Just got back from the January 25th Royal Princess sailing, and thought I'd share a few thoughts on the trip.
Passengers for this trip:
We had a party of five for this cruise. Me and my wife stayed in one cabin, and my sister-in-law stayed in the cabin next to ours. Also traveling with us were my parents, experienced cruisers and the ones who got me started on Princess in the first place. my Mom is Elite on Princess and for my Dad this cruise was his fifteenth, so he will be Elite on the next one.
Moving On Over:
As I have mentioned on this board before, we were originally scheduled to take a 5 night Cabo Getaway cruise at the end of November/beginning of December, but received a move-over offer less than a week before sailing, which we ended up taking to move to this one. This meant that we moved from interior cabins on a 5 night sailing to balcony cabins on a 7-night sailing, and got the cruise fare we paid in refundable OBC plus $150 per passenger to cover airline change fees. This required some hasty shuffling of our travel plans, and we did end up eating part of the cost of a non-refundable hotel room for the night before our originally scheduled embarkation, but overall we came out of it pretty well. We ended up using most of the OBC on gratuities, shore excursions and drink packages but should be getting back just about enough to cover two Future Cruise Deposits.
After we took the move-over (this was about two days before Thanksgiving) I told my parents about what happened and how we moved to another sailing, and two days later they surprised us by booking the cruise which we had moved to. Getting the move-over was nice, but getting the move-over and then unexpectedly getting my parents to take the cruise with us was the icing on the cake for this one. My Dad informed me that they booked this cruise so I could help them win at trivia. I found out later on that they were only half-joking about that one...
We were in C124, a port side balcony near the front of the ship on the Caribe deck. My sister-in-law was in C120, next to ours. We attempted to open the balcony divider between the two cabins, but we ended up having a fair number of problems with this. When we boarded the steward opened the divider but we found that the hook to hold the door in place was missing. Maintenance was called to rectify this, and they installed a new hook. Unfortunately a day later the newly installed hook fell off the wall, and the divider had to be closed again. Owing to the difficulties we had with this my wife was given a goodwill OBC. My parents booked a balcony guarantee and got a visit from the upgrade fairy that put them in M725, an aft-facing deluxe balcony on the Riviera deck. In general I found that the bed was a big improvement over some of the beds we have had on previous Princess cruises, but neither me or my wife slept all that well on this trip, mostly owing to the fact that the room was very warm for most of the time we spent in it. By the second night we had to ask the cabin steward for a lighter blanket than the big thick duvet that they normally provide, and even with that I found that it was too much so most of the time I just slept with no covers at all.
I was surprised at how good the food was on this trip. I'm used to MDR food (especially steaks) being inconsistent from ship to ship, but here on the Royal Princess the culinary staff seemed to be executing very well, and the MDR meals we had were some of the best I've had on Princess ships. Food in the Horizon Court was its usual mixed bag, although some dishes were very good. Aside from one lunch at Alfredo's (pretty good but nothing too exciting) we skipped the specialty restaurants. My wife and I also had the unlimited Soda and More package since we don't drink alcohol. Every time we get this we seem to tell ourselves that we'll skip it next time, but every time we seem to end up getting it anyway. My guess is that we didn't drink enough to justify the cost, but came close. At the original price of $8.05 per day that we had on previous trips it was a pretty good deal, but at $11.80 per day the value proposition becomes more iffy, although one soda and two mocktails per day covers the cost. On previous trips I also liked to get the milkshakes from the ice cream stand on the Lido deck, but those are no longer covered by the plan. Fortunately, the Choco Banana (which now seems to only be on the menu in the Wheelhouse Bar for some reason) makes a pretty good substitute. I probably had more of those than I should.
I know I'm about six years late to this particular debate, but this was my first trip on a Royal class ship, and I would have to say that a lot of the criticisms leveled toward the design when it first launched do still hold true. I definitely missed the wraparound Promenade of the other Princess ships, and even the part of the Promenade that is open to passengers seems to be well hidden, almost as though they would rather that you just pretend its not there. In my mind, the Promenade deck is what really makes a ship feel like a ship and not a glorified floating hotel, so its absence on this ship was a bigger deal than I expected it to be. The other big issue with this ship was Princess Live, where we ended up spending a lot of time on this trip. I know that the newer ships in the class have revised the Princess Live space to be a bit more like the Explorers Lounge we all know and love from the other Princess ships, but the Explorer's Lounge with its comfy couches is definitely missed.
Ultimately, I felt like this ship wasn't necessarily a downgrade from the other Princess ships in the fleet, but wasn't exactly an improvement either. I'd probably need to take a cruise on one of the newest ships (Sky Princess or Enchanted Princess when it launches) to really pass judgment, but there were times when I would have preferred to be on a Crown class ship over a Royal class ship.
We went to two of the production shows: Colors of the World and Encore. Both were quite good, but pretty standard fare for cruise ship entertainment. I missed out on Secret Silk and the comedian's performances (Carlos Oscar, have seen him before on Princess ships and he's pretty good.) As noted above, we ended up spending a lot of time in Princess Live, where I think my parents managed to hit every single trivia quiz offered during the week. I don't know exactly how it happened, but somewhere along the line I got a reputation within the family for being good at trivia. On a couple of my previous cruises with immediate and extended family I found myself spending far more time than I had planned on embroiled in heated Trivial Pursuit games, and on this cruise I would say that most of the time I spent with my parents was in trivia contests. Some of the trivia on offer was surprisingly difficult (and one team seemed to be googling things), but we did manage to come away with a few of the usual chintzy trivia prizes over the course of the week.
Several weeks before this cruise was scheduled to sail we were informed by Princess that the itinerary for this cruise was being reversed from the usual 7-night Mexican Riviera itinerary to avoid having four ships in Puerto Vallarta at once on the 29th. This meant that instead of having one sea day, Cabo, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and two sea days back to LA, we would instead have 2 sea days at the beginning, followed by Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo and one sea day back to LA. The biggest impact from the change was the fact that our port call in Cabo was now much earlier than originally scheduled, meaning that we had to report to the theater at 6:30am for our shore excursion there.
In Puerto Vallarta we took a taxi to the Marival resort in Nuevo Vallarta where my wife's parents just happened to be staying at the time. We got day passes for the resort (apparently discounted because we were meeting resort guests there) and spent the day there. Their big pools were very nice, but the buffet food was disappointing. Some of the day passes can be hit or miss (on my last cruise we did a day pass at the Barcelo Aruba resort and absolutely loved that one) and even though this one had a very nice pool I am not sure I'd want to come back here.
In Mazatlan we took the "City Highlights" Princess excursion, which was a bus tour around the city with stops at the cathedral, the Golden Zone and at the beach to watch cliff divers. Interesting to do once, but I don't think we'd do it again. We pretty much did the tour, got back on the ship and called it a day. The biggest disappointment with this one was that it just drove by the hill with the lighthouse and didn't get all that close.
In Cabo we did the "Cabo by Land and Sea" Princess excursion which started with a catamaran sailing to see El Arco (I was a little surprised how close the boat could get to it) followed by a bus tour that went to the glass factory, the Sunset Monalisa restaurant, and San Jose Del Cabo before returning to the ship. This was a good tour with a good guide, but it left no time to spare in Cabo afterward, as we pretty much had to go straight from the bus to the tender afterward. From what I heard, the ship ended up leaving people (I've heard either 6 or 8 ) behind in Cabo. Good luck getting home from there...
For my parents' part, I think they ended up staying on board the ship the entire week, which I think was exactly what they were looking for. My Mom has limited mobility these days, so she might not have done all that well navigating Mexican sidewalks.
- Embarkation and disembarkation were very efficient. Passengers started boarding the ship just a little after 11am on embarkation day, and as Elites I think we spent less than 15 minutes in the terminal before boarding. The only hang-up was with my sister-in-law who brought the wrong medallion (she brought the one for the sailing we had originally planned on) and it didn't work for this one. They issued her a cruise card and told her that a medallion would be issued later once she boarded. On disembarkation day we were off the ship and through Customs around 8:15am, and at our gate at the airport by 9:30, which left us rather early for our 12:30 flight.
- The unexpected highlight of the cruise may have been the culinary demonstration on the last sea day. Silvio (the Maitre'd) and Giovanni (the executive chef) were absolutely hilarious together, with lots of audience interaction. My wife and I sat in the front row, and at one point my wife took the Patter out of her purse to look at the schedule. They kept heckling late arrivals and people who weren't paying attention (including my wife, who was sitting in the front row and made the mistake of looking at the Patter while they were trying to demonstrate a dish). One person dared to question the chef's pasta choice and got a rather stern lecture (complete with props) as a result. Don't miss this one if you get the chance.
- The weather during the first couple of sea days was fairly cloudy but I never saw any rain. The weather in PV and Mazatlan was just about perfect, and the weather in Cabo and on the last sea day was only slightly less so. Of course, any of it was a big improvement over the current weather in Seattle. I managed to get some minor sunburn in PV after I missed a couple of spots with the sunscreen.
Not sure when I'll be cruising next (my wife really wants to do a land tour of Italy for our next big vacation) but I think I'd like to do something in Europe for my next one, probably British Isles.