TravelPulse On Board: Princess Cruises' Royal Princess Review
New exterior livery photos courtesy of Princess Cruises / All others by Jason Leppert
At a Glance
By the Numbers
Take a Bow (What to Like)
Pain in the Aft (What to Dislike)
Royal Princess is a storied ship name in Princess Cruises' heritage, having applied to two previous vessels, the most significant of which was the Princess Diana-christened innovator from 1984. The latest iteration is also something special, named by Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, and representing a slightly new design approach for the brand. Princess ship designs have always been some of the most consistent across the fleet, and the Royal mostly maintains the tried-and-true aesthetic with a few other tricks up its sleeve.
The Piazza (pictured above) from ships past continues along for the ride in its most fleshed out and beautiful form ever. The double helix staircases punctuate the activity and dining hub filled with shops, lounges and restaurants; and the sights, sounds and smells perfectly converge and invite guests to join in. Elsewhere, the decor still favors uninspired but inoffensive browns and beiges while some elements like the SeaWalk (pictured below) literally push the design over the edge with a cantilevered glass-floored catwalk in stark contrast. Unfortunately, the promenade deck below is extremely limited with very little public space.
New to the Royal is Princess Live! (pictured below), a television studio venue that broadcasts shows throughout the ship in lieu of a cabaret. The concept is somewhat exciting but not nearly as comfortable for spectators as the Explorers Lounge on other ships. Meanwhile, the Lotus Spa & Salon has been wisely relocated to a lower deck, freeing up prime space higher up. It would just be nicer to see an observation lounge on the forward top deck instead of extra cabins there.
Speaking of cabins, private accommodations are mostly unchanged from previous Princess ships, but the line thankfully introduced Deluxe Balcony staterooms (pictured below) on the Royal to finally bridge the gap between its usual Balcony (sans sofa-sleeper) and Mini-Suite categories. Now a third passenger can sleep without the need to book a more expensive suite. Otherwise, cabins are very similar to predecessors and are now being made more comfortable as The Princess Luxury Bed is rolled out across the fleet.
Private bathrooms, on the other hand, are surprisingly small for a new generation of ship. The walk-in closet leading to it remains a nice touch, but the sink, toilet and shower are as cramped as on older vessels. From a premium line, the shower in particular should be more spacious and ditch the flimsy shower curtain for a better-fixed enclosure. Nonetheless, past Princess guests are treated to one of the best loyalty programs at sea; now if only the hardware would more closely resemble the great software.
Activity-wise, the Royal Princess offers lots of relaxation options but little in the way of wild attractions found on other larger ships. That is to say, the tranquility of the aforementioned spa and the adults-only likes of The Sanctuary and Retreat Pool (pictured below) provide great respites, but there are no water slides, ropes courses and zip-lines. However, there are still a fitness center and sports court, and the Royal offers some of the most extensive kids' facilities at sea.
Also, Princess has recently partnered up with Discovery for Discovery at Sea, and the onboard programming to come from it, including themed trivia sessions and stargazing, is quite enjoyable. For those who like to shop, the line's art auctions used to feature some of the most unique pieces on a cruise ship, but the selection is not nearly as extensive since abandoning the in-house program instead for the widespread generic Park West one.
Food onboard the Royal Princess varies in quality with the best reserved for its specialty restaurants like the Crown Grill steakhouse and Sabatini's Italian venue. Actually, the nicest surprise onboard is the full-service complimentary Alfredo's pizzeria. Princess' pizza was already great, and passengers can still grab a slice poolside if they prefer. But the sit-down venue is indeed a treat. The International Cafe is also reprised for great included pastries and other snacks throughout the day.
The three separate main dining rooms continue to improve, especially as celebrity chef Curtis Stone dishes are featured, and show promise for even more as the line regains its premium status. The biggest improvement on the Royal actually comes thanks to the vastly expanded Horizon Court and Horizon Bistro buffet complex. The congested cul-de-sac of food arrangement on other ships has finally given way to a much easier to navigate series of stations presenting very good food with plenty of seating to service it all.
Princess Cruises entertainment used to be some of the best in the industry, but the competition crept up on and overtook the line. All is not lost, however, as the brand begins to up its standards again to match. Like dining in partnership with Stone, production shows in collaboration with Oscar, Grammy and Tony award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz are dramatically raising the bar. Even though the Royal is not yet running one of his shows, the performances onboard are getting better.
The surprise hit of the Royal Princess is actually the WaterColor Fantasy fountain show up on the pool deck. Rising centrally above two pools is a platform that by day hosts sunbathing loungers and by night is activated by captivating water jets and bright colored illumination choreographed to music. There are a number of great themed shows throughout the cruise, including James Bond songs, and they are all wonderfully repeated one after the other on the final night of the sailing. Movies Under the Stars also remains a great option for poolside film screenings.
The sign of great service is a crew member who goes above and beyond to make guests feel special, and on the Royal, our wonderful room stewardess Sofia Escamilla took the time to not only put our teddy bear traveling companions in playful positions in the cabin but even dressed them with fun custom clothes that she made. Service may not be as personally attentive as that ship-wide, but she sure made our experience an excellent one.
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