Jump to content

Notes from an RCCL Cruise (Princess Edition)


Loonbeam

Recommended Posts

Greetings all:

 

The wife and I just came back from a 7 day cruise aboard the Liberty of the Seas in the Western Med, and I thought I would post some notes that Princess cruisers might find of interest in how the two lines are similar, and how they differ.

 

A couple of disclaimers - I'm doing a bit of apples to oranges here, as the Liberty is a biiiig ship and our last two Princess cruises were on the Island and Coral. But there is enough in common across Princess that I feel comfortable in doing so. The flip side of course is that what holds true for the Liberty may not hold true on every RCCL ship, especially the smaller ones. Also, some of these items may be addressed on the new Royal Princess and eventually carry over to the rest of the fleet, but for now, those are not being considered.

 

 

And now - in no particular order:

 

---Embarkation and Boarding

 

This is one of those 'it all depends on how you look at it' items. RCCL's policy is to start boarding as soon as the ship is cleared of prior passengers. Common area maintenance is done overnight and the hallways to the cabins are sealed at around 10 AM (and I do mean sealed, locked doors - that said, see note on late departure below). The plus side is that you can get on and explore the ship earlier, but you will not get into your cabin until the designated time and thus get to carry your carry-ons around with you. The extended amount of boarding time does seem to reduce lines however. Other than that, there is no real difference. Elite boarding was offered, but since the wait time when we got on was less than 5 minutes, it wasn't really relevant.

 

---Food and Beverage (MDR)

 

As always, food is subjective. But overall I found the variety of foods on offer in the MDR to be inferior to Princess main dining in terms of selection and interest. Very few options made me desperate to try them. RCCL's menus are more Asian and Indian inspired than Princess, with one Indian dish offered nightly, often as a vegetarian option. They do get bonus points for noting which dishes could be prepared gluten free, dairy free or vegan on the menu. RCCL also charges a premium for certain cuts of steak and lobster - their Chops Grille selections. If you are considering paying $15 for the steak in the MDR, just go to Chops and pay the $25 for the full experience.

 

The desserts in particular were very uninspiring. Lots of mousses and meringues.

 

Food and Beverage (Buffet) -

 

If it wasn't for one and a half things, RCCL would totally kick Princess' tail in the buffet area. Variety is better, presentation is better, action stations are better, and quality was better. Plus, they were eagle eyed when it came to people not using utensils or crossing over. And we were not under any kind of noro alert. The one thing is the way they handle free beverages. Instead of table service, iced tea, lemonade, even OJ were set out at 'Thirst Quencher' stations. Now, that does make for quicker and more hygenic service, BUT since all the drinks have ice in them, they get watery fast. Plus, the lack of table service makes it more difficult to order a soda or other beverage as there are less people taking orders.

 

The half item was again uninspired desserts. Then again, may just have been a weak pastry chef on this run.

 

Also, a note about soda cards. RCCL has an unlimited soda card like Princess. Works out to about $7 per day for adults with tip, $5 per day for kids. There is no difference between the two. There is no equivalent to the UDP.

 

Food and Beverage (Other) -

 

Specialty dining. Right now, Chops has to beat Sterling's and the Bayou as a steakhouse. The menu was a little smaller, but the steaks were perfect, and the sides excellent, and in general much more reminiscent of a land based steakhouse. I'd judge it on a par with Flemings or Mortons. Sterlings is good, but just not that good.

 

We didn't do Portofino's to compare it to Sabatinis.

 

Pizza - Princess' pizza is better quality, but Sorrento's wins on variety. Princess is addressing this with Alfredos, which is similar in style from what I can tell. Sorrentos also offered basic salads and paninis made to offer.

 

Other - Soft serve ice cream is self serve from a machine on the pool deck. NO TOPPINGS. FAIL. Scoops is much better. There's no grill on the ship doing burgers that I noticed.

 

Cafe - The RCCL version of the IC is Cafe Promenade. Similar offerings, except no gelato in the Cafe. Cafe Promenade did offer made to order sandwiches.

 

But wait, there's More! - The Liberty also offers a few venues not even on all RCCL ships. There's the cupcake cupboard (you can take a decorating class), Johnny Rockets, Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and the Hoof and Claw pub. Food in the pub is included, Johnny Rockets has a $5 cover, and the Cupcake place and Ben and Jerry's are a-la-carte. I include these more for information than comparison. There is also the Vintages wine bar, and a Cigar bar, we didn't go in either of those, but I imagine they were equivalent to the same venues on Princess.

 

---Staff

 

Princess wins hands down here. The RCCL staff simply never seemed as polished as Princess. It wasn't for trying, it just always seemed like they weren't trained as well, or maybe they were just understaffed. It was little things, like seaters looking for table numbers on Day 4 of the voyage, or people at Passenger Services having to get help for routine questions or repeated explanations to resolve a simple issue. Normally a few days into a cruise, we have made several friends on the ship, other than the two folks in the Cupcake Cupboard and two of the staff in the dining room, I could barely tell you a few people's names. I just wasn't impressed. Bear in mind that doesn't mean they were BAD, just average at best in most cases.

 

---Entertainment (Venues and Main Shows)

 

Honestly, Princess seems to have given up here, and I can see why. While, Princess is cutting back to 30 minutes, RCCL offers a 75 minute version of Saturday Night Fever that could easily manage as a broadway touring production. Their production of In The Air, while the vocalists were a little off, was technically on a par with the Cirque imitators you see in Vegas. And they have a full on Ice Musical that was performed better than the last time I saw Disney on Ice. Their venues are simply more technically capable and flexible than anything Princess has out there, and they are investing a large amount of money into their production design. They also carry more specialized entertainment staff than Princess. (Studio B, the Ice Rink is only on larger RCCL ships, but apparently almost all of their theaters are capable of staging SNF and could be modified for In The Air easily). One big difference is that RCCL ties shows to a particular ship or few ships as opposed to fleet wide. For example, the signature show on the Freedom is Now You See It, a magic show, instead of In The Air)

 

Add in their connection with Dreamworks and they just have more to offer than Princess.

 

You will note that I didn't discuss headliners. There were three headline acts during the 7 day trip, but we never saw them, one was a magician who seemed well regarded, the other two were musical acts, one singer and one latin group.

 

You will also note that I didn't mention the Cruise Director led events. Two reasons. One, we didn't go to any, two the CD and a significant amount of their staff had just rotated on board, and it was the CDs first run in his new role, so although they had some missteps, comparing them to the more experienced Princess teams we have seen wouldn't be fair.

 

---Dining Operations

 

RCCL does dining organization better than Princess in my opinion. Instead of separate dining rooms, they have one 3 level facility. This allows them to configure the space as needed to accommodate demand, plus the headwaiters can work together to reinforce each other. As an example, on our cruise, very few people signed up for MyTime dining, so only one half of deck 5 was assigned to that function. According to one of the headwaiters, on the prior cruise, the whole Deck 5 was. Even with the smaller space, there was never more than a 5 minute wait. And ONLY people with MyTime dining were seated in that area, it required special permission to sit there if you were booked in Traditional. Another nice thing they do for AD is that servers record notes about you. When you check in, you give your room number the host seats you and hands your server a printed slip with your name(s), etc and thinks like (I saw ours) 'Has soda card - prefers coke' and on my wife's they noted she did not like tomatoes. After day 1, each night we were asked if we wanted a coke without having to show our card, and my wife's salad never had a tomato even though we had different servers every time..

 

Which leads me to...

 

---Technology

 

RCCL is leaps and bounds ahead of Princess. You can view guest folios on your cabin TV, get messages, buy on demand movies for a small fee, and coming soon check your excursions, make dining reservations, show reservations and others. Princess has...a TV.

 

There are touchscreens all over the ship to help you find your way as well.

 

---Pools

 

RCCL generally has nicer and cooler pools than Princes, but that's not always a good thing. With bridges and dividers and in-pool seats, it's hard to find a place to just swim. And there is no covered pool. There is an adults only pool and it was strictly enforced.

 

Chair hogging wasn't really an issue since the itinerary was so port heavy.

 

RCCL does require you sign out towels, BUT you can have as many as you want, as long as you bring them back before the last night.

 

---Muster Drill

 

Wow. What a muster****. Seriously RCCL, you make everyone stand in lines on an outside deck for 30 minutes while you check everyone in, and then just dismiss them? No life jacket demo? No speech, nothing?

 

Princess does this MUCH better.

 

---Kids and Teens Program

 

Sorry, Princess, the only line that we have sailed that comes close to or maybe beats RCCL is Disney. Having looked at the venues for all ages on a number of ships, Princess is not even close to offering what RCCL does. Computer labs, large video arcades, teen lounges, dedicated and certified counselors...Did I mention, there's a rock climbing wall and a flow rider?

 

This is not to say that the programs on Princess are bad by the way, but this is clearly another area that RCCL has invested more in than Princess, which makes sense if you look at the target markets.

 

---Alcohol

 

Princess, even if they ever choose to enforce a one bottle policy, still gets the edge here. NOTHING was allowed on board if detected - you went right to the alcohol collection table. They did allowed bottled water to be carried on at embarkation but no sodas or other canned products.

 

Side note - you could not request the mini-bar to be emptied, which also meant no room in room fridge for anything of decent size.

 

---Behind the Scenes

 

RCCL offers a tour similar to the UST. Same price, similar itinerary, nowhere near as well executed. Our tour guide was a member of the cruise directors staff who obviously had basically been picked to play shepherd. There were no snacks along the way (we had heard there were supposed to be) and you did not meet senior staff (2nd officer versus the captain, sous chef versus EC, etc.) You also didn't get all the same stuff as you do on Princess, just an apron and a very nice tote bag, embossed with the tour logo. On the other hand, you did get to see some areas that you don't on Princess, such as the crew rec areas (they have a really nice bar and gym) and since its not senior staff it feels less staged and you could ask really detailed questions about how things worked and how the crew lived, etc. From a value standpoint, Princess' is much better, but it was still interesting to see how things worked.

 

---Internet

 

As much as people complain about the people staffing the internet areas on princess, at least they HAVE one. RCCL is totally self service, basically the passengers helped each other. If you had an issue, you had to see passenger services, which is a bit like going to the excursions desk to treat your broken leg. All they had were printed pamphlets, English copies of which were not available until late day 2, incidentally not long after we raised holy heck at Passenger Services, because I couldn't find out how to log out my iPad until someone translated a Spanish copy.

 

---Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle

 

Okay, Kudos to RCCL for arranging one and allowing online signup. And yes, they had Canapes and drinks. But only an assistant cruise director showed up, gave away some trinkets, did a spiel about activities and was gone in 15 minutes. I'd rather do it myself and get a better turnout. Also, they scheduled it for 5:30 on a day when all aboard from Livorno was at 6:30. Yeah, that makes sense.

 

---A note for Elites

 

While there are some benefits, most notably in the amount of OBC and discounts you get with an FCC (which can be significant), there is no elite tendering privelege, no most traveled luncheon (at least not advertised) and while there is a private lounge, its only for the very top tiers. They have about 6 levels.

 

---Late Departure Option

 

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE steal this idea Princess. For $35 per person you can stay on the ship until 90 mins before departure. You get full access to the public areas of the ship (have to be out of your room by 9) a guarded area to store carry-ons, your luggage is held until you depart and you can make purchases via credit card (your SeaPass is disabled). Being on board the ship in between disembarkation and embarkation gives you the chance to poke around ( we were able to stick our nose into several of the suites, including the Ben and Jerry's cow themed suite over the ice cream shop.

 

I'm sure there are other things I can think of, but its late, so I'll summarize. I think RCCL, based on my experience, is a decent option for people who are used to cruising primarily on Princess, with the understanding you are possibly trading amenities for a certain level of service. That said, for families with kids, tweens and teens, I would have to recommend RCCL over Princess, when all else is equal (itinerary, price, etc).

 

If anyone has any questions or requests for info, please feel free to post them.

 

Also, I am linking my photos. There are more than a few shots of the ship in there...

 

Europe2012-1-338x450.jpg

Link to post
Share on other sites

Very nice comparison/review, and I absolutely agree with you on most points. We sailed on sister ship Freedom of the Seas in February and just got off Star Princess a couple of weeks ago.

 

I'd say the staff was about equal overall, except for the dining room staff on Princess. They were nowhere near as good as the dining room staff on RCCL...not even close.

 

Technology - totally agree! Princess can't currently compete. We'll see what they roll out on Royal Princess.

 

Food - Princess won this easily in ALL dining venues.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the very comprehensive and (IMHO) unbiased review. It's been several years since I've cruised with RCCL but several things in your review were my opinion based on way back when. It sounds like they've improved embarkation and the buffet, both of which were a nightmare in the past.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for sharing your comparisons particularly since we're on a family cruise on the Navigator next year which wasn't my 1st choice. The Liberty is larger than the Navigator which is the same size as the new Royal Princess. However I'm now more optimistic about our RCCL cruise experience based on your review. :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Also, a note about soda cards. RCCL has an unlimited soda card like Princess. Works out to about $7 per day for adults with tip, $5 per day for kids. There is no difference between the two. There is no equivalent to the UDP.

Some RCCL ships have a new type soda dispensing machine whjich we have also seen on land. It dispenses Coke products with many, mainy varieties. For example, you can pick Diet Coke and have it flavored with vanilla, cherry, or several other flavors.

 

The people who buy the soda package get a cup with a RFID chip on it. The machine in the buffet area recognizes the cup and will not dispense soda to anyone without such a cup. Of course this means you must carry your cup around anytime you may want some soda. Read about this at http://travel.usatoday.com/cruises/post/2012/09/royal-caribbean-coke-machine-cruise/832730/1

 

---Muster Drill

 

Wow. What a muster****. Seriously RCCL, you make everyone stand in lines on an outside deck for 30 minutes while you check everyone in, and then just dismiss them? No life jacket demo? No speech, nothing?

 

Princess does this MUCH better.

 

On our last RCCL cruise (2.5 years ago) there was a demo, but with the people lined up six or seven deep on the deck, only those in the front row could see it. I agree, Princess does it much, much better. I think on RCCL people will have no idea what to do if there is an emergency, especially if the area where your assigned lifeboat is is in an area affected by the emergency.

 

 

 

 

See above in red

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you so very much - A very thoughtful review. I concur 100% although I have only 2 RCCL experiences with which to compare. The Princess itineraries sweetened with the Elite benefits call me back time and again but I do intend to try RCCL again soon. Your review helps tip the scales!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Love your comparison...I am a loyal Princess cruise who did two RCI cruises this year...the Freedom and the Enchantment of the Seas. My areas that I give a HUGE plus to RCI are exatly what you pointed out...the buffet and the entertainment. hands down, much better on RCI!! Love them both' but with my status, Princess is preferred. As said, the top status on RCI is WAY out of my reach!!

 

Thanks for taking the time to write this!

Link to post
Share on other sites
---Dining Operations

 

And ONLY people with MyTime dining were seated in that area, it required special permission to sit there if you were booked in Traditional. Another nice thing they do for AD is that servers record notes about you. When you check in, you give your room number the host seats you and hands your server a printed slip with your name(s), etc and thinks like (I saw ours) 'Has soda card - prefers coke' and on my wife's they noted she did not like tomatoes. After day 1, each night we were asked if we wanted a coke without having to show our card, and my wife's salad never had a tomato even though we had different servers every time..

 

Thanks for the unbiased comparison. I have been considering RCCL because they sail to the Caribbean during the summer from an embarkation port that is in driving distance from my home. My one pet peeve with Princess is that they allow Traditional diners to switch back and forth to AT dining. What they don't realize is that by allowing this it diminishes the experience for AT diners because it causes long lines and wait times to be seated. At the same time it also diminishes the experience for traditional diners because it creates empty tables and dining rooms. I have read so many times on this board that passengers prefer traditional dining because they like to be seated with the same tablemates. That doesn't work if your tablemates are being seated in AT dining.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for making a very fair comparison.

 

We sailed once on IOTS and sadly it's been our worse cruise to date. I hated the Royal Promenade with a passion and avoided it whenever possible.

 

I agree the desserts were very disappointing and the entertainment was better than most of our Princess cruises.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I Forgot to mention three pet peeves that I really dislike on RCI:

 

-having to stand in line and give your cruise card to get pool towels, and then having to stand in the same line to return them again or you Are charged $25 per towel. Very annoying...love Princess having a stack of pool towels in the stateroom.

 

-having the pay for shore excursions at time of booking, rather than Princess policy of reserving them in advance and then paying via your on board account.

 

-having to prepay gratuities if you select anytime dining. I much prefer Princess putting the daily charge on my account. I do not like having to prepay items in general whenever possible, certainly not tips for service that hasn't been provided!

Link to post
Share on other sites

This was interesting to read as someone who has sailed RCCL numerous times and planning on trying Princess (after you sail a particular line repeatedly, I find that it's difficult to find an itinerary you haven't sailed).

 

I will note that you are correct in comparing Apples to Oranges. An area in which this is especially true is entertainment - while the Voyager-Class ships and larger have great entertainment options, the Radiance-Class ships and below's shows are rather dated with worn costumes (I will note that they are working on refurbing their smaller ships and adding more entertainment options - they recently added arial performers to the Centrum of the Grandeur and gave the ship a total makeover). Same goes with technology and children's programs.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks so much for your thoughts. We are cruising Princess for the first time next summer because of the ports offered (Med cruise) and I really appreciate the details in your post. We are used to Disney so this will be a change for us - although since our kids are now in high school, we think it will be a fine match.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I found your unbiased report on the Liberty of the Seas versus Princess ships very helpful as I will be sailing on the Liberty this coming Saturday. We are loyal Princess cruisers but decided to try something else. Thank you.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Great review. I agree with you on pretty much everything.

 

I don't know what happened on Liberty when we sailed, but they were disorganized. We did 7 day b2b in the Caribbean in Jan in 2011 and often times had to wait anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours to get off. And we had only bought shore excursions with the cruise line.

 

The other thing is that we were intimidated to try the flow rider because it is aired on all the TV's in all the staterooms and many people just stand/sit and watch while laughing or cheering. We found the best time to do the flow rider though. We were the last off the ship for our back to back and the first ones back on. We went back on with our bathing suits under our clothes and hit the flow rider. It was like having a private lesson for the both of us for 45 minutes.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for the comparison! We're going on our first Princess cruise next month. We're Diamond with RCCL, so it will be interesting to compare.

 

One note -- on our last Liberty cruise, we just took the mini bar stuff out of the fridge ourselves and put it up on a high shelf. We showed that to our stateroom attendant, and on the last day we put it back in the fridge. They did not care. :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Great comparison! Having sailed both lines numerous times, I agree with nearly everything you said. We like both lines as well as Celebrity. But you have to learn that each line has their own personality and plan accordingly. That way there are no disappointments.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you so much for posting your review. It was great!

 

We used to sail RCCL quite frequently when our children were younger because we could drive to a local port. Then we switched to other lines, especially Princess, because of the more desirable itineraries. I've been a bit intimidated by the biiiiig ships of RCCL, but perhaps we would like it. It certainly sounds like our children would! Of course they love Princess, too. They are quite happy as long as they make friends.

Link to post
Share on other sites
One note -- on our last Liberty cruise, we just took the mini bar stuff out of the fridge ourselves and put it up on a high shelf. We showed that to our stateroom attendant, and on the last day we put it back in the fridge. They did not care. :)

That's good to know but if they strictly enforce not bringing any sort of drinks onboard won't have much to put in the fridge except a refillable water bottle.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Very nice balanced review….thanks for sharing. I agree with many of your thoughts except for the buffet food. Unless Princess’ buffet food changed dramatically over the years, I thought the buffet food on Royal declined each cruise as far as the variety and quality. Additionally, the food was never hot….sometimes barely lukewarm. Since DH thought the same thing, I often wonder if it’s just because we're getting older and buffet food does not agree with us anymore.:)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Great comparison, thank you! Just one comment about the $15 steak option: we really enjoyed this option, as I am not a huge steak lover, and DH is. This allowed us to dine in the standard dining room and DH to have his good steak. It worked well for us. People often cite it as a big negative for RC, but the fact is that, for $15, DH had better steaks than anything Princess serves in the dining room. We can't do that on Princess for less than $50 in the Crown Grill.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Great comparison, thank you! Just one comment about the $15 steak option: we really enjoyed this option, as I am not a huge steak lover, and DH is. This allowed us to dine in the standard dining room and DH to have his good steak. It worked well for us. People often cite it as a big negative for RC, but the fact is that, for $15, DH had better steaks than anything Princess serves in the dining room. We can't do that on Princess for less than $50 in the Crown Grill.

That's good to know & an option I'll consider next year on RCCL. I also avoid the steaks in the Princess dining room because they're quite disappointing. And if I can pay for the same steak served in their specialty restaurant in the RCCL MDR then the savings may make it a worthwhile option to consider. :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

I was prepared to be disappointed with the buffet but other than the drink issue I noted was very pleasantly surprised. Of course, it all depends on whoever is running the buffet, that person could be swapped out tomorrow.

 

I didn't mention Jade in the review, because we didn't make use of it, but I thought it was an interesting concept. Jade is an asian themed mini-buffet located on the way to the main buffet. Some of the same items, as the main buffet plus sushi and some others, and a nice option with short lines if you want something quick.

 

Very nice balanced review….thanks for sharing. I agree with many of your thoughts except for the buffet food. Unless Princess’ buffet food changed dramatically over the years, I thought the buffet food on Royal declined each cruise as far as the variety and quality. Additionally, the food was never hot….sometimes barely lukewarm. Since DH thought the same thing, I often wonder if it’s just because we're getting older and buffet food does not agree with us anymore.:)
Link to post
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Forum Jump
    • Categories
      • Forum Assistance
      • SPECIAL EVENT: Q&A with Barbara Muckermann, CMO Silversea Cruises
      • ICYM Our Cruise Critic Live Special Event: Explore the Remote World with Hurtigruten!
      • Q&A with the Quark Expeditions Team: New Ship Ultramarine
      • New Cruisers
      • Cruise Lines “A – O”
      • Cruise Lines “P – Z”
      • River Cruising
      • ROLL CALLS
      • Digital Photography & Cruise Technology
      • Special Interest Cruising
      • Cruise Discussion Topics
      • UK Cruising
      • Australia & New Zealand Cruisers
      • Canadian Cruisers
      • North American Homeports
      • Ports of Call
      • Cruise Conversations
×
×
  • Create New...