MONFALCONE, Italy -- Loyalty has its rewards for cruise lines -- and Princess, arguably more than others, has a loyal following.
With its last new ship, the Ruby Princess in 2008, Princess was ready to refresh the fleet with the upcoming prototypes -- Royal this year and Regal next year. What I have seen of the new Royal Princess here at the Fincantieri Shipyards in Monfalcone Italy, is that Princess has walked the tightrope of enhancing the familiar while offering new features to keep loyal passengers comfortable while impressing new ones.
With 1,000 workers buzzing around the ship in three shifts, I suggested to Captain Tony Draper -- the master of the Royal Princess -- that he might be hard-pressed to make her sea trial next week and he simply assured me: "She will be more than ready to go." (For a lot more on the Royal Princess and the Regal, check my blogs that started April 1 at Portsandbows.com.)
Among the new features set to impress is the SeaWalk, a glass-bottomed elliptical walkway that looks straight down on the ocean as it extends from the top deck. Want a drink with that view? On the other side, you will find the Seaview Bar. Night-time and LED features reveal SeaWalk at its best.
A TV studio will feature various performers, cooking classes and more -- all to be on the air in your cabin from 8 a.m. to midnight on sea days, along with a large choice of feature movies.
Remember all the time you took looking for your cruise pictures? Now, special kiosks feature face recognition and you can find all of them at once. If you're cruising in one of the suites you will now have your own lounge.
Meanwhile, the familiar Horizon Court buffet has been expanded to 1,500 seats, 150 of them facing the main pool deck. Beverage stations are gone from this area; instead, waiters serve beverages at your table.
The ship's three main dining areas are capable of holding a total of 1,800 people, with the anytime dining section containing more tables for two.
Adjacent to that, Bistro Lounge has its own 1,200-square-foot pastry kitchen for everything from waffles to desserts. Jonathan Wilson, the head of hotel operations, claims it's in a class by itself when compared to all cruise lines.
Still with dining, a fibre-optic illuminated curtain encircles a new feature, Chef's Table Lumiere, which seats 12 in the middle of the traditional dining room.
With the ship spending most of its time in the warmth of the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, the 270-metre outdoor jogging and walking track and expanded pool area should be appreciated. The movie screen has been enlarged and moved higher up on the ship. Each night, the screen enhances a dancing waters show from a 100-jet fountain shooting water high into the air. During the day, loungers occupy the water stage.
I think the Atrium, or Piazza -- which is bigger than those on Princess's other ships -- is going to be the winner on the Royal Princess. One neat design decision that will probably be copied by other lines is moving the front and shore excursion desks into a mini atrium in the back, leaving a wonderful, convivial and large entertainment atrium.
The Royal Princess will be launched from Southampton in mid-June with two overnight cruises and then will leave on an inaugural (and sold out) 19-day cruise. She will spend the rest of the summer on a regular run of itineraries between Barcelona and Venice -- for Princess, the Grand Mediterranean cruises.
Royal and Regal -- appropriate names for the new Queens of the fleet.
-- Postmedia News