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I was once quoted about 6 years ago that even though my first two cruises on Princess Cruise Line were less than acceptable that I would still give them another chance. The time has come. Friends of ours had decided to go on the 5-day Caribbean Inaugural, so we decided to join them. As luck would have it, Princess decided to offer a 2 day Travel Industry & Media "cruise to nowhere" just preceding our 5 day cruise, we were invited and were able to spend 7 days on the ship.
Royal Princess is based out of Fort Lauderdale for her Caribbean season, which is our favorite Florida airport, serviced by our two favorite non-stop carriers- Virgin America and Jet Blue. We flew out to Florida the Saturday before the cruise, had a wonderful Virgin American flight- we actually left early and arrived even earlier. We did our normal upgrades; however, since July they have changed the price structure for these upgrades. They are now about double what they used to be; but considering I tend to use points for the original ticket, paying for the upgrade is not a bad deal. When you consider the free bags, the priority check-in and security lines, free food, beverages and entertainment on board along with more comfortable seating- it's worth it! We arrived, our 3 pieces of luggage were in the first ten bags to arrive, we were swiftly across the street in our taxi headed to our hotel. Very smooth travel day.
We stayed at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, which is located right on the beach and about a 15 minute taxi ride from the airport, running just about $25 with tip. This hotel is laid out with multiple towers and because we arrived after dark, it seemed a bit strange to us. We were upgraded to the Beach Tower, but you have to exit the main tower, cross a service road to get to the Beach Tower. Our room was spacious and a bit dated with the décor, but then again maybe they were going for the "beach" feel with the color schemes. Most importantly, it was a clean room. The bed was too hard for my liking though, so I did not get a great night of sleep. My husband slept just fine, but he never has trouble sleeping! We had a late dinner at their restaurant, Dos Caminos, and it was pretty good. The next morning, we had an extended late check-out at 3pm because we were not to arrive to the pier until 3pm or later, it was great that the hotel could allow us to stay in the room that late. We ordered room service brunch and listened to our football game while enjoying a view of the beach from one direction and in the distance we could see our cruise ship from the other direction!
A quick taxi ride to the pier from our hotel and a very convenient stop at Walgreen's to pick up one necessity that had been forgotten. Walgreens really is RIGHT on the way to the Cruise Ship Terminal at Port Everglades. I think that is why I love Fort Lauderdale so much- the airport, the Cruise Ship Terminal and so many hotels are so easily connected, you never get on a freeway between any of these places.
There was a bit of a line at the Terminal, but we really did keep moving and all in all- we arrived at 330pm and we were in our cabin at 430pm. Because it was a 2-day Travel Industry function- there were no porters and we were advised in advance that we'd have to carry on our luggage. Of course, we had 3 pieces of luggage and 2 backpacks because we were packed for 7 days, but we have gotten very efficient and we really did not have any issues carrying on our luggage. Because we were instructed to board late, our cabins were ready once we boarded so we went directly to our cabin, unpacked and relaxed until the Life Boat drill. We were lucky enough to be confirmed in the same cabin for both cruises, so only one time to unpack!
Now to talk about the ship:
Royal Princess is a beautiful ship, she is classy, she is elegant. Not a lot of bells and whistles like some other cruise ships, her main "bell" is the SeaWalk, which is a cantilevered platform with a glass bottom, so when you stand on this platform you can look down directly at the ocean. It's a cool feature, although not for those afraid of heights. And it's a feature that you see it once, walk over it once and you're done with it. Easily forgotten. Royal is a big ship, the biggest in the Princess fleet and probably in the top 5 of largest ships of all cruise lines at this time. She carries on average about 4000 passengers, weighing 176,000 Gross Tons- empty!
(SeaWalk looking up from our balcony stateroom)
Dining options are consistent with other Princess Ships, you have your traditional and anytime dining rooms, on this ship there are three venues: Symphony, Concerto and Allegro Dining rooms. You have the Horizon Court and Horizon Bistro (traditional buffet stations), you also have your Specialty Dining options of Sabatini's (fee) and Crown Grill (fee). In addition, the Royal Princess also has Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar (fee for some items) and Alfredo's Italian/Pizza Place. These would round out the main dining options. However, you also have Gelato's Ice cream (fee), International Café for 24 hour snacks, 24 hour room service (with a limited menu) and periodically part of the Horizon Bistro is turned into the Crab Shack and Fondues (both with fees). We did try to experience most of the options. We dined in Concerto 2 nights, Symphony, Sabatini's, Crown Grill and Alfredo's each 1 night. On our last night, my husband had sushi/sashimi at the Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar and I dined at Horizon Court Buffet.
Crown Grill is the $25 cover charge steak house and we were a group of 6 dining together. Most of us enjoyed our steaks, my husband tried a different cut and was not entirely pleased with his selection. We had excellent service in this venue. They would bend over backwards to make sure that we were all happy and were enjoying our meal.
Sabatini's is also $25 cover charge Italian restaurant and we were a group of 4 dining together. We had a fabulous waitress, her name was Tanya and she is from Mexico City. Super friendly, very efficient and really catered to our every need and request. I will say that the menu is more seafood than Italian with only two selections for those of us who don't eat seafood; but I managed with a very good chicken dish. The other 3 ordered the Lobster three ways and overall they were not impressed with the actual Lobster- part of the dish was a lobster risotto and they all agreed it was the best part of their meal.
Our meals in Symphony and Concerto were all very good. By far the best dish on the menu and offered everyday is the Fettuccine Alfredo. I had this twice as an appetizer portion and once as the actual meal. If you do order it as the appetizer though be sure to ask them to include the parmesan "bowl"- if you don't ask , you just get the pasta without the yummy parmesan bowl. We had a variety of dishes in the main dining rooms and mostly all happy with what we ate. Again, the Lobster in the main dining room was not that great for anyone who had ordered it. Service in the main dining rooms were spotty, at times you felt as though you were forgotten and other times you felt as though you were rushed. We had "anytime dining'- so that meant we had a different waiter/waitress each night, so maybe that is when having the relationship with your wait staff can make a serious difference.
The night we dined at Alfredo's was a bit strange- we did feel a bit rushed to order- we barely sat down and opened the menu when our waiter came to get our order. Strangely, I had asked to modify the Royal Princess Pizza on the menu- I asked if they could take off the tomatoes and add Salami (mind you they have salami on the anti-pasta menu), he took the order, but then about 20 minutes later came back and said that they could not add the Salami. Interesting. The next day we were on a ship tour and met with one of the Top Chefs and I brought this to his attention and he was surprised and seems that it should not have happened, they should have added Salami to my pizza. Oh well. Again, I am not a fan of being told "no" on vacation- I am a paying customer and I should be able to get what I want when it's not out of reach. I wasn't asking for something they didn't already have.
My dinner in Horizon Court was fine- I had a variety of things and actually did enjoy a quick dinner. The fact that it was quick. My husband had been wanting to try the Sushi Bar all week, so we went and he enjoyed his food there- until about 4 hours later when he got sick...we are quite certain that it was food poisoning and likely from the Oysters. He felt much better the next day, so that concludes that his very quick illness was food related. Too bad, because he was so looking forward to that Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar meal. I'd venture to guess he won't be ordering Oysters anytime soon. Some items at this venue are free with a beverage order and some items have a small surcharge.
As is usually the case, we rarely made it to breakfast. We did have breakfast on our "transition" day, between the 2 and 5 day cruises because we had to take care of "check-in" and "check-out" for the two cruises. I had brought my protein powder and had my shake for breakfast and a few slices of bacon. The others had a variety of things from the buffet and were all pleased with the selections.
Lunch for us was usually something from the poolside grill or pizza place. You can't go wrong with Hot Dogs, Burgers, Bratwursts or Pizza Slices - quick, easy, tasty and convenient. Of course, most poolside days ended with a stop by Swirls to have our soft serve cones.
Royal Princess is not lacking in bars/lounges that is for sure. We did not get to all of them, but did try Crooner's, Wheelhouse bar, Bellini's, Wine Bar and Club 6. You don't ever have to go very far to find a place to buy a drink! The atrium, named "the Piazza" on this ship is beautiful and really is the main lifeline of the ship, spanning decks 5, 6, & 7 - this is where you find many of the bars, some of the smaller dining establishments, the shops, the photo shop, the casino and the disco. All of the other public rooms: large dining rooms, Princess Theatre & Vista Lounge with a few other watering holes in between are also on decks 5-7 either forward or aft.
Bar service near the pool area was not that good. It seemed that they either didn't have enough staff working the pool or what staff they had were lazy and didn't venture upstairs to the deck overlooking the pool very often. We had very poor service two days in the same area and I feel that they should have been coming around more often. There has to be a happy medium between hounding you to buy drinks and not coming around to offer them at all. We did hang out at the main pool anytime we were outside, but Royal does offer the Sanctuary/Adults Only quiet area which is a pay venue and they also have the Retreat Pool Area & Bar, which is a free adults only quiet area- but you have to get up at the crack of dawn to reserve a chair. That is not for us! We were quite content with our own mix of quiet and music from our upper deck location over the main pool
Entertainment is never ending aboard Royal Princess. They had several main shows in the Princess Theatre- we went to two of them. Both were the song & dance variety shows and the performers were very talented. We also had an illusionist on board- his show as very good and we were in the front row and could not see how he did his tricks. We had a really good comedian as well, we saw his show on the 2 day and he was great, but tried to see him on the 5 day but the Vista Lounge was packed, literally people standing all around and sitting on the floor. He never did perform another night, which was quite the bummer. We also saw Mark Preston (I think he is from Letterman fame), good voice and entertaining show- but better for the older generations I think. Royal had a few bands that would perform In the Piazza, in Vista Lounge or Poolside and were all very good. All dancing was either In the Piazza or in Club 6- which is the disco. They had two DJ's on board, DJ Emotion was terrible but DJ Shea Michaels was good. We have cruised so many times (these were my 28th and 29th cruises) and there are DJ's who play for themselves and those who play to the crowd. Our nights of dancing in Club 6 were hit or miss- we had the most fun dancing in the Club on Halloween while everyone else was at the Halloween Party In the Piazza! The good DJ was playing whatever we wanted to dance to in the disco, so we danced quite a bit that evening!
This ship has "Princess Live" - which is a theatre type of venue- more of a movie theatre with theatre style seating, this is where they would host karaoke, zumba classes, line dance lessons, game shows with audience participation. The venue really had that "TV studio" type of feel, but the chairs were terribly uncomfortable, so they don't intend to have you sit there for very long.
Of course, a Princess Signature- "Movies under the Stars" - this ship has the largest screen of the fleet and although we never did see any nighttime movies- we did enjoy being by the pool one afternoon and watching concerts on the screen. I know that some of the World Series games were also aired on the Big Screen also.
The Casino is of adequate size, but I felt that the gaming tables were positioned too closely to one another- if you were seated at the first or last play slot, you were crammed up against the person sitting behind you at the next table. I tend to prefer sitting on the ends for more room, but that did not work to my advantage on this cruise. I also felt that the chairs were just too large for the space. Bingo was offered several days in the Vista Lounge with the snowball jackpot given away on the last day- in our case $1750..we were just one number away from winning!
The Spa on this ship is amazing- it's huge and very beautiful. Located on deck 5 just beyond the registration/purser/shore excursion desks which is not a typical location for a spa, but I will say they did a very nice job. I did not have any treatments, though sort of wished I had. The fitness facility is still located up on Deck 17 with big windows so that you can look out to sea while doing your work out. They also offered yoga, Pilates, spin and TRX classes all for a fee. The fitness facility is located in a place that forces people to walk through on a regular basis, which is maybe a good thing- perhaps it inspires people to work out who might otherwise never come into contact with the place.
This ship also has a very large kids area with 3 clubs divided by age - I didn't get to see the inside of the clubs because they were closed when I did my tour, but they looked amazing and the teens have an outside hot tub and lounge area that is secluded- very cool!
The Photo Shop is a bit chaotic- they really don't have any place for you to set your pictures down to look at them and at peak times with lots of people around, it's crazy. Of course, we still managed to do some damage in the photo shop- they aren't cheap!
The cabins- I was able to tour several cabin types. The unique thing to remember with Royal Princess is that every ocean view cabin has a balcony! Now not all balconies are created equal, overall unless you have a suite or have an angled extended balcony, the balconies are relatively small. Even the mini-suites have a fairly small balcony. But it is nice that every ocean view has a balcony. We had a standard balcony with extended angled balcony- D429 on the Dolphin Deck. We were two cabins away from the main, mid-ship elevators. (Something to note, the mid-ship elevators do not have stairs. I tend to use the stairs as much as possible when on a cruise, but they were not conveniently located to our cabin, so we took the elevator more often than normal for us.) Our cabin consisted of a Queen bed which I found to be very uncomfortable after the first night, so our cabin stewardess added another pillow top mattress which made it better, but I can honestly say that I was ready to go home to my own bed! We also had a desk/chair and then another chair with a small table and mini-fridge. Too much furniture for the small space, you had to move things around if you wanted to go outside onto your balcony or into the desk drawers. The closet space is nice size and plenty of hangers. The bathroom was basic with a nice large sized sink and I felt the shower was larger than I've seen on other ships. The shower also had a nice ledge that you could put your foot up on when shaving your legs. Of course, Princess does what I hate- they offer "Conditioning Shampoo" - ONE product and I need the two separate products. I've learned and I always travel with my own conditioner. Another annoyance was that the toilet paper roll holder had the metal flap on top and the paper would break at each sheet. We did have a great cabin stewardess (Theresa) and she really took great care of us.
Like I said, I did view several other cabins while on the ship for the 2 day Travel Industry function. The inside cabins are fine- pretty much the same size or a tad larger than the standard balconies. The Deluxe balcony cabins have room for a loveseat (two cushions) and the mini-suites are just a bit larger with a couch (three cushions), but I was not super impressed with the mini-suites. I've had balcony cabins on other cruise ships that were equal in size to these mini-suites. A few things to note, some of the triple cabins are configured in a way that blocks the balcony door from being opened anytime the triple berth is down which is a problem if you like to keep that bed down all of the time. Also, currently there are some issues with black soot on the aft facing balconies and suites. We did have a conversation with the second in command and he did say that it's a known problem and they are trying to troubleshoot the issue to find a remedy so that the aft facing cabins don't get regular doses of soot on the balconies. It's not a horrible thing right now, but just something to note and to be careful not to wear white clothing when sitting on the aft deck furniture.
Ports of call....
We had a stop at Princess Cays (private island) and overall this is a beach island- you rent equipment and enjoy the sun, sand and surf. We decided to enjoy the view of the island from our free pool chair on the ship! We didn't feel the need to spend the time to tender ashore to rent chairs, snorkel equipment, etc. But many people (regular Princess cruisers) look forward to this port over and over again. It's a beautiful beach area and very much a Caribbean Island.
Our other stop was Grand Turk of the Turks & Caicos and we had pre-arranged to take the Dune Buggy Tour- which was a lot of fun. We had the 1230pm tour, which meant we could sleep in a bit. The tour took us all around the island with a couple of stops to take great pictures from a vista point and then by the lighthouse. The Buggies were two person vehicles but you could sign up as an individual or couple- you signed up "per vehicle" basically. Beautiful day, beautiful scenery and weather; however, the first stop did send me home with a few unwelcomed souvenirs (mosquito bites); fortunately, not too bad!
THE ULTIMATE SHIP TOUR - something to be on the lookout on any of the Princess Ships...the Ultimate Ship Tour is a behind the scenes tour, very exclusive, very limited. They only take 12 passengers, you have to sign up at the Purser's Desk and then they draw like a lottery-we were lucky to get drawn along with our friends and we had a great tour. They say it's a random draw, but I suspect if they pull one name they probably include the person in the same cabin with them. It was very similar to the Behind the Scenes tour we did on Holland America a few years ago, but this tour was a bit cheaper ($150) and you got more bang for your buck. They gave us terry cloth robes, aprons, personalized notepads, a few pictures with key people along the way of our tour and an autographed, framed group picture with the Captain Tony Draper. It was an awesome experience and lasted about 2.5 hours.
So my overall thoughts on this cruise:
Has Princess Cruises redeemed itself? Not quite, I was still not overly impressed with service. We did have a few outstanding people: Jack our cocktail waiter in Club 6 (and other places)- he was phenomenal, Theresa our cabin steward was great, Tanya our waitress in Sabatini's really did a stellar job. When I travel on a new ship, I expect the cruise line staff to be the best staff the cruise line has in the fleet, and I have been on plenty of new ships and this has been the case. I think Princess missed the mark because there were definitely several staff that were not up to par of being the best they could be.
Food was fine, other than my hubby's incident. We don't cruise for the food, so we are pretty easy going overall.
The Entertainment was good, but I would have liked more variety. It would have been nice to see the comedian another time. The stage productions are quite something and you can tell that the theatre is state of the art, which allows them to do some phenomenal things. But I have seen better shows on other cruise lines.
Dancing is a big thing for us and the best night of dancing was our first night on the 2 day cruise- because it was a 2 day cruise to nowhere, they did not run their traditional entertainment programs so they had the DJ (actually it was one of the cruise staff, not the official DJ) playing music in the Vista Lounge. We danced for a couple of hours there and the floor is great for dancing. Most nights in Club 6 which is where most dancing takes place were hit or miss because of the DJ and the dance floor is pretty small. The other venue for dancing is in the Piazza, but most nights that was catered more to ballroom style of dancing - fun to watch, but not our thing. So I think that there could be better dance use of the Vista Lounge.
The other flaw with this ship- there is no true Promenade Deck for walking the distance of the ship. You can walk up on Deck 18, 7 loops for one mile, but that gets boring quick - it's nice to be able to stroll on a lower deck after dinner before sitting down again for a show.
So it wasn't a bad cruise, we had a good time and overall the food and service were good. Princess is just not my favorite cruise line and I don't think it ever will be. That's ok- there is a cruise line out there for everyone and we can't love them all! I do enjoy having my Elite benefits though while on board. Most people earn Elite with the # of cruises sailed (16+), but as a Travel Professional who completed all levels of Princess Training years ago, I am Elite for life. Great benefits: 10% discount in the shops, complimentary internet packages, complimentary wine tasting event, complimentary shoe polishing, laundry services, complimentary mini-bar set up, Canapés on formal night, traditional afternoon tea in your stateroom, priority tenders to shore.
Side note: we did travel over Halloween and it happened to fall on formal night. Several passengers dressed formal and several dressed in costume. It was fun to see everyone dressed up one way or the other. The kids clubs took the kids around the ship for trick or treating and they all looked to be having a great time.
To view my complete photo album of ship cabins and public spaces- click on this link:
To view my complete photo album of ship cabins and public spaces- click on this link: