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Cruise Ship Review

Royal Princess - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

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First Impressions

After a quick refurbishment in Gibraltar, the transformation of Swan Hellenic's Minerva II into Princess Cruises' Royal Princess has meant the addition of a third R-class ship to the Princess fleet.

The infamous R-class ships, a series of eight 30,200-ton, 710-passenger vessels built by the now-defunct Renaissance Cruises at the turn of the 21st century, currently sail for three different lines. Princess, for instance, also operates Tahitian Princess and Pacific Princess (others sailing these unique vessels include Oceania Cruises, with three ships, and Celebrity, with Azamara Journey and Quest). No matter which line's R-class ship you sail on, you'll notice distinctive features such as plentiful, affordable balconies; a gorgeous grand staircase connecting public areas on Decks 4 and 5 (think "Titanic"); an intimate spa (don't miss the thalassotherapy pool on the spa's private forward deck); and an overall cozy feeling onboard, due to its size or, er, lack of it.

Having spent two weeks sailing on this ship when it was known as Minerva II, it was interesting to see what would change when it became part of Princess. The biggest surprise? How much was not changed! Though it shouldn't have been shocking that Princess has not invested as much in redesign and refurbishment as the other lines that operate these ships -- Tahitian Princess and Pacific Princess were little updated, too, when they were acquired -- Royal Princess did seem dated to me on my visit in mid-May.

The most significant alteration was the addition of a casino. (Because Swan Hellenic's mostly British passengers weren't interested in gambling, the line had taken the original casino out.) The Royal Lounge, the ship's top-deck observation spot, definitely feels newly refreshed and nicely nautical; suites have been completely refurbished; and restaurants like Sabatini's and the Sterling Steakhouse have gotten new looks.

Bedtime

The high proportion of cabins, from suites to standard outsides, that have balconies is one of the ship's greatest strengths. However, its standard cabins are one of its greatest weaknesses. They are small. No beating around the corners on that one. But -- with the right design, small staterooms can still be quite comfortable. Here it was stunning to see that Princess had basically not replaced anything save the old cots with its new mattresses. Curtains, upholstered furnishings and bedspreads date back to the ship's original incarnation!

There are just 10 suites (these range in size from 781 to 933 square ft.); 247 standard cabins have private balconies and measure a paltry 214 square ft. (number includes the verandah); and insides and outsides-with-window are 162 square ft.

Bathrooms are tiny, and aside from the ship's suites are primarily shower-only.

Mealtime

Oddly, even though these vessels were -- and this was innovative at the time -- designed with four all open-seating restaurants (and Princess itself is no slouch at offering flexible dining options on its other vessels), Royal Princess' main restaurant offers two seatings, with set tablemates and times for dinner. Sabatini's, the line's Italian restaurant, and Sterling Steakhouse (which mirrors the Crown Grill found on Emerald and Crown Princess) are here; there's also a buffet option, a grill and a pizzeria.

Grand Old Favorites

The ship itself. No matter how much or how little is done to change its decor, the ambience -- a village-like feel in which not only crewmembers but also fellow travelers all know your name -- is all but lost on bigger ships. Not here.

And if you're a Princess devotee, you'll find it comforting that, despite a new atmosphere, you can still count on signature touches, such as the same menus found on bigger ships, the same level of service, entertainment features and so on.

New and Nifty

The casino is new and offers lots o' slots, plus of course table games. The Show Lounge, the ship's theater, got a total makeover and is a lot more cheerful -- featuring an ivory and blue color scheme -- than I remember. (It also boasts a state-of-the-art lighting and sound system.) There's a new jogging track.

Huh?

Sabatini's and the adjacent Sterling Steakhouse operate on alternate nights, which is hard to understand because there seems to be no issue keeping these two alternative eateries open each evening on R-series ships operated by Oceania and Azamara.

As lovely as the Grand Staircase is, Princess has destroyed the charming ambience of its Deck 5 library by building an additional shop -- and eliminating windows and seating areas. The Internet cafe that existed before has been given over to an expanded card- and bridge-playing room. There are, however, Internet stations tucked away in a corner of the Royal Lounge.

And if the outdoor pool and two whirlpools were the beneficiaries of lovely new sky blue tiling, the hideous cat-sick-yellow, rubber-like flooring around them -- original to the ship when it launched in 2001! -- not only uncomfortably reflects the sun, but is also dirty and stained.

Kid Friendly Factor

Royal Princess is not a kid-friendly ship. There's no children's facility and frankly, within the Princess fleet there are so many vessels that are uber-kid-friendly that there'd be no reason to choose this one for a family vacation.

Bottom Line

Slightly dowdy, even a bit tattered despite the new touches, Royal Princess lacks the sophisticated flair of the R-series ships that sail with other lines. So why choose Royal Princess? Because this ship, like its near identical siblings Tahitian and Pacific Princess, offers those who desire the line's resolutely mid-market ambience -- but prefer the cozier ships of yore -- a genuine option.

As well, Royal Princess will serve as the line's exotic pathfinder -- offering itineraries replete with small, out-of-the-way ports of call that can't handle the crowds of its super-sized siblings.

And lastly? The crew members I met were happy to be onboard this ship; Alejandro, a bartender from Mexico, most recently worked on Star Princess and told me that, "It's a beautiful ship, but I like Royal Princess better." It's easier to make a connection, he said, not only with fellow crew members (on the bigger ships you often don't even meet crew outside of your area), but also with passengers.

Happy crew, as we all know, makes for a happy cruise.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown

Cruise Critic

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