|The main pool deck with stage // All photos by Susan J. Young|
If a godmother is the person who assures a baby has a promising future, then Royal Princess, Princess Cruises’ (www.princess.com) newest ship, is well blessed.
With pomp, circumstance and royal fanfare, the Duchess of Cambridge (better known to most Americans as Kate Middleton, Prince William’s wife) christened the new 3,600-passenger ship in Southampton last week.
“Watching Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, christen the Royal Princess was very special,” acknowledged Van Anderson, co-president, Avoya Travel/American Express (www.avoya.com). “Her poise and elegance confirmed Kate was the perfect choice by Princess for its also very elegant and beautiful new ship.”
Anderson says guests have many things to enjoy while onboard Royal Princess including high-quality, well-presented food, a stand-out Piazza with many interesting meeting areas and more. “Overall it is very elegant,” he says.
Travel Agent also spent five nights onboard the ship last week. In our opinion, this is very much a classic Princess vessel, just bigger and better than other ships in the fleet.
Popular brand elements that loyal guests of the line love remain – such as the dark-toned, clubby Wheelhouse Bar and the Tuscan-style alternative dining restaurant, Sabatini’s.
But Royal Princess also has enhanced spaces, new features and new onboard experiences. Travel Agent has picked our top Wow Factor in three categories - Best Design/Decor, Best New Feature and Best New Experience.
Wow Factor - Design/Decor: The three-level Grand Atrium (also called the Piazza) is a masterpiece of light, airiness and elegant design.
It’s 50 percent larger than any atrium or any other Princess ship and spans the full beam of the ship.
This space conjurs up a feeling of ocean cruising’s Golden Age when elegant liners plied the North Atlantic and other long-haul routes around the world.
Two spiral marble staircases glow with light and descend into water pools below. The entire space feels "back-lit" and glowing.
Beyond the elegant design, the soft color palette is welcoming with warm gold, cream and tan tones that flow through the atrium’s three levels. Geometric patterns and smooth flowing lines create a strong - yet calming - visual appeal.
Thankfully, it also works for what the line intended – for the Grand Atrium to serve as the ship's vibrant social hub.
Don't expect to find either the shore desk or the passenger services desk in the atrium. Those service-focused stations are just steps away, though, in a mini-piazza adjacent to Sabatini’s.
Instead, the Grand Atrium is the place to converse with friends, enjoy fine wine, have a cappucino, read a good book, meet friend pre-dinner, savor sushi or seafood, and enjoy the “live” music.
Typically, that entertainment might be a piano player or a string quartet, music that’s soft and laid back.
Some musical selections were classical, others what might be called “elevator music” or easy listening.
However, entertainers showed they could adapt. During our recent visit, a guest requested a song and presto, the string quartet played the theme song from “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Guests gravitate to the Grand Atrium to relax, stroll, people watch or check out the venues that ring the space.
The Wi-Fi signal was strong here, so many guests enjoyed a latte while checking email and messages on a personal electronic device, tablet or laptop.
On Deck 5, the International Café was packed much of the voyage. Light fare includes complimentary breakfast pastries or an English muffin with eggs, cheese and bacon.
There are also paninis, sandwiches, Mexican tortas and other delicacies available at no charge 24 hours a day. Lattes, espressos, cappuccinos and other drinks carry a charge.
There are a few tables directly in front of the café, but plenty of comfortable seating around the Grand Atrium as well.
Across the atrium on Deck 5 is Gelato, a new space with Italian ice cream. Actually, there are differences between what Americans call ice cream and European-style gelato.
What's the difference? Gelato has less fat content, is churned at a slower speed and thus has less air. The taste is typically creamier and smoother.
Princess' Gelato shop served up more than a dozen flavors, everything from mint chocolate chip to dulce de leche. Some guests loved Gelato, others said it wasn’t quite as traditionally Italian as they’d like.
Gelato is housed in a cute space with café tables, both inside and immediately outside. Guests walk in, peruse the flavors and order, or can sit and enjoy table service.
While fees apply for the Gelato treats, guests do have a no cost option for ice cream. They can simply head to Deck 16's Swirls for complimentary soft serve ice cream.
Also on Deck 5 in the Grand Atrium is Vines, a popular space for wine tasting and drinks with friends before dinner. On this ship, the line appropriately located Vines adjacent to Sabatini’s, which is a nice pairing.
Moving up to the atrium’s Deck 6 space, passengers will find Alfredo’s, which serves fresh pizza slices. Another pizzeria is on Deck 16.
This deck is also home to Bellini’s, a new bar, as well as the large Photo and Video Gallery, where guests find photos based on face recognition technology.
Another new space is Ocean Terrace, a seafood and sushi bar. One option is the gin and juniper berry cured salmon with shaved fennel salad and dill sprig for $4.50.
Want to sample more? A chilled seafood sampler for two including pieces of lobster, crab, oyster, tuna and salmon is $20.
Adjacent is the line’s popular Crooners Bar, with a large wall photo of Frank Sinatra and Rat Pack décor.
One fun feature is "The Bond Collection," a martini menu that James Bond would love. All drinks in this 007 collection carry such names as Quantum of Solace, The Vespa and From Russia with Love.
The offerings are $7.95 each. Those who have watched the movie "Skyfall" on their in-stateroom television system (It's free to view as are all the movies there) might head to Crooners and order "Skyfall," a martini that's a mix of Stolichnaya, Triple Sec and Blue Curacao.
Across the atrium is Facets, a fine jewelry shopping venue, along with the Captain’s Circle space and the Future Cruise Center; visit the latter simply to see the magnificent wall art depicting Royal Princess.
Wow Factor - Best Razzle-Dazzle New Feature: In today’s cruise world, cruise lines try to outdo each other – with everything from zip lining to ice bars.
Princess isn’t generally known as a razzle-dazzle line with a zillion features that the masses love.
Rather, it’s a well-rounded premium product that has its own personality. That said, we’re pleased to see the line has added some new features that create more buzz for the line and entice new guests onboard.
The top razzle-dazzle feature on this ship is definitely the glass-enclosed, glass-floored SeaWalk on Deck 16.
Towering 160 feet above the water, it’s probably not a feature guests book for, but it’s definitely one they’ll enjoy viewing – if not traversing. SeaWalk extends out 28 feet from the ship’s starboard side on Deck 16.
Alan Buckelew, the line’s president and CEO, said it best when he quipped in an onboard press briefing that his relatives “are terrified” of it.
We observed guests stepping on the clear glass center section, looking down and then tip-toeing over to the side (as though the floor would break) to walk on what they considered a less risky surface.
One guest said to me: “Well it’s probably exactly the same glass but it makes me feel better to walk over on the side.” Guests of all ages seemed to love it, though. Many took photos of themselves “surviving” the walk.
A similar glass floored area curves around the SeaView bar on the opposite side of the ship.
One factor? If you’re booking a balcony cabin and you like your privacy, you might not want to book cabins directly under the SeaWalk or SeaView Bar; that’s because the folks frequenting both venues can look either out or down to view people on their balconies.
But if you love to people watch, then having a balcony under the SeaWalk might be the perfect choice. Just look up and get a kick out of the people’s antics on the glass walkway.
We had to mention a "second place" razzle-dazzle new feature as well. It's the entire pool deck area on Deck 16.
First, it’s Princess’ largest pool ever, and in the center is a platform that’s an entertainment spot for sailaway parties – during our cruise, the cruise director welcomed guests up on the center stage to “Twist and Shout” and “Rock around the Clock.”
However, at night, this space is transformed and used for a spectacular new water and light show. It’s unlike anything at sea.
Princess told us that it’s now fine-tuning the lighting so any entertainers show up a bit better when the show is under way.
Also towering above the aft end of the pool deck area is the Movies Under the Stars screen, Princess’ largest ever. Loungers with maroon cushions and matching pillows help make the movie-viewing experience a comfortable one.
Wow Factor – Best New Experience: Super Tuscan wines that are blendings of various grape varieties are a hot commodity in many luxury restaurants and hotels worldwide. Now, Princess has debuted "Super Tuscan Tastings," a new wine experience in Sabatini's.
In fact, about $1 million of Super Tuscan wines are displayed in a towering, enclosed wine case in the middle of Sabatini's. Princess officials quip that only the maître d’ has the key.
Among the Super Tuscan wines on display are Sassicaia, Tignanello, Ornellaia, Solaia and Masseto, to name a few.
In the new wine event, guests sit down in the restaurant to pairings of wine and small Sabatini's bites. Cost is $40 per person for a tasting of five Super Tuscan wines plus a glass of Proseco to start.
On our sailing, these tasty bites included a savory porcini mushroom ravioli, a lamp chop, a thin slice of duck and chicken with polenta.
It’s actually a bargain if you are familiar with the wines, which can run $40 a glass in many land-based venues.
Royal Princess is a lovely new jewel in the Princess crown. Princess repeat guests should like the new ship, based on comments we heard while onboard from those guests.
Most importantly, though, this ship should help broaden the line's appeal in the marketplace. A new audience will help Princess sail confidently into the future, as it continues to evolve far beyond "The Love Boat."