Royal Princess Review
Caribbean Inaugural October 27 to November 3, 2013
About Us – I find that a review is heavily skewed depending on the demographic of the writer, so I’ll just say that my husband and I are both 45 right now, not really into partying or drinking, dance a little, like shows, like the casino in the evening, and like to just relax while onboard. After eating too much, I like to walk a lot and take the stairs a lot, which were problems on this ship, which I’ll explain as I go.
Also, I’ve been on 45+ cruises, of which about half are Princess Cruises. My husband and I were married on a Princess ship, so we go on it most often as we like the Elite Captain’s Circle (past guests) perks. You’re forewarned here that when I get to the complaining part of this review, it is going to be because I miss some things that Princess ships normally have. However, even if you’ve never cruised you can get a lot of good information out of it.
Itinerary – Our cruise itinerary is most definitely a onetime thing, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing it. You won’t be having the same. I’m mostly going to talk all about the new ship, it’s features, quirks and drawbacks so you can decide if you want to go on it as a destination to try out the different one in the Princess fleet. And, secondly, if it is doing an itinerary you like, you have good advice on the types of cabins and public areas. And remember that the Regal Princess coming out in 2014 will be a twin to this, but I’m hoping a few of the complaints will be fixed by then.
Just FYI though, so you understand the flow of our trip, we booked the 5-day Caribbean Inaugural, which was round trip Fort Lauderdale to Princess Cays and Grand Turk, with two sea days. This was planned a year and a half in advance, and it commenced on Tuesday, October 29. Preceding that, we got an invite sort of last minute to attend the 2-day cruise to nowhere embarking late on October 27, Sunday. This was a for travel agents event and only had one sea day.
Pre-Cruise Fort Lauderdale – As I try to always stay in a different hotel when I go to Fort Lauderdale, we flew from California on Saturday October 27 and spent the night at the Crowne Plaza Cruise Airport in Fort Lauderdale. I actually quite liked it. The courtesy shuttle from the airport was relatively fast, and the taxi service out of the hotel wasn’t too long of a wait. Maybe 5 minutes. There was some service issues with the staff, but the room and beds were comfortable. I would try it again simply because a comfy night’s sleep is everything to me!
We spent our free time in the afternoon at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino nearby. We weren’t supposed to arrive at the pier until 3pm or later, so we had time to kill between hotel check out and cruise check in. We loved the Hard Rock and the Seminole Paradise entertainment complex next to it. We’ll have to try that next time we have a sleep over in Fort Lauderdale.
The Royal Princess Public Areas –
The big feature that Royal Princess has that other Princess ships, and other cruise ships in general, don’t have is the SeaWalk and the SeaView Bar. These are sections of the ship that stick out 30 feet from the ship on the 16th deck. The SeaWalk is a curved walkway with glass panels you can look straight down and see the sea and the promenade deck and into some folks’ balconies that are right below the SeaWalk.
The SeaView Bar is similar on the other side, but it is a solid section that sticks out on the curve with similar glass panels at the edge.
I thought these were neat to look at, but kind of a one-time look and then move on type of thing. It is not a feature that you can use or probably want to go to over and over. One moment of Cool! and then, whatever. I prefer new ship features that really improve my experience overall that I want to use again and again.
The other highly touted area of the ship is the Atrium. It IS much larger than other ships and is quite impressive. There are beautiful curved glass stairs and glass sculpture art things hanging down three four decks within those stairs, so it gets a oohhh ahhh on the pretty scale. However, there are some drawbacks too. And all of this extra space mostly added ‘pay extra’ venues, which is a shame. I will discuss it deck by deck.
Deck 7 is the top of the atrium and has Princess’ signature Crooners bar on the port side. Besides just being a big bar, be sure to make a note of the custom Michael Godard painted piano while you’re in there. If you like Godard, then try to snake a glance some day when they have the top of the piano open (which is rare) as he painted an olive person conductor in the lid. Most of the entertainers use the piano with the lid closed though, so keep that in mind.
Next in the center of Deck 7 is the Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar. This works kind of like Princess’ Vines Bar. If you buy a drink there, you can have the seafood / sushi for free. If you want just the fancy food, there is an extra charge. A few items, like edamame, you can get any time for free. Be aware though, that the buffet has free sushi in the Asian section most days in the afternoon, so there is just not really a reason to pay for it. If you want sushi or other items there and plan to drink ALSO, then be sure to BUY your drink there instead of another bar and then walking up to the Ocean Terrace.
The Starboard side of the Atrium on Deck 7 has Meridian Bay (clothing) and Facets (jewelry) onboard shopping.
Deck 6 of the Atrium has the photo and video gallery all down the port side. They have created the gallery to LOOK pretty, but it is not super great function-wise. There are no big flat surfaces to lay out your photos to look thru them with your family. NOTE though that there are pull out shelves, kind of like you’d have a cutting board at home in your kitchen, that come out of the cashier’s stands that you can use. So, please DO be obstinate about looking at your photos there so Princess can see what a stupid design this is. The photos were nice though. As well done and expensive as always.
Deck 6 in the center is Bellini’s, a champagne bar. It is just a bar, with nice sitting on the Atrium.
Deck 6 starboard is Alfredo’s casual Italian food and pizzeria. This is a FREE restaurant and good to go to! Nice to have sit down service while ordering a personal sized pizza or fresh made calzone or antipasti. We enjoyed it both times we went, although the servers were challenged with custom orders. We mentioned this to the chef and he said he’d look into it as we SHOULD be able to do semi-custom orders there.
Deck 5 of the Piazza style Atrium is what you’d expect on most Princess ships. There is the International Café with 24 hour food in on the port side, as well as a place to order specialty coffees. If you’ve never been on Princess, do try the Cashew Waldorf Chicken salad offered here. It is fabulous and on every Princess ship.
In the opposite corner is the Vines Wine bar. If you buy wine, you can get food for free. If you don’t buy wine, there are a few items you can pay for there.
They added Gelato for pay cool treats (cost $3) and Celebrations (a shop selling chocolates and flowers) on the starboard side of Deck 5.
As you can see, they’ve expanded the Atrium, but mostly added pay-extra things. This isn’t so pleasing to me. I’m not all that interested in paying extra.
Another feature of the Piazza style / Italian themed Atrium on this ship that is different from others is that, along with its size, there is a raised stage / platform in the corner and there is often a band playing there. I’m talking a band with a loud singer, not just a relaxing piano player. It is loud and it reverberates all thru the Atrium and beyond. So, if you like it that is great. If you do not, then it is irritating. Take your pick. And they’ve obviously made the Piazza floor extra large with the band and expect you to dance at the bottom of the atrium like a dance floor. Some embraced this idea, but most did not.
Moving away from the Piazza on the bottom, Deck 5, the Symphony Anytime Dining room was toward the aft, and the Purser’s Desk, Sabatini’s Italian and Shore Excursion desks were towards the fore off the Atrium. And further forward of THOSE is the spa and salon on Deck 5 below the showroom. It is a beautiful spa, just in a different area than we are used to. I actually like it. The Thermal Suite where they have a T pool, saunas and steam rooms and hot beds for a day pass fee is very great looking. I didn’t get a chance to try it, but it looks lovely. And the salon is on the port side of the whole facility, and it looks like the pedicure chairs are in their own little alcoves, so you don’t feel like you’re getting a treatment in the middle of a hair salon so much. A great improvement! The FITNESS center, is still up high though, so don’t despair if you like a view as you step or treadmill or jog on the running track.
Right above that solid ceiling of the Purser’s Desk area is what some on the ship called the mini-atrium. There is a two deck complex that houses the Club 6 disco long and skinny on the left side, and then the casino all thru the middle and the starboard side. The cool feature is another glass spiral staircase up out of the casino to Deck 6 creating the mini-atrium feel. On the port side of this mini-atrium is the Princess logo items shop and then on the starboard is the art gallery (very small) and the Essence (cosmetics and perfume) shop.
To the forward is the Princess Theatre. The seats are similar to other ships, but unfortunately don’t have the drink table in the arm rests any more. So, really sad about that. The showroom is Princess’ largest though, seating around 930, and has the most technically complex system Princess has had. Because the showroom itself is more special, the shows are different.
Another super positive thing about the Royal Princess is the buffet AREA. I say the AREA and not just “The Buffet” because it is more of a section of the ship than a static thing. First, it stretches on the Lido Deck from the center elevators all the way to the aft. It is separated into two large sections. The more center / forward part is called the Horizon BISTRO, and has some seating sections with higher bistro chairs. And then aft of that is the Horizon Court, which is what Princess normally calls the buffet.
The great thing about this Horizon area is that it has sections all along the sides, and then some sections that cut thru the middle to the other side, and then some spurs in between those. But you’re just walking parallel to the ship’s side or perpendicular to the ship’s sides, but you’re constantly moving about and you’re not ‘trapped’ in one little walled off section that gets congested.
They have one of the perpendicular sections of the buffet where they put all the desserts and call that the Pastry Shop. So, no matter what type of food you find as you roam this massive area, you always know where to head for the dessert section.
ALSO, they do a very interesting and seamless transition from breakfast to lunch and lunch to dinner. They will close off just one perpendicular or parallel section of the buffet and switch out the foods there, without totally closing down everything. Since I’m a very late to bed late to rise person, the fact that I could still get some breakfast foods up until 11:30am when other parts of the buffet had moved on to lunch was a huge positive.
They also use the massiveness of the buffet to their advantage and convert certain sections of the Horizon court into pay extra fun places at night. One is called the Crab Shack and the other is Fondues where you dip all your food items. These are reservations-only places with a $20 extra fee. And they’re small, so make your reservation early.
Last note on Buffet – the aft seating area of the Horizon Buffet is very nice, with a bar. You can not get to this area any other way than through the buffet though, so it makes it a bit more quiet and nice if you want a place to relax. They have seating areas to eat as well as more lounging type seating back here. It is the only aft type place to view the wake, but you can’t really look down from there and see anything but balcony cabins.
Sticking with the positive things, the fitness center is impressive at the aft of Deck 17, and the Sports Deck above that with a huge basketball court, two golf driving netted areas, and another netted off area for ping pong was really nice. And the putting green was above THAT, and also nice. So, if you’re the active type, you would actually like this ship more than other Princess ships most likely.
We also were impressed with the jogging track on Deck 18 around the basketball courts area, but even MORE were some stretching and exercise apparatus that they have nailed down next to the track by the ship’s bulk with photos about how to do the various things. We thought they were really fun if you want outside exercise instead of indoor machines. Not sure how the medal of them will hold up over time though.
I enjoyed the Movies Under the Stars screen, and the pools outdoors at the top. However, mostly I missed in this area what other Princess ships have that this one does NOT. There IS a Sanctuary at the front of the ship on Deck 17 that is really nice. So, if you want that adults-only pay extra type service, you’ll be in heaven. The view from the Sanctuary is the ONLY place you can view forward on this ship unless you have a forward facing balcony cabin. Next to the Sanctuary is an adults-only pool area called the Retreat / Retreat Pool and Bar.
Unfortunately, the Retreat area is small and there are a lot of people who go to the top and save their deck chairs first thing in the morning, so you can never just walk up here and lounge as you think you should be able to. Princess needs to get on the deck chair police bandwagon a bit I think, because it was really outrageous.
Dining Rooms – As is always the case on the Princess ships, they’ve got an aft dining room that is for traditional fixed time dining only that can only be accessed through the aft stairs or elevators to Deck 6, but you can’t walk thru from the Atrium to this one as the galley is in the way. You need to walk aft on Deck 7 and then decend to this dining room. This dining room is called the Allegro Dining Room and it has the Chef’s Table Luminare in the center. If you want to pay for the whole wine pairing dinner with the chef thing, it is a very pretty glass table with a white fringe curtain around it that they light up and you feel like you’re in a wall of light.
Off the atrium, they have the Concerto and Symphony dining rooms. On my 5-day cruise the Symphony on Deck 5 was the only Anytime Dining room early in the evening. Concerto did fixed early seating and then was open for Anytime later in the night. On the 2-day both of the dining rooms off the Atrium were Anytime. As is always the case, make a reservation before 5pm by calling ahead on the dining line or walk up and get a buzzer if you have Anytime. Note that you can enter these two dining rooms at the port OR starboard sides and most guests congregate at the port entry. Just go to the starboard one for less of a line. Both of these dining rooms have a beautiful wine cellar in the center with three tables in it, so you can do the wine-makers wine pairing dinner there with one of the sous chefs as well.
Big Negatives for me in the Public Areas as compared to other Princess ships –
There is no walk-around promenade deck. There are two tiny little strips of space, but they’re not long enough to get a stride going. They’re for going to and lounging, period. Princess’ deck plan is very deceiving. If you look at it, you’ll see an aft section on each side behind the life boats and it LOOKS like it wraps around. It does NOT. You get a strip on each side with some nice teak loungers that curve a little towards the aft, and then you hit the solid steel of the aft facing balconies. The starboard aft is one of the only smoking sections on the whole ship, so the port aft is the only really nice outdoor area for lounging if you don’t smoke.
There is also a center section of promenade with some nice wicker seating areas and loungers that is basically below the SeaWalk and SeaView Bar.
That is IT. The strips of promenade you see on the deck plan behind life boats is marked crew only. And the forward strip under the life boats and in front of them is all crew only.
This is an absolute deal breaker for me. I won’t go on this ship or it’s sisters again if I can help it. I will gladly go back to the Grand-class ships with the full wrapping promenade with the beautiful view out the back and the front part in the point of the ship that is so fun and so great for sailing into and out of ports from. A person that wants to take a stroll in the evening in their dress up clothes does not want to go up to Deck 17 in the high winds on the jogging track. Runners should go there (on all ships) and leave the Promenade for promenading!
Another big issue for me personally was the Princess Live! Theatre. This is a new feature in the center of Deck 7 that basically replaces the Explorer’s Lounge on other ships. Princess thinks it is all great because it can do recordings of shows there (like the Morning Show), give lectures, have trivia, etc. However, the seating is horrendously uncomfortable.
Lastly, be forewarned that there are NO CENTER STAIRS. So, if you want to take stairs and not elevators, you need to go fore or aft. You’d think they’d learn after the complaints they got on the Grand Princess, but the Senior Staff said it was because they crammed so many extra cabins in they didn’t have room for them. I can tell you that my room was towards the center, so I often took the elevator when I would have normally taken stairs.
This ship also has no covered pool. Both the main pool area and the Retreat pool are open to the sun. There is no fun small aft pool nor a covered pool nor a lap pool any longer. You’ve got to go to a big public ones on the sun if you want a pool.
Another bummer is they’ve done away with the different carpet trim on the port and starboard hallways. Now there is the same blue carpet on both sides. That is one of my favorite Princess features! I’m sure they did it because the cabin hallways aren’t totally straight on this ship, but I still wished they’d done SOMETHING distinguishable with the carpet so those of us used to looking for blue or red trim wouldn’t have to actually look up and read signs when we get off the elevator to figure out which way to go if we’re unsure.
They DID fix the issue with the glass elevators having a different call button than the regular style amidship elevators. One button works them all on this ship. However, the aft elevators work in pairs, so you have to hit two buttons, one on each side, if you want to call all four. Really silly.
This is the end of Part 1. To go go Part 2 of the Royal Princess Cruise Review, discussing cabin types and other services, click here
The link to photo album on SuzyCruisy.com Facebook page is below. If you’re on FB, you can ‘like’ SuzyCruisy.com and see it any time you wish. At the moment, I’ve got cabin photos in there (all types), but will complete it with all the public areas as I have time.
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