Princess Cruises Royal Princess Review
The first new Princess ship in 5 years brings a number of enhancements to the line’s typical layout and design. But a few changes made no sense to us.
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Royal Princess has a dozen bars and lounges spread across the ship, several of which adjoin the Piazza, where live music and entertainment is often conducted. Our favorite of these was Crooners, a Princess institution offering an inviting martini selection, but the Wheelhouse Bar is another good place for live piano and cocktails. Most of the other venues have familiar names, but a new one is the SeaView Bar, which has a see-through walkway on one side, for gazing down onto the waves.
Signature cocktails were available in most venues, and most were priced $7.95—they included the traditional “007 Classic” with Stolichnaya vodka or Tanqueray gin, an “ultimate” mai tai with Bacardi Oakheart and Cruzan dark rum, and Lynchburg lemonade with Jack Daniel’s whisky. Simpler drinks (made with house brands) were $5.50. House spirits were $5, while call brands started at $5.50, and went up from there. Non-alcoholic cocktails were also available, all priced $4.
Wines available by the glass included Hogue riesling, Nobilo sauvignon blanc, Woodbridge chardonnay, Katnook Estate shiraz, Estancia pinot noir and Robert Mondavi cabernet sauvignon, at prices ranging $7.25-$7.95. An unnamed house white and house red were offered for $6.25. Korbel brut reserve was available in 187ml bottles for $7.25 and Nicolas Feuillatte brut reserve by the glass for $13. An upgraded wine list was available at the Crown Grill and Sabatini’s dining rooms and at the Vines and Bellini’s lounges.
The frustratingly curt beer selection included the usual domestics for $4.25, plus Bass, Dos Equis, Blue Moon and Beck’s for $4.95, and Grolsch and Guinness for $5.95. There were also a few beer cocktails (michelada, desperado) for $7.25.
In 2014, keeping up with its competitors, Princess introduced an all-inclusive alcoholic beverage package. The price is $49 per person, per day, plus 15-percent gratuity. The package includes all cocktails, spirits, beer and glasses of wine priced under $10 (some premium liquors and wines on menus are excluded). Sodas and other nonalcoholic drinks are included, along with coffee drinks plus some specialty food items such as gelato. The package also avails a 40-percent discount on bottled wine priced under $100. The package is sold on cruises of seven nights or longer and, unlike on some cruise lines, not all passengers in the cabin are required to buy the package. There was also non-alcoholic drink package: the Unlimited Soda & More Package of soft drinks, mocktails, milk shakes and juices was $7 per day plus 15-percent gratuity, including free tumbler.
A 15-percent service charge was added to all drink orders. The minimum age for drinking was 21.
Overall, the crew aboard Royal Princess was excellent, and we appreciated the smoothly run operation. But there were some exceptions. The check-in process at Port Everglades was particularly disorganized and poorly managed, riddled with conflicting instructions and long lines. We found servers stretched thin in the Crown Grill on the busy night we dined there, and a couple other dining experiences were shortchanged by understaffing. Otherwise, from our cabin attendant to the waiters in restaurants and bars, service was polished and warm.
In addition to the main dining room (split into three venues) and buffet—both included in the cruise fare—Royal Princess has a larger variety of dining options than other ships in the fleet. In addition to familiar Princess surcharge restaurants such as Sabatini’s (Italian) and Crown Grill (steakhouse), Royal Princess offers the line’s first raw bar, Ocean Terrace, for which menu items carry an à la carte charge. There were two one-off dinners held in the Horizon Court buffet—one a crab feast, the other a fondue splurge. Another surcharge option was one of several special wine pairing dinners—we didn’t try the Chef’s Table Lumiere (which carries a $115 add-on and was sold out by the time we boarded), but we enjoyed the Wine Maker’s Dinner.
Alfredo’s Pizzeria, available on some but not all Grand Class ships, gets more real estate on Royal Princess, as well as an expanded menu. There’s no fee to dine here, but we had mixed experiences. International Café, the ship’s 24-hour coffee station, had what seemed to be a greater variety of treats on offer in its deli case, also without surcharges, and the poolside Trident Grill rolls out a new smokehouse menu at night. But the best improvement seemed to be at Horizon Court, which boasts improved traffic flow and an expanded food selection, including new action stations where food is cooked to order.
In all, while there were no major surprises good or bad in the dining opportunities aboard Royal Princess, the new options will be welcome news to Princess regulars, and the old standbys were pleasantly consistent.
Lotus Spa and Salon
In a change from previous Princess ship layouts, the spa facilities on Royal Princess are located on Deck 5 forward, the lowest public area on the ship. This allowed Princess to expand the facilities, making it one of the largest spas at sea. In moving the spa down below, so to speak, any semblance of natural light is gone once inside the spa. But, rather than try and replicate daylight, designers embraced this element—most of the spa has subdued lighting creating almost a nighttime effect. (For anyone who prefers, massages can be handled in the al fresco cabanas in the Sanctuary, though these are more expensive.) One other change: The fitness room is not remotely connected to the spa—you’ll find it on Deck 17. We think connecting spa and fitness is a marketing concept, selling wellness, not because most people head straight from one to the other.
Operated by Steiner Leisure, which manages spa services for many cruise lines, we found most prices in line with services on other cruises, and somewhat higher than we see at most quality resorts. Massages started at $155 for the 50-minute Thai Coconut Poultice or Rhythm n’ Bliss treatments and went up to $199 for the 75-minute Bamboo Massage; the 50-minute couples massage was $269. Facials started at $119 for the 50-minute La Therapie Hydralift treatment, or $75 for the 50-minute Men’s Facial. There were specials and packages offering discounts for one-off treatments not on the regular menu. Other treatments included acupuncture, Ionithermie, teeth whitening and a full roster of salon services. A 15-percent gratuity was applied to all treatments.
The spa also had a retreat within the spa, called the Enclave, which is similar to the thermal suites on other Princess ships, but triple the size. In addition to the usual heated ceramic beds, this communal relaxation area offered a hydrotherapy pool, waterbeds, a Turkish hammam-style steam bath, a Roman-style Caldarian chamber with herbal aromas and sensory showers. A weeklong pass to use the facilities was $159. Though the facility was attractive and inviting, the price seemed excessive to us. No day passes were available on the first day of the cruise, but they may be sold when the full-cruise passes haven’t sold well (check after embarkation).
We didn’t partake in a spa services during our cruise, but while the facility we did notice that sound from the Princess Theater immediately above leaks into some of the treatment rooms. While you can glace at the entertainment schedule to see what’s on for the day, it doesn’t include rehearsals. If you’re booking a treatment we suggest clarifying with the receptionist that your massage won’t be plagued by a second-hand rendition of My Heart Will Go On.
One of the interesting innovations on Royal Princess is a complete absence of the usual oceanview accommodations. There are 342 Interior cabins—that is, cabins with no view. These offer a good way to save money, but most of us will opt instead for one of several types of Balcony cabins, the standard of which measure 222 square feet (according to Princess), including the balcony. We had a Deluxe Balcony, described below, which added 11 square feet to the standard quarters. There are also Mini-Suites and Suites.
Another big change for Royal Princess is that the decks aren’t in a ziggurat configuration—like a wedding cake—meaning decks have more privacy (and shade) than before. But this has a downside. As we mentioned earlier, the balconies on Royal Princess are smaller overall (and probably will be for Regal Princess, as well).
However, careful examination of deck plans reveals there are a few cabins on each deck with larger balconies—a smart option for those who don’t want to be squished into an undersized veranda or pay a premium to land in a suite. For instance, there are a few larger balconies on Deck 8 forward, and on decks 15-16 above the bridge you’ll find enlarged forward-facing balcony units (note that all of these have a steel railing instead of glass). Also, at midship from decks 8 through 15 there are two slight protrusions on each side of the ship, below the SeaView Bar (port side) and SeaWalk (starboard)—as a result, about eight cabins on each deck get an angled, slightly larger balcony where the ship’s superstructure extends out a few feet. One caveat: Guests in the cabins on Deck 15 starboard will find the interior of their cabin to be partially in view of those using the SeaWalk.
Creating a new “class” of ship is not something a cruise line takes lightly. Now costing upwards of a billion dollars to construct and with a life expectancy of about three decades, no detail is too small during the development of today’s mega-ships. With each berth costing an average of $175,000 or more, every square inch of seagoing real estate matters.
Princess Cruises stuck with its Grand Class design for a decade, delivering nine ships in all, culminating with 2008’s Ruby Princess—a longer run than perhaps any other ship class. Well-liked for their multiple pools, an emphasis on balcony cabins, and big-screen Movies Under the Stars, Grand Class ships developed a loyal following among a broad base of cruisers. With such product consistency, there were bound to be expectations from Princess devotees when the line announced it was creating a new class, debuting in 2013 with Royal Princess.
Aboard this gleaming new ship, we met a Princess regular who shared with us the concerns she harbored ahead of departure. “I’d heard about problems from guests on the first sailings—there was some grumbling,” she said. “But I researched my cabin location carefully and moderated my expectations.”
Towards the end of our cruise we caught up with her again and asked how she like Royal Princess. “I think it’s great,” she told us. “But I knew what to expect.”
This is our kind of traveler—someone who takes charge of their vacation and does the research necessary to make sure they get everything they want out it. We, too, had some concerns about this ship. Read on to find out what we learned, and what you need to know before booking your cruise on Royal Princess.
Allegro, Concerto & Symphony Dining Rooms
Rather than a single, two- or three-deck restaurant, Royal Princess splits its main dining room into three separate venues, all using the same menu. This affords a somewhat more intimate dining experience, though each room seats 600 or more. Décor of the Concerto and Symphony rooms, located on decks 5 and 6 just behind the Piazza, was similar, with lots of polished wood tones. But we’d say Allegro, located on Deck 5 aft, was the more striking venue, with its nod to Art Deco and Frank Lloyd Wright styling (seen in the photos below). Breakfast was served each morning in the Concerto dining room, as well as lunch on sea days. A semi-private room within each venue was dedicated to 12-guest feasts, described below under “Wine Maker’s Dinner & Chef’s Table Lumiere.”
During the booking process we were given the option of the traditional dining plan, which meant eating dinner at either 5:30 or 8 p.m., or the Anytime plan, which we chose, allowing us to dine between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m. On the first night of our cruise we came to the podium at 7:43 p.m. and were issued a pager—it didn’t buzz until 29 minutes later, which seemed like an unreasonable wait for a table. Shortly after we were seated the maître d’ came on the p.a. system and suggested that guests should come when the restaurant first opened each night at 5:30, or later at 7:15 or 7:30, “to help us even out the dining experience for everyone.” Since we had arrived only a few minutes after 7:30, this didn’t quite add up. We’ll chalk up the delay to opening night machinations, as we waited little more than 10 minutes our next evening here, the energy evolving from overly busy to pleasantly buzzy.
In the Concerto Dining Room we found the meals above average compared to our other Princess cruise experiences. There were no menu surprises, but almost everything hit the mark. Among the starters we especially enjoyed the creamy asparagus soup which, rather than being creamy was light and refreshing and included an oddly appealing dumpling of poached salmon. Princess does a decent job with salads, and there are always a couple pasta dishes, available in an entrée size or smaller portion as an appetizer (the fettuccini Alfredo is a longtime Princess fave). Both the entrées we tried were excellent. The pan-seared barramundi fillet in a tarn of chive and mustard seed sauce was served with asparagus and potatoes; the prime rib was a better cut and perfectly cooked (better than on other Princess ships we’ve tried this dish). Desserts, however, didn’t wow us.
The breakfast menu for the main dining room isn’t long, but it covers the basics well. This included cereals—hot and cold—yogurt, a smoked salmon plate, several egg dishes, pancakes and freshly baked pastries. The fruit plate arrived two different ways here—once as diced fruit in a bowl (the “assorted melon cocktail”), the other as a plate of freshly sliced fruit. There’s a different breakfast special daily, such as huevos rancheros or the lumberjack special (grilled minute steak with eggs, mushrooms and hash browns).
Lunch is served on sea days, with a different menu each day covering a number of options (including brunch fare for late risers). We tried the fish tacos one afternoon, and the tuna melt another day—neither particularly impressed. Other items that looked better included the nasi goring (Indonesian spiced rice with chicken and beef satays), Irish lamb stew, vegetarian stuffed yellow bell pepper, and there was always a couple pasta dishes, soups and salads.
Afternoon tea was offered daily from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Concerto Dining Room.
The ship’s daily newsletter, Princess Patter, arrived in our room each evening, revealing the schedule of activities and promotions for the following day. We find Princess Cruises’ layout of the schedule to be strictly linear, with little to guide those interested in (for instance) fitness activities or gambling events.
Although announcements from the captain over the ship’s p.a. system could be heard in hallways, general announcements by the cruise director and other officers seemed to be audible only on outside decks.
The fitness room for Royal Princess is located on Deck 17, well away from the Lotus Spa. It was a great facility, featuring all the latest Precor machines, including a few devices that were new to us. Though often busy, we visited at peak hours and didn’t have a problem finding a treadmill to use.
The roster of free fitness classes on Royal Princess included twice-daily stretching sessions and a daily abs workshop. Other classes were priced $30 for three sessions, and included ChiBall Fire Yoga, Tour de Cycle (spinning), and Pilates. The TRX Suspension Training was $60 for three classes, and a four sessions of Body Sculpt Boot Camp was $120. There was also a series of “complimentary” seminars on back pain and fat burning that concluded with a heavy dose of product pitching.
About Our Cruise
This is actually the third ship to be named Royal Princess. The first launched in 1984 and was christened by Diana, Princess of Wales—it now sails under the name Artania for a German tour operator. Fittingly, it was Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge—Princess Kate, to those in the know—who handled the naming honors for the new Royal Princess. (The black-and-white spotted outfit she wore for the christening is displayed behind glass near the guest services desk.) The $750 million ship was launched in June 2013; a twin, Regal Princess, debuts in May 2014.
Snub-nosed yet sleek, Royal Princess carries 3,560 passengers, about 16 percent more than Princess’ next largest ship. Weighing in at 142,449 tons, Royal Princess launched as the ninth-largest cruiser. As the first new Princess ship in almost five years, it was no surprise that the line opted to change things up a bit. Some of these evolutions amount to solid improvements; a few of them flat-out didn’t work for us. Princess seems to have acknowledged some of these issues—in late 2013 the line announced there would be some changes to the deck plan for Regal Princess. Nonetheless, as befits a duchess, Royal Princess is one of the flashiest vessels at sea—she warrants more than a cursory overview.
An enlarged, sparkling Piazza is among the things designers got right. This three-deck-high atrium is an appealing axis for the ship, where entertainment offerings spark to life. We enjoyed these from seats in one of several bars, or at the expanded venues Alfredo’s Pizzeria and the International Café, both Princess stalwarts. The new seafood bar Ocean Terrace is an excellent addition that we would welcome on other Princess ships.
The Piazza isn’t wasted on mundane functions such as a front desk or shore excursion desk—these are smartly tucked out of sight on Deck 5, next to the spa entrance, allowing better traffic flow for both these desks and the atrium. And yes, rather than a spa above the bridge, the usual configuration, on Royal Princess the spa is located on the lowest public deck. None of the treatment rooms have views, but the space is swank and well utilized (the fitness room is completely separate, on Deck 17). One caveat: On other Princess ships the steam room and sauna are open to all passengers; on Royal Princess the steam room and sauna are inside the Thermal Suite, for which one must purchase a pass.
Princess’ traditional Horizon Court buffet has received a major makeover here, with a broader food selection and more stations and, again, improved traffic flow. On select nights, one corner of Horizon Court is turned over to a specialized menu (with a surcharge) for fondue or a crab feast, to mixed results. Staged entertainment was much improved over the staid, stale shows we’ve usually experienced on Princess ships. It’s loud, flashy and colorful—not for all tastes, but at least it’s not boring.
The corridors leading to cabins are lined with framed photos of Princess destinations, taken by cruisers—some of them are quite good. Cabin décor has been spruced up, getting away from the drab, outdated color scheme found on other Princess ships. The interactive TV system, a first for Princess, works well, and features an extensive on-demand selection that does not require pay-per-view fees.
Our Cabin: Deluxe Balcony, Obstructed View
We were looking to save a few bucks on our cruise, so we opted for a guarantee balcony cabin with an obstructed view. At embarkation Princess upgraded us to a deluxe unit, which added 11 square feet to the interior of our cabin. Other than the size of the balcony and the amount of obstruction—more on that below—we were happy with our cabin. Princess has spruced up its cabin décor, offering a more contemporary, less bland environment. While still somewhat generic, we liked it.
The queen-sized mattress offered a nice medium between firm and soft, and we found the bed linens appealing, with a ribbed texture—we slept well. Behind the bed was padded wall/headboard. The mattress was actually two twin beds pushed together (they could be separated for passengers not sleeping together), and the split was adequately concealed by a pillow-top. Small nightstands with lamps flanked the bed, and there were light switches on either side of the bed for the main lighting fixtures. The lamps on the nightstands were not quite sufficient for reading, but a pair of overhead spotlights above the pillows did the job.
The cabin layout was in Princess’ usual style, with the closet area walled off from the bedroom, creating a dressing room of sorts. The closet area, which had no door, was 6-foot 1-inch wide with a shelf overhead, allowing ample storage space for clothes on hangers (there were 22 hangers, but room for more). Above the hangers was a long shelf, which had our life preservers and beach towels. Next to the closet was also a cabinet with five shelves (one of which held the safe), and we had storage space under the bed for our luggage.
The couch was a pullout bed, though we were told when extended it blocked access to the balcony. A built-in desk faced the couch, where there was a phone, ship directory, and electrical outlets (two three-prong 120-volt outlets, plus one European-style, 230 volt “schuko” outlet). Next to the desk was a mini-fridge that contained four cans of soda (Coke, Sprint, including diet versions—$1.95 each). Above the mini-fridge was a drawer storing a hair dryer and above this was a shelf with bottled water ($3.50), an ice bucket and a pair of glasses; the ice bucket was refilled daily. There was an oval coffee table that was a bit small for two people dining.
Facing the bed, mounted on the wall, was a ViewSonic 42” flat screen TV. The screen did not pivot, but was fine for viewing from the bed or the couch. Our cabin was primarily illuminated by overhead lights, controlled by switches at the cabin door and another behind the bed-pillows. At check-in, nametags were posted outside all cabin doors, identifying the occupants and their status level in Princess Cruises’ Captain’s Circle.
The cabin acoustics were good. However, we could hear the TV from the cabin next door till late at night (maybe they were hard of hearing?). General announcements over the ship p.a. system could not be heard inside cabin or outside in the hallways, but they were audible on outside decks (bridge announcements could be heard in hallways).
Our bathroom was compact but the space was utilized efficiently. There was a large mirror over the rectangular sink, and the shower (no tub) was to the left, with the toilet in between. The toilet paper roll was stupidly positioned behind the toilet. On one side of the mirror there were three shelves adequate for a standard travel kit; there was no makeup mirror. The hairdryer was fixed inside the desk, not in the bathroom.
The shower stall was level with the bathroom floor—a two-inch lip kept the water in its place; there was a fabric shower curtain and, inside the shower, a retractable laundry line. Oversized bottles of shampoo/conditioner (combined) and body soap, branded to the ship’s Lotus Spa, were mounted on the wall. The products were okay, but not for anyone with special hair needs. There was also a tube of body lotion by the sink, along with a soap bar. There was no sign instructing us what to do when we wanted towels replaced, but they weren’t replenished when they were hung on the towel rack (just as we wished).
The Princess Cruises’ website said our cabin measured 233 square feet total. We consider this to be a generous interpretation of our cabin’s usable space. By our measurement, the inside of the cabin came out to approximately 188 square feet. We measured the balcony at 47.5 inches deep by 108.5 inches wide, or 35.8 square feet, so let’s call it 224 square feet total. While the interior space for our cabin was comfortable for two, there was no getting around the fact that our balcony was snug—certainly not adequate for two to enjoy dining outside (as is typical on most Princess ships).
Further, on the Princess website our cabin was advertised as a “part obstructed view.” When we called Princess to inquire what the obstruction was, we were told it only involved the pullman bed, in the event it was pulled down for a third guest—that there was “nothing” obstructing the view from the balcony. Not true. In front of our balcony, a lifeboat was off to the side, while other contraptions rose above the railing to block most of our view. As you can see from the photos, our view was quite obstructed, especially when we were seated.
International Café & Princess Live! Café
Located at the base of the lobby atrium on Deck 5 and open 24 hours, the International Café was the place for a quick shot of caffeine—espresso-fueled drinks that were a cut or two above the ship’s standard brew. We found prices to be reasonable, starting at $1.75 for a small espresso or macchiato, $2.50 for a cappuccino or latte; large sizes were also available to go. We took advantage of a coffee card, priced $29, which availed 15 drinks along with unlimited refills of brewed coffee (a better grade than served elsewhere for free).
Royal Princess is also the first in the fleet to promote a full-blown tea service. The Royal Afternoon Tea included fresh berries and cream, warm scones, queen of puddings and finger sandwiches, along with Mighty Leaf teas from the café’s tea tower. The price was $10 per person, or $20 including a glass of Champagne. Coffee, tea, and edibles from the café (see previous page) could be eaten at tables scattered around the Piazza.
Another first for Royal Princess is the Princess Live! Café located outside the theater of the same name, on Deck 7. The drink selection is the same and the seating area is a little more subdued than in the Piazza, but few of the food items from the International Café were on offer.
There are two swimming pools on Royal Princess. Neither was indoors (as is common on Princess’ Grand Class vessels), and they appeared to be identical in size. The Fountain Pool, located midship on Deck 16, was the main facility and was surrounded with the bulk of the ship’s lounge chairs. The pool was 5-foot 3-inches deep, and on sea days it was packed with people. Next to the pool was the fountain area, which was where additional loungers were positioned when the sun was out. But on the couple times we searched, two loungers together were scarce to find by mid-morning (loungers one deck up, overlooking the pool, were easier to come by). There were two whirlpools for this area, which also seemed a bit constrained at peak hours.
Just behind the Fountain Pool was an elevated terrace that had fountains for nighttime shows (see below). Additional loungers were set out on this terrace on sea days, but otherwise it seemed like wasted real estate. Just behind the terrace was a smaller round plunge pool that was little used.
The Retreat Pool was a more intimate, adults-only area located on Deck 17, just behind the Sanctuary. This was a great space, with two whirlpools, a full bar, and a more subdued environment than we found at the Fountain Pool. However, although there were usually fewer people in the Retreat Pool, this was partly because there were fewer loungers for sunning here, and a dozen of the loungers were dedicated to six cabanas that could only be rented. The price for renting two loungers and a cabana was $50 for a half-day, $80 for the full day rental. On sea days this area filled up, and we found it annoying that, once all the “free” loungers were occupied, we were expected to pony up a rental fee to use an unoccupied cabana.
Another new venue for Royal Princess is Bellini’s, a bar that overlooks the Piazza from Deck 6. It’s an open space defined by marble and glass, somewhat sequestered from the hubbub of the Piazza. It didn’t see a lot of traffic, and we noticed people lounging here without ordering from the menu.
As the name hints, the focus is Champagne. The titular cocktail, the “classic” Bellini, is made with peach purée and prosecco—this and other cocktails made with prosecco were $8.95. The Royal Bellini—with vodka, Galliano and Champagne—was priced $15. Domaine Chandon, Nicolas Feuillatte and Veuve Clicquot were available by the glass or bottle.
Where Royal Princess Missed
The check-in process did not go well for our cruise. We arrived at Port Everglades shortly before noon and found hundreds of people outside the terminal in a queue that snaked on and on. There was poor communication between ground staff, with conflicting information about where to go. The process exceeded 80 minutes, and we weren’t seated for any of it.
Although our cabin was comfortable, we didn’t think much of our balcony. Less than 4 feet deep, we could barely maneuver around the two chairs placed here. The tiny round coffee table was inadequate for two to enjoy a meal on the balcony, as we have on other Princess cruises. While it’s not the smallest balcony we’ve encountered, for a cruise line that prides itself on the abundance and quality of balcony accommodations, our veranda was a real letdown.
We liked the pool area called the Retreat, representing somewhat of a new concept for Princess. It’s an adults-only area that is quieter and offers cabanas for rent. But this is one of only two pools on the entire ship (there’s also a plunge pool near the main Fountain Pool, but this isn’t useful for much more than a quick dip). Again, Princess has been known for extensive pool environments, including indoor facilities and (on a number of ships) a pool perched on the aft deck. The result is that, when the sun was out, the two pool areas on Royal Princess were packed to the gills.
We were annoyed that the center stairwell rises only to Deck 7, the top deck of the Atrium. If your cabin is located midship—as ours was—you either need to head to the forward or aft stairwells or take the elevators. Not surprisingly, the elevators were overburdened and slow. Keeping our figure intact means using the stairs on our way to the buffet, but we tired of trekking up and down the long hallways to the stairwells. Also, this is also the first Princess-designed vessel to not have a traditional promenade deck circling the ship. Instead, there’s a veranda about 100 feet long that extends from Deck 7 on either side of the ship at the Piazza. While this is a pleasant enough space to use, we missed being able to stroll around the ship (joggers will find a short running track on Deck 18).
And, whoever thought of locating the toilet paper dispenser in cabin bathrooms behind the toilet—the most ergonomically awkward location possible—should have their design credentials removed. Hanging the dispenser from the ceiling would have made more sense! True, it didn’t bother us that much, but it was a laughably bad decision—like some diabolical game of Twister played from a toilet seat.
Standard features in all Royal Princess cabins include twin beds that converted into a queen, 100-percent Egyptian cotton linens, evening turndown and chocolates on the pillow, a mini-fridge, safe, phone, and 110V, 60-cycle AC electrical outlets. The bathroom was stocked with Princess-branded shampoo, conditioner and body lotion. While a waffle-weave bathrobe was also waiting for us in the closet on previous Princess cruises, that wasn’t the case on Royal Princess.
Our TV was a 42” ViewSonic flat screen, mounted against the cabin wall facing the bed. Although the monitor was a High-Definition model, the signal input for all channels was analog—only the ship’s own signal was high-def. Additionally, picture input was incorrect sizing, meaning the information contained on the sides of the screen was cut off. Still, the roster of free entertainment on-demand was impressive, most of it offered in high-def presentations. This included 10 TV comedy shows (from both cable and network channels) with a selection of 5 episodes each (The Middle, Veep, 30 Rock—all from season one); 10 drama series with 5 episodes each as well (Dexter and Homeland season one, Good Wife season three)—just enough to get us hooked on a series or two. There were about 100 movies available on-demand, split between theatrical releases of the previous year and big titles from the 1970s and 80s. There were no pay-per-view charges, and the TV’s interactive features were easy to operate.
Wrapping around the aft portion of Deck 16, Horizon Court is the efficient buffet option aboard Royal Princess. Despite the ship’s size, and the venue’s popularity at breakfast, we didn’t have issues finding an empty table. The buffet lines are expanded and the food selection was somewhat greater than we’ve experienced on previous Princess cruises; most of the fare changed daily. There were action stations where specific items were cooked to order, and a dedicated pastry shop (we usually find baked goods to be a strong suit for Princess). One corner of Horizon Court was dedicated to a couple pop-up restaurants on two nights of the cruise (described below under “Crab Shack & Fondues”). We found hand sanitizers not as prevalent as we would normally expect, but al fresco washrooms were available at each end and side of the buffet.
In contrast with the main dining room, the breakfast selection was more varied. Omelets were cooked to order and there were more than a dozen ingredients to choose from, with egg white omelets an option; a daily scramble was also offered, such as eggs with tomato, goat cheese and mint. There were yogurt parfaits and breakfast burritos and other items not found on the main dining room menu. Princess gets breads and pastry right—we can’t resist the crusty whole wheats and flaky croissants.
Lunch included such fare as tasty fassolada (a white bean casserole with Greek roots), vegetarian lasagna, baba ghanoush, black mussel hot pot, turkey and veal kebobs, hibachi lamb riblets, and various stir fries. The dinner selection offered a similar variety, and items were nicely presented. Soups such as tortellini and spinach or cock-a-leekie were served from cast iron tureens, and there were usually intriguing international dishes such as Bombay seafood paella, pancetta-wrapped cod fish fillet, and chicken paillard with amber ale and onion gravy.
The extensive dessert station was hard to pass up, and light snacks came out at tea time, 3:30 to 5:30 each afternoon. Coffee, tea and iced tea were provided from dispensers, made from a concentrate. Juice flavors available at breakfast included orange drink, grapefruit, tomato, cranberry and apple. The ship’s standard wine list was available, and cocktails from the standard drink menu could be ordered from servers.
Located just off the Piazza, the Internet Café offered 14 Asus PCs for surfing the web and checking email. The facility seemed crowded at many times, with slightly fewer computers available than we’ve usually found on smaller Princess ships. Computers could be accessed anytime, and the station was staffed several hours in the morning, afternoon and evening. But for anyone who anticipates working while aboard we’d recommend bringing a laptop to access the ship’s WiFi.
The basic rate for internet access—using our own laptop anywhere on the ship or using the Internet Café’s computers—was a stiff .79 per minute, plus a $3.95 activation fee. Packages reduced the per-minute rates, including a “last day” package was also available for the last full day of the cruise: 15 minutes for $8.99. Although ship WiFi is typically slow (or tedious), we found access to be a bit better than average. A printer was available in the Internet Café for printing emails or boarding passes.
We did not stay in the rest of these cabins, but we have summaries here provided by Princess Cruises. Note that photos below have been provided by the cruise line and not our reviewer.
The Interior stateroom is approximately 166 to 175 square feet and richly appointed with fine amenities. Some also have pullman beds to accommodate 3rd and 4th passengers.
Obstructed View Balcony staterooms are approximately 222 square feet and feature all the comforts and amenities of the Balcony cabins, but have a partially or fully obstructed view from the approximately 41 square foot balcony. Some also have pullman beds to accommodate 3rd and 4th passengers.
The spacious approximately 222 square foot Balcony stateroom is appointed with fine amenities and outstanding views from an approximately 41 square foot private balcony. Some also have pullman beds to accommodate up to 4 passengers.
Premium Deluxe Balcony
Larger than our Standard Balcony staterooms, Premium Deluxe Balcony cabins provide approximately 233 square feet of comfort, and an approximately 41 square foot balcony and includes all the same features of the Balcony stateroom, plus an additional sofa bed for lounging or sleeping a third passenger. Some also have a pullman bed to accommodate a 4th passenger.
Mini-Suite with Balcony
The luxurious Mini-Suite offers approximately 299 square feet of comfort and an additional, separate seating area with a sofa bed for lounging or sleeping a third passenger. The spacious balcony is approximately 41 square feet and the bathroom offers a combination tub and shower. Some also have a pullman bed to accommodate a 4th passenger.
Mini-Suite with Balcony
The Premium Mini-Suite offers a spacious cabin with an extra-large balcony. The cabin features a separate seating area with a sofa and the bathroom offers a combination tub and shower.
Suite with Balcony
Premium accommodations and luxurious appointments are the signature of our expansive 440 to 682 square feet Suites. Your Suite stateroom includes a spacious cabin and large 83-338 square foot balcony, along with special suite-only benefits. Suites feature a separate seating area with a sofabed, walk-in closet, full bathroom and deluxe amenities.
Serving as the ship’s modest disco, Club 6 is located on—you guessed it—Deck 6, smack between the casino and main showroom. The dance floor is pretty small compared to what we see on other big ships, but it’s seemed adequate for the Princess crowd. Our two main complaints were that, although there was a solid DJ spinning tunes on our cruise, the volume was surprisingly low—the music was not nearly as loud as music played in the showroom next door. Additionally, we didn’t like was how the dance floor was crammed into a corner behind casino—the disco felt like an afterthought. But it stayed open as late as guests were still dancing—as late as 3 a.m. on the second night of our cruise.
Club 6 was well designed to be functional for other purposes—trivia contests, arts and crafts sessions and other events were held here through the day (with the bar closed). Although this venue is non-smoking, cigarette and cigar smoke from the adjacent casino and Churchill’s smoking lounge was noticeable at times.
Located on Deck 7 aft, Crown Grill is the Princess steakhouse, a venue that carries a $25 surcharge for dining. We found the add-on to be reasonable for a meal of Sterling Silver beef, served in wood-paneled rooms that faced an open kitchen. On Royal Princess, the Wheelhouse Bar serves as the lounge for Crown Grill, a smart innovation that gets better use out of both of these Princess institutions. If there’s a downside, it’s that—combined—both spots seemed busier than we see these venues (independently) on other Princess ships. We didn’t try for a dinner reservation until a couple days into our cruise and were surprised to find that most tables were fully booked through the end of the cruise. “It’s like this every night,” said the maître d.
We finally got in at 9:15 p.m. and the restaurant was packed. Our waitress, who was friendly and upbeat, seemed to struggle to keep pace. Empty plates and glassware sat on the table unnoticed for most of our meal, and the menu’s promise of gourmet sea salts was never delivered. Fortunately, our meal was good.
The appetizer selection includes such treats as black tiger prawns and papaya, Meditterranean style spiny lobster cake, carpaccio of pine nut-coasted lamb loin, and a cherrystone clam bake. We started with the shrimp and pancetta bisque, which neither heavy nor rich, and followed with the goat cheese and heirloom tomato salad with spinach and yellow beets. We’re not sure about the heirloom tomatoes (they seemed pretty run-of-the-mill to us and almost invisible) but the overall dish was pleasing.
Main courses include a variety of seafood items, such as pan-roasted barramundi papillote, and a Prince Edward mussel pot. We could order 4-oz lobster tails or, with an additional $20 surcharge, there was a whole Maine lobster or 12-oz Australian lobster tail on offer. But we opted for the 14-ounce rib eye, which we found to be competently prepared. We asked for medium-rare and the steak arrived just as ordered, with a reasonable amount of marbling, and almost no gristle. To accompany, we chose a baked potato with all the trimmings—tasty—along with creamed spinach. Other meats available included a New York strip, Kansas City strip or filet mignon, along with a veal chop, lamb rack, or pork chop.
Also available at Crown Grill is a Pub Lunch, held on two sea days during our cruise. Despite the announcement being buried in the Princess Patter in tiny print, this was a popular event—the crowd spilled over into the Wheelhouse Bar. There were just four items on blackboard menu—fish and chips, bangers and mash, steak and kidney pie, and a ploughman’s lunch. We found the fish and chips acceptable, but the service seemed distracted and unprepared for the rush.
One deck up from the fitness room, Deck 18 was called Sports Central. The jogging track was located on this exterior deck and, though somewhat shorter than usual, it was a terrific, mostly broad area for exercise (seven laps equaled a mile). There were two lanes—one for walking, one for jogging—and no loungers to clutter up the track. Next to the track were various equipment for additional exercises—leg press, chest press, etc. Deck 18 also held the basketball court, ping pong tables, and a netted driving range for practicing our golf swing.
Just upstairs on Deck 19 was the Lawn Court, with a small putting green. A few extra sun loungers were here, overlooking the basketball court, but we never saw these put to much use.
While Princess Cruises does not have a strict dress code, most passengers adhered to the line’s recommendations. By day, sports wear and casual attire was the rule, with swimwear discouraged from public rooms and lounges. After 5:30 p.m., suggested eveningwear was Smart Casual—skirts/dresses, slacks, and sweaters for women; pants and open-neck shirts for men. Pool and beach attire, shorts, ball caps and casual jeans (with fraying and/or holes) were not permitted in the dining rooms, and shoes were required.
On a 7- to 13-night cruise, count on two Formal nights. For the main dining rooms that would be evening gowns and cocktail dresses for women; tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suits with a tie for men. At least three-quarters of the passengers observed the dress code on our cruise.
While we had some issues with how Princess has configured their newest ship, we still found Royal Princess to be a lovely new member of the fleet. Were we to book another cruise on Royal Princess—and we probably would—we’d steer clear of standard balcony cabins with their puny verandas. Instead, we’d opt for an inside cabin (to save money) or opt for an “angled balcony” cabin (explained on the next page). We’d avoid midship accommodations, which lack stairwell access.
But whether by design or default, on this itinerary Princess pulled off a neat trick: When we wanted our cruise to be subdued and relaxing, that could be found, whether in our cabin or at an unexpected hideaway we found on deck 7 aft. By the same token, when we were in the mood for an upbeat, festive atmosphere, that could also be found. On the second formal night we eased into our best duds around 7:30 and sauntered down to the Piazza and found the entire area buzzy and alive, with not a seat to be had at Crooners. Somehow, we didn't mind—we ogled the dresses and the photo posing and soon enough a table became available. It felt like exactly the right dose of hubbub and easy-going glitz, surrounded by people genuinely appreciating this dazzling new ship.
So although we think Princess Cruises’ bean counters cut some corners in determining the specs for Royal Princess, the ship is a truly handsome addition to the Princess family. With fingers crossed, Princess will be able to address most of these deficiencies when Regal Princess launches in May 2014. Read on for more details about our cabin, the ship’s dining options, and more.
Instead of a regular promenade deck encircling the ship, Deck 7 is an abbreviated exterior deck with a terrace-like feature that extended from the Piazza area. While we prefer a wraparound promenade, the terrace was appealing—a broad deck about 100 feet long for enjoying the sun and breeze. There were only a few loungers here, but the deck seemed little used for some reason. Exterior access forward and aft was blocked by a crew-only walkway, but the aft section of Deck 7 (accessed from the inside the Vista Lounge) revealed a unique and totally appealing hideaway. On either side was a little nook with just a quartet of lounge chairs for enjoying the aft view. Surprisingly, this spot saw minimal traffic, so it wasn’t hard to snag one of these chairs and enjoy the seagoing ambience.
Deck 17 was a utilitarian sun deck with lots of loungers at midship. There were two whirlpool tubs overlooking the Fountain Pool, along with a couple showers. On the aft deck, a large area was set aside for smokers. This area was often busy, and when the ship was sailing exhaust from the funnels often plagued this deck.
On Deck 17 forward was The Sanctuary, Princess Cruises’ standard surcharge area for top deck privacy and pampering. It certainly feels like an exclusive area, with little of the crowding found in other sun areas of the ship, lighted with screened sun and colored with potted plants. There are private massage cabanas at the front reserved for treatments (there’s a special price for services here), plus cabanas equipped with TV, fan, privacy curtain, etc. Waiters were available to deliver light meals from a limited menu. Just before our review was scheduled for publication, in March 2014, Princess revealed prices for Sanctuary access had been increased across the fleet. The price is now $20 for a half-day pass or $40 for the full day, but rates may fluctuate based on demand.
We found laundry rooms located near the aft stairwell on every deck with cabins, except Deck 16. They were large and tidy—we didn’t see lines to use the facilities. Prices were $2 per load for wash, $2 for dry, and $1.50 for detergent, all handled with tokens provided with the swipe of a key card.
Crooner’s Lounge & Bar
Crooner’s is the terrific martini bar for Royal Princess. Using a space that appears larger than Crooner’s venues on other Princess ships, the lounge opens onto the Piazza, overlooking the action from Deck 7. The cocktail list features more than 50 types of martinis, including quite a few we’ve never heard of. It’s a great spot before dinner, with lots of people watching, or for enjoying sunset panoramas; a pianist shows up 9:45 p.m. or later to tickle the ivory.
Martini-style drinks included a Suntini (Stolichnaya, melon liqueur and pineapple juice), Golden Nugget (Bacardi Limon, coconut milk and passion fruit) and Tango Tini (Stolichnaya vodka, Blue Curaçao and melon liqueur), along with a roster of chocolate-flavored martinis. All were $7.95, except for ultra premium martinis, made with Grey Goose, Bombay Sapphire, etc.—priced $8.95. All were shaken tableside (or at the bar). Wine and champagne was available by the glass or bottle, along with the ship’s standard bar menu.
We loved that drinks were served with a side of cocktail mix and a choice of seven different olives, stuffed with almond, lemon rind, garlic, jalapeño, blue cheese, anchovy or sun-dried tomato.
Another of the surcharge restaurants, Sabatini’s is an Italian venue that will be familiar to Princess regulars. It’s an attractive space located just off the lobby atrium on Deck 5, with cliché’d murals of Italian coastlines lining the walls. We’ve had mixed experiences at Sabatini’s on other Princess ships, and we didn’t have time to dine here aboard Royal Princess. There’s a $25 cover charge for dinner, and you may find the ambiance and service worth it. You can read about our dinner at Sabatini’s aboard Star Princess here.
General Health and Safety
Held just prior to disembarkation, room keys were scanned when we arrived for the Muster Drill. All passengers were required to bring their life vests for the Muster Drill, and instructions for wearing them were provided. The information was conveyed in a thorough, detailed manner.
Hand sanitizers were present at all restaurant entrances and their use was encouraged. There were two sink stations available for washing hands near the entrance to Horizon Court buffet, which we applaud.
Shows and Entertainment
There are a number of venues for entertainment, with the Princess Theater serving as the main showroom. This 925-seat theater—the largest in the Princess fleet—isn’t flashy, but it’s quite functional, utilizing the latest show technology and featuring unobstructed sightlines from all seats. There’s a good sound system, but be aware that a few seats are directly in front of speakers.
There are four shows in rotation on Royal Princess and we saw three of them. They were each a tight 35 minutes—a little shorter than shows on other Princess ships—and performed three times. None were groundbreaking, but they were fresh, colorful and full of energy. The music, most of which is canned backing tracks rather than a live band, is played loud. With a cast of four singers and 14 dancers, “Colors of the World” linked various songs to global destinations—'O Sole Mio for Italy, Over the Rainbow for Hawaii, True Colors for Japan—against a backdrop of simplistic visual stereotypes (gee, would that be cherry blossoms for Japan?). The show reached its nadir with I Need a Hero representing Greece, sung by Aphrodite surrounded by fey Olympians. Ugh. This one’s going to be dated in no time, but there are no sets to speak of, just video backdrops that can be changed out.
The show “Spectacular” was another musical review, though we couldn’t quite figure out the connecting thread. Songs included Diamonds are Forever, That’s Entertainment, and Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough, plus a knockout version of Me and Mrs. Jones. If a bit even there were moments that nearly lived up to the title, with the video backdrop put to excellent effect at a couple points. The four singers performing “Sweet Soul Music” were terrific, perhaps in part because they had a live, seven-piece band backing them. Along with 12 dancers, they plowed dutifully through the Motown library in one- and two-minute versions, but also stretched to include Proud Mary and I'm Every Woman. This hot show left everyone wanting more.
Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar
We liked this new dining concept for Princess, a raw bar overlooking the Piazza from Deck 7. Items are priced à la carte, and it is possible to run up a modest tab, but it makes a great option for a light meal or for tasty appetizer before heading to dinner. All items are prepared to order behind the bar, and one can sit at the bar or at a series of small tables overlooking the atrium. Curiously, Ocean Terrace didn’t see much traffic on our cruise, but we think will develop a following with time.
The menu was longer than we anticipated, covering such fertile territory as fresh shucked oysters (3 for $6, or 6 for $10), oyster shooters with pepper and vodka, salsa and tequila, or a bloody mary ($3 each, or $7.50 for the flight), and sushi nigiri ($4.50 for 2 pieces). Another section was devoted to tapas, and included such fare as king crab cocktail, a chili and lime crab margarita, and Italian pollastrini sardines (all $6). We also found Balik brand smoked salmon from Russia ($15) and poached Maine lobster tail ($10), as well as a chilled sampler platter that seemed like the best value—$20 for two.
We opted for the ahi tuna poke ($4.50) and a sashimi trio of ahi tuna, yellowtale and salmon (6 pieces for $6). These were just fine, and promptly delivered. While the cocktail menu didn’t appear to include anything that wasn’t available elsewhere, we were happy to see a good list of chilled vodka available, along with Momokawa organic sake.
Located between Trident Grill and Prego Pizzeria, Mermaid’s Tail served as the drink station not only for those dining options, but also for the main pool and for Movies Under the Stars. It was often busy, but service was swift. The ship’s standard bar menu was available.
We’ve enjoyed Alfredo’s on other Princess ships, and we looked forward to the venue on Royal Princess, which head been heralded in advance as heaving earned a larger space as well as an expanded menu. Located next to the Piazza on Deck 6, this Naples-style pizza joint is open noon to midnight, and there’s no surcharge for dining here, making it a great option for a light or even full meal. Though not truly Neapolitan (no wood-burning ovens on cruise ships, please!), the open kitchen produces pizzas made-to-order, served in a 121-seat dining room lined with windows facing the sea. Unfortunately, service did not go smoothly on both our visits here, so our enthusiasm was somewhat muted.
The menu offers a half-dozen different pizzas, including the Romana (mozzarella, anchovies, capers and black olives), the vegetariana (mozzarella, grilled zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted bell pepper, mushrooms, red onion and avocado), and a capricciosa (mozzarella, artichoke, mushrooms, ham and black olives). There was even a Pizza Hawaiiana—but we won’t go there. We opted for one called the Royal Princess, which was a tasty combo of mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, Parma ham and shaved parmesan, delivered nice and hot, straight from the oven.
While the Alfredo’s menu on other Princess ships has little more than pizzas on offer, Royal Princess had greater variety. This included antipasto plates—vegetarian or with ham, salami, mortadella, bay shrimp and salad—a vegetarian minestrone soup, a mixed green salad, a rolled stuffed eggplant dish, a pasta, and desserts. On another visit we tried the vegetarian antipasto, a beautifully presented plate of mozzarella, grilled zucchini, tomatoes and basil—the simplicity was wonderful. We also dived into the pasta—agnolotti stuffed with veal, beef and parmesan, and bathed in a creamy veal and sage sauce. It was quite rich, but also delicious. For dessert we tried the tiramisu, which was acceptable.
Our only problem was with the service. Both times we ate at Alfredo’s less than half the tables were occupied. But servers on the first visit were spread thin, while the waiter on our second visit was under-trained and/or in over his head. Hopefully these issues were anomalies that have since been rectified. If so, the food is well worth a try.
The main bar serving the Horizon Court buffet, Outrigger is located on Deck 16 aft. In addition to the regular bar menu, variations on the Bloody Mary were on offer—a Highland Mary made with scotch, a Bloody Caesar made with vodka, etc. The Outrigger also had the distinction of being the first bar to open each morning, at 6 a.m.
The medical center was located on Deck 4, midship. It was staffed 9 a.m. to 12 noon (8 to 10 a.m. on port days) and 4:30 to 7 p.m.
Serving the Retreat Pool, this outdoor bar on Deck 17 was generally quieter and less bustling than the Outrigger Bar. The drink selection was much the same, with an iced bucket and bottle of Moët & Chandon at the ready, for those needing a bubbly splurge.
Trident Grill & Prego Pizzeria
Located next to the ship’s main Fountain Pool these venues flanking the Mermaid’s Tale bar delivered fair grilled items and pizzas. At Trident Grill we found burgers (as well as veggie burgers and grilled chicken), hot dogs (including bratwurst) and fries. The cheeseburger we tried here was competent but otherwise not special. We didn’t sample Prego’s pizzas on this cruise, but they didn’t appear to be nearly as good as the ones at Alfredo’s downstairs (admittedly, we favor Neapolitan style over New York pizzas). Cheese and pepperoni were always available, along with a daily special.
But here’s the twist: Another of the new dining venues introduced on Royal Princess is the Smokehouse-Style BBQ, available nightly from 6 to 11 p.m. We gave it a whirl one night and found a short menu starring orange molasses grilled chicken, beef chili, and North Carolina-style pulled pork (along with the daytime offerings of burgers and hot dogs). We’re not barbecue experts, but we weren’t much impressed with the pulled pork or the chili. It’s strictly informal—collect your own silverware and napkins and find a table—but at least there was no line.
Indoor areas of Royal Princess—including cabins and their balconies—were principally designated as non-smoking. The two exceptions to this policy were Churchill’s Lounge (a smoking room under the theater on Deck 6), and the casino, which seemed to be fairly well ventilated. On two nights of our cruise the casino was designated as non-smoking.
Smoking was permitted outside in designated areas only: Deck 7 starboard side aft, and Deck 17 starboard side aft.
SeaView Bar and SeaWalk
Located next to the Fountain Pool on Deck 16, the SeaView Bar on the port side is a cantilevered watering hole. The arced bulge has windows built into the floor that offer sea views 128 feet straight-down. This bar, open-air but completely shaded, was usually less busy than the nearby Mermaid’s Tale and, depending on the ship’s position, it was often a good spot for sunset libations.
Immediately opposite the bar, one of the unique attractions on Royal Princess is the SeaWalk, a curved walkway that also extends 28 feet out from the ship, and 128 feet above the sea. The industry first is glassed on the sides, and windows in the floor offer views straight down onto the waves. It’s a fun little curio, though maybe not the best hangout for those prone to vertigo. You’ll find the SeaWalk on the starboard side.
International Café & Gelato
The International Café sits at the base of the lobby atrium and, in addition to offering coffee and tea (see next page), it’s not hard to cobble together a light meal here, pretty much any time of day—it’s open 24 hours. The selection, stored in deli cases, evolves through the day, and there’s no charge for any of it. In the morning we found assorted croissants, muffins and donuts, apple turnovers, chocolate bear claws, pear puff pastries and more.
During the afternoon and into the evening there was chicken and cashew Waldorf salad, mushroom and spinach salad, shrimp salad, grilled vegetables, zucchini and bacon quiche, beef and Guinness pie, and various cheeses; small sandwiches included grilled chicken and pineapple with curry mayonnaise, roast pork with avocado and spicy cilantro, and barbecue beef and jack cheese. There were also plenty of sweet treats, such as pistachio pudding, chocolate cream puffs, mocha truffle tartlets, orange short cake etc.
Next door to the International Café was the Gelato café, where eight different flavors tempted us. A three-scoop dish was $2.75, including toppings such as brownies, peaches, M&Ms, etc. There were also alcoholic sundaes available for $6.50.
For information on Princess Cruises’ tipping and service charge policy, see here.
For information on Princess Cruises’ alcohol policy, see here.
For information on Princess Cruises’ loyalty program, see here.
Wine Maker’s Dinner & Chef’s Table Lumiere
On select nights of each cruise, there are two different special meal offerings conducted in the main dining rooms. One is the Chef’s Table Lumiere, priced $115 per person and limited to 12 guests. They dine in a private section of the Allegro Dining Room surrounded by “a curtain of fiber optic light.” We were all set to try it, but it was fully booked by the time we boarded Royal Princess (reservations are not possible in advance of embarkation). But we were able to sign up for the Wine Maker’s Dinner, a $40 event conducted in the Concerto and Symphony venues, within semi-private rooms enclosed by wine bottles.
The meal was not a literal wine-pairing experience—a different wine accompanying each course—but it did offer a wine-infused dinner that was substantially upgraded from the normal main dining room fare, well-served by two waiters and a wine steward, and accompanied two wines. In our case this was Donnafugata’s anthilia—a full-bodied, summery white wine from Sicily—and Spellbound’s petite sirah, a balanced choice from California. Neither wine was remotely top-shelf but glasses were poured as needed. Combined with the plussed-up menu and dedicated service, the dinner was the best we had aboard Royal Princess, and a fair value, too. The entire experience encompassed two-and-a-half hours.
The evening opened with a preprandial glass of Amadeus prosecco for toasting. The first course was a delicate amuse-bouche, a scallop perched atop a small mound of pea and mint purée. This was followed by a silky white bean veloute with flecks of chorizo, a couple morsels of lobster, and spiked with Calvados. The decadent third course was finished tableside—gnocchi stuffed with asiago cheese and bathed in a portobello mushroom cream sauce. For main course, we were served tournedos Rossini, a dish said to have been created for the Italian composer. This classic preparation of filet mignon was topped with pan fried foie gras and a sliver of black truffle. The dessert was terrific, a Napoleon of three mousses, with truffles and chocolate-covered strawberries for anyone who had room. Lemoncello and espresso were also offered.
If we had a criticism, and it’s a small one, it’s that the overall menu was a bit too rich for our taste—there were three courses infused with cream, plus the very hearty beef. Most of us didn’t finish the entrée. But it was still a special experience and we’d recommend it, particularly for foodies.
The wine bar on Royal Princess is located at the base of the Piazza and functions as a kind of lounge for the neighboring Sabatini’s. There were 32 wines available by the glass—many of them also featured on the ship’s standard wine list, which seemed to us to undercut the concept of a wine bar.
Most glasses were priced $7.25-$10, but for a little more we could sample Nebbiolo Valmaggiore Bruno Giacosa or Franciscan Magnificat. There were three choices with bubbles—at $17.50 per glass, Veuve Clicquot brut was the most expensive offering at Vines. Flights of wine were available—three 2-oz. pours for prices ranging $8.25-$10.25, served in Riedel stemware.
There were also Italian-themed cocktails like Negroni on the menu (the same offered at Sabatini’s) and, on request, an antipasto plate was brought to our table.
On Royal Princess, the Wheelhouse Bar has been comfortably reimagined as a lounge and waiting area for the Crown Grill. The décor is uniform in style, offering both venues more flexibility that they might otherwise have—it’s a good concept. Flights of whiskey were offered, along with the standard bar menu, and we found the bar quite busy in the evening, especially when a pianist was on duty. On our cruise, the guest pianist was definitely in love with the sound of his own fingers—it was Liberace-style schmaltz, and the crowd loved it.
Crab Shack & Fondues
On two nights of our cruise the aft port side corner of Horizon Court was set aside for a pair of dining concepts that are new to the Princess fleet, both carrying a $20 surcharge. On one night it was Crab Shack and we arrived to find the buffet venue’s tables covered in brown butcher paper with a “Crab Shack” logo splashed across, and crayons provided for drawing. This set the stage for an informal meal, a bit like a clambake, perhaps.
The appetizer for the evening was popcorn shrimp and hush puppies, which arrived with dipping sauces—tarter sauce and a “Bayou-style” rémoulade. The shrimp were succulent, piping hot and engulfed with tasty batter. This was followed by a robust Manhattan style clam chowder, which we enjoyed, and then our choice of four entrées. These included a clam and mussel pot, peel and eat shrimp in old bay, and the Bayou-style Mud Bug boil. We chose the Royal’s Mixed Steamer, a metal bowl loaded with snow crab legs, jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels and kielbasa, along with a half-ear of corn on the cob and a few new potatoes. It was a scrumptious and messy feast—fortunately a plastic bib was provided to protect our clothes. The meal finished with a cheesecake swirled with caramel—it was okay, but not as special as what had preceded.
On another night, this corner was converted into Fondues, and we won’t make you guess what was on offer. Starters included a chopped salad, a charcuterie platter, and a German potato pancake with cured salmon. We chose the latter, which was served with horseradish cream and sprigs of dill. A shot of kirschwasser—cherry brandy—arrived just before main course, which was a choice of three fondues. There was a traditional Swiss cheese fondue of gruyère and emmental, and another made with sparkling wine and served with bread and chicken morsels. We chose the Bavarian cheddar and beer fondue, which came with rye bread and slices of bratwurst. The dish was quite hearty (we could barely finish it), though it struck us as a bit ordinary, especially considering the up-charge. For dessert there was chocolate fondue served with marshmallows, strawberries and pineapple, or mandel knuspergeback—traditional German almond crisps our waiter recommended against. We opted for the Viennese apple strudel served with vanilla cream, which was marginally satisfying.
We had the same waiter on both evenings here, and he was a gem—upbeat and thoroughly attentive. And on both nights we were impressed that all hot food came out just so (having an open kitchen just a few feet from the tables helps). We fully enjoyed our Crab Shack meal and would recommend it, but the fondue meal was less interesting.
On Royal Princess, room service was available 24 hours, with no charge for delivery. The breakfast menu was continental (cold) except for an English muffin with egg, bacon and cheese, served hot in a foil wrapper. The balance of the menu was cold packaged cereals, yogurt, fruit, bread roll, croissant or Danish (with preserves), along with juices, coffee and tea. Breakfast was available any time from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m.
We ordered breakfast one morning using the card hung on the door the night before, requesting delivery for between 8 and 8:30 a.m. We were out on our balcony that morning enjoying the arrival into port, and apparently the delivery was attempted around 7:45 a.m. With no response to their knock, the server returned the order to the galley. A phone call came at 8 a.m. and we were asked if we wanted our order; the order was redelivered at 8:10 a.m. When we asked why the order arrived so early we were told there were many orders for 8 a.m. and they couldn’t deliver them all at once. Unfortunately, when breakfast arrived our egg sandwich was lukewarm—even the coffee (in a thermos) was no longer hot. There was no cream for the coffee (apparently, one has to check it off on the order form, though sugar was automatically delivered).
The all-day menu included three salads (mixed garden greens, Caesar with chicken strips and Chef’s), soup of the day, a half-dozen sandwiches ranging from vegetarian to club house, hot dog, hamburgers, croquet monsieur, lasagna and a Moroccan vegetable crock pot with pita. Desserts included flan, chocolate fudge cake and a chocolate chip cookie.
We ordered lunch shortly after noon one day and were asked to allow 20 to 30 minutes for delivery—the knock on the door came just 16 minutes later. Soup of the day was abondigas, and despite one little meatball it was tasty, faintly spicy (this was also the soup of the day at the buffet upstairs). Our vegetarian sandwich was thick with iceberg lettuce, but also a few thin slices of avocado; the bread had been toasted and the edges sliced off. We were offered a side of potato chips, French fries or coleslaw; we chose the latter but found it to be heavily lathered in mayo and didn’t finish it. Otherwise, it was a decent light meal, and it arrived exactly as ordered.
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