Royal Princess - Shipyard Preview

| Tuesday, 02 Apr. 2013

Royal Princess in Shipyard

Last week I privileged to be among a group of journalists seeing the brand new Royal Princess, still under construction at the Fincantieri shipyard near Venice, Italy.

While in Venice we stayed at the Gritti Palace - former home of the Doge of Venice, once the supreme leader of the City-state of Venice. The Palace was built in the 1000s, but was naturally subject to fire and other man-made disasters. The current owners shut the palace down for 15 months for a full-scale renovation including flood-gates because the palace sits right on the main canal. It is quite an experience to see a doorway with a steel dike that can be lowered into place.

At 141,000-gross tons, she is the biggest Princess ship ever and the largest cruise ship ever built in Italy. Her inaugural sailing comes June 13 from Southampton, England. She is 1083-feet long, 17 decks tall, has 3600 lower and 780 upper berths.

The "ship's horn" plays the first two stanzas from the The Love Boat TV-show theme song: "Love, exciting and new; Come aboard, we're expecting you." But while other cruise ship horns play theme songs - notably Disney ships playing "when you wish upon a star," this is not a recording. It is actually seven separate horns with distinct valves for each note.

Seeing any ship under construction is always a treat, but reporting it is always a challenge - because the amount of work that gets completed just in the last week alone is always astounding.

To see all of my Royal Princess Shipyard Pictures <-- click there.

Royal Princess - and a Regal sister

Approaching the Fincantieri shipyard we saw two ships under construction; the closest was Regal Princess, younger sister to Royal Princess, not scheduled to debut until June, 2014. She is only seven months and appeared to be rather skeletal, like a honeycomb waiting for worker bees.

Entrance to Fincantieri Shipyard - Monfalcone

Our first order of business was the "Float Out" ceremony for Regal Princess, which means the ship yard fills the dry dock where the ship was started with water, so she is supported by her own natural buoyancy rather than having her keel sitting on blocks.

Regal Princess ready for "Float Out."

It was a surprisingly complex ceremony, and featured Cruise Critic's Carolyn Spencer Brown serving as the Madrina. Carolyn cut a piece of rope with a small hatchet, which (somehow) started filling the dock with water. When the rope was cut a bottle of champagne was smashed against the side of the ship, just like a ship's christening. Carolyn was later given the top of the smashed bottle as a commemorative gift in a special box.

Carolyn Spencer Brown of Cruise Critic serving as Madrina for Regal Princess

To see all of my Royal Princess Shipyard Pictures <-- click there.

Are you interested in Royal Princess? Tell us here: Cruise Forum

Down to Business - Seeing Royal Princess

We were next driven to nearly completed Royal Princess. Construction was started two years ago, and although she was surrounded by huge cranes apparently putting the tinting on balcony window glass, otherwise she only appeared to need a good scrubbing. We donned hard hats and crossed a tenuous gangway supported by wooden beams.

To see all of my Royal Princess Shipyard Pictures <-- click there.

Ready to board Royal Princess

Once inside I was startled to see how unfinished the ship remained. Now, I have seen many ships in shipyards but I think any person would be amazed how much is still left to be completed even with just about two months to go.

We could not see any carpeting, and most walls were still the structural material (similar to drywall, but a lighter composite). There were wires hanging everywhere for future lighting systems, most of which were not yet in place. The ship had no running water and most of the lighting was work lights or sunlight. Still, I have even lived on a cruise ship during a dry dock, and I can't express how amazing it is to see it one day before its over, and how much can be accomplished over night.

One of my first sights upon boarding Royal Princess

We were guided by the ship's designers; Teresa Anderson (from Princess) and Giacomo Mortola (a Genoa-based independent) using their own renderings and blueprints as visual aids to their narrative. Our main leader was Rai Calouri, EVP of Fleet Operations for Princess.

Royal Princess - First Sights

"The good news is the elevator is working," Rai said, so we rode up to deck 14 and walked forward to the navigation bridge. When finished, this bridge will resemble that of the Starship Enterprise, but we only saw dozens of technicians reading blueprints and manuals, ready to connect computer screens, steering mechanisms, and control panels for fire doors and smoke detectors. The captain's chair and "wheel" were dead center, elevated for a better view.

Wiring all of the Bridge controls for Royal Princess

The bridge is usually the widest part of a cruise ship because of the "bridge wings" which are extensions over the side of the ship that allow the captain to look back at the entire length of the ship on both sides. These wings also have redundant controls and glass floors so the captain can look straight down when docking the ship, from either side.

The interior of the bridge - starboard side wing in the distance

The location of the bridge is fitting, since it is essentially the "frontal lobe" of the ship. If you are looking directly at the front of the ship the bridge would be the eyes, and the ship is wearing tinted Armani shades (the big, wide ones).

Behind the bridge was a "safe-room" style situation center with redundant navigation systems and surveillance monitors -- ready for lockdown. I had never noticed one of these on a cruise ship before. Surprisingly, there was very little to see as it appeared to be barely started.

Are you interested in Royal Princess? Tell us here: Princess Cruise Forum

To see all of my Royal Princess Shipyard Pictures <-- click there.

Beyond the Bridge

Cruise ship bridges are fascinating, but our "Star Trek" reverie was broken when Rai reminded us that an entire ship awaited inspection. We ascended two more stories to the Lido deck (deck 16), where many of the best new Royal Princess features will appear.

All Princess ships feature big screen "Movies under the Stars" (aka MUTS), but the Royal Princess screen will be 30 percent larger than any other at sea. Below it are two swimming pools separated by an elevated "island" platform with 85 computer-controlled fountains that can shoot dancing water 33 feet in the air. These fountains, combined with a sophisticated sound and light system including lasers, will offer computer-generated water, sound and light shows nightly. The MUTS screen will also be a part of these shows for a full-surround experience.

The top deck almost ready for Movies under the Stars

Notably, the original renderings showed these two pools would be connected and that the center portion would be a true island. Somehow that idea didn't fit into the final plans, and so the platform separates two distinct swimming pools; the "Fountain Pool," and the "Plunge Pool." The plans also called for a more circular pool, although it appears like it was built as a simple rectangle, in fact the "wading" pool does go all the way around the island, but you should not be able to swim to the other pool. It will still have a nice visual effect, however.

Original rendering of Top Deck

A Bigger and Better Lido

Aft are two connected Lido restaurants that together can seat 1,400 people, including 200 tables for two -- almost twice the size the corresponding eateries on other Princess ships. The first, Horizon Bistro, will feature cuisine theme nights like Brazilian churrascaria, Argentine Gaucho or British pub fare. Self-service is provided from dedicated "action stations" for easy access. Guests in bathing suits are welcome throughout, but there are also special "grab and go" food like sandwiches, yogurt and pastry ready for them.

The second, Horizon Court, offers five meat carveries, a rotisserie, five soups, hibachi grills, pasta and salad bars and more. Rai was especially proud of the only Lido pastry kitchen at sea with a 24-hour dedicated chef and staff baking fresh croissants, waffles and French toast for breakfast, classic desserts for lunch and dinner, and flambé in the evening - including a fountain of chocolate. On the rear of the deck is the Horizon Terrace for al fresco dining. The Horizon Court will be open 24 hours a day.

The Sanctuary - Ultimate Indulgence

The Sanctuary and the Retreat Pool, fully forward on deck 17, are tranquility areas for adults only. Access will cost $15 for a half day or $25 for a full day. Inside are a dedicated bar, two hot tubs, a swimming pool and several deep and cushy chaise lounges.

The Sanctuary we saw (almost completely bare)

For a special treat there are four Sanctuary Cabanas, an additional $80 per half-day, which include a TV with headsets, robes and slippers, welcome cocktails and healthy snacks (dried fruit and nuts). They also have optional mini-bars and selections of fine wines and imported beer. Two other cabanas contain two massage tables for couples; prices based on the treatments selected.

Rendering for the Sanctuary

Cabana dwellers can also order a gourmet picnic; a premium bottle of wine paired with antipasti, artisan sandwiches, pizza and fresh-baked desserts. These come in $40, $60 or $80 options, all good for two people. All cabanas have Wi-Fi access, and all devices have headsets to maintain the tranquility.

Are you interested in Royal Princess? Tell us here: Princess Cruise Forum

To see all of my Royal Princess Shipyard Pictures <-- click there.

Seawalk and Seaview Bar

Deck 16 contains a special thrill: The SeaWalk, a structural outcropping that takes guests 28-feet beyond the edges of the ship, with a glass floor showing the 128-foot drop to the open ocean below. For balance, the opposite side of the ship has its own outcrop with glass floor as part of the SeaView Bar. The view below should keep drinkers in their seats.

The SeaWalk from the Outside - view through the gap SeaWalk from the Inside - walking on glass floors

One most ships the bridge is the widest part of the ship because of the bridge wings, but on Royal Princess the two Sea-view extensions together comprise the widest part of the ship.

Rendering of Sea Walk in final form

To see all of my Royal Princess Shipyard Pictures <-- click there.

New Dining Experiences

Princess has always featured smaller, quieter dining rooms to give the ship a more intimate feeling, and Royal Princess is no exception. One of the Royal Princess dining rooms, Concerto, will offer a unique dining experience called "Chef's Table Lumiere." Once guests are seated, first a curtain of translucent white gauze encircles the guests the separate them, visually only, from the rest of the dining room. Next, a curtain of thousands of fiber-optic light strands descends from the ceiling, each strand glowing with soft colors. Dinner is a wine-paired tasting menu.

Chef's Table Lumiere as it appears today

Rendering of Chef's Table Lumiare as it will appear on completed ship

Similarly, the Symphony and Allegro Dining Rooms feature a their private dining experiences called the "Wine Cellar," where up to 12 guests will enjoy a special menu developed by noted winemakers pairing their best vintages with classic carved meats like crown of veal rack, lamb Baron and veal rack a l'Orlov. These also feature a separate table, but the dinner takes place in full view of the other diners. The table itself is surrounded by a "wine cellar" theme.

Rendering of Wine Cellar - as it will appear

Sabatini's - the signature "tasting-menu" Italian restaurant on all Princess ships -- has some new twists on Royal Princess. Guests can now also order a la carte for dinner, and also get lunch there for the first time. Another first is the Pub Lunch to be served in the Wheelhouse Bar and adjacent Crown Grill, consisting of traditionally British fish-and-chips or bangers and mash.

Are you interested in Royal Princess? Tell us here: Princess Cruise Forum

To see all of my Royal Princess Shipyard Pictures <-- click there.

Novel and Handy Entertainment Features

People who are picayune about "nickel and diming" on cruise ships will really appreciate the "free" features planned for Royal Princess.

Royal Princess is unique in the entertainment department. The ship will introduce a new concept called "Princess Live!" - essentially a live TV studio with modular seating and stage pieces. The room events will be broadcasted to passenger staterooms day and night. The programming will start each day with a "morning show," followed by visits from officers, entertainers, enrichment speakers and more for interviews and some performances until midnight. No cruise ship has ever tried this, and Rai says his goal is "never more than fifteen minutes without something on the air."

Another first on the ship that many people will appreciate (especially me) will be the free "Intranet" access from any Wi-Fi capable device, allowing users to see all kinds of current and regular shipboard information including the daily schedules, entertainment, ports of call, and other ship details. Other cruise ships have tried similar ideas, notably the newer Carnival ships, but this is the first time it can be accessed by any Wi-Fi capable device, not just the ships computers.

Going a step further is the no-charge interactive TV in every stateroom. You will be able to pull up TV shows and movies on demand - and never pay a surcharge. This is a very unusual offering since "pay-per-view" movies are big source of revenue in many hotels.

The main Princess Theater showroom is the largest on any Princess vessel. The other usual Princess venues -- the Vista Lounge, Crooner's Lounge and the Wheelhouse Bar, are all bigger and better.

The Atrium - Real Life "Social Networking"

Most Princess ships have atriums, but the Royal Princess Piazza is twice the size, and restyled as a social hub where guests can gather for coffee, gelato, sweet treats, fine wine, pizza, martinis, cabaret-style entertainment and more. The key is opening up the surrounding venues to make it feel more like a vibrant European city center.

The Atrium as we saw it in the shipyard

Rendering of Atrium in final form

Foreward atrium with "floating platforms" as we saw them

rendering of atrium platforms in final form

There are restaurants like Alfredo's Pizzeria, Vines Wine Bar, and Gelato. The International Café for coffee and free pastry will be open 24 hours a day and the pastry there will always be free of charge. Other charmers will be Vines, a wine-tasting bar that will also serve tapas and sushi; and Ocean Terrace for sushi, ceviche and caviar, overlooking the Atrium on deck 7.

To see all of my Royal Princess Shipyard Pictures <-- click there.

Booking Royal Princess

When bookings for Royal Princess opened last March, the line had its busiest sales day ever. The maiden season includes the most popular Princess European itinerary, the Grand Mediterranean. On October 9 she heads across the Atlantic to home port in Fort Lauderdale.

The first four cruises are sold out. Later 12-day Mediterranean cruises start at $2,190 per person, or $3,395 for balcony cabins. From November 3 to April 20, 2014, she will be sailing the eastern Caribbean at rates from $754 for inside and $949 balcony. Next summer she visits the Baltic Sea.

Are you interested in Royal Princess? Tell us here: Princess Cruise Forum

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