Let me start by saying that there is no perfect ship, and I have been on dozens of cruises. I will try to give the most impartial review possible.
With the exception of sister ships, you always get that enigmatic feeling boarding a new ship. The orientation process hasn’t changed much since the invention of the sail, it just got longer.
Let’s agree from the start that the Royal Princess is a beautiful ship. There are shortfalls, but not its beauty. Still, it’s not the most beautiful ship I’ve been on, that might be the Costa Atlantica, but Costa has problems of its own and let’s not go there or this might turn into an epistle.
Where to start? Let’s start at the most important factor, too often overlooked: the beds. If you spend up to eight hours in a bed you want comfort. Simply put, the beds on this ship are superb! They are made in Italy and when two twin beds are put together for passengers requesting it, the cover serves as a pillow-top. And speaking of pillows, they are firm and thick. Add the gentle rocking of the ship, and this is heaven, for me at least.
True delight pretty much ends there, due to another case of letting the architects have their way. The ship is difficult to navigate. Amidship are a bank of elevators. Every ship I have ever been on has a carpeted stairwell adjacent to the elevators. Not here! If you want to go up say, just one deck, you have to wait for the elevator, which during rush hour when elevators are often full, could take a while.
Going forward or aft, there are often deck passageways that have a blockage, either port or starboard. This increases the orientation difficulties.
If you are fortunate enough to enjoy one of the stage productions (The magic of David Cats is exceptional), and order a drink, there are no drink holders, so you will either put it on the floor and try not to accidentally knock it over, or be forced to hold it until gone. Then you hope that someone else in your aisle doesn’t knock it over and break it. The productions with singers and dancers are entertaining, but not fantastic. The choreography is impressive, but the choice of music makes me wonder if they purposely chose songs that no one knows, or just wanted to avoid the popular ones that we all embrace. One exceptional show for me was “Edith Piaf.” She is almost universally regarded as France’s most beloved singer. This show is in a smaller venue and the vocal tribute is spot on. A video of the show is available on your cabin smart flat screen TV, and it was so compelling, I watched it twice.
This is the first ship where the spa doesn’t adjoin the exercise facility. Surprisingly the exercise facility is aft and topside. The area itself is adequate. There are treadmills and elliptical trainers that overlook the water, but the exercise machines number maybe twelve, and they are squeezed in a tight space. There are free weights and, surprise, lots of classes of zumba and miracle ways to lose weight and make you look years younger, all of which can be had with the aid of your room card, if you catch my drift. There is a men’s room off the exercise room and when the door opens, you have a great view of anyone who is urinating. Worse yet is the changing room, with lockers but no locks, and a door that opens directly to a hallway. If someone comes in that door and you are buck naked, remember to smile.
The Spa, located way down on deck five has every trendy therapy you can imagine, along with the usual massages. If you are looking for just a sauna or steam bath, it will cost you $159/wk. They are housed in what they call the enclave. A more realistic name would be hot cave, as there is no escape from the elevated temp., from the moment you open the door with your computer coded wrist band, until your exit.
The enclave is a large area, with the most uncomfortable amenities you could imagine. To increase its snob appeal, nothing has a name with which you are familiar. Sauna and steam bath are manaum and calderia, but my spelling might be off. Everything in this area is made of stone. The two steam rooms are normal sized, maybe ten by twelve, and both have two stumps in the middle of the room from which steam emanates. Around these are six seats that look like mushrooms on which you sit. If that sounds uncomfy, you’re right! There is no way to lean against a wall or relax. As mentioned, the room is totally tile and stone. What ever happened to relax?
You are able to sit down and lean against the perimeter wall in the sauna, but again it is made of stone, and while that does heat up and provide warmth, there is no comfort and you are unable to recline. Worse yet, the room is more tepid than hot. That is not a problem in the steam rooms
There are eight sloped stone “lounges” on which you can lay your towel. They are body contour in shape and do allow a haven of rest. Looking much like an afterthought, there are two oval shaped water beds. I don’t know what else to call them. They are maybe 6 feet long, and you lay on them. They are situated just off this large indoor pool, which has water spraying from various outlets when activated and acts as a giant hot tub. It is large enough to hold maybe twelve folks trying to escape the pain inflicted in the steam rooms and sauna. The entire area is posted as a quiet area, asking patrons to “respect” the privacy of those attempting to relax. Good luck there. The noise of the hot tub makes guests raise their level of conversation to that of someone talking on their cell phone while on an aircraft. No one bothers to monitor this yapping, and when asking the ladies that are happy to sell you the package for some help in controlling the noise level, you are told to report it to them and they will attempt to take action. Well, I never felt it was my job to play hall monitor, and no one that I saw comes in to check, so if you want quiet, try earplugs.
Just to emphasize the low level of ambiance, you must exit the enclave to get to the men’s locker room in order to shower or whatever. There are no hair dryers, no razors, and while there are slides for your feet in the lockers, also activated with your wrist computer, and towels for your use, there is not even a scale with which to see how much you have overeaten on the cruise. In short, this was a big disappointment. Not having booked a massage, facial or pedicure, let me say that they seemed busy, so lots of folks probably enjoyed those.
The food, as with most cruises, was plentiful and available. The culinary climax comes on the next to last night, which is almost always a formal night, another misnomer. The world is changing and Princess is totally flummoxed on how to cope. The Princess Patter, or daily blab, requests that “when formal nights are held, please observe the dress code….tuxedo, dark suit or dinner jacket and slacks for men.” Talk about your empty guidelines. Some men appeared in tee shirts and nothing was said or done. The buffet on any ship, where any dress is acceptable, is open if the rules are not followed, but Princess has chosen to ignore its own guide and allow anything. This may be the way of the world now. It is even more relaxed on Costa, so is it time to change the guidelines to mention that anything will be accepted, so as to abolish any guilt that casual folks might have?
There are two “specialty” restaurants, if you want a culinary experience above mundane. That is not to say the restaurant food is poor, but you have a kitchen, every night, feeding thousands of passengers. All ships attempt excellence, but in reality, it rarely is.
Anyway, the upscale dining, either Italian or Steak/Fish, are, for many, worth the markup. The baked fish in salt for two is especially popular. Problem is, the ship’s designers have chosen to have these restaurants open, without doors. This robs the diner of any ambiance. The soft music in the restaurant is drowned out by the music from the lounge nearby, and people walking by in the hallway. This makes the experience less cozy or enjoyable.
The cabins, or staterooms, are respectable size, but please, for your own well- being, if you can possibly afford it, opt for a balcony cabin. The inside cabins, except for the flat screen TV, resemble a jail cell. Talk to your cruise specialist. That said, each cabin sports one, two, or in the case of major suites many flat screen TVs. The problem is the selection of channels. You have ESPN International and ESPN2. Please understand these channels are not the same as what you enjoy at home. You are likely to see the world’s most popular sport on both channels, that sport being football. That is not the football you know with the NCAA or NFL. This is what Americans call soccer, possibly the most boring sport in the world if you are not a fan (oh he’s kicking the ball, oh yes, he is except for a defender, oh my, he’s kicking the ball now, what fun!). Excuse me, but what percentage of passengers are American? And you are giving us this crap when there is baseball, basketball, REAL football or even golf on? Man up!
The other selections are equally meager. You get BBC news (walkies anyone?). currently they are showing a girl and her parakeet. For what reason, I do not know. Next choice FOX News (so far right, the ship might turn to starboard). MSNBC is channel 4. (What DO they broadcast anyway?). Next is CNBC, (great to watch if you’re into the stock market and it is going up). Channel 6 is Engage. (Anybody’s guess there). Channel eight is the WebCam, which gives you the view from the bow of the ship. As mentioned, this is a smart TV of sorts. One more thing to mention about the in-cabin TV experience. You have what amounts to a Smart TV. You can pull up Live TV, TV shows, Movies or Music. Some of the offerings are limited, but all-in-all, the selection is good, and the quality of the image is outstanding.
It is unfortunate to tell you that there are no lounges in the bow of the ship, as there are on almost all ships. These type lounges are excellent for viewing the entering and leaving of ports, so the passengers are robbed of that charming experience. In the opinion of folks with which I conversed, that is the biggest error in the ships design. As you may have noticed, there are many.
Let’s sum it up, shall we?
Good Points: beautiful ship, great beds, nice big flat screen TVs, friendly crew, Laundromat on every deck ($2 for wash, $1.50 to dry, swipe card for tokens)
Not so Good points: no free sauna or steamroom, poor ship layout by almost any standard, no forward lounge
Same as any Cruise line: food at many venues, reserved or anytime dining, enjoyable entertainment (don’t miss the great illusionist), fitness center, available complimentary room service menu, anytime buffet, sports deck with choices.