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What to Pack for a Panama Canal Cruise

What's New on Sky Princess? Great Theater, New Suites, Huge Balconies, OceanMedallion Experiences and So Much More!

Carolyn Spencer Brown
Contributor
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 (Photo: Princess Cruises)

Sponsored by Princess Cruises

The 18th ship in Princess Cruises' fleet, Sky Princess debuted in October 2019 with a wonderful balance of innovative new features and amenities, and signature favorites that Princess veterans have grown to love. Its firsts? It's the first vessel in the fleet to have its MedallionClass technology installed from the ground up. (OceanMedallion capabilities in other ships have been retroactively added). Will you notice a difference? We didn't -- and it worked seamlessly (we'll get to that in a minute).

Several new Broadway-style shows were created exclusively for Sky Princess, and I'd book the ship again in a minute just to see "Rock Opera" for the third time. There's the new, adults-only Retreat pool area that's so serene. Princess has added more alfresco dining options, a jazz venue and a pair of suites with the biggest balconies at sea.

And, as a Princess veteran, I loved the Piazza, the cruise line's signature atrium, which fizzes with activities, restaurants, bars and cafes, and a fabulous gelateria - the first shop in the outside of Italy to certified by “Ospitalità italiana” for highest quality Italian products - Movies Under the Stars, the adults-only Sanctuary and Alfredo's all-day-and-into-the-night pizzeria all return.

What struck me the most on my second MedallionClass cruise, was how much the experiences -- meant to help personalize the cruise experience for passengers and provide significant efficiencies and support for crew members -- seamlessly fit. You didn't notice that it was technology-centric and that, I believe, is the point.

Overall, Sky Princess succeeds in offering a big-ship experience for those who like variety and options, and yet creating a personal ambience for those who crave more small town than big city.

Here we showcase our favorite discoveries onboard Sky Princess.

New Suites

New Suites

What's genuinely new about Sky Princess is the introduction of new suite and stateroom categories. The greatest splash goes to its pair of Sky Suites, the biggest in Princess' fleet and with the largest balconies at sea. These suites have 270-degree panorama views and about 1,873-square-foot verandas, which face the Movies Under the Stars screen. The Sky Suites are optimized for families, sleeping five. Travelers residing in the two-bedroom, two-bath suites are entitled to more than just the extra real estate (and the private balcony viewings of Movies Under the Stars). Via Princess' new Celebrate Under the Stars initiative -- only available to Sky Suites -- passengers can host private dining events, from tapas to pizza, to activities, from stargazing to mixology.

We're also betting that the new forward-facing Window Suites, with sloping floor-to-ceiling glass windows, and Penthouse Suites, with separate sleeping and living quarters, will be hugely popular. Their location on Deck 17, with the Retreat Pool and its bar just steps away, also accommodates more standard balcony cabins.

Sunsets by the Wakeview Pool

Sunsets by the Wakeview Pool

At any time of day, the aft infinity pool is a lovely and quiet spot to swim, watch the wake, read a book, grab a cocktail and order a snack delivered to your sunbed (you can use the OceanNow function within the MedallionClass app to order whatever you need for delivery). I loved that it felt as if it were tucked so far away and yet, with an on-site bar and food options, there was easy access to all the services you'd need. If, as on our voyage, the ship is cruising east at sunset, it's glorious.

OceanMedallion's Benefits

OceanMedallion's Benefits

OceanMedallion is, in a nutshell, a completely new technology that was created by Carnival Corporation for Princess Cruises. What is it? It's a quarter-sized disk that's meant to seamlessly incorporate the more personalized feeling of a boutique-style cruise with the amazing amenities -- multiple restaurants, pools, entertainment performances, games and productions, and more -- you associate with a larger ship experience.

Sky Princess is the fifth ship in the fleet to be fitted with the Ocean Guest Experience Platform, which runs the OceanMedallion features (six more Princess vessels will be so equipped in 2020). The experience starts with a quick check-in at the cruise terminal and extends to interactive maps that show you around the ship and a feature that allows you to find your cruise pals onboard (it's like Waze, friend locator, Uber Eats and chat all in one). It unlocks your cabin door as you approach it, which Cruise Critic readers constantly cite as one of their favorite features, and allows you to order drinks, food and even sunblock and gifts from almost any location onboard, from poolside to staterooms.

And then there's this: Part of the MedallionClass initiative is the best Wi-Fi at sea. It's just like on land, and you can stream from your favorite at-home channels, keep up with video conferences at work (if you must!) and check in with the folks at home.

Arty Surprises on the Jogging Track

Arty Surprises on the Jogging Track

The Jogging Track on Deck 18 already has great views, whether you're looking out to sea or in port, or you prefer the people-watching that ensues at the main pool. As we turned a couple of bends on the track, we discovered a pair of colorful murals that an artist was composing.

The Show, Oh, the Show!

The Show, Oh, the Show!

We loved "Rock Opera," with its lavish costumes, compelling tunes from genres such as classic rock, opera and show tunes, and talented performances by a troupe of 13 dancers, four vocalists and a live orchestra. We even went back to the night's second show. It's one of four all-new productions that are exclusive to Sky Princess. There's "5-SKIES," which incorporates virtual reality and aerial performers; the whimsical and darling puppet show called "Jim Henson's Inspired Silliness"; and a cool twist on magic by storied Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz.

Another great venue onboard is Princess Live!, with an open theater layout. Most of the ship’s uber-popular shows that required audience participation are held here. If jazz is your groove, the all-new destination spot is Take 5, a jazz-themed lounge with live performances, such as “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Toda La Noche” and “A Night in Harlem.”

Finally, there's a new-to-Princess entertainment concept: the Phantom Bridge Escape Room. Teams get 23 minutes to hack the code -- and there are 700 different outcomes.

Shade, Everywhere

Shade, Everywhere

Understanding that today's many travelers like to lounge out of doors but don't necessarily need the sun, we loved the many areas in which Princess incorporated shaded reclining spots throughout the outdoor decks, from the Sanctuary's Retreat Pool to the main pool. Our favorite shaded area at the main pool was sea-facing, by the SeaWalk, where you can peer down some 128 feet to watch the ocean.

Alfresco Dining

Alfresco Dining

Alfredo's Pizzeria has long been a favorite Princess staple, and now there's a reason to dine there more often: Its location, on Deck 7 opposite Bistro Sur La Mer, has expanded to the promenade beyond to offer alfresco dining and it's open all day and into the evening. The same applies to the relatively new Bistro Sur La Mer, which offers the contemporary French cuisine of chef Emmanuel Renaut, who holds three Michelin stars. It's open for dinner and, on sea days, hosts a brunch menu. What we loved most about these new outdoor spots is that there's a superb windbreak so you're not bothered by the elements, particularly when Sky Princess is on the move.

And Last but By No Means Least: Let's Salute the Princess' Crew

And Last but By No Means Least: Let's Salute the Princess' Crew

One of the major benefits of the OceanMedallion  technology -- and this is not limited to Sky Princess -- is to offer extra support to the crew so they have more time to deliver personal services to passengers. Case in point, those who have food allergies can register them and every waiter in every restaurant you visit will have access to your special requirements. You won't have to mention it over and over again. MedallionClass supports stateroom attendants by letting them know you are outside of your stateroom so they can refresh the cabin without bothering you. It helps with staffing around the ship; hotel operations staffers can, on a dime, move bartenders from a quieter venue to a hotter one, for instance.

And, I learned something new on my trip aboard Sky Princess, and it was powerful: If you've cruised before, you've probably noticed that because slower  Wi-Fi speed onboard many cruise ships isn't always powerful enough for video chats. When crew want to connect with their families, they often have to wait for time off in port, racing to terminals and cafes to use land-bound Wi-Fi. Here's the thing: On all of Princess' MedallionClass ships, the Wi-Fi is so good at sea that they can keep in contact with family by video conference every single day.

And, beyond better and more frequent connectivity with their loved ones at home, they can now spend their time off in port seeing the world, just like the rest of us.

Updated April 07, 2020

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