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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Lotus Spa and Salon

In a change from previous Princess ship layouts, the spa facilities on Royal Princess are located on Deck 5 forward, the lowest public area on the ship. This allowed Princess to expand the facilities, making it one of the largest spas at sea. In moving the spa down below, so to speak, any semblance of natural light is gone once inside the spa. But, rather than try and replicate daylight, designers embraced this element—most of the spa has subdued lighting creating almost a nighttime effect. (For anyone who prefers, massages can be handled in the al fresco cabanas in the Sanctuary, though these are more expensive.) One other change: The fitness room is not remotely connected to the spa—you’ll find it on Deck 17. We think connecting spa and fitness is a marketing concept, selling wellness, not because most people head straight from one to the other.

Operated by Steiner Leisure, which manages spa services for many cruise lines, we found most prices in line with services on other cruises, and somewhat higher than we see at most quality resorts. Massages started at $155 for the 50-minute Thai Coconut Poultice or Rhythm n’ Bliss treatments and went up to $199 for the 75-minute Bamboo Massage; the 50-minute couples massage was $269. Facials started at $119 for the 50-minute La Therapie Hydralift treatment, or $75 for the 50-minute Men’s Facial. There were specials and packages offering discounts for one-off treatments not on the regular menu. Other treatments included acupuncture, Ionithermie, teeth whitening and a full roster of salon services. A 15-percent gratuity was applied to all treatments.

The spa also had a retreat within the spa, called the Enclave, which is similar to the thermal suites on other Princess ships, but triple the size. In addition to the usual heated ceramic beds, this communal relaxation area offered a hydrotherapy pool, waterbeds, a Turkish hammam-style steam bath, a Roman-style Caldarian chamber with herbal aromas and sensory showers. A weeklong pass to use the facilities was $159. Though the facility was attractive and inviting, the price seemed excessive to us. No day passes were available on the first day of the cruise, but they may be sold when the full-cruise passes haven’t sold well (check after embarkation).

We didn’t partake in a spa services during our cruise, but while the facility we did notice that sound from the Princess Theater immediately above leaks into some of the treatment rooms. While you can glace at the entertainment schedule to see what’s on for the day, it doesn’t include rehearsals. If you’re booking a treatment we suggest clarifying with the receptionist that your massage won’t be plagued by a second-hand rendition of My Heart Will Go On.

Fitness Center

The fitness room for Royal Princess is located on Deck 17, well away from the Lotus Spa. It was a great facility, featuring all the latest Precor machines, including a few devices that were new to us. Though often busy, we visited at peak hours and didn’t have a problem finding a treadmill to use.

The roster of free fitness classes on Royal Princess included twice-daily stretching sessions and a daily abs workshop. Other classes were priced $30 for three sessions, and included ChiBall Fire Yoga, Tour de Cycle (spinning), and Pilates. The TRX Suspension Training was $60 for three classes, and a four sessions of Body Sculpt Boot Camp was $120. There was also a series of “complimentary” seminars on back pain and fat burning that concluded with a heavy dose of product pitching.

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Pools

There are two swimming pools on Royal Princess. Neither was indoors (as is common on Princess’ Grand Class vessels), and they appeared to be identical in size. The Fountain Pool, located midship on Deck 16, was the main facility and was surrounded with the bulk of the ship’s lounge chairs. The pool was 5-foot 3-inches deep, and on sea days it was packed with people. Next to the pool was the fountain area, which was where additional loungers were positioned when the sun was out. But on the couple times we searched, two loungers together were scarce to find by mid-morning (loungers one deck up, overlooking the pool, were easier to come by). There were two whirlpools for this area, which also seemed a bit constrained at peak hours.

Just behind the Fountain Pool was an elevated terrace that had fountains for nighttime shows (see below). Additional loungers were set out on this terrace on sea days, but otherwise it seemed like wasted real estate. Just behind the terrace was a smaller round plunge pool that was little used.

The Retreat Pool was a more intimate, adults-only area located on Deck 17, just behind the Sanctuary. This was a great space, with two whirlpools, a full bar, and a more subdued environment than we found at the Fountain Pool. However, although there were usually fewer people in the Retreat Pool, this was partly because there were fewer loungers for sunning here, and a dozen of the loungers were dedicated to six cabanas that could only be rented. The price for renting two loungers and a cabana was $50 for a half-day, $80 for the full day rental. On sea days this area filled up, and we found it annoying that, once all the “free” loungers were occupied, we were expected to pony up a rental fee to use an unoccupied cabana.

Other Recreation

One deck up from the fitness room, Deck 18 was called Sports Central. The jogging track was located on this exterior deck and, though somewhat shorter than usual, it was a terrific, mostly broad area for exercise (seven laps equaled a mile). There were two lanes—one for walking, one for jogging—and no loungers to clutter up the track. Next to the track were various equipment for additional exercises—leg press, chest press, etc. Deck 18 also held the basketball court, ping pong tables, and a netted driving range for practicing our golf swing.

Just upstairs on Deck 19 was the Lawn Court, with a small putting green. A few extra sun loungers were here, overlooking the basketball court, but we never saw these put to much use.

Decks

Instead of a regular promenade deck encircling the ship, Deck 7 is an abbreviated exterior deck with a terrace-like feature that extended from the Piazza area. While we prefer a wraparound promenade, the terrace was appealing—a broad deck about 100 feet long for enjoying the sun and breeze. There were only a few loungers here, but the deck seemed little used for some reason. Exterior access forward and aft was blocked by a crew-only walkway, but the aft section of Deck 7 (accessed from the inside the Vista Lounge) revealed a unique and totally appealing hideaway. On either side was a little nook with just a quartet of lounge chairs for enjoying the aft view. Surprisingly, this spot saw minimal traffic, so it wasn’t hard to snag one of these chairs and enjoy the seagoing ambience.

Deck 17 was a utilitarian sun deck with lots of loungers at midship. There were two whirlpool tubs overlooking the Fountain Pool, along with a couple showers. On the aft deck, a large area was set aside for smokers. This area was often busy, and when the ship was sailing exhaust from the funnels often plagued this deck.

On Deck 17 forward was The Sanctuary, Princess Cruises’ standard surcharge area for top deck privacy and pampering. It certainly feels like an exclusive area, with little of the crowding found in other sun areas of the ship, lighted with screened sun and colored with potted plants. There are private massage cabanas at the front reserved for treatments (there’s a special price for services here), plus cabanas equipped with TV, fan, privacy curtain, etc. Waiters were available to deliver light meals from a limited menu. Just before our review was scheduled for publication, in March 2014, Princess revealed prices for Sanctuary access had been increased across the fleet. The price is now $20 for a half-day pass or $40 for the full day, but rates may fluctuate based on demand.

Shows and Entertainment

There are a number of venues for entertainment, with the Princess Theater serving as the main showroom. This 925-seat theater—the largest in the Princess fleet—isn’t flashy, but it’s quite functional, utilizing the latest show technology and featuring unobstructed sightlines from all seats. There’s a good sound system, but be aware that a few seats are directly in front of speakers.

There are four shows in rotation on Royal Princess and we saw three of them. They were each a tight 35 minutes—a little shorter than shows on other Princess ships—and performed three times. None were groundbreaking, but they were fresh, colorful and full of energy. The music, most of which is canned backing tracks rather than a live band, is played loud. With a cast of four singers and 14 dancers, “Colors of the World” linked various songs to global destinations—'O Sole Mio for Italy, Over the Rainbow for Hawaii, True Colors for Japan—against a backdrop of simplistic visual stereotypes (gee, would that be cherry blossoms for Japan?). The show reached its nadir with I Need a Hero representing Greece, sung by Aphrodite surrounded by fey Olympians. Ugh. This one’s going to be dated in no time, but there are no sets to speak of, just video backdrops that can be changed out.

The show “Spectacular” was another musical review, though we couldn’t quite figure out the connecting thread. Songs included Diamonds are Forever, That’s Entertainment, and Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough, plus a knockout version of Me and Mrs. Jones. If a bit even there were moments that nearly lived up to the title, with the video backdrop put to excellent effect at a couple points. The four singers performing “Sweet Soul Music” were terrific, perhaps in part because they had a live, seven-piece band backing them. Along with 12 dancers, they plowed dutifully through the Motown library in one- and two-minute versions, but also stretched to include Proud Mary and I'm Every Woman. This hot show left everyone wanting more.

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