This review of the Royal Princess cruise ship is based on a week-long Mediterranean cruise taken in September 2016. We were suffering post-cruise blues as a result of the fantastic experience we’d had with another one of Princess Cruises‘ ships, the Star Princess, around South America earlier in the year and spotted a well-priced, fairly late deal a few months afterwards that we jumped at.
Our review of the cruise as a whole would be that the ports of call were superb and the Royal Princess itself was a beautiful ship inside and out but there were some design and feature choices on the ship we didn’t particularly like (personal preference so your views may differ) and, far more importantly, we were treated to some incredibly un-Princess-like levels of service during the trip that left us vowing to never set foot on the ship again during and just after the cruise. Time has a way of smoothing out those peaks and troughs and looking back through the pictures I’m reminded of some of the better parts of the ship and holiday so… the right price, the right itinerary might change my mind. But the Royal Princess would not be my first choice of ship in the Princess Cruises line.
We’d arranged flights to Italy and transfers to the port and ship with Princess for convenience (and they’re very well-priced, we’ve found) so a 4 a.m. start, drive to Heathrow, and check-in resulted in the holiday starting in traditional British fashion with drinks in the airport before we’d normally even be awake.
The weather was perfect across Europe for our holiday (which always helps) and obligatory phone photos of the landscape and lakes we flew over swiftly followed.
Luggage was retrieved, we found the Princess representatives easily, and with only a little bit of hanging around until everyone from a couple of flights had gathered together we made our way to the coach (quite a walk as I recall) to then take the fairly quick drive to Civitavecchia where the ship was waiting. Unlike everyone else, it seemed, we’d filled in all our paperwork early and walked straight through to pick up our ship card, boarding the ship itself within about three minutes of arriving at the port. Outstanding work.
State Room E102
Our late deal gave us the most forward balcony on the Royal Princess, low down on the port side of the ship. The room was decorated in much the same way as any other Princess ship we’d been on but everything was newer and a little brighter as you’d expect from a more modern ship. The Royal Princess was the first (and at time of writing, only) Royal-class ship we’d been on, with all our previous cruises taking place on Grand-class vessels. The only major layout change in the room we could see was a large, wall-mounted TV opposite the bed rather than the smaller, corner-set ones we’d seen elsewhere. In the bathroom there was a minor change in positioning of the toilet which is usually at 45 degrees to the vanity unit.
We like balconies on our cruises and if you like balconies too then you probably really need to think about any of the Royal-class of ships (Royal, Regal, Majestic from Princess, or Britannia from P&O) as balcony depth is appalling unless you’re willing to really splash out on some of the higher priced rooms. As it was, though, our room was at the flaring point of the ship near the front which gave us an angled, deeper balcony than typical; the three or four cabins further back from us had deeper cabins again; the only “downside” was that our balconies were described as partially obstructed which in this instance meant that the barrier portion of the balcony was metal instead of glass. This was no obstruction at all and it even meant there was a metal shelf that was handy for putting drinks on when we were sitting out there. The balcony was partially covered and partially exposed and the ship’s bridge was above and just behind. If you’re concerned about privacy it’s worth thinking about but it didn’t concern us. We’d read that when the bridge windscreen was cleaned some of the cleaning fluid could drip onto the balconies where we were but for E102 this didn’t seem to be possible as we were set ahead of the bridge.
In Civitavecchia we were docked alongside the Celebrity Eclipse. As we unpacked and enjoyed a drink in our room a sudden thunderstorm hit the area; lightning was flashing across the suddenly dark afternoon sky and the rain came tipping down. With only a half-covered balcony we couldn’t step out to really take in the splendour of nature but we did sit for a while with our bodies sheltered and our legs exposed to the elements; the warm rain coming down was nice but the subsequent drips from the metal overhead were decidedly cooler. The storm passed quickly in time for a pleasing sunset before muster and departure.
So, Royal Princess state room E102 was perfectly adequate (and arguably better than the majority of balcony cabins on board) and it was conveniently located just one deck above the promenade deck making it easy to walk to between them rather than rely on elevators (although it’s a big ship so it’s still a fair distance). One thing I must point out, though, is that if you’re a fan of sleeping in then best find another room. Proximity to the anchor meant an alarm clock was rarely required. This didn’t bother us, but it might bother you.
The piazza was huge, light, and a very attractive space with some very familiar bars and shops hanging off it as we’d come to expect from Princess Cruises along with a few new places too. But looks aren’t everything. We came to realise very quickly that one of favourite things to do when we’re on a Princess ship – enjoy a cocktail from Crooners at the top of the piazza in the early evening before (and sometimes after) dinner – was completely ruined on Royal Princess because of new functionality for the atrium area; namely, activities. Specifically, noisy activities. It seemed there was almost always something happening in the piazza with the subsequent noise rising up to fill the space. At times it was difficult to hear yourself think because of a band or dance class taking place. This was a real disappointment for us.
We’re fond of art, always make a point of attending at least one auction on board, usually buy something, and Princess (or, rather, Park West, who manage art sales on numerous cruise lines) knows this so we were invited to private events during our week on the ship. Yes, we bought again; one of the pieces is shown below but I won’t say which (other than it’s not the sculpture because we’re not made of money). The location of the gallery on deck 7 was a shock to us and we didn’t really like that it was along a main walking area on this class of ship but I understand the reasoning in trying to capture a bit of passing traffic (more on this in a bit). Our experience says that people who like art already know they like art and it’s unlikely you’re going to entice someone in for a sale on the off chance but I suppose it’s possible. The art gallery was by a stairwell above the casino and we did notice the smell of smoke every now and then which was unpleasant. The gallery staff were superb, friendly, and we enjoyed many chats with them both on and off the ship in ports when we bumped into some on occasion (more on friendliness of staff in a bit too).
Our favourite venue on the Grand-class ships operated by Princess Cruises is Skywalkers Nightclub; nothing beats some late nights dancing and drinking. So it was an immense disappointment to discover that not only did the Royal Princess not have this club but the club it did have instead, Club 6, had no views out to sea in the evening and was both adjacent to the casino (smoking smell would creep in from time to time) and formed a corridor between the theatre and the piazza. The reasoning – we suspect – is again to capture passing traffic to the club, something that’s not possible for Skywalkers as it’s at the aft and up top of ships. The reality – we found – was that a crowd of people would just suddenly walk through the place a few times each evening talking loudly while you were trying to enjoy the music, blocking most of the routes to and from the dancefloor until they’d cleared. Baffling design decision. We’ve subsequently talked to a DJ who has worked on Princess ships and who made all the same complaints about Club 6 that I’ve done here.
One interesting thing about Club 6 on the Royal Princess, though, was that the resident DJ was Pedro who had also been on our South American cruise aboard the Star Princess. To date we think he’s the only crew member we’ve encountered twice on a trip. If he wasn’t so fixated on playing latin music all the bloody time then this would have been a good thing.
Other Interior Spaces
The food locations were (mostly) all excellent and none more so than the buffet; huge, open, well laid out, fantastic choices; this was one area that was substantially improved over other Princess ships. Quality and range were all excellent. With our recent experiences on P&O, for example, it’s incredible just how good and varied the breakfast is on Princess with regular choices, local dishes, changing dishes sensibly making use of food not eaten the night before, etc. With P&O it will typically be the same five things every day. Wonderful cake choices too.
The blot on the food landscape was the specialty dining in the Crown Grill, something we always like to do on a Princess cruise but… the location was attached to the Wheelhouse Bar which transformed it from a specialty location to a side room in a pub, and a noisy one at that; it was too bright so intimate dining was gone; the waiter didn’t listen to me at all (more on service in a bit). Anyway, awful.
A TV studio replaces one of the lounges on the Royal Princess and it’s a complete waste of space. That’s all I have to say on that. Another lounge had an odd layout of seating that made talking to other people difficult. Pleasant enough artwork was dotted around the ship and the namer of the ship, the Duchess of Cambridge, had her photograph in one of the corridors.
We like a nice walk around the promenade deck on other ships. Sadly, this was impossible on Royal Princess with just a few small areas of decking you could step out on and no walking circuit except for up on top of the ship. The deck areas on the promenade deck were pleasant enough but the views were a little limited by the presence of lifeboats. A nice view to the SeaWalk above could be had but that’s little compensation.
One of the big features of the Royal Princess cruise ship is its SeaWalk, a glass platform jutting out from the side of the ship and allowing views down to the sea. Sort of. It’s mostly over the promenade deck below so there’s no worry about falling through into the water as the wooden decking below would probably cushion any fall. It’s a nice enough gimmick and looks attractive from the ship’s exterior. Except with the lights on in the evening you can’t really see through the glass because of the reflections. What you can see, though, is onto the balconies and into some of the state rooms nearby. And as for what those rooms can see out to? If you like to gaze out at the stars at night (we do) then you’re only going to see a glowing glass obstruction I imagine.
The sports and gym options seemed to be improved from what we’ve seen on other ships with plenty of equipment and walking and jogging lanes. Not that we tried any; we’re not insane.
One piece of equipment looked like it was installed backwards from the accompanying explanation of how to use it and its proximity to the ship.
Swimming pools were generally very good with lots of lounges around. A water fountain area seemed to be a little bit of a waste of space but it was fairly entertaining on a few evenings when a sound and light show was performed. The best discovery, though, was the Retreat pool; adults only, sheltered, large enough to do plenty of laps in, and pretty much ignored by most of the passengers on board which suited us perfectly. We were very pleased to get in plenty of swims on our week on the Royal Princess.
The biggest, biggest, biggest problem we had with our week on board Royal Princess was that the level of service was nothing close to what we had come to expect from Princess Cruises. We were met with indifference from bar staff who would take orders with barely a glance, no chat, no smile, then head off without a word until they’d return to hand over drinks in silence, and this happened in every bar we visited on board; at the Retreat pool we couldn’t even catch the eye of a bar steward when we were the only ones there who went out of his way to wander around looking out to sea and ignoring us.
While the food was good in general the level of service was perfunctory at best in the main dining room, and in the Crown Grill it was atrocious with the waiter getting my order wrong and sighing loudly when it was pointed out. By far the worst service we had was when we had to go to the customer services desk to re-register a credit card that had stopped working because two digits had somehow transposed themselves between us booking the cruise and it being entered in their system somewhere; during a puzzled query as to how this could have happened since the card numbers had only been entered once and had obviously initially worked to get us on board we were met with an eye roll from the customer service person and an accusation that it had to be our fault. It was all I could do to hold my wife in check who was livid at being treated in such a way. We’ve never been treated that badly before or since and it just seemed to be pervasive among all the crew we encountered in some manner or another, again with the exception of the art gallery people who couldn’t have been nicer.
I know that sometimes something isn’t quite right or an encounter might not be perfect but it happened to us throughout the week and we weren’t the only people to experience this; during our disembarkation tour in Athens we were talking to some elite-level passengers who had all the same complaints to raise that we did.
Anyway, to finish: a few more photos and a couple of videos of the Royal Princess cruise ship top deck because despite problems on this cruise she was a pretty ship. It just might be a while before we’re tempted back on her or any of her class though.