Royal Princess Review September 10, 2018
The taxi driver dropped us curbside at the Southampton Cruise Terminal, and our bags were immediately whisked away. Unlike many terminals, you check in first, prior to going through security. The lines moved quickly and we were checked in within twenty minutes of our arrival. After being checked in, you’re given a number and told to relax in the waiting room until your number is called to go through security and board the ship.
My wife normally packs a small paring knife in her checked luggage for slicing up fruit in our stateroom. Security noticed the knife when the bags were being x-rayed, and we were summoned to security to locate the knife and dispose of it. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After we disposed of the knife, we were taken directly to the gangway to board the ship, and therefore we missed the entire waiting room process.
Our balcony stateroom Emerald 428 on Deck 8, is listed as having an obstructed view. I read a number of reviews of this cabin before booking it, that said it didn’t have an obstructed view. Obviously, I was a little nervous to see for myself. The balcony it actually a little larger than most because of the shape of the ship. There’s a lifeboat to the left, on the deck below which is why I assume it’s listed as having an obstructed view, but I wouldn’t consider it an obstructed view at all.
We liked the layout of the room and our stateroom position midship. We also liked the 42” flat panel LED television on the wall at the foot of the bed. We were very close to the midship elevators and it was a convenient location to get to everything.
Our sliding door to access the balcony was extremely difficult to open, it took both of us to slide it open.
Our cabin steward Renaldo started off sensational but service rapidly declined as the cruise progressed.
This was our 28th cruise and our third with Princess. Although we have Diamond Status with Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society, and Elite Status with Celebrity’s Captain’s Club, now we mostly book our cruises based on itinerary and the price.
One of the best thing about the Royal Princess, is the self-service Laundromats on each deck. We had been in the U.K. a week before boarding, and it was wonderful to wash and dry a couple of loads of laundry after we boarded.
Although, the ship was built in 2013 and is only five years old, it feels much older in every way. The décor in general feels very outdated. It’s quite worn for such a new ship. We noticed boarding how rusted the hull is. The carpets, the furnishings, almost every aspect of the ship shows signs of excess wear and tear.
What really shocked us, was that a newer ship would be built to such old standards. In a world of competing mega-ships that offer dozens of dining options, the Royal Princess is like a twenty-year old ship trying to adapt itself to modern day standards.
There are only three Specialty Restaurant options, Crown Grill (Steakhouse), Sabatini’s (Italian), Crab Shack (Seafood). Only Sabatini’s is housed in a purpose-built restaurant space. The Crown Grill is in a pub space, and the Crab Shack is hosted in a roped off section of the Horizon Court (Buffet) area. On this fifteen-night cruise, the Crab Shack option was only offered on two nights. The Crab Shack menu was wonderful and the food was exceptional. However, the ambience was terrible sitting amongst the buffet guests. The Sabatini’s menu offered a poor selection of Italian specialties, and the Crown Grill was by far the best of the three specialty restaurants. We celebrated my wife’s birthday at the Crown Grill and it did not disappoint, her Ribeye was incredible, and my Filet Mignon was exquisite.
The main dining room menu options for dinner were some of the worst we’ve see in our thirty-four years of cruising. The food was mostly mediocre to poor, with the deserts being the highlight of most of the dinners each night. The rolls and bread were extremely hard, maybe it’s a European thing, but we prefer softer bakery items. There are three main dining rooms, The Symphony, The Concerto, and the Allegro. We had “Anytime Dining”, and which dining rooms we could eat in at which times was very confusing. Getting a table for two was extremely difficult. There were only a handful of real tables for two in each dining room, the majority of the time we were seated in areas where long tables were pulled a foot or two apart, and you were seated 18” from the person next to you. This is not what I consider a table for two. Also, the staff encouraged you to share tables, and shamed you for asking for a table for two. This is also the first cruise we’ve been on where the waiters are constantly trying to upsell something. The dining rooms were severely understaffed. Our waiter one evening had five two tops and three five tops. One waiter trying to serve 25 guests with “Anytime” dining results in a disaster. Assistant waiters were in very short supply. The food was rarely ever hot. Often, we watched our dinner sit on the waiter’s station for 10-15 minutes prior to the them delivering it to our table. On numerous occasions, my wife sent her dinner back as it was cold. This goes back to the ship trying to operate “Anytime” Dining using the old Traditional Dining model, and not like a regular restaurant where diners come and go.
The Allegro Dining Room is the only dining room that served Breakfast and Lunch. Guest began lining up thirty minutes or more before this dining room opened, to get a table. Once the dining room was full, there were long lines and long waits. A second dining room should have been opened, as no one should have to wait in line to have breakfast or lunch. We have always preferred to eat breakfast and lunch in the dining room, as it is generally served hotter than the luke warm food at the buffet. Again, we were disappointed as the food almost always arrived cold. The breakfast and dinner menus in the Allegro were no more inspiring than the dinner menus. The breakfast menu was always the same, on the left with one or two special items on the right side that differed every day. Many fundamental breakfast items were missing, like waffles, French Toast, and Eggs Benedict.
The Horizon Court Buffet was adequate, but it offered typical smorgasbord fare that was faintly warm and never hot. There was one Omelet station, but you had to really search for it, and very few cooking stations where chefs offered anything fresh or custom.
I can understand an old ship being retrofit to accommodate “Anytime Dining” but with ships the same age like the NCL Breakaway & Getaway being outfitted with twenty-one restaurants, the Royal Princess dining options are quite archaic.
With the exception of our stateroom steward who went above and beyond, the staff and crew were unenthusiastic. They went through the motions, but mostly they made you feel as if you were bothering them, if you made a request. This was particularly true in the dining rooms. The majority of the staff did not have a very good command of the English language. On a few occasions the staff was downright rude. One night my wife moved her fork from where it was placed, and the waiter said “What’s wrong, are you left handed or something”?
We chose this particular cruise especially for the itinerary. Following the first two ports, Rotterdam and Hamburg, the captain informed us that the next three ports were being cancelled, due to inclement weather concerns. Bergen Norway, Belfast Northern Ireland, and St John’s Newfoundland were quickly replaced with two new ports, Vigo Spain and Ponta Delgado, and the ship would cross the Atlantic on a more southernly course, arriving in New York on schedule.
We docked in Vigo on a Sunday when absolutely nothing was open. Ponta Delgada was better than Vigo but still these ports paled in comparison to our original itinerary. After we sailed from Ponta Delgada, we received a notice that each guest would receive a $200 credit for the disruption to our schedule. While this was a welcome gesture, you really can’t put a price on missing destinations that you had dreamed of visiting all your life. I suppose the only positive, was the few days of warmer than expected weather. Sadly, we hadn’t packed shorts or any cooler garments, knowing this was going to be a cool weather cruise.
Much of this I’ve already covered in some form. As is the case with most cruise ships, the hot tubs were far from hot. There’s no covered pool which is disappointing, and I never wrapped my head around the area they call the “Retreat”. It’s an exclusive area where you can rent an expensive cabana, but there’s no pool? The areas for walking are extremely limited and the outside deck on level seven is restricted to crew only. There’s a tiny walking/running track at the stern of the ship, that requires seven laps to equal a mile.
The entertainment onboard was poor to begin with, and the change in itinerary only complicated the already weak lineup. We have an entertainer friend that works on cruise ships year-round for a living. He tells us that Disney pays the best, with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity not too far behind. However, he says that Princess and their sister companies, Carnival and Holland America pay their entertainers 50% less. It was very obvious on this cruise.
The Transatlantic Crossing
Since this was our first Transatlantic voyage, we were a little nervous. On our five days crossing the Atlantic, the weather was fairly good. Only the third day Saturday, did we have rough seas, and on our last day it was cold and gloomy, with scattered rain.
The morning of our final day at sea, a guest had medical complications, and the Coast Guard in Boston had to send a helicopter with airplane support to extract the guest.
We walked off with our own luggage as we had an early flight out of JFK, and the ships transfers wouldn’t guarantee you’d arrive in time for any flight before 2:00pm. Walking off went smoothly and quickly. Getting a taxi sucked. We had 20 people in front of us, and 100 behind us, and we waited over an hour. On average one taxi pulled up every five minutes? Why there was a shortage of taxis, I have no idea. We taxied to the nearby Jay Street Metro station, and took the subway to JFK, arriving at 10:20am, in plenty of time for our 12:27pm flight.
We’ve lived in Las Vegas for twenty-one years and have seen the cost cutting that’s gone on here locally for the past two decades. Everything is all about the bottom line. The cruise industry is no different, and each cruise we take, we notice the cost cutting, less staff doing more, and the decline of service and quality. Now that tips are automatically added to your bill, I have to wonder if the staff even gets them any longer, or if they’re all just on salary now. Without the old-style tipping process, there’s really no incentive for them to give you great service? I understand why mandatory gratuities were put in place, as many guests used to stiff the crew. There’s really no good scenario either way.
Some cruise lines are worse than others and it was certainly noticeable this time with Princess. Sadly, nothing stays the same.
I’m not going to say explicitly that we will never sail with Princess again. Sometimes it the management or the crew of a specific ship and not necessarily the cruise line as a whole? However, Princess is not going to be high on our list for any vacation in the near future.