ROYAL PRINCESS: North American Debut

ROYAL PRINCESS

NORTH AMERICAN DEBUT

By

Shawn J. Dake

ROYAL PRINCESS, the newest and largest "Love Boat".  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
ROYAL PRINCESS, the newest and largest “Love Boat”. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

Following her Royal christening in June and a summer season of 12-day Mediterranean cruises, the new ROYAL PRINCESS crossed the Atlantic for the first time arriving in the pre-dawn hours of October 27th at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That busy first day in the U.S.A. saw the ship disembarking a full load of passengers, undergoing inspections by the U.S. Coast Guard and embarking a new group of guests for a two-night pre-inaugural cruise to nowhere, prior to the beginning of her maiden Caribbean season. The 142,714 gross ton ship got off to an auspicious start on her first day in North America, passing the U.S. Public Health, Vessel Sanitation Program inspection with a perfect score of 100%. Later that evening, the ROYAL PRINCESS let go the lines holding her to shore, marking the ship’s first departure from a U.S. port. As the only ship remaining in Port Everglades on a Sunday night, that 10:30pm sailing was a quiet one, at least until the huge vessel was out to sea just off the coast. Then the explosions began. Fireworks lit the sky over the huge ship, choreographed to music played over the outer decks. A tremendous barrage of projectiles fired from an anchored barge culminated in one of the best fireworks finales that Florida’s Gold Coast has seen.

A court of little "Royal Princesses" join "Love Boat Captain" Gavin MacLeod in welcoming the ship to Ft. Lauderdale for the first time on October 27, 2013.  Princess Cruises photo.
A court of little “Royal Princesses” join “Love Boat Captain” Gavin MacLeod in welcoming the ship to Ft. Lauderdale for the first time on October 27, 2013. Princess Cruises photo.

The two-night cruise was a sampler for invited travel agents and members of the press. All of the top executives from Princess Cruises were in attendance. In addition, a very special guest, none other than Captain Merrill Stubing himself, actor Gavin MacLeod was aboard, once again back at sea. He has been a spokesperson for Princess Cruises since 1986 and has a new autobiography out titled This Is Your Captain Speaking. There is no question that the television show “The Love Boat” had an enormous influence on the growth of cruising in general and Princess in particular. Even the whistle of the ROYAL PRINCESS plays the first bars of the show’s theme song. Only this new Love Boat is seven times the size of the original PACIFIC PRINCESS seen on most episodes of the program. Although the dimensions of Princess vessels have continuously grown over the years, this latest addition to the fleet is much more evolutionary than revolutionary. Although there are many newly minted features, the overall effect the ship designers have created is one of a modern yet traditional Princess ship. There are no rock climbing walls, zip lines or waterslides that some other cruise lines have deemed necessary for a vacation at sea.

Princess Family Photo: Julie Benson, Vice-President of Public Relations, Gavin MacLeod, Spokesperson and Alan Buckelew, President of Princess Cruises.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
Princess Family Photo: Julie Benson, Vice-President of Public Relations, Gavin MacLeod, Spokesperson and Alan Buckelew, President of Princess Cruises. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

Stepping aboard the ROYAL PRINCESS feels instantly familiar and recognizable, if on a much larger scale. As Rai Caluori, Executive Vice President of Fleet Operations said while onboard, “This formula of ship design works very well with our passengers and this ship is a continuation of that.” Alan Buckelew, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Princess Cruises added, “We’ve kept the features that make our passengers feel right at home on our newest ship and added an array of innovations. The fountain show is new to us. You hope it works as well at sea as it works on land; and passengers really love it. We brought the piazza concept to its full fruition on this ship. We are delighted with the way the ship is performing, whether on a customer service level, or on a revenue basis for the venues.” When asked about the increasing size of cruise ships, he stated “Obviously we are a business. A larger ship has the potential to earn more money. For us, this size is about perfect. We have competitors that are larger and they tell Wall Street that they are doing very well. I won’t say that we will never build a larger ship than ROYAL PRINCESS. For the present, this is as big as we plan to go.”

Captain Tony Draper and his senior officers greet passengers in the Piazza atrium.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
Captain Tony Draper and his senior officers greet passengers in the Piazza atrium. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

Based on double occupancy, the ROYAL PRINCESS carries 3,560 passengers. All outside staterooms feature a balcony. Out of 1,780 total staterooms, only 342 are inside cabins. Captain Tony Draper who started his career with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in the U.K., joined Princess in 1995 as navigator on the original ISLAND PRINCESS. He has been with the ROYAL PRINCESS from the beginning and hosted Her Royal Highness, Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge on the day of the christening ceremony in Southampton. He said that, “Even with a 4,200 passenger capacity onboard, as on some of the Mediterranean cruises, the flow around the ship is amazing. It is not crowded, with so many smaller venues.” The experience gained through the 17 current ships in the fleet and 48 years in business, has paid off in the very comfortable atmosphere found aboard the new ROYAL PRINCESS.

The new ROYAL PRINCESS at sea.  Princess Cruises photo.
The new ROYAL PRINCESS at sea. Princess Cruises photo.

The five-night maiden Caribbean Cruise sailed at 5:14pm on Tuesday, October 29, 2013. With this being the first departure in daylight, many of the homeowners along the waterfront came out in their yards to watch the giant ship pass by. On the rocks at the end of the jetty, looking like a figurehead on sailing ships of old, a young lady flashed more than her smile.

Helicopter vs. Flying Saucer.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
Helicopter vs. Flying Saucer. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

Once out to sea, a black helicopter swooped around the ship, providing aerial photography from every possible angle. To make the most of the late afternoon light, the ship executed a 360 degree turn. Photography complete, the helicopter returned to shore, and the ship pointed her bow to the east as the sun began to set under very pretty skies off the stern.

First Caribbean port call for the ROYAL PRINCESS on October 30, 2013.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake c.2013.
Princess Cays, Princess’ beach resort on the island of Eleuthera. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

The first port, on this first cruise would be the exclusive private beach resort of Princess Cays, located off the southern portion of the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. The ROYAL PRINCESS anchored well offshore and tender service commenced in a fairly rapid and well-organized fashion. The specially designed tenders are among the largest in the cruise industry. Princess Cays itself is a long stretch of beautiful beach with plenty of chairs, rental cabanas, shops, bars and pavilions that provided a tasty beachside lunch barbecue. Far too soon, the last tender left shore at 4:00pm, and the ship sailed shortly after that.

First Caribbean port call for the ROYAL PRINCESS on October 30, 2013.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
First Caribbean port call for the ROYAL PRINCESS on October 30, 2013. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

If there is a problem aboard the ROYAL PRINCESS, it is that there are way too many places to discover and too many entertainment options to choose between. It can literally take days to become familiar with what is happening where and on what deck; if you can call that a problem. One daily program listed 76 distinct activities to choose from, not counting the usual dining, shopping, pool and spa options that are also available. Seemingly, the Piazza atrium, always has something going on. It is 50% larger than on any previous Princess ship, and has been transformed into an entertainment setting all its own. Three decks in height, many passengers enjoyed dancing on the marble floor at the lowest Plaza Deck 5 level.

The always busy Piazza, facing forward.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The always busy Piazza, facing forward. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
Crooners Bar.  One of many drinking, dining and entertainment venues around the Piazza.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
Crooners Bar. One of many drinking, dining and entertainment venues around the Piazza. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

The expanded Crooners Bar on Promenade Deck 7, was the most popular, but by no means the only, piano bar on the ship. Rounding out the offerings of the Piazza are several alternative dining venues. Alfredo’s pizzeria and the International Café are pleasant places to grab a bite at no extra charge. The new Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar and Bellini’s cocktail bar are on two separate levels at the forward end of the piazza opposite the panoramic elevators and spiral staircases which connect all three decks. Another treat is the Gelato ice cream shop. Finally, tucked in the starboard corner of the lowest level, Vines wine bar is a quiet retreat conveniently located adjacent to Sabatini’s Italian restaurant. Sabatini’s carries a $25.00 extra tariff, and is among the best specialty dining venues at sea. The fried calamari appetizer, pasta carbonara, the lobster trio entrée and the delicious Italian Zabaglione for dessert are not to be missed. Sabatini’s also has an extensive wine list and a large circular glass wine display case that is impressive.

Sabatini's, for fine Italian dining.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
Sabatini’s, for fine Italian dining. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
A rich dessert of Zabaglione completes a most memorable meal.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
A rich dessert of Zabaglione completes a most memorable meal. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

Having a full day at sea provides more time to fully explore the ship and enjoy a bit of relaxation. The ROYAL PRINCESS traveled at a leisurely speed of just over 12 knots under mostly sunny skies and an air temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit as she sailed towards her next destination of Grand Turk Island. This cruise offered the added bonus of celebrating the first ever Halloween at sea aboard this ship. Exquisitely carved pumpkins and other spooky decorations set the mood for the evening revelries. The Piazza remained a busy place as Captain Draper hosted his “Welcome Aboard” party before dinner, complete with the now traditional champagne waterfall providing a popular photo op.

Costumed revelers take over the Piazza on Halloween night.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
Costumed revelers take over the Piazza on Halloween night. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

Later that night, it would be filled with several hundred costumed passengers and staff, mingling, parading and dancing in high spirits. Elsewhere, classic movies “The Shining” and “Ghostbusters” played simultaneously in different venues, the latter on Decks 16 and 17 above the Fountain Pool on the largest outdoor movie screen at sea.

ROYAL PRINCESS maiden call at Grand Turk on November 1, 2013.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
ROYAL PRINCESS maiden call at Grand Turk on November 1, 2013. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

The next morning, bright and early at 7:30am, the ROYAL PRINCESS docked at the Grand Turk Cruise Center, built and operated by Carnival Corporation. The 13-acre port complex has 800 feet of white sand beach, duty-free shopping, a large swimming pool and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant and shops. It is a destination in itself, with spectacular views of your cruise ship moored just steps away. Although the island is only seven miles long and a mile and a half wide, it has a lot to offer to both beach lovers and history buffs. Grand Turk is the capital of the Turks & Caicos Islands and remains part of Great Britain. A wide variety of shore excursions, 21 total, booked up early but many passengers chose to remain within the cruise center; a beach chair nearby and a tropical drink in hand.

Conch(ed) out on beautiful Governor's Beach, in the Turks & Caicos Islands.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013
Conch(ed) out on beautiful Governor’s Beach, in the Turks & Caicos Islands. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013

Governor’s Beach, within easy walking distance of the port, offered excellent snorkeling in the clearest of Caribbean waters. Toting sacks of souvenirs and bottles of the local Bambarra Rum, the complement of over 3,500 passengers trooped back aboard by 4:30pm for the scheduled departure at 5:15pm. Maneuvering a ship that is 1,082 feet (329.8 meters) in length can be a tricky proposition in tight spaces surrounded by reefs, but Captain Draper and his officers did an admirable job, reversing away from the pier and swinging the bow to port before turning to the northwest and setting a course toward Florida.

Commendatore Alfredo Marzi at the restaurant named in his honor aboard ROYAL PRINCESS.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
Commendatore Alfredo Marzi at the restaurant named in his honor aboard ROYAL PRINCESS. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

Another hot day at sea would see the ship traveling at a respectable speed of 17 knots on the journey home. Like other sea days, the extent of the activities offered was practically endless. One of the highlights was a cooking demonstration by Master Chef Alfredo Marzi, who is the Executive Chef for the entire Princess Cruises fleet. The versatile Princess Theater was transformed into a kitchen for his well-attended program. Chef Marzi joined Princess in 1975 and is one of the longest serving employees within the company. He began his seagoing career with the Italian Line serving at various times on most of their later ships, his favorite being the RAFFAELLO. As for Princess ships, he says “Whatever ship I am on is my favorite. That is the politically correct answer. But when I am honest with me, my favorite ship was the original ROYAL PRINCESS.” He was the culinary leader in charge of bringing that ship into service in 1984 and among many other achievements, greatly enjoyed meeting and cooking for Princess Diana. Following his presentation the entire group followed him through the ship for a tour of the galley.

The bell from the original ROYAL PRINCESS of 1984 currently is on the Bridge of the third ship of that name, but may eventually be placed in the Wheelhouse Bar.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The bell from the original ROYAL PRINCESS of 1984 currently is on the Bridge of the third ship of that name, but may eventually be placed in the Wheelhouse Bar. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

Dining is an enormous part of the experience aboard the latest ROYAL PRINCESS. The 618-seat Allegro Dining Room located all the way aft on Deck 6 is the one traditional dining room with assigned seating times at 6:15pm or 8:15pm. Designed by Giacomo Mortola, whose career goes back to the wonderful Sitmar Cruises beginning in 1974, and has since included work on most ships of the Princess fleet, it is decorated in bold shades of red offset by black columns and balustrades. The distinctive architecture is unlike any other room aboard the ship.

A corner of the Allegro Dining Room showing the alcoves along the sides of the huge room.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
A corner of the Allegro Dining Room showing the alcoves along the sides of the huge room. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Chef’s Table Lumiere is the ultimate dining experience aboard the ROYAL PRINCESS.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Chef’s Table Lumiere is the ultimate dining experience aboard the ROYAL PRINCESS. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

On select evenings, it is also the home of the Chef’s Table Lumiere, with guests dining at a sculpted glass table surrounded by a specially designed curtain of light. This expensive, but extremely popular option was sold out for the entire cruise. Two other large dining rooms, the Concerto on Deck 6 and the Symphony on Deck 5 are the venues for Princess’ “Anytime Dining.” Besides the aforementioned Alfredo’s, International Café and Sabatini’s there are several other dining areas.

The Symphony Dining Room on Deck 5 is nearly identical to the Concerto Dining Room located one deck above.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Symphony Dining Room on Deck 5 is nearly identical to the Concerto Dining Room located one deck above. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Wheelhouse Bar opens directly into the Crown Grill steakhouse.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Wheelhouse Bar opens directly into the Crown Grill steakhouse. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

The Crown Grill has been paired with the Wheelhouse Bar allowing cocktails to be enjoyed before dining on steaks, chops and seafood in the evening. Luncheon, in the atmosphere of a traditional British pub, can be found in the Wheelhouse Bar during the day, without an extra charge. The casual dining area of the Horizon Court and Bistro has been greatly expanded from earlier Princess ships and is available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Taking up almost the entire aft half of Lido Deck 16, the food quality and variety remained consistently high. Within the Horizon Court are several smaller serving areas including the new Pastry Shop. The delicious pastries are complimentary while the specialty coffee bar carries a nominal fee. Asian and Mediterranean sections offer nice alternatives to the more standard buffet fare of most ships. On certain evenings, part of the Horizon Court transforms into the extra-tariff Crab Shack for steamed seafood, bayou style, or Fondues for cheese and chocolate treats.

The Horizon Terrace and Outrigger Bar on Deck 16 aft.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Horizon Terrace and Outrigger Bar on Deck 16 aft. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The distinctive SeaWalk is the signature feature of the ROYAL PRINCESS.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The distinctive SeaWalk is the signature feature of the ROYAL PRINCESS. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Sea View Bar is the counterpart located on the port side.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Sea View Bar is the counterpart located on the port side. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

One of the prettiest and least discovered areas on the ship is the Horizon Terrace, an outdoor area all the way aft overlooking the ship’s wake, furnished with comfortable sofas and chairs and the dedicated Outrigger Bar. Moving back to midship, the most talked-about feature of the ROYAL PRINCESS is the SeaWalk. The curved, glass-bottomed walkway is 60 feet long and cantilevers out 28 feet from the starboard side of the ship, 128 feet above the sea below. The same effect is found at the SeaView bar on the port side, except this time cocktails are available to go with the harrowing view below. Nearby, Swirls serves delicious ice cream cones and bowls. Finally, on the other side of the pools, the Trident Grill serves hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and a variety of sausages on the starboard side while the Prego Pizzeria makes delicious pies over on the port.

The Princess Live TV studio is proving hugely successful on early sailings.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Princess Live TV studio is proving hugely successful on early sailings. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
A pair of super comfortable chairs outside Princess Live.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
A pair of super comfortable chairs outside Princess Live. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
A portion of Club 6 looking forward.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
A portion of Club 6 looking forward. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

The ROYAL PRINCESS has introduced a number of new features that are sure to find a place on their upcoming ships. Princess Live gives passengers a taste of life in a TV studio and proved to be extremely popular, filled to standing-room-only most of the time. The space lends itself particularly well to audience participation activities. Club 6 is an intimate lounge off the casino that repurposes itself throughout the day from a quiet lounge to an exclusive bar for Suite guests and Elite past passengers during two hours of cocktail time each evening to a small, but extremely attractive dance club late at night.

The Vista Lounge is located aft on Deck 7.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Vista Lounge is located aft on Deck 7. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
While the Princess Theater is located forward spanning two decks.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
While the Princess Theater is located forward spanning two decks. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

While not new, the Vista Lounge has been greatly enlarged and has wonderful entertainment such as popular comedians, and other performers but in a smaller setting than the big production shows in the Princess Theater. The Lotus Spa has relocated from prime space at the top of the ship to a beautifully designed interior area on Deck 5. There are now 16 treatment rooms including two suites designed for couples to enjoy massages together. The Enclave is the thermal suite within the spa including eye-catching features like a large hydrotherapy pool with a falling “rain” shower, heated stone beds, and even waterbeds to name just a few of the many features. For those that prefer the outdoors, there are massage pavilions high atop the ship in The Sanctuary along with VIP and Spa Cabanas which can be rented for the ultimate in quiet privacy.

Comfortable lounge chairs and cabanas can be found in The Sanctuary.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
Comfortable lounge chairs and cabanas can be found in The Sanctuary. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Retreat Swimming Pool and Bar is a quiet area for lounging, and includes two hot tubs.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Retreat Swimming Pool and Bar is a quiet area for lounging, and includes two hot tubs. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

Adjacent to The Sanctuary, The Retreat also has several private cabanas bordering the Retreat Pool, exclusively for adults, but there are also plenty of free deck chairs available along with attentive bar service. Although it may sound cliché, The Retreat provides a feeling akin to that which is usually only found on a much smaller ship. At the stern, high on Decks 18 and 19 is Sports Central, a large complex including the fitness center, jogging track, Center Court for basketball, tennis or volleyball, a batting cage and a lawn court for golf putting or croquet games. For sun loungers that don’t mind being away from the pools, even more deck chairs are available here, with spectacular views.

The Fountain Pools midship on Lido Deck 16 facing aft.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Fountain Pools midship on Lido Deck 16 facing aft. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Fountains and Movies Under The Stars giant screen at night.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The Fountains and Movies Under The Stars giant screen at night. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

Between the two main pools on Deck 16 is a rather unremarkable circular island by day. By night, this transforms into the Dancing Fountains Water Show as up to 85 jets shoot water 33 feet into the air. The pulsations are choreographed to sound and light images and projections on the massive Movies Under The Stars screen and its stadium quality audio system. Short vignettes are themed to segments including songs about rain, James Bond movies and Frank Sinatra. Viewing one of these shows is a very pleasant way to end an evening before retiring, or dropping by the Horizon Bistro for one last late night snack.

The ROYAL PRINCESS is a magnificent addition to the Princess Cruises fleet.  Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.
The ROYAL PRINCESS is a magnificent addition to the Princess Cruises fleet. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2013.

At five months old, the ROYAL PRINCESS has now completed all of her inaugural activities on both sides of the Atlantic and is settling into her new role as the largest and most spectacular ship in the Princess Cruises fleet. From November through the end of April, 2014 her regular itinerary will consist of seven-night cruises from Ft. Lauderdale to the Eastern Caribbean islands of Princess Cays, Bahamas, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Passengers are sure to be impressed with what they find aboard this newest ship. The only question is, will there be enough time for them to take it all in during just one week?

Sincere THANKS to Julie Benson, Karen Candy, Martin Cox, Caroline Denton-Dake and Alfredo Marzi.

See related post by Shawn Dake: Executive Shuffles At Princess, Carnival And The New Holland America Group

Shawn Dake

Shawn Dake

Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years.  A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary.  A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs.  Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America.  With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
Shawn Dake
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