ROYAL PRINCESS - A Different Perspective
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Royal princess 11/10/2013 - a set on Flickr
November 10, 2013
7-Night Eastern Caribbean
Princess Cruises is probably the most consistent cruise line in the business. When you sail on Princess you pretty much know exactly what to expect. The vast majority of their ships are decorated and laid out exactly the same, and the food, service, and entertainment are generally decent. This can be a great thing for Princess regulars that like the familiar and want more of the same. I'm not one of them. In fact I like just the opposite. I like to change it up and experience new things, which is why I enjoy cruising on as many cruise lines and ships as I can. I especially enjoy prototype new builds and ROYAL PRINCESS was high on the list of new designs to experience. My history with Princess dates back to the late 80's so I have seen the line essentially transform from a premium/luxury line with small ships to the mega mass-market ships that Princess employs today. As of late I've been sailing more frequently on lines like Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Cunard over Princess simply because I have become somewhat bored with Princess. The same old design simply doesn't excite me and frankly the pastel decor that Princess loves to use seems dated. I usually do a bit of research prior to any cruise, just to get the feel of how a ship is being received. Generally speaking, Princess regulars do not seem very pleased with ROYAL PRINCESS. She is a departure from what they are used to, and there are a lot of features that Princess regulars enjoy that are lacking on ROYAL PRINCESS (RP). Of course there are plenty of new features to make up for them! For me ROYAL PRINCESS was a breath of fresh air, and perhaps a reason to return to Princess and enjoy additional cruises on the Royal or her new sister ship the REGAL PRINCESS. It would certainly be nice to take advantage of my new Elite status with Princess!
Those of you not familiar with Princess might be wondering what all the fuss is about with ROYAL PRINCESS and why so many Princess regulars are disappointed with the ship. Due to the design of RP some traditional features of past Princess ships are missing. Some examples include a wrap-around Promenade Deck, an aft pool, the Explorers Lounge, an observation lounge, larger balconies, a midship staircase, and a glass enclosed pool. In addition the layout of RP has some distinct differences although it's easy to see she is an evolution of the Grand Class ships. I have to say none of the omissions from the Grand Class ships bothered me or impacted my experience in a negative way (except one). Having sailed a variety of cruise lines, the design of RP follows suit with several new builds of competing cruise lines most of which I quite enjoy. There is one aspect about RP that I do consider a design flaw, and best to get this out of the way now and concentrate on the positive moving forward. I'm speaking of the elevators and the lack of a midship staircase above Deck 7. I've sailed on over 100 cruises and on a great variety of ships, and I've never experienced elevators as packed, slow, and as poorly programmed as those on ROYAL PRINCESS. It's really a shame as these elevators impact almost every passenger on the ship, and they tarnish what is otherwise a truly beautiful vessel that is very nicely run. The main issue with the elevators is that there are simply not enough of them, but the analyst in me decided to dig a little deeper. There are 14 elevators for 3560 passengers based on double occupancy. That equates to a ratio of 254 passengers for each elevator (254:1). Compare this to some of the other largest ships sailing today. RUBY PRINCESS 220:1. QM2 119:1. OASIS OF THE SEAS 225:1. CELEBRITY ECLIPSE 237:1. MSC FANTASIA 233:1. NORWEGIAN BREAKAWAY 251:1. DISNEY DREAM 178:1. As you can see, ROYAL PRINCESS actually has the worst ratio of any large ship sailing today. Unfortunately the ratio is only part of the problem. The way the elevators are programmed in the forward and aft sections compound the issue. The two port elevators are controlled by one call button, and the same with the two starboard elevators. Of course everyone pushes both call buttons and enters the first elevator that arrives (if is is not full). This means another elevator will stop on the other side even if there is no one to board since the call button was previously activated. Basically every elevator becomes a "local", stopping at every deck, usually full to the limit, and taking forever to get you where you need to go. Often times if an elevator stopped you could not board because it was completely full. The six midship elevators are programmed properly and are all synced with each other, but because there is no midship staircase above Deck 7, people were forced to take an elevator even if only going up or down one deck. The only other option would be to walk all the way aft or all the way forward to the nearest set of stairs. The elevator situation was really out of hand, and major source of frustration for everyone onboard. I sincerely hope Princess is taking action to correct or at least improve the situation as I know they are well aware of it. I certainly let them know my opinion on the survey that was emailed to me after the cruise. Because of the elevator situation, I really cannot recommend the RP for the mobility impaired, as they would be spending half their cruise just dealing with the elevators. I did speak to a few passengers in scooters, and they were beyond frustrated with the situation. I also think it's vital on RP to choose your cabin location wisely. I would recommend going forward or aft, and on a middle deck so walking up to the pools or down to the lounges is not so far out of reach. That was honestly my only major complaint about the ship, and now that it's out of the way I can discuss more pleasant aspects of this gorgeous vessel!
Our cabin was M129, located high up (Deck15) and forward in the ship. It is a new category for Princess called a Deluxe Balcony. There is a little extra interior space so a small sofa is included instead of just a chair which is featured in the standard balcony cabins. The extra space was welcome, and I would say the size is typical of most standard balcony cabins on other ships. The cabin is very nicely appointed, with soothing colors and quality furnishings. A large flat panel TV is now mounted on the wall directly in front of the beds. It can't be turned so best to watch it while lying in bed. The TV is interactive and it's an excellent system. Very intuitive with plenty of choices for on-demand movies and TV shows. All free I might add. There are also informative channels such as the morning "Wake Show" by the Cruise Director, a weather channel, forward facing live bow view, and the ship's position map. I also enjoyed the music channels which featured severals genres. What is missing is the ability to check your shipboard account or order room service. There are two other ways to check your account, and one is with a cool smart phone app available for free while you are sailing on RP. Besides checking your account, you can look at the ship's itinerary, check what is happening onboard and map it out, and find out just about any other information you want to know about the ship. I really enjoyed using this app. The other way to check your account balance is from two kiosks located by Guest Services that will automatically provide a printout. The bedding in the cabin was excellent and I felt the mattresses were perfect. A refrigerator and nice size safe is included along with bar soap and a bottle of lotion in the bathroom. There are dispensers in the shower for shampoo and body wash. Missing were robes and slippers. Our cabin steward was amazing and such a nice guy. I spoke with him at length about the situation in the Philippines and I felt so bad for him and his colleagues that had to work while they were still in limbo about friends and family back home. It had to be tough and I did my best to make his job as easy as possible, asking for nothing and leaving the cabin as tidy as possible. Kudos to Princess for the layout of these cabins which are ideal for privacy. When you walk out of the bathroom you actually enter an open closet area which you can't see from the cabin itself. This is an ideal dressing area providing complete privacy from other occupants of the cabin. I felt closet and drawer space was more than sufficient, and I liked the large sink area in the bathroom. The shower itself is a little larger than a typical Princess ship, but not as big compared to some other cruise lines. Water pressure was pretty dismal but I'm not sure if that was just in this cabin or all. The a/c worked great in the cabin and pretty much the entire ship was kept at a comfortable temperature, with the exception of the elevators which could get very hot.
ROYAL PRINCESS has many beautiful public areas, but most impressive is The Piazza. I never got tired of looking at this stunning space! Yes it's a little on the glitzy side but not in a bad way. The Piazza is really the town square of RP, and it's always buzzing with activity and things to do. Essentially it's the same concept as the Royal Promenade on Royal Caribbean ships, but instead of a long promenade it's a central square. Off The Piazza are shops, eateries, lounges, and bars. There are also performances, bands, and dancing just like on the Royal Promenade with Royal Caribbean. I really liked the concept and found myself enjoying The Piazza daily. On the lowest level of The Piazza is a Gelato shop, where you can purchase generous 3-scoop sundaes and banana splits for $2.75. I thought this was one of the best bargains on the ship! Right next store is Celebrations selling confections and flowers but it was never very busy. I'm not sure how long this shop will last. A nice Internet Cafe is also located here with great sea views and large screen desktop computers. RP has wifi throughout so if you have your own device such as an iPhone or iPad you can use it just about anywhere, including out on deck and in your cabin. The only problem is that the internet service on RP is about the slowest I've experienced on any ship. It wasn't just slow, but agonizing slow! It didn't take long using up my free minutes just downloading simple emails to my iPhone. Why the internet service is so much slower compared to other ships I don't know. The International Cafe, which is now a Princess landmark is also located nearby, and it continues to serve up a nice selection of complimentary sandwiches and sweets 24/7. Walking forward on Plaza Deck you enter a very attractive lobby area that includes the Shore Excursion & Passenger Services desks, as well as the entrance to Sabatini's, one of the specialty restaurants onboard RP. We didn't dine in Sabatini's this time around, but I thought the space was beautiful and one of the nicest looking on the ship. I did take advantage of the Lotus Spa, which is all the way forward and essentially right underneath the Princess Theater. I thought the spa was beautiful with its black stone decor. I bought a week long pass for The Enclave which is the thermal suite area of the spa. Inside The Enclave are heated relaxation beds, a therapeutic pool, and a choice of steam and sauna rooms. There are no ocean views as The Enclave is in a center location. I made good use of my pass enjoying The Enclave daily, usually after a workout in the gym or the 5pm gathering with new friends. I have to mention that the fitness center is no where near the spa, and while not a huge issue I do prefer when these facilities are adjacent to each other. The fitness center is actually located up on Deck 17 aft, about as far away from the spa as you could get! It's a nice fitness center though, with great ocean views and all new Precor equipment. I liked that there was open deck space just outside the fitness center to catch a breath of fresh air.