The 141,000 ton Royal Princess, with 3,560 passengers and 1,200 crew members, is One Big Ship. When Princess Cruises invited me to try out the new Royal Princess Cruise voyage from Venice, Italy, to Istanbul, Turkey, I wasn’t sure if I should say yes. After all, I’ve made it no secret that I’m a small ship cruise fan. But I did it for you, boomer readers, because my cup of tea might not be yours. How can I tell you that small ship cruising is the only way to cruise without ever experiencing a large ship? So I said yes to cruising on the Royal Princess so that I could give you a first-hand report from a luxury cruiser’s perspective.
Public spaces that impressed me
My first impression of Royal Princess is that she is, indeed, one big ship. But the well-designed spaces kept me from feeling crowded by the other 3,559 passengers. The slightly glitzy but elegant Piazza, the centrally located atrium, functions as the ship’s hub. What a smart design choice by Princess. Several decks of specialty restaurants, coffee café and a gelato bar surround the large atrium with its ceilings that seem to soar to the very top deck of the ship.
From morning to night you’ll find something happening in the Piazza. I walked by one morning to discover a Zumba fitness class grooving to salsa music. On another evening, a rock band entertained a dance-happy crowd. With seating areas tucked here and there, the Piazza never feels crowded.
Sanctuary Retreat, an adults-only outdoor relaxation area adjacent to the adult pool on the top deck, is an enticing spot ($15 half day or $25 full day charge). On my visit, it felt as if I had walked into a spacious, outdoor living room. As someone who’s experienced skin cancer, I appreciated the many shaded areas, including individual cabanas. It’s fun to be outside like everyone else without getting too much sun. The Sanctuary is also a good place to relax quietly if the action around the main pool is too frenetic for you or if there are no seats available at the adult pool (free).
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What I liked: A daily fee to use the Sanctuary (compared to a charge for the total cruise like luxury cruise ships charge) is a brilliant idea, especially on a port intensive cruise when time is limited.
Deluxe Balcony stateroom
The 233 square foot deluxe balcony stateroom is about 140 square feet less than standard balcony suites found on luxury ships. While I’m not sure that Alan and I could manage in a stateroom this size for a long cruise, it’s certainly comfortable enough for a port intensive 7 to 14 day journey.
What I liked:
- The remote control on the flat screen TV was easy to use, especially for someone like me who’s been known to “punch all the buttons until something works.”
- The open closet concept is ingenious and would certainly make it easier for two people getting dressed at the same time.
- Toiletry dispensers attached to the shower wall were a nice touch as well.
- And the balcony provided plenty of privacy. Thanks to full partitions, I could hear my neighbors but couldn’t see them.
What I didn’t like: The bathroom is a bit bland. Just a touch of marble would have dressed it up nicely. And it’s also small with limited storage.
Bringing a plastic shoe bag to hang over the bathroom door adds additional space and keeps toiletries within easy reach.
Abundant Dining Choices
With 16 dining venues onboard Royal Princess, you certainly won’t go hungry. The ship offers three traditional dining rooms—Allegro (set seating time and assigned table), Symphony (anytime dining) and Concerto (anytime dining). Although I didn’t experience dinner in any of the traditional restaurants, I did join a table of cruisers for lunch in Concerto. The conversation was lively and everyone seemed to enjoy their meal. I also had lunch in Horizon Court, the Royal Princess’s buffet venue. The extensive offerings would satisfy any hungry diner although I found the space to be too busy for my taste.
What I liked: Servers circulated throughout Horizon Court with trays of soft drinks and water—a smart move by Princess.
I enjoyed meals in several of the specialty restaurants. Sabatini’s (extra charge of $25 per person) served up delicious Northern Italian cuisine. And I had an exceptionally fine meal at Crown Grill (extra charge of $25 per person). Pizza fans will want to try Alfredo’s (free except for drinks). I stopped in for lunch after returning from a cruise excursion and enjoyed the best vegetarian pizza that I’ve ever tasted.
Activities For Everyone
It goes without saying that you’ll find plenty to do on a large ship like Royal Princess. While I didn’t experience everything there was to offer, here are some of my highlights:
- The Lotus Spa (operated by Steiner) rivals any found on a luxury cruise ship although the decor was too dark for my taste. The individual treatment rooms are well equipped and unusually large for a ship’s spa. I recommend the Musclease Aroma Spa Ocean Wrap, which will melt away any travel aches and pains.
- Gym areas are located on the top decks of the ship and include outdoor equipment, basketball court and an indoor facility with plenty of equipment. Lotus Fitness experts offer classes at an additional cost.
- Claim a deck chair and blanket for a night of Movies Under the Stars on the pool deck. Crew members pass around free popcorn but drinks are extra. Arrive before the movie to see a water and light show set to music with dancing fountains that shoot water 30 feet into the air.
Although I didn’t have time to experience many of the entertainment venues, guests will find something for every musical taste. And Princess Theater offers productions with sophisticated lighting and sets, which I’m sorry to have missed.
Royal Princess offered a wide assortment of cruise excursions for all activity levels on my sailing from Venice to Istanbul. I especially liked that the meeting points for excursions were spread around the ship so I never got that “everyone crammed into a theater” feeling that I sometimes experience on smaller ships.
What I didn’t like: Guests must bring their own bottled water. I missed the complimentary bottles provided on all-inclusive luxury cruises.
Did I find luxury on Royal Princess?
All in all, I found the Princess big cruise ship experience to be a pleasant surprise. While I still enjoy the ambiance of smaller sized ships, I wouldn’t hesitate to sail again on Royal Princess depending on the price of the cruise, itinerary and circumstances (like cruising with a large group of friends/and or family).
Turn your Royal Princess cruise into a luxury experience by booking a higher level cabin, dining in the specialty restaurants and enjoying time in Sanctuary Retreat and Lotus Spa.
What I liked: Crew members were friendly and helpful, especially when it came to helping me find my way around such a large ship. If I looked even the slightest bit confused, a nearby crew member would notice and offer directions. It’s obvious that the management at Princess takes customer service as seriously as a small luxury cruise line does. And, in the end, it’s personal service and positive interaction with the staff that are the hallmarks of a good cruise experience.
Thinking about booking a Royal Princess Cruise? Take a look at all of the articles from my cruise on Royal Princess from Venice to Istanbul.
Disclosure: Princess Cruises provided this travel experience. As always, the opinions are my own.