any of its fleetmates, and an enhanced thermal suite called the Enclave.
In an unusual move, spa-goers no longer have to trek to a top corner of the ship -- the standard prime real estate for cruise ship spas -- for their pampering. On Royal Princess, the Lotus Spa has been relocated just off the atrium. (Royal Caribbean took a similar approach with the spas on Oasis and Allure of the Seas -- the result being less natural light in the facility.) The fitness center will remain at the top of the ship.
The spa will cover all the bases with a full-service salon, teeth whitening stations, a barber shop and mani-pedi areas, a relaxation room (for a spot of herbal tea pre-massage) and 18 treatment rooms, some with windows. New features include:
The Enclave will be the largest thermal suite in the fleet, complete with a hydrotherapy pool and accompanying rain shower. Within the suite, passengers can try out heated stone or water beds and sensory showers with mood lighting and therapeutic aromas. Three named rooms offer a variety of heat-based experiences: The Hammam is a Turkish-style bath, featuring a marble slab for mud or salt treatments; the Caldarium, a ceramic chamber infused with herbal aromas; and the Laconium, a dry sauna. Pricing for the Enclave has not been released yet.
The Scrub & Shine Bar offers sugar and salt scrubs mixed for each passenger individually. Cruise Critic is awaiting more answers from Princess on exactly how this scrub bar will work.
Two new Couples Villas are aimed at twosomes looking for side-by-side massages, followed by relaxation in a whirlpool path or sitting area with ocean views.
Princess Sports Central
Among the usual sweaty suspects, Royal Princess will feature a few fun twists: a portable batting cage, laser shooting range and a new take on the at-sea jogging track. All three activities will be offered in the multi-sport area on Decks 18 and 19, known as Princess Sports Central.
While the portable batting cage is pretty unique within the industry, it is not entirely new. (Norwegian Epic is host to a batting cage that makes an appearance on port days.) Similarly, Royal Princess' take on the double-lane jogging track features an unusual, but not unique, circuit program with outdoor exercise stations set at intervals. Sister operator Carnival was the first to offer al fresco gym equipment; Carnival Magic and Breeze feature a Muscle Beach-style mini-gym by the ships' mini-golf and high ropes courses. Royal Princess' laser shooting range may be a first for cruises, however. The line has yet to reveal details of the offering.
Royal Princess' Sports Central will also feature a golf driving facility and multi-use center court (basketball, volleyball, tennis). On the upper deck, a Lawn Court will have an artificial grassy area for bocce, croquet and lawn bowling. A game lounge will offer up Ping Pong and virtual options via Kinect for Xbox gaming systems.
One deck below passengers will find the fitness center with an array of equipment, and at the back of the gym the ship will offer a private aerobics studio. Fitness classes will include TRX suspension bodyweight training, body sculpt boot camp sessions and spinning. As on other Princess ships, the fitness center is part of the ship's Lotus Spa
Princess expands its offerings for kids and teens with new spaces aboard Royal Princess. For toddlers ages 3 and younger, a new dedicated area has been added within the Princess Pelicans club for parents to play with their little ones.
Princess Pelicans club is for kids ages 3 to 7 and will feature a new indoor play structure, a mini air hockey table and arts and crafts. A brand-new outdoor playground will include play equipment and space for tricycle riding.
The Shockwaves Club, for kids ages 8 to 12, will also feature a new dedicated outside space, this one with lounge chairs and a variety of outdoor games. The indoor lounge will feature a giant TV, D.J. booth and arts and crafts tables with youth counselor-led classes.
The teen program, dubbed Remix, is for ages 13 to 17, and will feature a brand new lounge area complete with foosball, Skee-ball and the latest video games. Also new, an outdoor lounge will be added with a teen-only wading pool, comfy seating and space for open-sky parties. In the Princess D.J. booth, music-loving teens can create playlists.
Itinerary-wise, Royal Princess will debut with a pair of three-night "preview cruises," round trip from Southampton, departing on June 10 and 13. The mini-cruises will visit Guernsey's St. Peter Port, a Channel Island port that's been increasingly on cruise line radars.
The ship's official maiden voyage will be a seven-night cruise from Southampton to Barcelona departing June 16. The sailing will visit Vigo, Lisbon, Gibraltar and Malaga. On June 23, Royal will kick off its season of 12-day Mediterranean cruises between Barcelona and Venice. The cruises will run through September 27 and visit Toulon, France; Livorno, Civitavecchia and Naples, Italy; Mykonos and Athens, Greece; and Istanbul and Kusadasi, Turkey. Cruises from Barcelona will end with an overnight stay in Venice.
The cruise-ship-turned-snowbird will then transit the Atlantic on October 9 en route to its Fort Lauderdale homeport. The 18-night transatlantic cruise will visit Messina (Sicily), Naples (for Capri and Pompeii), Civitavecchia (for Rome), Cannes (for Monte Carlo), Barcelona and Funchal (Madeira Island). Princess has yet to announce the ex-Florida Caribbean deployment.