Overall ship and cabin decor remains rather stale and unimaginative
Standard stateroom showers are skimpy in size with clingy curtains
No observation lounge, disappointing for destination-minded guests
Limited promenade deck restricts outdoor viewing on lower levels
Even reduced casino smoking still quickly pollutes the venue
Fresh off a 2016 style revamp, the upper-middle-range Royal Princess represents a new class of design that introduces new features while retaining fan favorites. As one of the largest in the fleet, the ship is sprawling with staterooms, but its public venues are well laid out and spaced out, ensuring it never feels too crowded. The ship strives for and mostly succeeds at achieving a premium lifestyle that is well suited to baby boomers and multigenerational groups seeking a good value. Features like expansive kids facilities, family-friendly cabins and a broad selection of entertainment target a younger demographic. But this ship lacks the kid-pleasing "theme park" level attractions the Royal Caribbean boast, such as bumper cars. Destination-focused travelers may also prefer a more functional observation lounge and promenade deck over the gimmicky SeaWalk.
What's Included (and What's Not)
On the Royal Princess, all accommodations and entertainment and most activities and dining are included in the cruise fare. Even taxes, fees and port expenses are bundled in the booking. That means the bulk of what’s offered onboard from the kids facilities and library of books to the British-style pub lunch and Movies Under the Stars are free.
What does cost extra is specialty dining such as that at Sabatini’s, Crown Grill, Crab Shack, Ocean Terrace, Chef’s Table Lumiere, and in-room Ultimate Balcony Dining. Also, alcoholic and some non-alcoholic drinks, as well as items from Gelato are not included among free food and beverages.
There is an all-inclusive beverage package starting at $57.45 per person per day, which covers all specialty cocktails, regular cocktails, juices, soda, and wines by the glass. It’s important to note that while this beverage package is offered based on a daily rate, you must purchase the package for the entirety of your cruise. See the drinks section below for more details.
Other items such as spa and salon services, laundry, shore excursions, some classes, travel insurance, retail purchases, internet access and gratuities are also priced additionally. Internet packages are available to buy in timed increments from 120 to 680 minutes, ranging from $69 to $199 per package. Other exclusions extend to The Sanctuary, Sanctuary Cabanas and Retreat Pool Cabanas that can be rented for half day periods, plus Lotus Spa Cabanas and the Royal Indulgence Package.
Gratuities are charged per person at a daily rate determined by cabin category (starting at $13.50 per person, per day for lower-category cabins). The amount can be prepaid prior to the cruise and adjusted onboard prior to disembarkation. Tips are divided among waitstaff, stateroom stewards, buffet stewards and housekeeping staff. There is also a 15 percent gratuity that is tacked on to bar charges, dining room wine accounts, and Lotus Spa services that is similarly shared among the beverage and support staff and Lotus Spa team.
A fan-favorite and family-friendly ship with room for everyone to roam
Revamps have made the Royal even easier to spot, thanks to the line’s signature “sea witch” logo applied not only to the smokestack but now expansively to both sides of the bow. Inside, the decor is characteristically Princess with mostly beige and golden tones offset with occasional blues, all accented by natural marble and wood paneling.
The design highlight of the entire ship is The Piazza. The atrium really does appear to float on light with double helix staircases and a voluminous central opening. Lounging here and throughout the ship are primarily middle-aged and older couples intermixed with families. Princess’ unparalleled loyalty program keeps many guests coming back as do subtle ship innovations.
For instance, the SeaWalk is a neat glass-floored catwalk cantilevered off the pool deck high above the ocean below, but it is a fleeting attraction. The SeaView Bar on the opposite side of the ship is actually more enticing with a similarly dramatic view and the opportunity to sit for awhile with a tasty drink in hand. However, for a ship tailored toward destination-minded travelers, an observation lounge would've been more welcome. A longer promenade deck -- much abbreviated here -- would’ve also been ideal. Both are much more prevalent on competitors.
Altogether, the ship is larger but doesn't feel too crowded nor noisy ever. Its size does make it a bit more laborious to get from point A to point B, but its layout is very well placed with plenty of room to spread around. Even the buffet and pool deck are easily manageable with lots of dedicated space. Plus, venue locations will be mostly familiar to previous Princess guests with only a couple of changes.
Waits occasionally occur for the elevators, especially amidship where passenger-accessible stairs originally did not reach the entire height of the ship. Thankfully, Princess has since remedied this to a degree by finally extending the guest stairs to decks farther up.
A new stateroom category finally rounds out Princess’ cabin choices.
Like the rest of the ship, cabin decor aboard the Royal Princess is unimaginatively full of creams and beiges, but accommodations are quite comfortable. Cabins break down into the following categories: Interior, Balcony, Deluxe Balcony, Mini-Suite, Club Class and Suite. There are also wheelchair-accessible staterooms. All categories include flat-panel TVs, mini-fridges, desks, safes, hairdryers, toiletries, high-thread count cotton linens, Wi-Fi (for a fee), and free 24-hour room service.
The greatest improvement from previous Princess ships is the inclusion of the Deluxe Balcony option. In the past, those traveling with more than two people had to upgrade straight to a Mini-Suite to accommodate thirds. Thankfully, the new category finally introduces a cabin with a sofa-sleeper configuration at a more affordable price point.
However, the biggest disappointment from an otherwise premium ship are the very standard bathrooms featured in most cabins. Showers are smaller than the modern average and sadly feature flimsy curtains over fixed enclosures. Overall, bathrooms are smaller and would do well to expand into the walk-in closet space which is nice but less necessary.
Upgrading affords more size in the bedrooms as well as bathrooms with Mini-Suites showcasing bigger shower/tub combos. Other amenities include separate living areas and two TVs. Club Class adds Princess Luxury Beds, priority embarkation and disembarkation, free initial wine, evening canapes, and premium expedited main dining room seating with a dedicated waitstaff, and expanded menu and table-side preparations.
Of course, Suites get the most private space with a separate shower and bathtub and larger verandas, as well as free initial minibar setup and daily bottled water. Priority perks also include tender disembarkation, specialty restaurant and shore excursion reservations, free laundry service and a free specialty dinner on embarkation day.
Our cabin was a Deluxe Balcony that worked very well for three passengers, with enough storage for a sailing longer than a week. No noises nor odors were ever problematic. Our stateroom attendant was particularity excellent and always went the extra mile. She even attended to our teddy bear traveling companions by posing them in playful tableaus, adding a delightful surprise whenever we returned.
From cronut comfort food to celeb chef gourmet, the Royal has all kinds of dining.
There are a dozen plus dining options onboard the Royal Princess -- some free and some costing extra -- featuring fine international cuisine. The three main dining rooms serve guests either traditionally at a pair of dinner times, early or late, or according to Anytime Dining in which they can make reservations or simply arrive between 5:30 and 10 at night. A newer addition to the menu are included dishes crafted by celebrity chef Curtis Stone for an even more elevated experience.
Elsewhere, the Horizon Court has been greatly enhanced on the Royal thanks to its expansion into the Horizon Bistro and The Pastry Shop as well. The total culinary compound is now far easier to navigate with pass-through food stations from one side of the ship to the other and plentiful seating. Selections have also been substantially widened.
Taking advantage of the sizable atrium is the free International Cafe and Alfredo’s pizzeria for additional eats, available 24 hours at the former and throughout the day at the latter. The cronuts at the cafe are particularly delightful as are the award-winning pies at the Italian diner. Not to be forgotten are the classics still available poolside near the Trident Grill.
The Piazza is also home to Gelato, serving specialty ice cream sundaes available for a surcharge (though it’s worth noting that Swirls, located on the pool deck, provides a free ice cream alternative). Also here is the Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar where guests can buy sushi, sashimi and other fish cocktails at a la carte prices. At night, Horizons Court in part becomes Crab Shack for satisfying even more specialty seafood cravings.
Meanwhile, Chef’s Table Lumiere dresses up a portion of the Allegro main dining room for an exclusive behind-the-scenes galley tour followed by a multi-course dinner presented by the executive chef. At other times, culinary demos can also be seen in Princess Live!
Princess’ classic pair of specialty restaurants -- Sabatini’s and Crown Grill -- are along for the ride, too, and continue with excellent Italian cuisine and steakhouse standards respectively. The Crown Grill’s adjacent Wheelhouse Bar hosts a great free pub lunch with traditional fare like fish and chips that are well worth the occasional wait.
In addition to the always available International Cafe, free room service is also optional 24 hours a day. However, for something even more unique, Ultimate Balcony Dining serves the best selections across multiple courses for a romantic breakfast or dinner (with a surcharge).
Reservations are recommended for specialty restaurants and dining experiences, and the ship’s dress code either falls under smart casual or formal in the evenings. During the day, sportswear is entirely acceptable. At night, smart casual consists of skirts or dresses, slacks and sweaters for women and pants and open-neck shirts for men. Fewer formal evenings call for gowns and cocktail dresses for ladies and tuxedos, dinner jackets and suits with a tie for men.
Packages make premium drinks easier to swallow when free options aren't enough.
There are as many bars as dining options to go around onboard including those for coffee and tea and a cafe specifically servicing the Princess Live! entertainment venue. The Royal highlights whiskey flights at the Wheelhouse Bar as well as the biggest collection of Super Tuscan wines at sea.
The Symphony and Concerto main dining rooms, in fact, feature wine cellars such that passengers can book a specialty Wine Maker’s Dinner. A cover charge includes dining paired with wines. In addition, Vines showcases not only a tapas bar but also vintage sampling.
A favorite specialty coffee drink of mine was the Black Forest Freeze from the Piazza Bar. The ice blended treat mixed java with deep cherry chocolate flavors for a rich and sweet concoction that is highly recommended. It goes very nicely with a cronut too.
Generally, included beverages are tap water, iced tea, lemonade, standard coffee, milk and some juices. Other soft drinks, specialty coffees and alcoholic drinks cost extra. Bulk packages for purchase often improve on any a la carte value. Such packages include ones for bottled water, unlimited sodas and mocktails, five-for-four beer discounts, a prepaid premium coffee card, and an all-inclusive beverage bundle. The latter encompasses soda, water, cocktails, spirits, wines, beers, coffee, and tea.
Guests are not allowed to bring onboard any alcoholic beverages of their own with the exception of one bottle of wine or Champagne per adult for stateroom consumption free of a corkage fee. Additional bottles are subject to a corkage fee. Liquor, spirits, and beers are entirely not permitted. Any alcohol bought in the onboard shops or ashore in port will be collected and delivered to guests on the final day of the cruise.
Fountains and cinema take center stage over musicals and live TV.
Production shows on Princess Cruises used to be more exciting, though the recent partnership with Stephen Schwartz is raising the bar back up considerably elsewhere in the fleet. Our hope is those improvements will soon be reflected in the Royal as well. In the meantime, entertainment is mostly presented in the Princess Theater including original musicals and guest entertainers. And the Royal newly introduced Princess Live! and the Princess Watercolor Fantasy Show.
Guest entertainers like Irish headliner Alan Kavanagh as featured on our British Isles cruise are indeed very talented, and main stage shows are still very good. They just fall a bit short compared to more lavish shows on other ships. A grand event that is quite fun here though is The Voice of the Ocean for recreating the hit TV show with fellow passengers vying for the title. There’s also a fun event in the atrium where costumes from the shipboard musicals are displayed on mannequins, for a unique look behind the scenes.
Princess Live! tries hard to sell itself as a live television studio but it still mostly works as a cabaret lounge for live music and smaller game shows that just happen to broadcast into staterooms. The Vista Lounge is actually much more comfortable with less confined “audience” seating. Overall, the nicely themed Explorers Lounge on older ships remains a better venue than Princess Live!
The most impressive entertainment onboard is actually the Princess Watercolor Fantasy Show fountain. At night, a central elevated section of the pool deck becomes a kinetic Bellagio-style water and light display synced to music. The massive Movies Under the Stars screen overlooks the spectacular with its own series of accompanying motion graphics, crafting a series of several different sequences across a sailing. All of them are repeated together at the end of the cruise for one grand finale too. Of course, the cinema screen itself is wonderful for simply watching films, too.
The casino onboard boasts slots and table games and is thankfully mostly non-smoking, especially good considering a stairwell directly links it to the retail shops and art gallery above. However, select slot machines do still permit smoking which quickly defeats the purpose with fumes that easily drift beyond. Entirely non-smoking nights at least eliminate that periodically.
Plenty of poolside space, including adults-only areas, makes guests of all ages happy.
Outside of the spa, there are three pools onboard, one of which is only for adults. There are also another four whirlpools, two more in the adult-exclusive area and one additional just for teens. The main pool deck consists of the Fountain Pool and Plunge Pool and features a great deal of deck space around and above it for sunbathers to spread out. Particularly nice for adults wishing to escape children is the separate Retreat Pool available for free and its adjacent cabanas for rent.
The Sanctuary also is reprised as Princess’ signature private deck in front of the Retreat Pool. Whether or not its worth paying for an exclusive area that does not include a pool is debatable, but what is lovely here is its shaded canopy, rock gardens, topiary plantings, plush loungers, circular daybeds, refreshments, music players, Serenity Stewards, and optional cabanas.
Rest and relaxation are at the very heart of The Enclave’s many features.
The Lotus Spa & Salon is a handsome bolder space conveniently located off of Guest Services and The Piazza atrium on a lower deck, freeing up prime real estate up high. Unfortunately, that unoccupied space was utilized for additional staterooms instead of a cherished observation lounge. Nonetheless, this repositioned spa is luxuriously appointed.
Up front is the salon with its social nail bar, teeth whitening stations, and barber shop, and beyond it are separate male and female changing areas and a total of 18 treatment rooms. Two are Couples Villas featuring adjacent massage tables, a whirlpool bath, and ocean vistas.
Central to the spa experience is The Enclave thermal suite and its hydrotherapy pool, rain shower, air jets, stone beds and water beds. Other features are The Hammam Turkish-style steam bath, The Caldarium steam chamber, The Laconium warm and dry chamber, and Sensory Showers including Tropical Rain, Cold Mist, Rain Shower, and Siberian Shower.
Rounding out the spa facilities are a relaxation lounge and Scrub & Shine Bar with salts, sugars, and herbs for scrubbing. Available spa and salon treatments include facials, aroma stone therapy massages, and detoxifying ocean wraps that cost extra.
The great Discovery partnership adds value for kids and kids-at-heart.
Royal Princess is a family-friendly ship, but, as with most cruise ships, those under the age of 6 months are never permitted to sail, and those under 12 months sometimes cannot either. Pregnant mothers entering their 24th week by the final day of the sailing are also not allowed onboard.
Otherwise, all ages are good to go, and the kids and teens program is slowly evolving into Camp Discovery for those 3 to 7, The Lodge for 8 to 12, and The Beach House for 13 to 17. Overall, the Discovery at SEA program is popular among families and kids of all ages including stargazing, speaker series and “Shark Week”- and “Finding Bigfoot”-themed activities, plus Discovery- and Animal Planet-recommended shore excursions.
Kids and teens facilities are expansive and fully supervised by managers and counselors. Children under the age of 3 are not allowed in the youth club unless accompanied by a parent at all times. Private in-cabin babysitting services are not available onboard.
Stateroom accommodations are available for up to four guests each as well as connecting cabin options. There are also Two Bedroom Family Suites complete with two bathrooms and a full bathtub, balcony and additional living area for up to eight occupants.
Anytime Dining’s greater flexibility is especially geared toward parents wishing to eat with their children, and kids menus are available for their tastes. Other family-friendly culinary options include the buffet, pizzeria, and room service.
Welcome gifts that are appropriate for children include plush teddy bears such as the line’s signature Stanley character as well as perhaps playing cards and chocolate covered strawberries for older kids and teens.
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