View from a Royal Princess
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- Before we even board Royal Princess, it’s easy to get a sense that there’s still a fair amount of work to be done -- particularly when it comes to loading on equipment (key supplies, such as food, liquor and bedding come much later). On the dock beside the ship sit two crowd-sized hot tubs. They’re meant to go to the Retreat, the ship’s adult-only swimming pool.
- Our first stop onboard, via (thankfully) now-working passenger elevators, is the bridge, which is the ship’s navigation, safety and security hub. Some of the nautical equipment is in and one of its massive windows, shattered but still hanging, clearly didn't quite survive its installation and will need to be replaced. What we’re looking at here, though, is a new enhancement for Princess: This is the Situation Room, a nonwindowed bunker, adjacent to the bridge, where top officers will huddle in the case of an emergency. It’s twice as big as any other such facility in the fleet.
- On the way to the Bridge, on Riviera deck (or Deck 14), we pass a string of cabins. Standard staterooms (this is one of the new deluxe balcony models) are built in the yard’s cabin factory, trucked over, and slotted in … nearly finished. The notes on the door, which you’ll never see on the completed ship, tell workers what’s been checked. In this case...
- ...The basic furnishings are in place (bed, table, fold-out couch) but the frilly stuff -- television, phone, bedspread -- awaits
- Here’s an addition to staterooms on Royal Princess: On other Princess ships, heat and air conditioning are funneled to cabins through complicated conduits. Princess’ Stuart Hawkins, vice president of newbuildings, tells us a newer technology he dubbed the “chiller” enables every cabin to have its own heating and cooling unit and gives passengers more control when selecting the temperatures they prefer.
- Next stop: Poolside! See the hulking Movies Under the Stars structure? It’s the largest in Princess’ fleet. The pool and hot tubs look normal (if unfinished). But can you spot the mysterious new feature here? It is, of course, the raised area (with the multiple staircases), which will be the source of Royal Princess’ colorful, 100-pulse water fountain, from which shows will play each night before MUTS. Will it soak passengers? It’s not supposed to; the fountain is equipped with all manner of sensors so the captain can detect speed and wind, then time the height of the spray to the breeze. (Daytimes the fountain will be covered and topped with deck chairs though in future it might be used as a water park).
- Somewhat new to Princess is the adult-only Retreat Pool (on other ships in the fleet the Lotus Pool, tucked right under the no-kids-allowed Sanctuary, served this purpose, but the spa has been moved to a lower deck on this ship). Retreat is part of the expanded Sanctuary complex and for the first time also has its own bar and restrooms. There’s also space for a series of private cabanas -- I’m not sure I’m a fan of this concept -- where you can pay up to $130 per day for a private bungalow that includes a mini-bar and television (with wireless headphones so other patrons can’t hear it). Cabana guests can also indulge in a rather pricey picnic menu (from $40 to $80). Otherwise, passengers lounging in the no-fee Retreat area can fetch their own snacks.
- I can’t decide if the Skywalk, one of the most ballyhooed new features on Royal Princess is mere hype or truly fun. This walkway, off the pool deck, curves out from the ship with glass inserts in the floor that offer...
- ...a view to the sea (and the promenade) below. It’s a sheer drop (check out the view beyond Royal Princess Captain Tony Draper’s foot) and perhaps not appealing to the vertigo-impaired. In fact, we were told Carnival Corp. Chairman Micky Arison, who also of course presides atop Princess Cruises, had a chance to be the first to walk across the Skywalk -- and chickened out after a few steps.
- Another thing: Cruise Critic members are more than a little concerned that the Skyway will impair the privacy of balcony cabins just underneath it. A Princess executive told me that the cruise line is aware and might well create a discounted category for these cabins (midship, deck 15 especially, and also those with balcony cabins on 13 and 14).
The Horizon Court (with the addition of the Horizon “bistro”) is massive and has benefitted from Royal Princess’ largest-in-fleet stature. It’s probably the most exciting evolution on Royal Princess. On other ships, Horizon Court is, by and large, a buffet venue; here, a Princess executive tells us, a dining destination that “is an Achilles' heel for us because it gets so much use” has been completely revamped. Examples? No more forced companionship. Four-tops are the largest table, and there are 200 for deuces. Chairs have been custom-designed; tables have elegant granite tops Horizon "is a special part of the dining experience.”
Interesting: Rai Calouri, Princess’ executive vice president of fleet operations, told us that at if all dining venues throughout the ship are operating at one time, all 3,560 passengers could, hypothetically, sit down at one time.
This is the Pastry Shop. Try to imagine its French bistro-like decor, with everything from chocolate croissant to chocolate fondue -- all without an upcharge (save for specialty coffees). I swear I could smell the butter/cacao combination just standing here…
Other highlights on the food scene in the capacious Horizon include stations for Mediterranean, seafood, Asian and Continental European fare; two evening-only restaurants (the Crab Shack and Fondues – both levy a $20 surcharge); a sandwich area with five or so carvery stations (from rotisserie chicken to salmon) and an American-influenced salad bar, among others.
- TV Live!, just beyond the newly expanded Piazza, is another new Princess concept that intrigues. This venue will house near round-the-clock entertainment in which, from about 8 a.m. onward (on sea days), there’s almost always something going on. Passengers can be part of the audience while the cruise director tapes his daily program or watch culinary demonstrations, participate in quizzes or listen to a soloist, among others.
- When we polled Cruise Critic members on their favorite of the new Royal Princess innovations, its expanded Piazza was a clear No. 1. There are a few new twists here -- such as a Gelato shop (surcharge) and the Bellini Bar (pictured, where we inaugurated it with Bellinis that executives brought on board). What’s exciting for most, though, is the super-sizing of popular Princess concepts such as Vines, the Wine Bar and Alfredos.
- The 24-hour International Café, which serves light fare, is at the Piazza’s heart.
- Now it’s your turn: Describe this scene in the Piazza. If you’re feeling eloquent, drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Before we wind up our tour of Royal Princess (here’s an exterior) with a visit to the cabin factory, a few more thoughts. Sabatini’s, the popular Italian restaurant, will be relocated just beyond the Piazza (and next door to Vines). It will specialize in super-Tuscan wines (with, ultimately, new menus developed around them) and will be the first in the Princess fleet to serve lunch. Speaking of lunch: Princess’ pub lunch will be available on most days of the cruise (on sea days it will take over the next door Crown Grill to accommodate demand). The ship’s Lotus Spa has been relocated off the Piazza, while the fitness facility will be on a higher deck. And the ship’s new running track is one of the industry’s largest; it measures 1/6 of a mile around.
- Two cabin categories have undergone changes on Royal Princess. The first? The mini-suite concept, traditionally an expanded verandah cabin and mostly housed on Dolphin Deck, with balconies that jutted out from the ship, has changed. Princess has redesigned the exterior so the out-hanging balconies no longer exist; all mini-suites have smaller verandahs that fit within the ship’s structure, without the privacy issues. There are more of them -- significantly more -- and they’re available all over the ship’s cabin decks rather than relegated to just one level. And finally? That odd circular built-in cabinets that existing mini-suites have won't appear on Royal Princess (on older ships, a cruise line executive told us, the design was a structural necessity).
Remember the half-completed Deluxe Balcony cabin we saw onboard Deck 14, at the tour’s beginning? In this cabin mock-up you can see exactly what it will look like (all have pull-out loveseats; some have fourth berths that come out of the ceiling).
Want to know more about Royal Princess? Stay tuned as Cruise Critic will continue to follow the evolution of this remarkable ship -- all the way through its launch in mid-June and beyond.
-- By Carolyn Spencer Brown
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