Ship Reviews

Ship Review: Royal Princess

Launched in 2013, the 330m Royal Princess is the new flagship of this illustrious brand, and with the launch of her sister ship, Regal Princess, imminent, Cruise Arabia & Africa jumped at the chance to explore her decks and discover the innovative ways in which Princess are enhancing the cruise experience, while staying true to their brand identity.

Royal Princess is the largest ship ever built for Princess Cruises, but is the third ship to carry the name for this illustrious line, which has had a British connection since 1960 when the brand was purchased by P&O, then the largest shipping company in the world. In 2002 Princess Cruises was sold to Carnival Corporation, but the brand retains its British flair and in June last year Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine Middleton christened the ship. She followed in the footsteps of her late mother-in-law, Princess Diana, who christened the 1984-built Royal Princess (now sailing as Artania for the German line Phoenix Reisen).

Royal Princess then is the third ship to carry the name for Princess Cruises, but only the second to be launched under that name (P&O’s Adonia sailed as Royal Princess between 2007 and 2011 after her initial owners Renaissance Cruises went bankrupt in 2001). She is the new flagship of the fleet, soon to be joined by her sister ship Regal Princess, which will be the second cruise liner in Princess’ new Royal-class. She was one of the most exciting launches of 2013, so Cruise Arabia & Africa couldn’t wait to get onboard to have a look.

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Carrying 3,560 passengers, this 330m, 142,714-gross ton cruise liner was based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida until the end of April, when she departed for Europe and conducted a series of European cruises from St Petersburg, Russia, Copenhagen, Denmark and Berlin, Germany, according to the Princess website. In September, she’ll cross the Atlantic and sail a series of Canadian cruises from New York, before spending the winter cruising the Caribbean in late 2014 out of Fort Lauderdale again. Royal Princess is the culmination of all that Princess Cruises has learnt since the early days of the mainstream cruise industry in the 1960s. She features a number of innovative ‘firsts’ for either Princess Cruises or the cruise industry as a whole, such as her SeaWalk, a glass-enclosed walkway that extends 28-feet beyond the ship’s starboard side on her topmost deck. In the same place on the port side, a SeaView bar will provide similarly spectacular views.

The SeaWalk is just one ocean-going attraction unveiled by the cruise industry in recent years to provide a vacation experience that rivals anything available on land. Royal Caribbean’s new Quantum-class liners will feature a glass sphere in which passengers stand while being swung out over the side of the ship by a hydraulic arm, and aboard Royal Princess, the outdoor Movies Under the Stars high definition screen has been doubled in size and overlooks the Pool Deck, where a water and lights show at Fountain Pools tropical island is another Princess first. Both these innovations are a continuation of what we’ve seen aboard Disney Line with their signature outdoor theatres and Royal Caribbean’s water and lights shows aboard the Oasis-class liner Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. Royal Princess therefore represents the best of what Princess and the global cruise industry have to offer, but where she really stands apart from her rivals is in the expanded dining options onboard and the design and layout of the ship itself.

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New features, old favourites

Boarding Royal Princess, the first thing one notices is the spectacular Atrium that rises through Decks 5, 6 and 7 amidships. This open space in the middle of the liner is 50 percent larger than aboard any other ship in the Princess fleet and while the Atrium area aboard Princess’ former Grand-class flagships came across a little shopping mall-like even after their makeover in 2011, the ‘Piazza’ aboard Royal is an impressive space indeed, with twin spiral staircases that dominate the atrium either side of a set of panoramic lifts. It is reminiscent of Cunard in its warm and sophisticated décor and is the heart of the liner with three floors dedicated to entertainment, ship services, and eateries, as well as shopping!

Something else different aboard Royal Princess is the Princess Cruises signature Lotas Spa, which has been moved much lower in the ship than is usually the case and placed far forward on Deck 5 beneath the Princess Theatre. While ocean views at the spa may have been sacrificed, Lotas aboard Royal Princess includes an exclusive “thermal suite” area called The Enclave at Lotus Spa, which features warm stone beds, airbed recliners, and a hydro pool. Cruise Arabia particularly liked the fact that, when underway, the ship’s bow can be faintly heard cutting through the water. Up on Deck 17, forward of the main pool area, the adults-only Retreat Bar and Retreat Pool area common to the Princess brand has been expanded, and even further forward The Sanctuary returns aboard Royal where cruisers can relax in an exclusive area with private cabanas, flat-screen TVs, refrigerators, massage availability, spa fare, and refreshing adult beverages.

At a time in the cruise industry when the ships’ cabins are becoming an increasingly important part of the cruise experience (Royal Caribbean are unveiling ‘virtual balconies’ on their Quantum-class inside cabins) Princess Cruises have upgraded the entertainment options available in the staterooms aboard Royal Princess. Every cabin features a huge 37-inch flatscreen TV, which has been a massive hit with the first few thousand passengers aboard Royal. Every cabin also features pause-able movies and TV shows, cable and satellite programming, music, and more. As is standard in the modern cruise industry, almost half of the cabins aboard Royal Princess feature a balcony with patio furniture, as well as a small sitting area, a desk/vanity, spacious closet and en-suite. A new-for-Princess “deluxe” balcony stateroom adds a bit more space inside and out, with the addition of a sofa bed and many upgraded amenities. A separate seating area with another flatscreen TV is available in the mini balcony suites, as well as a bath tub in the en-suite. A full suite with balcony includes two 42-inch flat-screens, separate bathtub and shower, three mattress choices, an iPod dock, complimentary laundry, and a large deck.

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Upgraded entertainment options are the norm throughout Royal Princess. In the ship’s common areas, there is a focus on diversity that will keep passengers busy discovering more for weeks at sea, let alone on the ship’s standard 7 to 10 day itineraries in the Caribbean and Europe. In addition the Movies Under the Stars screen on the pool deck, there is also Princess Live, the first live TV studio at sea on any cruise ship. The broadcast-ready entertainment offerings here will be lectures, live performances, late-night comedy, game shows, culinary demonstrations, and more. Princess Theater and Vista Lounge provide more traditional entertainment with the cruise vacation post-dinner show hallmark, while Club 6 is a chic and trendy new nightclub-like option.

Loyal fans of the cruise line will be pleased to know that Princess brand favourites such as the 1960s-style Crooners martini bar and the British/nautical themed Wheelhouse Bar are to be found aboard Royal Princess, but they’ve been significantly expanded in both size and menu items offered. Firm favourite with veteran cruisers, such as Wheelhouses’ complimentary “pub lunch” which debuted in 2008 are still to be found onboard, though it’s been significantly expanded. A full traditional pub-style lunch is featured on sea days, while fish and chips and a ploughman’s lunch are offered up on port days, along with traditional British beers. The new Italianate Bellini’s Bar will, as the name suggests, specialise in the famous Venician cocktail, while back up on Deck 17, 128-feet above the ocean, the new SeaView Bar extends 28 feet out over the side of the ship, providing some of the best views onboard. The glass-bottomed seawalk promenade on the other side of the ship is sure to be a crowd-pleaser on every sailing.

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All about the food

According to most travel agents, cuisine ranks second only to shipboard facilities among cruise passengers’ most important considerations when thinking about a cruise holiday. It’s an essential part of the cruise vacation recipe, so it’s no wonder Princess have gone all out aboard Royal Princess to create a dining experience that is as big and varied as the ship itself. Like their new flagship, dining is bigger and better than anything else in the fleet. From the main dining rooms with their ornate traditionalism on Decks 5 and 6 to the specialty restaurants such as Alfreddo’s pizzeria in the Atrium, this is gastronomy on another scale.The smallest dining room, Allegro, hosts traditional fixed seatings, as well as the unique Chef’s Table Lumiere, one of many specialty dining options onboard. This involves a custom-made wood table and glass sculpture centerpiece surrounded by shimmering privacy curtains providing the setting for the chef’s personally prepared meal and paired wines.

The larger Symphony and Concerto dining rooms bring passengers Anytime Dining and have working hours that are longer than any other flexible dining options in the Princess fleet. It is here that cruisers can also partake of the ship’s Wine Maker’s Dinner, which takes place in a circular area surrounded by walls of wine bottles and features a another special meal paired with wines. The Crown Grill, adjacent to the Wheelhouse Bar, takes specialty dining to another level with open kitchens serving up premium Sterling Silver steaks, chops, and fresh seafood. Princess veterans will also be glad to see an expanded Sabatini’s concept, with an Italian-inspired décor, menu, and, especially, the wine list — the ship has the largest collection of Super Tuscans afloat (that’s not just within the Princess fleet, but the entire world!).

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Alfredo’s pizzeria in the Atrium, a firm favourite with many Princess fans, is the largest pizzeria afloat and offers some of the best Neapolitan-style pizza at sea, as well as Italian antipasti, soups, salads, baked pastas, calzone, and desserts. The Atrium is also home to the popular 24-hour International Café, a Princess stalwart that is joined in this area of the ship by newcomers such as the Tea Tower, with a selection of more than 200 tea blends, the advice of a tea sommelier, and a new Royal Afternoon Tea Experience inspired by London’s finest afternoon tea venues, a venue that certainly celebrates Princess’ British heritage. The Princess Cruises wine bar veteran Vines is also to be found aboard Royal Princess, with unique wines by the glass, bottle, and flights. For those enjoying the fruits of the vine, Vines serves up complimentary small plates that provide an appetizing taste of nearby Sabatini’s. A new addition to the Atrium area that we found to be very popular is the Ocean Terrace seafood bar with fresh seafood dishes available a la carte, including fresh sushi and sashimi and varied seafood samplers and complimentary appetizers served to those ordering drinks. Another popular venue making a return aboard Royal Princess is Gelato, a combination gelateria and creperie. The expanded options here include favourite gelato flavours, sundaes, more than 20 toppings and sauces, and sweetcrespelle (Italian crepes).

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The buffet is another popular choice for many cruise passengers and guests aboard Royal Princess won’t be disappointed. The buffet offerings aboard the new flagship are more than double the size of any Princess buffet that came before them, with a new layout in Horizon Court providing many live cooking and serving stations, including a rotisserie, hibachi grill, pasta corner, salad-tossing station, and large, ever-changing Mediterranean and Asian specialty areas. At night, the Horizon Bistro section features themed events, like German Beer Fest or a European bistro, Brazilian churrascaria, and more, as well as two unique new specialty dining options: the seafood-focused Crab Shack night and Fondues, featuring a classic evening of fondues and more.

Royal Princess made headlines last year with her launch because of her size and great expense, but she is sure to make waves on cruise review sites across the internet as cruise passengers chronicle their experience onboard. She is a vast cruise liner, but Princess have thought long and hard about the experience they want to give passengers while aboard, an experience that blends the Princess traditionalism that has made the line famous with the flexibility and ocean-going attractions that have revolutionised the industry in recent years.

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