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Other favorite public areas include Crooners which is the piano bar, The Wheelhouse which is a more sedate piano bar (very Cunard-esque), and Club 6 which is the nightclub. Lacking on RP is any kind of observation lounge/bar like Skywalker's on previous Princess ships. I really missed having a beautiful lounge/bar with great views of the ocean. Speaking of ocean views, there is no wrap-around Promenade Deck on RP. There are a few viewing areas with seating on Deck 7, but no deck available to passengers that wraps around. My understanding is Princess will open up some of the Deck 7 crew spaces to passengers on sister ship REGAL PRINCESS, but even so those spaces are very narrow and views will be blocked by lifeboats. The open upper decks of RP are quite expansive, and to my surprise more spacious and large than I expected. There are three pools in total although one is just a plunge pool. Even so the pools were never overly crowded and the two main pools were quite large by ship standards. The pool water is fresh but on the chilly side which I actually enjoyed. I don't like it when the pools are too warm. Finding a deck chair was never a problem, even when I strolled out late around noon or 1pm. I'm happy to say that Princess still has live music by the main pool and towels are plentiful and don't need to be returned to the cabin or a manned towel hut after use. The Skywalk is also located topside, and I thought this was a pretty cool new feature. It's a walkway that extends out over the sea below, and the floor is made of glass! It's a pretty cool sensation sailing at 20 knots and seeing the ocean pass below your feet from 16 decks above! Not quite as cool is The Fountain. It's directly midship between the pools and is a very small scale version of the fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. It just isn't that exciting and it takes up too much valuable real-estate that could be used for another pool or to enlarge the existing plunge pool. For a bit of peace and quiet the adults-only Retreat Pool & Bar is the place to be. It can get a little windy but on a warm day it actually feels quite nice. Forward of the Retreat Pool is the adults-only Sanctuary. It's beautifully done but there is an extra charge to use this space if one is available. On this particular cruise the Sanctuary seemed sold out most days which means it's popular and I'm sure Princess is happy about that! Unfortunately The Sanctuary utilizes the only forward facing real-estate on the ship, so most people will never get to enjoy that view. Thankfully you can enjoy a beautiful aft facing view at the Horizon Terrace. There is wonderful seating here to dine alfresco or just to relax and have a drink at the bar. Most Celebrity ships also feature an aft area like the Horizon Terrace, which they call the Sunset Bar. What I enjoy on Celebrity is that during sunset they have a solo guitarist that plays. It really makes for a magical setting.
What is a cruise without food, and on ROYAL PRINCESS I can assure you that you won't starve! We dined at traditional late seating in the aft Allegro Dining Room. I felt this was the most attractive dining room of the three, with the decor being much more bold than the two center dining rooms. Service was great and the cuisine was quite tasty. I have to confess I'm not that fussy when it comes to food so perhaps I'm a bit easy to please. The menu is quite extensive and I loved the huge variety of "always available" food choices. One night was dined at The Crown Grill which is an extra tariff steak & seafood restaurant and I thought the cuisine was excellent. This venue is actually connected to the Wheelhouse Bar and I really liked the arrangement. It made it feel a little like a dinner club. The Horizon Court & Bistro with its Pastry Shop surely ranks as the best or at least one of the best buffets at sea. The layout is excellent and the food choices are immense. If you can't find something to your liking here than you are just too picky! Not to be outdone is Alfredo's, a complimentary pizzeria serving up some of the best personal pizzas at sea in beautiful surroundings. The gorgeous Piazza is on one side with ocean views on the other. What more could you ask for? Back topside there is the Trident Grill serving up decent grilled fare such as burgers and chicken, and adjacent is Prego which is yet another pizzeria serving up pizza by the slice. Hidden but not forgotten is Swirls, featuring soft serve ice cream to satisfy that sweet tooth. All in all I felt the dining choices were excellent as was the service in each of them. In fact the service on the entire ship was excellent. There was never a wait to get a drink at any bar, and plenty of bar staff on deck if you wanted that drink by the pool. Every crew member I encountered was friendly and seemed to enjoy their job. This was really astonishing considering how many Filipino crew members there are onboard and the uncertainty that faces them at home. I really applaud them and I don't know if I could perform so well under similar circumstances. I noticed that Princess is becoming a bit more like Celebrity with a little more attention to detail. Things like passing out cold towels and water/juice while waiting to board the ship in various ports. I think it's the small touches that really differentiate one cruise line from another these days, and it's nice to see Princess stepping it up a bit in this regard.
After a fairly recent cruise on CARNIVAL BREEZE I was concerned that the lackluster entertainment on that ship might have found its way to Princess. I'm pleased to say this is not the case. There is plenty of live music throughout the ship and on deck, lots of activities, and plenty of shows. I'm a fan of the cruise ship production show and on Princess they are alive and well. There were a few production shows during the week and I very much enjoyed what I saw. There is a full compliment of singers and dancers and sometimes even a full orchestra on stage. The production shows are presented in the Princess Theater. It's an impressive theater upon first sight, but unfortunately that favorable impression quickly fades when you sit down. The space between rows is VERY tight and there is no room for drinks except in your hand. There is no aisle along side bulkheads so if you end up in one of those seats, you are pretty much stuck for the show like it or not. The good news is that every seat is unobstructed and has a great view. I would highly recommend an aisle seat on the lowest level near the stage if possible. It means arriving early but you will be far more comfortable during the show. Secondary shows are in the aft Vista Lounge while passenger participation type shows are in the midship "Princess Live" venue. Princess Live is something new for Princess, and clearly it's copied directly from the Celebrity Central concept on the Celebrity Solstice Class ships. I'm not a fan of this style of entertainment so I really can't comment on the success of this venue. I can say that often there were people gathered at the door to Princess Live so I'm assuming it's very popular and perhaps the space is not large enough. In addition there was the usual compliment of cruise ship magicians and comedians, piano performers at The Wheelhouse and Crooners, nightclub dancing at Club 6, movies under the stars, a casino that was packed nightly, shopping with a pretty good selection of merchandise, bands and performances in The Piazza, and yes the fountain show up on deck. One night was a well attended deck party that included a performance on deck by the dancers & singers choreographed with the fountain. That was the one fountain show I did think was pretty cool.
The itinerary for this cruise is what I call the Caribbean "milk-run". It's a great cruise for first timers who have never been to the Caribbean before. St. Thomas and St. Maarten are core Caribbean ports that all the major cruise lines call at with their largest ships. I picked ROYAL PRINCESS for a couple reasons. First I wanted to sail on the latest and greatest from Princess Cruises. I was not disappointed and the ship provided new interest and incentive to once again return to Princess Cruises. Secondly the name Royal Princess has special meaning to me, as I sailed on the original Royal Princess back in the 80's with my recently deceased grandmother. One of my grandmother's wishes after she passed was that my brother and I scatter her ashes in the Caribbean during a cruise. This was really fitting since my grandmother is the reason I became so interested in ships at such a young age. She started taking my brother and I on cruises when I was around 10 or 11 years old. My brother and I honored her wishes and her final resting place is a beautiful and unspoiled inlet called St Mary's Creek located on the coast of St. John. I could not imagine a more beautiful or spectacular setting to say our final goodbyes and I think my grandmother would have been quite pleased with our choice. The other port for this cruise was Princess Cays, which is a private beach for Princess passengers located on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera. I've been lucky enough to visit all the private islands and beaches of the major cruises lines, and Princess Cays is clearly in the middle of the pack. It's by no means the best, but it is a nice beach and a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. My favorite is Disney's Castaway Cay, followed by Royal Caribbean's Labadee, then Holland America's Half Moon Cay. We were lucky to enjoy very pleasant weather during this cruise, with only a few showers, plenty of sunshine, and gorgeous sunsets. I loved our evening sail out from St. Thomas. It was truly magical.
Disembarkation in Ft. Lauderdale was efficient and effortless as was getting on and off the ship in every port. I never encountered any substantial lines or delays with one exception. Embarkation in Ft. Lauderdale left a lot to be desired. We arrived by car around 11:00am and it took over 30 minutes just to drive into the Terminal 2 area to drop off our luggage. We saw a massive line outside the terminal that ran all the way down the side of the terminal and beyond. That is no way to start a cruise so we drove off and had lunch in Ft. Lauderdale, then stopped at the Mercedes dealership to check out the new CLA (quite impressive BTW). We returned at 2pm to find no lines what so ever and an effortless embarkation process. I would highly recommend arriving later as opposed to earlier, as clearly Terminal 2 in Ft. Lauderdale is not sufficient to handle ships the size of ROYAL PRINCESS.
I hope it's obvious that I quite enjoyed ROYAL PRINCESS and the overall Princess experience. Is the ship perfect? No but I haven't found the perfect ship yet (I keep trying!). I will say that RP is enough of a departure from the typical Princess experience & decor that I have a renewed interest in sailing on Princess, specifically ROYAL PRINCESS and her new sister REGAL PRINCESS. One final footnote is that Princess recently announced some changes to the design of REGAL PRINCESS that will include such features as an aft pool and a promenade deck with more passenger accessible areas. This is a step in the right direction and it's great that Princess is listening to feedback and taking appropriate action. I hope they also address the elevator situation as from my perspective this is the biggest failure of RP that also impacts the most people.
Please enjoy the pictures located at the link at the beginning of this review, and be sure to let me know if you have any questions. I'll do my best to answer them.