Jason Leppert | January 27, 2016 1:00 PM ET
Is Princess Cruises Regaining Its Premium Status?
As Princess Cruises updates its onboard program to include “Come Back New” marketing campaign initiatives and I currently review them onboard the Ruby Princess on my 96th total sailing, I’m reminded of my earlier days on the line and how it has evolved since. After all, my very first cruise was aboard the original 1984 Royal Princess.
Back in the day, Robin Leach presented his signature “champagne wishes and caviar dreams” at sea on the decadent “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” TV program, and my mother was instantly captivated by cruising. Princess Cruises had already made a televised impact on my parents via “The Love Boat.” My father had even sailed previously on the show’s featured Island Princess, but it was all still new to my mom and I until we embarked on the Royal Princess together and we all became cruise fans for life.
Then, Princess Cruises was without question a premium line, in many ways offering a luxury experience punctuated by table-side food preparation and world-class entertainment. We’ve sailed with the line many times since, becoming top-tier Captain’s Circle members at the Elite level in the process. However, it was our belief that the line lost a bit of its edge and polish over the years as the fleet became more homogeneous and a bit boring, to be honest.
Its once gold-standard entertainment declined as did the once impeccable Italian food service. Gone were the stellar performances and fresh pastas we fondly remembered. The premium line had now become a standard line in our eyes, no longer on par with Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line.
Fast forward to today, and Princess Cruises, finishing off its 50th anniversary celebrations, is experiencing a welcome brand renaissance. “Come Back New” is celebrating fresh partnerships with celebrity chefs like Curtis Stone and Norman Love and entertainment gurus and properties such as Stephen Schwartz and “The Voice.” Plus, sleep doctor Michael Breus and HGTV designer Candice Olson have together developed The Princess Luxury Bed. I’m still in the midst of reviewing these new offerings onboard, but should my initial impressions prove true, the line will regain its premium status in my opinion.
The line’s recent ships – the new Royal Princess and Regal Princess – are also elevating the line with the most fulfilled incarnations of Princess signatures too. The Piazza onboard these vessels is absolutely stunning, marking one of the most beautiful atriums at sea, and the establishments hosted therein are equally impressive, from the pizzeria to the 24-hour cafe, both complimentary I might add.
Not to mention, Princess probably has the most rewarding loyalty program for cruise travel. As Elite members we enjoy a healthy bit of free internet time as well as complimentary laundry and pressing. And believe me, this goes a very long way towards helping alleviate suitcase weight concerns and corresponding baggage fees at the airlines, besides reducing any post-cruise chores.
There are still some things we’d like to see return from the earlier days of cruising, especially an observation lounge at the top of the ships for emphasizing the destination. Also a return to Princess’ earlier in-house art auction program would be nice. The new one is now operated by Park West and, as a result, is mostly a rehash of other lines’ collections. The company once touted distinct artists like Carrie Graber, who I discovered as my favorite onboard years ago, as well as great interactive cruises with the likes of Wyland and Walfrido Garcia along for the ride.
From a hardware standpoint, the new Royal class of ships is clearly headed in the right direction for the line, but further improvements need to be rolled out onto its existing fleet. First and foremost, the cul-de-sac of food buffet arrangement on many ships needs to be eliminated in favor of the less congested open stations found on the new ships, no doubt an infrastructural challenge to implement, but a necessary one. But as for software, “Come Back New” looks to be just what the (sleep) doctor ordered.
Princess Cruises has always retained a fiercely loyal client base over its 50 years of existence, but as more and more cruise lines rebrand themselves to stay relevant to new markets, it’s great to see Princess join in and reconsider its place in the broader industry. I’m happy to see and say the line is on its way to greater things.
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