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.
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.
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…).
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.
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.
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).
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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Overall Impressions of Princess
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.