The Princess Theater seats 925 and offers uninterrupted sightlines from every vantage point. A variety of technology, such as high-definition screens, enhances the shows -- mostly musical productions, guest comedians or magicians.
Vista Lounge, at the back of the ship, offers an alternative performance venue to the Princess Theater, hosting live bands, comedians and illusionists, plus themed parties and special events.
Finally, Princess Live!, located just aft of the Piazza on Deck 7, made its mark as the first television studio at sea. Three rows of tiered seats (with seating for 280 passengers) are flanked by a stage -- on which the cruise director hosts "The Wake Show," his daily David Letterman-esque talk show. Princess Live! also is the site for game shows, Q&A sessions with ship's officers and staff, cooking demos, art house films, enrichment programs and murder mystery and trivia games. Acoustic and smaller-scale performances by the ship's musicians and comedians also take place there. The great thing about this space is you can come and go as you please and watch or participate at your leisure (if the shows allow participation).
The atrium in the Piazza is another primary entertainment venue and hosts everything from Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics to art auctions to daily trivia. You'll also find scavenger hunts, game shows, crafting sessions, trivia, bingo and more scattered throughout the ship's lounges.
Royal Princess has an array of enrichment activities, which might include wine tasting and food demos (in Princess Live!), ceramics classes and onboard lectures. During Alaska sailings, look for special North to Alaska presentations from speakers and naturalists. There are also a variety of wine tasting events, such as the super Tuscan-themed event in Sabatini's, with costs ranging from $25 to $45 per person.
The Lido Deck is a source of activities during good weather, with concerts and movies shown throughout the day. On sea days, there is often live music on the stage between the two pools.
OceanMedallion, the line's branded multiuse technology, has a games feature that allows you to play casino and trivia games on your smartphone. It also allows you to create an onboard avatar, called a "tagalong" (a turtle, fish or starfish). Once you build your tagalong, you will see it appear on electronic boards when you walk by. And at least once per cruise, you can play Games Under the Stars on the top deck big screen, using your tagalong to race others.
The Piazza has nightly dancing, often with a theme such as music from the 50s, 60s, 70s or country. Even if you aren't dancing, grab a spot at a bar or lean over the railing to watch the fun. On the last formal night, a large balloon drop is a very celebratory occasion.
The Voice of the Ocean karaoke competition, modeled after the TV show "The Voice," takes place over an entire voyage, with a night of auditions as well as semifinals. The actual finals are on the afternoon of the last sea day and draw a crowd.
The Princess Casino has a selection of slots and table games, including blackjack, Texas Hold'em and roulette. Its main feature is a stunning spiral staircase, which leads up to Deck 7 and the onboard boutiques; an adjacent bar allows gamblers to grab drinks between games.
Royal Princess features the largest version of Princess' signature Movies Under the Stars poolside theater. The big screen shows a variety of movies and concerts, day and night. Filmgoers will be able to grab fleece blankets, free freshly popped popcorn, and cookies and milk.
At night, the pool area on Deck 16 midship transforms for the Water & Light Show, and the island area becomes a stage with an interactive sound and light show featuring dancing fountains. With a sophisticated lighting and sound system, and a computerized fountain featuring 85 water jets, streams of water shoot 33 feet into the air.
There's a wide variety of bars around Royal Princess, but most of the main action happens in the ones around the Piazza. It's rarely quiet here; as soon as one activity or band dies down, another starts up in another venue.
Good Spirits (Deck 5): This craft cocktail bar, located off the Piazza, is a must-visit if you love interesting drinks. There's a little show with featured bartenders, brought on as entertainers, in the evenings. The cocktails were developed by mixologist Rob Floyd and are truly delicious.
Vines (Deck 5): Also located off the Piazza, the ship's wine bar has some interesting, although not as varied as you might expect, offerings by the glass.
Bellini's (Deck 6): Overlooking the Piazza, this small spot is a great place for people-watching -- and is therefore quite popular. During prime activity hours, it's hard to find a seat.
Club 6 (Deck 6): The ship's dance club has a DJ on duty nightly, who spins his own picks and also allows people to request music through an iPad setup. The dance floor is only part of the club, so you can go and listen to the music, without feeling like you have to get up and join in.
Churchill's (Deck 6): Churchill's cigar lounge is the only place onboard where stogie smokers can go; unfortunately, cigarette smokers are also allowed here (even though they have another place to go on deck). Perhaps to make up for it, bartenders do come in and take drink orders as there's no bar inside.
Crooners (Deck 7): Crooners does double duty as the ship's martini bar and also its piano bar. On our sailing, the piano was manned by a crotchety singer who told inappropriate jokes and sang every song in the style of Frank Sinatra, whether it fit that way or not, so the atmosphere can really depend on who the ship brings in as an entertainer.
Wheelhouse Pub (Deck 7): This British-style pub adjacent to the Crown Grill has a clubby atmosphere and live music before and after dinner.
Princess Live (Deck 7): The small bar adjacent to the Princess Live TV studio serves up drinks, as well as specialty coffees in the morning.
SeaView Bar (Deck 16): Located near the SeaWalk, Royal Princess's glass walkway that juts out over the side of the ship, the SeaView Bar is a small space that sees action primarily on sunny sea days and before Movies Under the Stars.
Mermaid's Tail (Deck 16): The main bar for the Lido pool area has the typical cocktails and drinks that you'd want for a relaxing day in the sun.
Outrigger Bar (Deck 16): Located at the back of the ship near the buffet, this bar specializes in Bloody Marys, with a whole menu of options, during the daytime and margaritas at night.
Retreat Pool Bar (Deck 16): The main bar for the adults-only pool area.
The main pool deck, Deck 16 midship, features two freshwater swimming pools, which are pretty small, considering the size of the ship. In the middle is an "island" surrounded by faux palm trees and dotted with loungers, which transforms at night for the Water & Light show. There's a lot of acreage given over to the water feature -- at the expense of sun loungers -- and this area can get awfully crowded on sunny days and warm nights.
There are two hot tubs in the main pool area, as well as two on the deck above. There is a number of different styles of seating options, including circular loungers, garden-style furniture, bar-height tables and stools, and chaise lounges.
If you want to get away from kids, the Retreat Pool is an adults-only pool that can be a nice escape from the regular crowds on the Lido Deck (it's also a deck above the regular pool area, making it feel more secluded). There are cabanas that you can rent, but also plenty of loungers where you can hang out. The area has two hot tubs and its own bar. Highly recommended on an itinerary with lots of kids.
The Princess sports complex is located on Deck 18. There's a sheltered outdoor game lounge, with Ping-Pong, putting greens, foosball, a golf practice cage, a full basketball court and a laser shooting range that the line uses to bring back an old cruising favorite, (virtual) skeet shooting. The Lawn Court on Deck 19 hosts bocce and croquet.
If you want to truly get away from the madding crowds, look into The Sanctuary, a private area that carries a fee ($20 for a half day, $40 for a full day or $30 per day if you purchase a pass for the length of the cruise). The cost includes access to thick padded loungers, each with their own MP3 players and Bose headphones. If you're hungry, you can nosh on bites inspired by the Lotus Spa, but expect to pay a service charge of $3 per person, per delivery.
Couples can also opt for alfresco massage packages in The Sanctuary. Four Sanctuary Cabanas offer amenities like a personal television with noise-reducing wireless headphones; sofas, robes and slippers; a welcome cocktail; snacks, including fresh fruit and nuts; and a fully stocked mini-bar with soft drinks, beer and wine. Sanctuary Cabana rentals start at $140 for a half day and $220 for the full day.
If you don't want to pay while you sun yourself, other sun decks include the space around the pools, plus areas with loungers on Decks 18 and 19. There are also a few loungers, tables, chairs and sofas at the Outrigger Bar in the ship's aft.
The guest services and shore excursions desks are both located on Deck 5, just a few steps from the Piazza. The area can get pretty crowded on port-intensive cruises (such as Alaska).
Royal Princess is a Medallion-class ship, which means it's outfitted with MedallionNet, purportedly one of the fastest internet offerings at sea. This claim falls down in Alaska, where the internet was often slow and even nonexistent in places. The hotel director told us that on other itineraries, such as the Mexican Riviera, the signal is strong enough to stream and use apps such as Netflix and FaceTime. That was definitely not the case on our cruise.
The ship has an internet cafe, open 24/7, with several computer stations. MedallionNet Wi-Fi is also available throughout the ship, with prices starting as low as $9.99 per day for one device when purchased for the entire trip (it jumps to $19.99 per device, per day if you buy one day at a time). Family plans for up to four devices also are available. One nice thing about MedallionNet is that you don't have to log in and out.
The OceanMedallion system also makes use of electronic touchscreens near elevators that can show you the daily schedule and help you navigate your way around the ship. If you download the OceanMedallion apps OceanCompass and JourneyView, you can also find this information on your smartphone.
The postage stamp-sized Library and Writing Room is a disappointment on a ship with Princess' traditional values; there's barely enough room to turn around, bookcases are locked, except at certain times and the selection is pretty small.
The Wedding Chapel on Deck 14 doubles as a conference center; the flick of a switch reveals stained glass windows or a whiteboard. Royal Princess holds a vow renewal in the Piazza once per cruise.
Self-service laundry units are located toward the aft of the ship on each deck.
The massive Photo and Video Gallery is located on Deck 6 and features touch-screens and facial-recognition software for your photos, along with a tremendous range of photographic equipment for sale.
Royal Princess has given over a sizable chunk of real estate to shopping, centered principally on the Piazza on Deck 7. This includes the Fine Arts Gallery, which also hosts art auctions; Essence, for brand-name cosmetics; Meridian Bay, for duty-free fashion and gifts; Facets, for fine jewelry; Limelight, for daily promotional events, such as jewelry sales; and Calypso Cove, for sundries and branded items. (A Calypso Cabana is also located on the Pool Deck to save you making a journey down to the shops for sunscreen.) None of the shops were particularly distinctive or appealing.
The medical facility is located on Deck 4.
Spa-goers searching for pampering on Royal Princess no longer have to trek to a top corner of the ship -- the standard area for cruise ship spas -- because Princess has put its 10,000-square-foot Lotus Spa on Deck 5, just off the Piazza.
An unavoidable drawback associated with its easy-access location is that the Lotus Spa receives less natural light in its facility than many other cruise ship spas, but we didn't miss it; the facility is absolutely beautiful and serene. One exception is the beauty salon, with its barber shop for men, which is flooded with light.
What Lotus lacks in light, it more than makes up for in treatment options. The spa covers all the bases with a full-service salon, teeth whitening stations, a barber shop, plush mani-pedi areas, a relaxation room (for a spot of herbal tea, pre-massage) and 18 treatment rooms (some with windows). And, that's not to mention the amenities in enhanced thermal suite, The Enclave. Additionally, two Couples Villas, aimed at cruising twosomes, provide side-by-side massages, followed by an hour's relaxation in a whirlpool bath or sitting area with ocean views.
The Enclave offers one of the largest thermal suite in the Princess fleet, complete with a hydrotherapy pool and accompanying rain shower. Inside is spaceship-like lighting and passengers can try out heated tile loungers or waterbeds, as well as sensory showers with mood lighting and therapeutic aromas. Three named rooms offer a variety of heat-based experiences: the Hammam, 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. Day passes to The Enclave start at $39 per person, per day, and full-voyage pass rates start at $149 for individuals, depending on the length of the cruise.
The Scrub & Shine Bar, located near the Lotus Spa's reception desk, offers sugar and salt scrubs mixed with herbs, created individually for each passenger by a "mixologist." Passengers can get recommendations for the perfect scrubs to complement their treatments, and the blends are applied before spa treatments or a trip to The Enclave. The scrubs are also available for purchase if you aren't getting a treatment.
Prices for basic treatments, such as facials and manicures, at The Lotus Spa are cruise standard -- expect to pay about $45 for a spa manicure and $119 for a 50-minute Swedish massage (not including the tip).
There are also two Lotus Spa Cabanas set in an exclusive area at the bow of the ship's top deck. They feature a comfortable resting area with a television and plush chairs, a treatment area with two massage tables and beautiful ocean views looking out over the front of the ship. A variety of customized packages is available for the Lotus Spa Cabanas, but it's also possible to book treatments individually or as a couple from the Lotus Spa menu. The top-of-the-line package is a "Royal Indulgence" package for four people (expect to pay several thousand dollars). This exclusive experience provides the ultimate in pampering with all-day massages and gourmet food and drinks. The price tag includes unlimited spa treatments, caviar, a bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne and butler service. Access to a special menu of healthy snacks and salads is free, but juice "mocktails" cost extra.
Below the outdoor sports deck (Deck 17), passengers will find the fitness center with the expected array of equipment, including treadmills, elliptical machines and free weights. Additionally, at the back of the gym, a private aerobics studio offers fitness classes that include TRX suspension bodyweight training, body sculpt boot camp sessions, spinning classes and an aromatherapy yoga class. Class prices are $15.
On our sailing, fitness instructors offered a complimentary Zumba class in the Piazza that was great fun.
Among the usual sweaty suspects, Royal Princess features a few fun twists for fitness and leisure: A portable batting cage and a new take on the at-sea jogging track, with a circuit program offering outdoor exercise stations, are a couple of the more unconventional offerings in the multisport area on Decks 18 and 19, known as Princess Sports Central. Royal Princess' free laser shooting range offers moving targets displayed on a screen -- an arcade-like offering that compliments the Shockwaves (ages 8 to 12) and Remix (ages 13 to 17) game lounges' Xbox Kinect gaming systems.
The ship features a double-lane jogging track with separate paths for runners and walkers. The track area is decorated with art, picturing iconic global travel destinations, giving passengers the opportunity to "run around the world." Seven laps equal a mile.
Princess Sports Central also features a golf driving facility, multiuse court (basketball, volleyball, tennis) and table tennis. On the upper deck, a Lawn Court offers an artificial grassy area for bocce, croquet and lawn bowling, as well as a putting green.
You can tell when a line really cares about its younger passengers by the effort it puts into kids clubs onboard. (It's also telling how good a kids' club is when you think to yourself, "Hey, this place is really cool -- I wouldn't mind hanging out here myself!") And, with the Youth Center, Princess reaffirms its commitment to the family market. Six permanent workers staff the Youth Center, with more brought in during busy periods. The minimum age to sail is 6 months (1 year for the longer itineraries).
Scheduled activities are available for kids starting at age 3; kids are expected to be toilet-trained, but staff will change the very young ones in case of an accident.
A group babysitting service is available for 3- to 12-year-olds from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. at $5 per child. Sleeping bags, pillows and movies are provided.
The Youth Center is located aft on Deck 17, behind the fitness center. It's divided into three interconnected spots: Pelicans for 3- to 7-year-olds, Shockwaves for 8- to 12-year-olds and Remix for the 13- to 17-year-olds.
Pelicans, which can hold 50 youngsters, has all the stuff you would expect in a kids club, such as soft play areas for the tiny kids (accompanied by parents), a climbing frame and a bank of terminals for kids to play video games. It also has foosball, a mini-air hockey table and Skeeball. There's an additional area for arts and crafts.
There's also a dedicated outside area for the little ones that's completely enclosed, with high walls, a climbing frame at one end and a race track for tricycles.
Special kids activities include educational workshops and the Jr. Chef@Sea program, as well as theme and party nights, when movies are shown or pizza and ice cream is served.
Pelicans is open all day on port days from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m., but on sea days, it's closed from noon until 1 p.m. and from 5 until 6 p.m. for meal times, which are usually served in the Horizon Court, directly below. There, kids can eat, play and sit at junior-sized chairs and tables in a dedicated area for children with a youth counselor on hand. The space is also used by the Youth Center for activities like pizza and ice cream parties.
Next door is Shockwaves for the preteens. It, too, has air hockey, Skeeball, foosball, even more terminals (for PlayStation3), a games area, a sitting area, a small library and hang out area, an arts and crafts station, a huge flat-screen TV and a DJ booth. The only thing it doesn't have is a dedicated outdoor area. It has the same hours as Pelicans.
The 13- to 17-year-olds hang out in Remix, which is primarily a large lounge with lots of comfy chairs and tables that can hold up to 100 teenagers. There's a TV area, a dance floor and the requisite TV monitors for playing video games. Discos occasionally take place in Remix; otherwise, if there are enough kids, the staff prebooks Club 6 for an early evening dance.
Remix has the same selection of arcade-style games like foosball and Skeeball. It also has a very cool outside area (according to Princess, this is fulfilling a request from teens), which is remarkably similar to an exclusive hangout for adults. It comes with sun loungers, mood lighting, contemporary seating, table tennis and a hot tub. It's only accessible via the club (i.e., no adults allowed). Teens get to take part in activities designed for their age group, including sports competitions, late-night movies, dance classes, mocktail parties, formal dinners and video game tournaments. Remix is open until 3 a.m.