cruises

Princess Cruises Royal Princess Review

The first new Princess ship in 5 years brings a number of enhancements to the line’s typical layout and design. But a few changes made no sense to us.

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Royal Princess has a dozen bars and lounges spread across the ship, several of which adjoin the Piazza, where live music and entertainment is often conducted. Our favorite of these was Crooners, a Princess institution offering an inviting martini selection, but the Wheelhouse Bar is another good place for live piano and cocktails. Most of the other venues have familiar names, but a new one is the SeaView Bar, which has a see-through walkway on one side, for gazing down onto the waves.

Signature cocktails were available in most venues, and most were priced $7.95—they included the traditional “007 Classic” with Stolichnaya vodka or Tanqueray gin, an “ultimate” mai tai with Bacardi Oakheart and Cruzan dark rum, and Lynchburg lemonade with Jack Daniel’s whisky. Simpler drinks (made with house brands) were $5.50. House spirits were $5, while call brands started at $5.50, and went up from there. Non-alcoholic cocktails were also available, all priced $4.

Wines available by the glass included Hogue riesling, Nobilo sauvignon blanc, Woodbridge chardonnay, Katnook Estate shiraz, Estancia pinot noir and Robert Mondavi cabernet sauvignon, at prices ranging $7.25-$7.95. An unnamed house white and house red were offered for $6.25. Korbel brut reserve was available in 187ml bottles for $7.25 and Nicolas Feuillatte brut reserve by the glass for $13. An upgraded wine list was available at the Crown Grill and Sabatini’s dining rooms and at the Vines and Bellini’s lounges.

The frustratingly curt beer selection included the usual domestics for $4.25, plus Bass, Dos Equis, Blue Moon and Beck’s for $4.95, and Grolsch and Guinness for $5.95. There were also a few beer cocktails (michelada, desperado) for $7.25.

In 2014, keeping up with its competitors, Princess introduced an all-inclusive alcoholic beverage package. The price is $49 per person, per day, plus 15-percent gratuity. The package includes all cocktails, spirits, beer and glasses of wine priced under $10 (some premium liquors and wines on menus are excluded). Sodas and other nonalcoholic drinks are included, along with coffee drinks plus some specialty food items such as gelato. The package also avails a 40-percent discount on bottled wine priced under $100. The package is sold on cruises of seven nights or longer and, unlike on some cruise lines, not all passengers in the cabin are required to buy the package. There was also non-alcoholic drink package: the Unlimited Soda & More Package of soft drinks, mocktails, milk shakes and juices was $7 per day plus 15-percent gratuity, including free tumbler.

A 15-percent service charge was added to all drink orders. The minimum age for drinking was 21.

International Café & Princess Live! Café

Located at the base of the lobby atrium on Deck 5 and open 24 hours, the International Café was the place for a quick shot of caffeine—espresso-fueled drinks that were a cut or two above the ship’s standard brew. We found prices to be reasonable, starting at $1.75 for a small espresso or macchiato, $2.50 for a cappuccino or latte; large sizes were also available to go. We took advantage of a coffee card, priced $29, which availed 15 drinks along with unlimited refills of brewed coffee (a better grade than served elsewhere for free).

Royal Princess is also the first in the fleet to promote a full-blown tea service. The Royal Afternoon Tea included fresh berries and cream, warm scones, queen of puddings and finger sandwiches, along with Mighty Leaf teas from the café’s tea tower. The price was $10 per person, or $20 including a glass of Champagne. Coffee, tea, and edibles from the café (see previous page) could be eaten at tables scattered around the Piazza.

Another first for Royal Princess is the Princess Live! Café located outside the theater of the same name, on Deck 7. The drink selection is the same and the seating area is a little more subdued than in the Piazza, but few of the food items from the International Café were on offer.

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Bellini’s Bar

Another new venue for Royal Princess is Bellini’s, a bar that overlooks the Piazza from Deck 6. It’s an open space defined by marble and glass, somewhat sequestered from the hubbub of the Piazza. It didn’t see a lot of traffic, and we noticed people lounging here without ordering from the menu.

As the name hints, the focus is Champagne. The titular cocktail, the “classic” Bellini, is made with peach purée and prosecco—this and other cocktails made with prosecco were $8.95. The Royal Bellini—with vodka, Galliano and Champagne—was priced $15. Domaine Chandon, Nicolas Feuillatte and Veuve Clicquot were available by the glass or bottle.

Club 6

Serving as the ship’s modest disco, Club 6 is located on—you guessed it—Deck 6, smack between the casino and main showroom. The dance floor is pretty small compared to what we see on other big ships, but it’s seemed adequate for the Princess crowd. Our two main complaints were that, although there was a solid DJ spinning tunes on our cruise, the volume was surprisingly low—the music was not nearly as loud as music played in the showroom next door. Additionally, we didn’t like was how the dance floor was crammed into a corner behind casino—the disco felt like an afterthought. But it stayed open as late as guests were still dancing—as late as 3 a.m. on the second night of our cruise.

Club 6 was well designed to be functional for other purposes—trivia contests, arts and crafts sessions and other events were held here through the day (with the bar closed). Although this venue is non-smoking, cigarette and cigar smoke from the adjacent casino and Churchill’s smoking lounge was noticeable at times.

Crooner’s Lounge & Bar

Crooner’s is the terrific martini bar for Royal Princess. Using a space that appears larger than Crooner’s venues on other Princess ships, the lounge opens onto the Piazza, overlooking the action from Deck 7. The cocktail list features more than 50 types of martinis, including quite a few we’ve never heard of. It’s a great spot before dinner, with lots of people watching, or for enjoying sunset panoramas; a pianist shows up 9:45 p.m. or later to tickle the ivory.

Martini-style drinks included a Suntini (Stolichnaya, melon liqueur and pineapple juice), Golden Nugget (Bacardi Limon, coconut milk and passion fruit) and Tango Tini (Stolichnaya vodka, Blue Curaçao and melon liqueur), along with a roster of chocolate-flavored martinis. All were $7.95, except for ultra premium martinis, made with Grey Goose, Bombay Sapphire, etc.—priced $8.95. All were shaken tableside (or at the bar). Wine and champagne was available by the glass or bottle, along with the ship’s standard bar menu.

We loved that drinks were served with a side of cocktail mix and a choice of seven different olives, stuffed with almond, lemon rind, garlic, jalapeño, blue cheese, anchovy or sun-dried tomato.

Mermaid’s Tail

Located between Trident Grill and Prego Pizzeria, Mermaid’s Tail served as the drink station not only for those dining options, but also for the main pool and for Movies Under the Stars. It was often busy, but service was swift. The ship’s standard bar menu was available.

Outrigger Bar

The main bar serving the Horizon Court buffet, Outrigger is located on Deck 16 aft. In addition to the regular bar menu, variations on the Bloody Mary were on offer—a Highland Mary made with scotch, a Bloody Caesar made with vodka, etc. The Outrigger also had the distinction of being the first bar to open each morning, at 6 a.m.

Retreat Bar

Serving the Retreat Pool, this outdoor bar on Deck 17 was generally quieter and less bustling than the Outrigger Bar. The drink selection was much the same, with an iced bucket and bottle of Moët & Chandon at the ready, for those needing a bubbly splurge.

SeaView Bar and SeaWalk

Located next to the Fountain Pool on Deck 16, the SeaView Bar on the port side is a cantilevered watering hole. The arced bulge has windows built into the floor that offer sea views 128 feet straight-down. This bar, open-air but completely shaded, was usually less busy than the nearby Mermaid’s Tale and, depending on the ship’s position, it was often a good spot for sunset libations.

Immediately opposite the bar, one of the unique attractions on Royal Princess is the SeaWalk, a curved walkway that also extends 28 feet out from the ship, and 128 feet above the sea. The industry first is glassed on the sides, and windows in the floor offer views straight down onto the waves. It’s a fun little curio, though maybe not the best hangout for those prone to vertigo. You’ll find the SeaWalk on the starboard side.

Vines

The wine bar on Royal Princess is located at the base of the Piazza and functions as a kind of lounge for the neighboring Sabatini’s. There were 32 wines available by the glass—many of them also featured on the ship’s standard wine list, which seemed to us to undercut the concept of a wine bar.

Most glasses were priced $7.25-$10, but for a little more we could sample Nebbiolo Valmaggiore Bruno Giacosa or Franciscan Magnificat. There were three choices with bubbles—at $17.50 per glass, Veuve Clicquot brut was the most expensive offering at Vines. Flights of wine were available—three 2-oz. pours for prices ranging $8.25-$10.25, served in Riedel stemware.

There were also Italian-themed cocktails like Negroni on the menu (the same offered at Sabatini’s) and, on request, an antipasto plate was brought to our table.

Wheelhouse Bar

On Royal Princess, the Wheelhouse Bar has been comfortably reimagined as a lounge and waiting area for the Crown Grill. The décor is uniform in style, offering both venues more flexibility that they might otherwise have—it’s a good concept. Flights of whiskey were offered, along with the standard bar menu, and we found the bar quite busy in the evening, especially when a pianist was on duty. On our cruise, the guest pianist was definitely in love with the sound of his own fingers—it was Liberace-style schmaltz, and the crowd loved it.

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