Royal Princess - Ship Visit and First Impressions (including video)
Last week we had the pleasure of spending some time onboard the Royal Princess while she was docked in Southampton for the day. We have never sailed with Princess but as avid fans of the UK TV show ‘The Cruise’ and luxury cruise addicts we were very excited to see what they had to offer. With an upcoming trip to the Med on the Crown Princess already booked we had a vested interest in getting as much insight as we could to make the most of our 10 night cruise.
Princess cruises is one of the largest and best known names in the cruise industry with 17 ships currently sailing the seas worldwide, with another due to join the fleeet in 2019. Their notoriety has been aided through its dalliance with TV, being the star of both ‘The Love Boat’ in the 1970/80s and more recently the popular series ‘The Cruise’, both of which can be credited for introducing millions of viewers to the concept of modern day cruising.
The Royal Princess first set sail in 2013, having been christened by the Duchess of Cambridge. She has a passenger capacity of 3,560, with 19 decks and 1780 guest cabins, so in our opinion this really is a behemoth of a ship! She has two sister ships, the Regal and the Majestic, along with eagerly awaited Sky Princess, which are all classified as Royal-class ships. She also boasts the infamous seawalk, a glass walkway positioned 128 feet above sea level giving passengers a similar view to the one the Captain gets from the glass floor on the Bridge.
With much excitement (and a big camera) we arrived at the Ocean terminal in Southampton at 9.30am and were promptly taken on board this magnificent ship. We embarked her at the main atrium which really is a sight to behold. In homage to her name the atrium has a very royal feel to it, with lots of gold decor, shiny surfaces and sparkly inlays. At three stories high it really does feel like the heart of the ship (Rich thought it looked like the Reactor Core of the Death Star!). And whilst it was very quiet when we arrived (most people had disembarked and embarkation had yet to begin) in my head I was already imagining myself sitting here in the evening, with a cocktail in hand, listening to the resident pianist and watching the world go by.
My dreaming was rather rapidly interrupted as we were taken up to the higher decks to view a variety of cabins, including inside, balcony, mini suite and suites. They are all very well appointed and the layout of all of the rooms has been well thought out. The decor is tasteful, light and airy with large flatscreen TVs in every room. There are no ocean view rooms on any of the Royal-class ships with all of the outside rooms having balconies. For those staying in the suite category rooms there is a concierge lounge with complimentary beverages and snacks as well as a concierge specialist to arrange dining reservations, shore excursions and other requests suite passengers may have.
Following on from the cabin tour we were ushered down to deck 6 to meet two of the entertainment team who kindly gave us a rare behind the scenes tour of the theatre. And what a theatre it is! It is a beautiful, open and airy space with no pillars or posts to obstruct the view and some of the most comfortable theatre seats I’ve ever sat in. It was a real eye-opener to see behind the stage area and marvel at how ships manage to put on such large scale productions in such a confined and difficult to access space. Our guide said that sometimes the performers have as little as 20 seconds to fully change costumes, so it gets a bit manic in there to say the least!
After the theatre tour we were escorted to the upper outside decks where the sun was shining, the skies were blue and we really could imagine that we were actually on holiday, rather than just on a day visit. The main pool deck has plenty of comfortable seating, both sun loungers and sofas, with lots of shaded areas, a bar, the patio grill, pizzeria and ice cream booth. Here you will also find the infamous skywalk which gives a different and giddying perspective of the ship, looking down the side of the ship through the glass floor from above. This is also where they hold their signature ‘movies under the stars’ events with complimentary popcorn, padded seating and blankets. I can’t wait to do this when we board the Crown later this year and am praying that the weather will hold out in the Med throughout October!
Towards the the front of the ship is the Retreat pool which is an adult only pool with lovely cabanas set around its edge and its own bar. Just off of here is the Sanctuary which is a fee paying, private area for those wishing to escape the crowds. It has a very serene and luxurious feel about it, with padded loungers, double sun beds and plenty of shading. A real treat if you want to spoil yourself; you can pay for a half day, a whole day or a whole voyage pass.
Also on the upper decks is the newly re-branded Camp Discovery, housing The Treehouse (for ages 3 to 7) and The Lodge (for ages 8 to 12), and the The Beach house (for ages 13 to 17). Each age group has its own area and entrance, but conveniently situated next to each other, with age appropriate activities and set up. The younger children have tables and chairs set up to do craft activities and bean bag areas for relaxing, and the teenagers have plenty of computers and lounge-like areas to chill and get to know each other. I really don't see how the younger members of the family could not have a good time here!
Despite the draw of the beautiful weather and outside areas, time was racing on so we returned down to the lower decks to explore the bars and restaurants on offer, and boy are there lots! Around the main atrium are a variety of bars and cafes to while away those lazy sea days or late holiday evenings. The luxurious Bellini's bar sits in the middle of the atrium serving champagne cocktails (and other less bubbly drinks) in a small bar venue with seating great for people watching over the main atrium. Crooners bar is a martini bar boasting 52 different martinis and live music, often jazz (both personal favourites of mine). I can’t wait to visit this bar when we’re on the Crown later this year.
The atrium isn’t just about bars though, there are also casual eateries and cafes. The International cafe is the place to come for a decent cup of coffee and also serves complimentary light snacks and cakes. Whilst we didn’t get to try any of these they looked very appetising and I can’t wait to try them out, along with the amazing gelato bar, on our upcoming holiday (though I think my waistline may disagree!). Mid-atrium is Alfredo’s, renowned for serving the ‘best pizza at sea’. This is a complimentary dining venue with a more casual feel to it but a menu to whet any Italian food lovers apetite, serving not only pizzas but familiar Italian antipasto, meat, pasta and sweet dishes.
Just behind the main atrium is the biggest, glitziest casino I've ever seen at sea. Housing a variety of slot machines and a number of card tables it wasn't difficult to imagine how vibrant and exciting this venue would be in the evening.
The two specialty restaurants are Sabatinis and Crown Grill. Sabatinis is located just off of the atrium and has a very classical feel to it. It is a Tuscan style restaurant with a cover charge but looked like it would be a great place to go for that special occasion whilst on holiday - and let’s face it we can all think of some reason to celebrate something while we’re away. Crown Grill is a steak house restaurant conveniently located next to the Wheelhouse bar for those pre and post dinner drinks, again with a reasonable cover charge and mouth watering menu.
We were then taken to the Concerto dining room, one of three main dining rooms on this ship, for our three course lunch. Who could resist the chance to try one of Princess’ signature pasta dishes, the fettuccini starter or the chateaubriand main course which were both delicious. And to top it all they then served up my favourite dessert, a chocolate and hazelnut soufflé, yummy. If our experience in the main dining room was anything to go by you would be satiated and well fed if you purely ventured to the main dining room for your evening meals. And whilst we didn’t get to sample any of the lunch fayre on offer in the Horizon Court buffet we did walk through there while lunch was being served and the variety of food on offer looked and smelt amazing, especially the pastry shop with those cookies just calling out my name! There was also a very enticing looking outside dining area at the entrance to the Horizon court which I could easily imagine being very popular for those alfresco breakfast and lunches.
There wasn’t much time left before we had to disembark this beautiful ship and it was quickly filling up with the next lot of lucky passengers about to sail around the British Isles. But we did have time to quickly pop to the spa which housed heated seats, and water beds, all very enticing after a large lunch. But alas we didn’t have time to try these out before we had to head back our meeting point at the guest services area. And though we were sad about our imminent departure our day was made by meeting the lovely Timothy, a perfect end to a perfect day. Thank you Princess, we’re eagerly awaiting our trip on the Crown Princess in a few months time!