Architecturally, there’s only one significant difference between Princess Cruises’ two newest ships: The Royal Princess, which debuted in June 2013, had no aft pool. After passengers complained, a pool was added to the back end of the Regal Princess, which was launched in May and began sailing from Port Everglades in early November.
“We heard people loud and clear that they were missing that aft pool,” said Julie Benson, Princess’ vice president for public relations. The previous class of Princess ships had the smaller, more secluded pool near the back, but it had been replaced on the Royal Princess with open deck space. The Regal Princess was early in the construction stage, and the pool was added back in.
The pool is significant for another reason: It demonstrates how little Princess strays from its successful design, a sort of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy — and how its repeat passengers like it that way. Royal-class ships, although bigger, aren’t as different from earlier classes as, for example, Royal Caribbean’s new Quantum of the Seas is from Oasis of the Seas, and as its Oasis-class ships are from the previous vessels.
The elegant atrium on Royal-class ships was glammed up; it is larger and has more eating and drinking establishments. The giant movie screen on the pool deck is more giant. More of the staterooms — 80 percent — have balconies. The spa was moved from Deck 16 to Deck 5 near the reception area.
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For thrills, there are glass-bottom walkways on both sides of Deck 16, with a dizzying look down to the water 128 feet below. Many facilities, including the spa, adults-only area and kids clubs, are larger, since the Royal-class ships — 3,560 passengers, 142,229 tons — are the biggest ever for Princess.
But Princess likes its winning formula, and the company stuck with some key elements from earlier ships. Instead of one enormous main dining room, the Regal Princess has three smaller dining rooms, all with the same menu but only one with the traditional two seatings with assigned tables. The other two have “anytime dining” — just as the last class of Princess ships did.
The main alternative restaurants — Sabatini’s and the Crown Grill — and some other eating and drinking venues are the same as on the previous class of ships, although some are bigger.
It’s a measure of how satisfied Princess is with its first two Royal-class ships that any changes to the design of the third ship, scheduled to launch in 2017, probably will be small. “I think [any change] is mostly going to be about software and maybe some tweaks,” Benson said. “This ship is getting good reviews.”
Other new elements on the Regal Princess involve programs — software — rather than the structure, and most will be added to the company’s other ships:
▪ Chocolate Journeys, a partnership with chocolatier Norman Love that will include chocolate desserts on the ship’s menus, and chocolate and wine pairings in the wine bar, chocolate cocktails and chocolate spa treatments. (In a survey conducted by Princess, the line coyly notes, 58 percent of women said they would choose chocolate over sex.)
▪ A second partnership, this one with the Discovery television group, will bring themed tours, science activities, hands-on programs and games based on Shark Week, Mythbusters, Deadliest Catch and other shows from Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC and Science Channel.
▪ A new craft beer celebrating Princess Cruises’ 50th anniversary next year was introduced on the Regal Princess this month. Seawitch West Coast IPA beer is expected to be available fleet-wide in early 2015.
▪ The adults-only Retreat pool and surrounding deck will be converted to a nightclub one night on each week-long cruise. The Night Sky Lounge will have a “Miami-style vibe,” Princess says — including a DJ and a cover charge.
Other than the glass-bottom SkyWalk, the Regal Princess, like its predecessors, has none of the gee-whiz recreational features of the mainstream lines — no rock-climbing walls, ice rinks, zip lines, bumper cars, ropes courses or surf pools.
“We certainly know that they attract attention,” Benson said. “But we look for things that people can participate in, that most people can experience — not just a few. We have our Chocolate Journeys instead of zip lines, we have our partnership with Discovery.”
What clients like about Princess, said Julie Aliseo, a Cruise Planners travel agent who has been in the business for 30 years, is itineraries that appeal to families and multi-generational travel, good service, entertainment for different age groups and a good mix of dining options.
Princess has a few alternative dining options, but not too many, she said. “Some of these ships, they make you crazy trying to decide what dining room you’re going to,” Aliseo said. By splitting up the main dining room into three rooms and fitting some tables into nooks and crannies, she said, Princess created a more-intimate feeling. “They did a great job of not making people feel overwhelmed.”
Like the Royal Princess, the Regal Princess — for the immediate future — is spending its summers in Europe and winters in the Caribbean, sailing out of Port Everglades. The name and itinerary of the next Royal-class ship have not been announced.
Passengers: 3,560 double occupancy
Length: 1,083 feet
Gross tonnage: 142,229
Godparents: Cast of “The Love Boat” TV show
Itinerary: From now until April, the Regal Princess is sailing seven-night eastern Caribbean cruises, with inside cabins starting in the $600 range, per person, double occupancy, depending on the date and the travel agency.