What makes MMOB ship reviews unique: the gay opinions of sophisticated LGBT travelers who know fore from aft, which bartenders mix a mean martini, and how to avoid lines.
Randy Adison and his partner recently sailed a Caribbean itinerary on Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess. As a seasoned travel professional and cruise fan, he has learned how to enjoy the best of what each cruise line has to offer.
Princess Cruise Tip #1: Avoiding Embarkation Lines (most of the time)
We hold Elite status with Princess which includes priority embarkation, along with other juicy perks like free laundry, free internet, and free mini-bar setup. In the past, this meant skipping the long line and gliding right into the terminal at around 11 a.m. on embarkation day, checking in quickly, and relaxing in the Elite Lounge (more on that in a minute) until embarkation began, this time our experience was a little different.
This time we encountered a long line-up outside the terminal building which included over 1,000 Elite passengers. We had to join the priority embarkation line (GASP!). After about an hour, the priority line was admitted to the terminal building.
After check-in, we made our way up to the Elite Lounge. This used to be in a large, bright room with comfy chairs and ample refreshments. However, on this voyage we encountered black airport-style seats, drab bare walls, gloomy gray office carpeting and one small table with refreshments which were not replenished. Not the greatest overall initial experience, but at least we boarded before the masses of non-priority passengers.
After embarkation concluded, we went to reserve lounges in The Sanctuary.
Princess Cruise Tip #2: Accessing The Sanctuary
The Sanctuary, Princess’ private, dedicated, quieter adults-only sun deck, costs $20 for half a day, $40 for a full day, or $30 a day if you reserve the entire cruise. (Private cabanas are also available to rent at a premium of $120 a day and up depending on the ship, number of people, etc, but we didn’t spring for one of those.
For kid-free couples like us, the Sanctuary is a worthwhile perk. Sanctuary members get a specific reserved lounge. Dedicated “Serenity Stewards” attend to your (almost) every need: extra towels, Evian mist spray or cold face cloths, plain or citrus water, food from a special spa menu, beverage service (a la carte), and complimentary afternoon tea and goodies.
Unfortunately, it’s a well-known issue with Princess that there is not enough space to meet the growing demand for The Sanctuary. A senior officer told us that Princess is considering expansion, however, no details or timing were available. The unfortunate truth is that unless you are either Elite, Platinum, or in-transit (doing back-to-back cruises), depending on the itinerary and time of year, The Sanctuary will probably be sold out. If so, the sun deck just outside The Sanctuary near the Retreat pool reserved for adults is a nice alternative, but does get crowded on sea days.
How to make sure you get a space in the Sanctuary. Immediately following embarkation, make your way up to deck 17. We did this, planning our route in advance to avoid the busier embarkation elevators. When we arrived at the reception area, we were second in line. The manager escorts one stateroom group at a time with a seating chart showing available lounges from which you can select the one(s) you want. You can only reserve for your stateroom and not for others who are not present.
Princess Cruise Tip #3: Specialty dining reservations
Reservations are required for Princess’ specialty dining venues. Call dining services to place your specialty dining reservations as soon as you board (we did this right after securing our lounges at The Sanctuary) to get the dates and times you prefer. Be sure to consider any shore excursion return times so you are not rushed and have time to refresh before dinner.
Sabatini’s Italian Restaurant offers excellent fine Italian food. There is a US$29 cover per person, and alcohol & special coffees are available for an additional charge unless you have purchased a beverage package. For those familiar with this restaurant, the former menu has been updated and they no longer overwhelm patrons with trays full of food. Our waiter Zoran provided knowledgeable service and offered excellent recommendations, like suggesting we order the spectacular off-menu osso bucco.
MMOB TIP: If your waiter doesn’t specify, ask about any special off menu offerings.
Crown Grill always offers excellent beef and seafood – I always say it’s the best $29 bucks you’ll spend on a steak!
Traditional, Casual, and Anytime Dining
Princess offers a good variety of dining options onboard, details of which are available online. Here are a few of our personal observations & tips:
The Allegro dining room deck 6 aft is reserved for traditional dining for dinner which we prefer. Set time, set table, same wait staff. Offering standard, good quality food (with some refreshing new offerings) and service, we found the art-deco style décor darkened the space compared to other venues.
MMOB TIP: breakfast is served in this dining room on disembarkation day only – if you have the time, enjoy a more tranquil final breakfast here before your onward journey and avoid the chaos in the buffet.
The Symphony and Concerto dining rooms located midship deck 6 serve breakfast daily, and lunch on sea days. A great option for a more civilized experience to escape the masses in the hectic, crowded buffet.
The main buffet Horizon Court is average, offering quick and casual fare 24 hours a day. We try to avoid buffets whenever possible, but on this sailing, we opted to grab a quick lunch before disembarking at Grand Turk. As on other ships, if you time yourself after the usual rush meal times, it’s not quite as overwhelming.
International Café – located in the piazza midship, this is one of our favorite places to grab an espresso or specialty tea, as well as a quick bite of lighter fare including salads, sandwiches & sweet treats. Depending on when you go, there may be live entertainment in the piazza, and in the mornings there may be a bit of a line up at the coffee bar.
MMOB TIP: The Coffee Card is good value if you don’t have a beverage package and like to have your daily fix!
Regal Princess is appropriately named – she certainly has some regal qualities including a larger Piazza (midship) than other Princess ships not in the Royal class, which was specially decorated for the holiday season on our sailing. Overall the ship is elegantly decorated with warm tones with a more modern flair.
MMOB TIP: Beware of the entrance to Lotus Spa next to the Passenger Services desk on deck 5 especially on embarkation day. You may well be accosted (ok, maybe a slight exaggeration but you know what I mean) by ambitious staff drumming up bookings for overly pricey spa treatments!
Sea Walk – A quaint little novelty located on the Lido deck 16 on this ship is the Sea Walk – a curved promenade with a glass floor that juts out over the side of the ship with views 16 stories down to the water below. Not for the faint of heart or queasy!
Pools – The main Fountain Pool is on deck 16 midship along with a plunge pool. During the day it is a bustling, lively (that’s secret code for noisy!) area with loud recorded and live music, hordes of families with children, and the ‘bucket-o-beer’ crowd. Hey, if this is your scene, go for it! In the evenings, the centre area turns into musical dancing fountains mimicking Bellagio, Las Vegas – pretty and worth a look maybe once…maybe…if you’re bored.
A small Terrace plunge pool is located on deck 17 aft (if you don’t mind the smell of cigar / cigarette smoke wafting over from the adjacent smoking areas). The adults-only Retreat pool is located next to the Sanctuary, forward on deck 17. Sea days by the main pools are VERY crowded as on most other ships.
Cabins , Entertainment
We stayed in a premium balcony stateroom. This means that in exchange for paying premium fare, you get a few extra square feet of space compared with a normal balcony stateroom. Stateroom service was very good, and comparable to other cruise lines.
MMOB TIP: If the standard bathrobe is a little snug (they are rather small), request a larger one which they can bring you from the spa.
We do not typically go to the main theatre for stage productions or see lounge acts on cruise ships, largely due to the lower quality entertainment, but there were some good entertainers on board. On this class of ship, Princess Live is a small TV studio from which onboard programs are recorded and broadcast on stateroom TVs. The space is also used for game shows involving the crew and passengers, one of which we attended and enjoyed (it helped that we won the game and a complimentary bottle of champagne!)
Shipboard LGBT gatherings were hosted by assistant cruise director Robbie, who was excellent. These were clearly published daily in the Princess Patter activities calendar delivered to each stateroom, as well as on the stateroom TV and mobile site Princess@Sea.
On our sailing, the LGBT gatherings were well-attended, and we even had the pleasure of running into some other guys we had met a couple of years ago on another Princess cruise. On the final night of the cruise, Robbie even treated everyone to complimentary champagne, which was a lovely way to end the cruise and say farewell.
Service and Overall Value
Overall service was excellent throughout the ship, and we had a great crew, which can make or break a cruise. Disembarkation on Princess is “silent” (there are no announcements) and you simply go to the venue designated on your disembarkation instruction sheet delivered to your stateroom a few days prior to the end of your cruise.
I would rate Princess Cruises as very good value overall compared with similar lines like Royal Caribbean.
Randy Adison is a seasoned travel consultant with Expedia CruiseShipCenters near Toronto, Canada, a supporter of the MMOB Community. You can follow Randy on Twitter & Instagram @travelwithrandy and visit him online at www.www.cruiseshipcenters.com/en-CA/RandallAdison/home