Cruise Review: Royal Princess

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(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

We are back from our glorious 10-day vacation on the Royal Princess, one of Princess’s newest, largest ships. This was our first time cruising Princess & we definitely came away with mixed feelings, but the benefits of unplugging & relaxing for ten days cannot be understated.

The Ship

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(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Royal Princess, which was christened by Princess Kate in 2013, is the largest ship we’ve ever been on & definitely felt like it. While it never felt crowded, the choppy layout of the ship made it confusing to navigate – a complaint many have had for both Royal & Regal Princess – not every floor allows you to walk from aft to forward through the ship. For instance, the only way to access the dining room on the 6th floor was through one set of elevators/stairs, which could only be accessed from the 7th floor (so if you were on the 5th floor Atrium, you had to go up to the 7th floor, just to go back down) – confusing, right? You have to go up to go down.

Much has been made of the lack of a mid-ship staircase on this ship – there are only elevators mid-ship from floors 7 – 17 – but we didn’t find it to be a huge problem. We just walked forward or aft to the stairs, or waited for a mid-ship elevator. But if you’re mobility challenged, I can see how the small crowded elevators are definitely frustrating.

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Even though the ship is only three years old, it’s starting to show a bit of wear & tear in places, which surprised us. When she goes into dry dock later this year, I’m hoping they hit her with a good coat of paint, inside & out. Overall, Royal Princess has very traditional streamliner decor, with lots of muted neutrals & no tacky cruise ship decor. The exception to this was our dining room, Alegro, which was very dark & featured a decor which B equated to Ruby Tuesday. The atrium, always a central gathering place on a cruise ship, was beautiful & always crowded with passengers enjoying the live music (it was also oddly warm some evenings…).

princess atrium

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Royal Princess features a number of activities throughout the sea days, but they’re definitely geared toward their older crowd of passengers (think lots of trivia & bingo). Princess has become famous for their giant movie screen on the pool deck – known as Movies Under the Stars or MUTS. Every evening, they played current movies (including several recent Oscar winners), but the timing never seemed to work for us because of our dinner seating (we would have had to see the show that started at 10:15pm). I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to enjoy this unique feature of the ship. We did enjoy stargazing one night – an activity offered through their partnership with Discovery Channel – but it could have been better done with a crew member who actually had studied up, instead of just reading off a piece of paper. We continued our streak of not seeing cruise ship production shows in the theater, but did enjoy all the live bands which played nightly around the ship.
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Skywalk is a unique feature on the pool deck
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

The pool deck was busy during sea days (they always are on a Caribbean cruise), but there seemed to be ample lounge chairs. The biggest problem was that chairs in the shade came at an absolute premium (there were about two dozen of them near the adult-only pool), so we didn’t really sit out on the pool deck much. The Sanctuary area in the very front of the ship offered plenty of shade, but I wasn’t going to pay extra just to have a lounge chair in the shade. Another odd thing about the ship is that all the pools were relatively deep. I’m a little under average height for a women (5’4″), but the shallowest pool was 4’11”, which made it almost over my head, & one pool started at 6′. Definitely not kid-friendly.
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(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

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(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

We found ourselves spending a lot of time on deck 16 aft – it kind of became “our spot” – largely because it was in the shade & featured comfortable outdoor couches to relax on. The area never seemed crowded & was a great place to sit & read or to eat. It definitely felt like an underutilized secret of the ship & became our spot to hang out for sail away (we normally like standing at the front of the ship, but the layout means there aren’t any good views from the front).
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Aft 16 relaxing
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

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Aft 16 sail away view
(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

A highlight of the voyage was the awesome crew. Every person we encountered was very friendly, making eye contact, smiling & saying hello. Our cabin steward, Maynard, was great, kept our room super tidy & kept us entertained with towel animals on a daily basis. We also got the opportunity to tour the Bridge & all the officers were nice and personable. Oddly, I think we only saw the Cruise Director once, but his staff was certainly out & about & visible.

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(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

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(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

You might be familiar with Princess as the cruise line on the 1970s & 80s show The Love Boat. The line, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, is proud of their Love Boat heritage. Actually, no, they LOVE their Love Boat heritage: the cast are the godparents of their newest ship, Regal Princess, & their ships feature all nine seasons of Love Boat available on-demand on stateroom TVs. We got into the habit of watching an episode each evening before bed & I’m not ashamed to say that I wish I had been born 10 years earlier so I could’ve appreciated this show in its hay-day.

Our Stateroom

Our stateroom, Aloha 602, definitely felt like the smallest we’ve ever had on a cruise, yet was the same class of service as we usually select (a standard veranda). We were surprised that, square footage wise, it is actually bigger than the Celebrity ships we’ve cruised on. The layout just stunk – there seems to be a lot of wasted space in the closet area & we really missed the little couch which is standard on Celebrity Solstice-class balcony rooms.
princess cabin

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Speaking of the balcony, the balcony space was so narrow we had to sit facing each other, instead of facing out. In addition, the table on the balcony was so small that we felt like we couldn’t really eat out there (something we normally love). We always book a balcony stateroom, but probably spent the least amount of time on the balcony this cruise than any previous voyage. Princess offers something that sounds awesome called Ultimate Balcony Dining (a lobster dinner by candlelight on your balcony), but I can’t image this working on a standard balcony.
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The bathroom was absolutely tiny & definitely lacked the enclosed storage & nice finishes we’ve gotten spoiled with on Celebrity (the only storage was just open shelves). It was the most disappointing part of our room & felt like a much lower class of bathroom than what we’re used to.
On the positive side, the room had nice, neutral decor & a brand new flat screen TV hanging on the wall (very handy for watching Love Boat!). The bed & linens were super comfortable & we both slept well, except for two rough nights at sea. We strategically chose our cabin location, based on the lack of mid-ship stairs, & were further after than we ever have been before. But this meant that we could just walk to the aft elevators or stairs, or walk forward on our floor to the forward stairs (especially helpful on port days).
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(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

One evening, we returned to our room after dinner & there was a strong petroleum smell in the room – as if we were sitting in a gas station. We called the passenger services desk & within 5 minutes the night manager & a maintenance engineer appeared. They determined it had to do with the location of our cabin & the direction the wind was blowing the chimney smoke from the ship – the smoke was literally coming through our room’s HVAC system. Within 10 minutes, they were able to make an adjustment &, after opening our balcony door, the room aired out & we were fine. What impressed me about their entire situation was the speed which it was dealt with (even late at night) & the number of people who followed up to ensure we were ok (even offering another room to sleep in that night & then following up again the next day). I’m glad we called & wondered if others around us were suffering through the smell for no reason…

Dining

Ok, I’ll finally admit it: traditional dining is dead. Our first few cruises, we had such great tables & really enjoyed meeting other people, sharing about our day & socializing. But the last few cruises, we’ve ended up sitting by ourselves. Our table on this cruise, the second seating for traditional dining, was very awkward: off the main dining room, in a small side room & in the back corner. We were at a table for four with a table for four next to us & were the only people at both tables throughout the entire cruise – it was so isolating. We mentioned to the Head Waiter on the second night that we’d like to sit with other people & he literally shrugged his shoulders & told us there was nothing he could do. We were sad to watch the other tables of passengers around us having such a good time & we felt like we actually dreaded going to dinner because it was such a lonely experience. So from now on, we’ll just be doing anytime dining & making reservations – we heard from many people that this went very well for them.

The food itself was very hit-or-miss: I sent a dinner entree back one night because it was so bad & B should have one other night. But then we also had things we loved, especially fresh fish, Greek salad, mahi mahi & Princess’ famous fettuccine alfredo (try the appetizer portion). The bread basket was hit or miss, as were the desserts (except the Princess Love Boat Dream, which was a dreamy chocolate mousse).

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Our waiter & junior waiter were kind, but very business-like &  definitely rushed. I understand we were seeing them at the end of their 12 hour day, so it’s understandable they weren’t more friendly, but we often felt rushed through the meal (we were usually at least one course ahead of all the tables around us). On the positive side, they did not push drinks or dessert on us, something we’ve dealt with in the past (we tend to only eat dessert when it’s really something we want & hardly ever drink from the bar at dinner).

Outside the dining room, Princess hosted us one night at Crown Grill & it was fantastic. I wish the restaurant was more closed off from the bar next to it, to create a more intimate feeling, but the food & the service was excellent. Our surf & turf were both prepared to perfection & the dessert sampler was a highlight of the entire cruise. In addition, our waiter Pierre, recommended an excellent bottle of Pinot Noir. One unique feature of Crown Grill is there specialized salts, which are served on the side & make a unique dipping “sauce” for your steak.
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(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

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(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Other dining facilities on the ship include:
  • the International Cafe, a coffee shop on the 5th floor, which offered espresso drinks & a killer breakfast sandwich (the best hidden breakfast secret on the ship!). They also offered a light lunch & snacks throughout the day & seemed to be a very underutilized area of the ship. If you just want a sandwich for lunch, this was the place to go.
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  • Alfrado’s, the ship’s pizza restaurant. Princess claims to have the best pizza at sea & I would absolutely agree with their claim. We had lunch there on the first day right after we got on board & the pizza was excellent. Alfrado’s never seemed very crowded & I wonder if a lot of passengers think there’s an extra charge to eat there (there’s not, so go enjoy!). We also had a slice of pizza on the pool deck one afternoon & it was good, although definitely not as good as Alfrado’s.
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(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

  • the Horizon Cafe & Bistro, Princess’ buffet restaurant, was better than many other cruises we’ve been on, both in offerings & organization. We enjoyed many of the international offerings (Indian, Thai), but we really missed our daily sushi, which was always our splurge on Celebrity.
  • afternoon tea: Princess offers two afternoon tea experiences. The Royal Afternoon Tea was $10 per person served in the Atrium & includes a large tower of sweet & savory treats & three different types of tea (along with very knowledgable staff). The regular afternoon tea is served in the dining room with similar food, but just one tea option.
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A positive regarding bar service on the ship: the waitstaff was ample, but never pushy  – I don’t think I was ever asked if I wanted a drink anywhere on the ship, but had no problem finding someone when I did want to order. The drink prices were much lower than other cruises (especially Celebrity), which was nice. We didn’t drink much, but $8 for a glass of wine seemed like a totally fair price point (& is way lower than we’re used to paying at home!).

Ports

We loved the ports on this itinerary, which was the primary reason why we booked this cruise. We visited four new places (Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada & Princess Cays) & two places we’ve been to previously (Dominica, St. Thomas). B loved Aruba, I loved Bonaire, we both continue to love Dominica. With the exception of Dominica, when our tour was rained out, we did all independent excursions, all of which were great. I can’t wait to share more about each of them.
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Fellow Cruisers

Our fellow passengers were definitely older & not 50s older but 80s older. This definitely impacted the vibe on the ship. Our previous 10-day cruise on Celebrity also had a number of older passengers – it’s somewhat to be expected, as not many young people can take that much time off of work. Honestly, I haven’t booked Princess previously because I perceived it as the “old person’s cruise line” – which is such a gross generalization it makes me sad to write – but I was right. We did meet a few nice couples, mostly on our excursions, & enjoyed chatting with them around the ship. We also had a few uncomfortable, judgmental conversations with older passengers who couldn’t understand why we don’t have kids & why I have a career.

Spa

We had a couples massage in the Sanctuary on our second sea day, which was excellent. Not only was the massage itself good, it was a neat experience to be able to hear the waves of the ship as I fell into a deep state of relaxation. Our al fresco massage included time to relax in The Sanctuary & with this experience, we finally truly felt relaxed & on vacation. I also had a pedicure on our last sea day & it was well done (still going strong 10 days later) & relaxing. I thought the spa prices were pretty fair & comparable to any big city (in fact, my pedi was only $10 more than what I pay at home).

Embarkation/Disembarkation

We got an email the day before we left that the ship would be returning to Ft. Lauderdale late from their previous sailing, but we were only an hour delayed getting on board. Even though they were late arriving, embarkation was super easy &, in an industry first, we loved being able to go right to our room when we got on board (rather than having to kill time on deck).
Disembarkation was also very smooth. Rather than being late, we were actually off the ship 30 minutes earlier than we had planned (definitely a first)! A friend picked us up & the whole process was very smooth & easy, as it always is at Port Everglades.
A note if you’re cruising in & out of Port Everglades & have Global Entry: bring your cards! The Global Entry line wasn’t well marked, but once we showed our cards, we were moved to the front of the line. If we hadn’t had our cards, we would have had to wait in line. Make sure to fill out your paper customs form, though, as they do not have the kiosks at the port (we had thrown ours out & had to fill it out at the last minute).

Overall Impressions of Princess

I feel like I’ve written a lot of negative things, but we really did enjoy it! It was such a nice, refreshing break. It’s amazing the mental break that comes from not checking work email for 10 days. I would cruise Princess again, but likely only with B’s family or in Alaska. We spent much of the cruise comparing our previous experience on Celebrity & decided that Celebrity is definitely a bit nicer across the board. We’ll likely stick with them in the future; however, since we’ve done most of the Caribbean islands where the large ships cruise to, we might take a break from cruising for a while. Viking Ocean Cruises is breaking into the Caribbean next year & their itinerary looks perfect (lots of small islands). Royal was the largest ship we’ve been on & I don’t see us going on a ship larger than her (sorry, Oasis).
We learned on this cruise that we definitely do much better with port-heavy itineraries (we were crawling the walls after two days at sea by the time we got to Aruba), but I did read three books, so perhaps I can’t complain! This cruise was a bit unusual with the last day being at Princess Cays instead of at sea – I think I like being at sea better.
Overall, a cruise vacation is still an incredible bang for your buck & a great way to unplug, unwind & only unpack once. They work well for us because we can be as active as we want – or as lazy as we want. I’ll leave you this photo, from one of the elevators, which all had great travel quotes on the floor:
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(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Know if you go….
– We were a little bummed about having to do laundry on vacation, but it was super easy! Each floor has a self-serve laundry room & ours happened to be right by our room. This meant we could throw a load of wash in & hang out in our room until it was time to put it in the dryer. Washer & dryer cycles were $3 each & laundry soap was $1.75 per packet. This all could be purchased via tokens in the laundry room. $7 for self-service laundry vs $20 for sending our clothes out? I’ll take it!

– Princess gave me their smallest wifi package (110 minutes) so that I could share our trip on social media (check out the Storify here!), but the Internet connection on the ship was so bad, it was almost useless! There was virtually no signal in most of the popular public places, like the atrium, & the signal was pretty bad in our room (but my guess is that it fluctuates room by room). It took, on average, about 5 minutes to send a pre-written tweet & Instagram post. I saw a few people around the ship who actually had laptops up working & I felt bad for them!

– I love checking out the ship’s library, but this one was pretty sparse. It seemed to get a little better as the cruise went on (perhaps people were reading books & leaving them?) & I grabbed The Girl on the Train one morning & devoured it that day. Princess has a book club for each cruise (unfortunately, I missed the book distribution & had downloaded the wrong book onto my Kindle!), which would have been fun to participate in.

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About christina

Christina is a 30-something D.I.N.K. travel writer & photographer who travels the world often wedged into the middle seat. Follow her on Twitter & Facebook.

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7 Responses to Cruise Review: Royal Princess

  1. Justin March 26, 2016 at 8:54 am #

    Wow! The food really looks fantastic. Impressive to think of the scale at which they must prepare these fancy dishes. Creating thousands of individual desserts…day after day… It just blows me away to think of it. Excellent photos.

    • christina March 26, 2016 at 9:01 am #

      Agreed! Can you imagine making dessert for 3,000 people?

  2. Colleen @AdlibTraveller March 29, 2016 at 7:55 pm #

    This looks like a fab ship! So many things to do and such a range of experiences. Your room was really impressive, brilliant photos.

  3. Vanessa March 30, 2016 at 11:22 am #

    Your state room is just gorgeous! I somehow thought they’d be cramped and kinda lame but they look so swank and cool. And the food looks incredible too – all those desserts!

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