This is a beautiful ship. The spiral staircases, sweeping balconies, and crystal accents make for a regal atmosphere. The atrium, now a grand piazza, glows with silver and golds. The aroma of newness swirls in every corridor. Your first moments aboard are fresh and inspiring. This brand new vessel has all the amenities that a Princess ship should have with several modifications, taking the cruise experience to a new level. Our maiden Iberian voyage aboard the Royal Princess was delightful.
The Horizon Court is no longer a simple buffet. Which also means, you will probably never stand in a food line again. Split into the Horizon Court and the Horizon Bistro, this food pavilion is now broken up into sections and greatly expanded. There are a variety of stations to please your palate. There is a salad station, a sandwich counter, a pasta and hot meal row, and a very large pastry shop. There are helpers on hand to carve fresh meats and tend to your culinary needs. You can build your own salad or stop by the station with freshly tossed mixed greens. You can layer meats on some bread or choose a sandwich already crafted. Just as the food is reorganized, so is the seating. You can sit at a good old fashioned table by the window or you can sit at a pub-height table with bar stools. And the seating areas have expanded, so gone are the days when you couldn’t find a spot at the busy lunch hour.
Another new food option I enjoyed was Alfredo’s Pizzeria. Conveniently located off of the piazza, this venue offers soups, salad, and freshly made personal pizzas. My pizza was so tasty, I found it very difficult to not devour the whole thing. In fact, I am pretty sure I cleaned my plate. I mentioned in a previous article that I love traditional dining with Princess and I still do. But on a night where you just want something easy without the fuss of four courses, this is a great option.
On the lowest level of the piazza is the gelateria. This new dessert spot offers several fresh gelatos and I always saw people buzzing around it. This comes with an extra fee. We thought about trying it, but it seemed silly when dessert comes with your dinner. Also, we ended up enjoying gelato while strolling the village streets of Gibraltar. Can’t beat that authentic experience.
Enough about food. Let’s talk fun. There is no longer an indoor pool, but the outdoor pool is larger and includes a new fountain deck. Located between two pool spaces, this fountain display allows for a nighttime show synchronized with moving music. There was a Latin show (this included the Princess dancers) and there was a very cool James Bond montage. The pool deck also includes the much-anticipated sea walks. On each side of the ship, there is a walkway that extends beyond the edge of the boat. The windows embedded in the walk allow you to see the ocean below as well as peak into the many balcony spaces. Friendly tip: Do not book a room under the sea walk if you don’t want fellow passengers peering down at you in your bathrobe.
Above the pool deck is the jogging track. The track now includes a variety of equipment so you can do a little strength training with your run. The golf green and basketball court are nearby as well as an indoor shooting simulator.
Near the sports deck is the Platinum Studio. The Platinum Studio is fine photography Princess-style. Much like the professional photos taken on the main decks at night, there is no sitting fee. But this is not a quick 5-minutes session with crowds passing by. First, you need to make an appointment. Then, you meet your photographer in the studio sitting room. Here you discuss any special shots. You progress into the state-of-the-art dark studio with loads of special lighting and get started. Our session was probably about 20 minutes. You set up a time to meet again to review the photos, potentially the next day. In their comfortable sitting room, you get see your smiles on display. All photos are black and white, mounted on a sturdy foam board. Photos start at $175 for an 8”x 10”. You can choose ala carte or go for their packages. While this is not a cheap venture, it’s free to test it out and you probably won’t be disappointed. Their work is amazing. You’ll want to decorate your house with these elegant family portraits. Seriously.
If you are looking for ways to unwind, you have a couple of options. The Sanctuary is an outdoor lounge on the upper decks with built-in serenity. This area is technically not new to Princess, but the space is expanded and with more service. Private VIP cabanas, couches, and large lounge chairs afford you several opportunities to chill out. Serenity Stewards are on-hand to provide you with healthy drinks and bites, as well as chilled face towels, atomizers, MP3 players with soothing playlists, and noise-cancelling headphones. You can also have an outdoor massage. $10 gets you a half-day in this quiet space. Because this is an outdoor venue on the upper decks, you will want to wait until you sail into warm weather. When we left Southampton, the climate was not ideal until we got closer to the Mediterranean Sea.
The other spot to unwind is the Enclave. New to Princess, this is located in the Lotus Spa. The dimly-lit indoor space has its own warm climate. There is a large hydro-therapy pool in which to soak, water beds in which to sink, and heated tile chairs in which to lounge. There are also saunas, steam rooms, aromatherapy showers, and a rain shower. A week-long pass will cost you approximately $150 and they issue a limited number of them. If you want this experience, go here first and get your ticket to exclusive relaxation. While I found this space appealing, the room was actually too warm for me. Humid even. Other ‘Grand’ class ships have thermal suites on a much smaller scale and they are usually quite comfortable. On our tour, however, I found myself sweating in an uncomfortable way. I couldn’t see myself hanging out here long, so the cost was not worth it for me. Our tablemates used the space daily and loved it.
Skywalker’s out-of-the-way nightclub has been replaced by Club 6. This smaller venue attempts the same hip vibe and is located strategically near the Princess Theater. See a show first, then go for drinks and dancing. Makes sense. We hung out there one night and it never really got going. I liked Skywalker’s, especially with its killer view above the boat, but it too was plagued with quiet nights. One exception was a cruise we took during Spring Break. Scantily-clad college kids always change the game. My suggestion for fun after-hours is Crooner’s. It’s not new to Princess, but always has great martinis (oh, that Nutty Irishman!) and a lively piano-bar vibe. Our entertainer on this voyage was Kory Simon. Young, talented, easy on the eyes, and very engaging, this guy kept Crooner’s full every night. There were sing-a-longs, themed nights, and he even let people “guest star” during his show. Once he even called me out for not participating. He said something like, ‘I see you back there, red!’ Sometimes I prefer to be a spectator. He also ad-libbed words, often making the verse more per-verse. Good times. By the way, the piano Kory used was hand-painted by artist, Michael Godard.
Being a new ship on its first true voyage, there were a few little quirks. Not everything was 100% complete. We noticed decorative trim that was missing, a deck list in an elevator that was taped to the wall, and the new outdoor fountain failed to perform one night. We sat shivering in the cool Atlantic air while they attempted to make the fountain function. Later in the cruise, it came to life. One elevator near the sports deck was not finished and a crew worked on it during the sailing. Some of the normal supplies were waiting at the shipyard in Barcelona. This included the orthopedic pillows and some of their medical provisions. One woman fell during a tour and needed a tetanus shot. She was informed they didn’t have them yet and needed to find a medical center while docked in Spain.
Aside from the quirks, this maiden voyage did not have all the fanfare that we expected. During a short preview cruise for travel professionals, they had an over-the-top celebration with fireworks and flourish. By the time we got to the ship, it was as if this was any other cruise. Granted, there was an excitement among the passengers that was tangible, but if I didn’t know this was a maiden voyage, there weren’t any celebrations that told me otherwise. My husband took the maiden voyage on the Carnival Celebration years ago. Passengers all received commemorative gifts, free drinks all day on the first day, floral arrangements in every room, a big party every night, and special midnight buffets in the center of the ship. With that experience in the back of his mind, he felt a little disappointed with the execution of this voyage. We still had a wonderful time, but we won’t fight for a spot on a Princess maiden crossing again.
I love so many things about the Princess Cruises product that I am truly biased. Whenever someone mentions taking a cruise and asks advice, I steer them towards the sea witch. This maiden voyage took all those things I adore about Princess and added extra happy layers. For me, the Royal Princess is an easy recommendation. If you want a classy, well-planned ship with a variety of stylish upgrades, you have found your next floating hotel. It also has great itineraries including Portugal, Spain, Gibraltar, and Italy. Besides, I am not just some travel geek talking off the cuff. On our last night aboard, I got a little note from the Captain’s Circle. I am now an Elite Member. This means I have cruised with Princess 16 times or sailed over 150 days. It also means discounts, priority lines, and I will never do my own laundry again. Among other perks. I don’t know it all, but I know a few things about Princess. As for the Royal Princess, take a note from the Duchess of Cambridge (photo courtesy of Princess Cruises). Get some champagne and have a smash!
If you would like more information about the Princess product, check out my previous article at https://siteswithstacey.com/2013/02/26/princess-cruises/.