Year Started: 1965
Ships in Fleet: 18
Summary: Princess is one of the most consistently excellent cruise lines in the upper mainstream to premium group. All the diversity of larger ships but personalized service.
One of the higher quality "mainstream" cruise lines, consistent product, good shore excursions
Back in 1975, Princess Cruises was a small, Los Angeles-based cruise line with a single star in its lineup, the 640-passenger, 20,000-gross ton Pacific Princess sailing cruises to the Mexican Riviera. The company's fortunes changed overnight, as in all good stories about princesses, when a group of Hollywood television producers selected the ship to star in a new series that became one of the biggest hits in television history. The "Love Boat" was the vehicle that eventually transported tiny Princess Cruises into one of the cruise industry's most recognizable cruise lines. So closely was the Princess Cruises name aligned with the slogan "The Love Boat" that the company kept the phrase as its official motto nearly until the end of the 20th century.
But Princess Cruises never rested on its television spotlight laurels. Today's fleet is comprised of fifteen elegant vessels, each of them magnitudes larger than the original Pacific Princess. The company still does regular cruises to the Mexican Riviera, but you'll also find its ships sailing in the Caribbean, Asia, Panama Canal, Alaska, Europe, and even Tahiti. The line has a loyal following because of the consistency of its cruise product, and the loyalty of Princess' regulars has been rewarded with a variety of ships and itineraries.
Always an innovative company, Princess manages to stay at the frontline of cruise quality and customer service. Examples of the line's innovation include the first Cajun and Creole restaurants at sea (on Coral and Island Princess), and the ScholarShip@Sea Program (on Coral, Island, Diamond and Sapphire Princess) offering an enviable range of educational and hobby-oriented classes.
The British parent company of Princess Cruises, P&O (Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company), began nearly 200 years ago as one of the great British shipping companies. As the jumbo jet gradually made liner crossings a thing of the past, the company turned to cruising, and operated both Princess Cruises and a number of European divisions until its 2003 merger with Carnival Corporation, which created the world's largest cruise company.
The most "seasoned" ships in the current Princess fleet are the 77,000-ton, 1,950-passenger sister ships Sun Princess (1995), Dawn Princess (1997) and Sea Princess (1998), the last of which re-joined the fleet in April 2005 after two years as P&O's Adonia. The original Royal Princess (1984) was transferred to P&O Cruises the following month in 2005 and then they gave the name to one of the smaller 30,000-ton ships (another of these ships was renamed from Tahitian Princess to a new Ocean Princess).
The fleet also comprises four Grand-class ships, the 109,000-ton, 2,600-passenger Grand Princess (1998), Golden Princess (2001), Star Princess (2002) and the 113,000-tons 3,100-passenger Caribbean Princess. Diamond Princess and Sapphire Princess, two 116,000-ton, 2,670-passenger sister ships, entered the fleet in 2004, sailing to Alaska and Mexico. They represents the larger "Grand-class" sister ships with a myriad entertainment options and plenty of affordable balconies. A second 113,000-ton ship, similar to Caribbean Princess, named Crown Princess was delivered in June 2006. A third 3,100-passenger vessel, Emerald Princess, joined the fleet in 2007, with sister ship Ruby Princess joining in Fall 2008.
In August, 2002 Princess acquired three 684-passenger former Renaissance vessels, renaming them (more than once) Pacific Princess and the Royal Princess and Ocean Princess. These small ships go to exotic destinations including a world cruise for Pacific princess in 2009 and Asia and Europe for the others. Tahitian Princess will be renamed Ocean Princess in November 2009.
In 2003 Princess added the 92,000-ton sister ships Island and Coral Princess. Emerald Princess was launched in 2007 and followed by Ruby Princess in 2008.
On May 4, 2010, Princess announced it will be building two brand new ships at Fincantieri shipyards in Italy. The first will be named Royal Princess and will debut in June 2013 with a series of Mediterranean cruises. The two ships will have a gross tonnage of 141,000 and a passenger berth capacity of 3,600. The second should enter service in the summer of 2014.
These will be the largest newbuilds to date for Princess Cruises. The ship's design will be similar to the current Princess fleet but with a few enhanced features such as a larger atrium section with added drinking and dining areas. 100% of the ships' outside staterooms (80% of all staterooms) will have balconies comprise. Other innovations include a "skywalk" and a "skybar."
The existing Royal Princess, one of the former 700-passenger R-ships acquired from the now defunct Renaissance Cruises, left the Princess fleet in May 2011 and joined P&O Cruises as MS Adonia.
The New Royal Princess
One of the most anticipated new ships of 2013 is the new largest Princess cruise ship ever built, the new "Royal Princess" with its maiden voyage scheduled for June 16, 2013. But this new ship will remain in Europe offering Mediterranean cruises through October 29th. Then she will make her transatlantic repositioning to Ft. Lauderdale, her American home port.
Under construction at the Fincantieri Shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy, her keel was laid in October 2009. At 141,000-gross tons for 3600 passenger berths, she will be the largest Princess cruise ship ever built. A sister ship named Regal Princess is also already under construction and will debut in spring of 2014. There is also an option for a third sister ship should the cruise line choose to build it.
Some of the new attractions on Royal Princess include cantilevered walkways with glass floors on deck 16 where guests can stroll out over the side of the ship with a view of the ocean over 100 feet below. The ship has 19 decks in all, with the uppermost full deck holding the Sanctuary (adults only) area up front and the kids' and teens' special areas aft.
Entertainment options include full-screen 3-D movies, a "television studio" where a Good Morning show will be video-taped daily in front of a live audience along and special musical events presented at night, and the largest production show theater Princess has ever built.
An much larger atrium based upon what is already available on Emerald and Ruby Princess will serve as a focal point for the new ship with a much more "lively" neighborhood feel. A coffee barista and gelateria will anchor the atrium surrounded by simulated al fresco seating (it is actually inside, but feels like a street setting) for a variety of popular Princess restaurants.
There are several 12-day cruises on three different itineraries in Europe before the transatlantic crossing. From Ft. Lauderdale the ship will only offer Eastern Caribbean cruises to St Thomas, St Martin and the private island Princess Cays in the Bahamas. Cruises are already on sale through 2014 at the Princess web site and travel agents everywhere.Princess Cruises is one of those companies with a reputation for reliability and consistency. When you board a Princess ship, you know almost exactly what to expect. At the same time, it seems to have something of a crystal ball. With Golden Princess, it became the first mid-price cruise line to offer a large number of cabins with private balconies.
Princess was also the first line to offer 24-hour buffet food service, though it is still practically a secret. One can go to the buffet area anytime for a snack or a meal, including at dinnertime if one does not feel like dressing up for the dining room. At the time, the idea seemed revolutionary in cruise circles and it still is - most cruise lines only keep the pizza parlor open all night.
Megaliners aren't everyone's vessels of choice, but Princess approaches the concept differently. First of all, they carry fewer passengers, so they are simply less crowded. Rather than one gigantic dining room, two, three or even five smaller restaurants with etched glass partitions provide a more intimate dining experience. They divide the crowd between two main show lounges, one with Broadway-style revues, the other cabaret, and then switch them, all according to the dining schedule.
Public rooms are small and intimate. Caviar and champagne bars give the passenger a feel for the lap of luxury, as well as the multi-million dollar art collection and the most gorgeous libraries at sea, complete with plush leather chairs and earphones for audio tapes.
Princess is known for the innovative aspects of its shore excursions, most notably its Alaska cruise-tours where cruises are combined with shore tour programs. The land portion features gleaming, two-level railcars with glass domes and company-owned lodges in Kenai Peninsula, Denali Park, and Mt. McKinley. When taking an Alaska cruise-tour, however, be very sure to confirm what's included. In most cases, food and sightseeing are added costs.
There are expanded wireless "hotspots" for Internet access on ships throughout the fleet; including availability in the atrium areas of all 17 vessels. The newer ships have wireless access from bow to stern. Passengers with their own laptops can purchase Internet access package just by connecting to the netwrok and opening up a browser. Shipboard Internet Cafes feature between eight and 26 terminals - but don't expect much flexibility other than web access - no isb ports for uploading pictures are available, for example.
The line innovated the Movies Under the Stars program, featuring a King Kong-sized LED screen above the main pool, having debuted on the Caribbean Princess, is now featured on all post100,000-ton Princess ships. The line now offers headphones to those who wish to watch, as the audio has been prompting complaints from passengers with cabins on the decks below.
All in all, you can board a Princess ship confident that you'll enjoy a pleasurable mainstream cruise on which the tried and true and innovative co-exist happily. Princess's smaller ships may be somewhat dated, but only as old as 1995 for the Sun Princess, so not SO dated. These older ships make up for their size with exotic itineraries. Princess's megaships may be some of the biggest at sea - too big to squeeze through the Panama Canal! but they are full of surprises from reach out and touch the stars discos high above the stern to out-of-the-way hiding places you may not find until the last day of your cruise. They also carry smaller passenger loads than similarly sized ships from carnival or Royal Caribbean, so they feel less crowded. Another trick Princess uses to feel smaller than the ships truly are is to have as many as five separate dining rooms (on the Sapphire and Diamond Princess) so even though the ship is packed it still has a fairly small ship experience.
The laudable "Personal Choices" dining program offers increased choice in cruising style. On ships with two or more dining rooms, you may opt either for traditional assigned two-seating or open restaurant-style single seating in the other dining room.
There are also alternative restaurants; Sabatini's for Italian fare, and the Steakhouse for chops and filets.Fellow Passengers
Princess' youngish "average" passengers, fifty-somethings, seem to prefer the line's one-week Caribbean and Mexico cruises, while the Alaska cruises seem to attract more and more families. Babyboomers and their teenagers are occasionally glimpsed on summertime European cruises. On the Panama Canal, Asia, Africa and South America voyages, passengers are generally over 65. If you're not yet eligible for Social Security, you're especially likely to feel out-of-place aboard the longer cruises.Shore Excursions
Nobody in this price range gives you more variety than Princess. In Alaska, Princess's offers pre- and post-cruise land excursions, including accommodation in Princess' private lodges and separate sightseeing tours at every stop. In the Caribbean, in addition to the usual snorkeling and sailing; the intensive "Under the Waves" scuba training course enables participants to become certified divers in only a week. Or there are golf specials and helicopter excursions.Kid's Excursions
The recently expanded Princess Kids program features complimentary in-port activities and special educational opportunities, some created in conjunction with the California Science Center and the National Wildlife Federation. Grand, Golden, Star and Caribbean Princess have the most extensive children's activities, while Coral and Island each has a private disco/coffee club for teenagers. The Junior Ranger program runs throughout the Alaska season, and there is also a Save our Seas environmental program.
Princess' Youth Centers offer a full schedule of activities from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., with two-hour breaks for lunch and dinner, on sea days. During port days the program runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and again from 7 to 10 p.m. Parents are given pagers so they may be contacted by the Youth Counselors. Princess divides kids into one of four groups, Toddlers; (6 months to 3 years), Pelicans (ages 3-7), Princess Pirateers (ages 8-12), and teens (13-17), for whom the Off Limits centers were specially designed, with a jukebox, arcade, dance floor with disco lights, and diner-like booths.
At night, teen centers convert to discos open from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Group babysitting for children 3 to 12 is available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for a fee, but no in-cabin babysitting is on offer.
Children's menus are available both in the dining room and the 24-hour restaurant. One night each cruise, there's a gala pizza party at which kids dine with the youth staff and new friends, allowing parents to dine with other adults for a change. Personal Choice Dining is recommended for families who want to dine together in the main dining room before evening youth activities kick off at 7 p.m.
(Do note that the 30,000-ton Princess ships have no dedicated children's facilities, and youth counselors board only when there are 20 or more children on the passenger list.)
The Princess loyalty program, the Captain's Circle, is one of the most rewarding programs, especially for a "World's Leading Cruise Line" where you can still find deep discount prices. There are three levels beginning at Gold for two to five cruises, Platinum for six to 15 cruises and Elite for 16 cruises or more. You can count cruise days instead: Platinum after 50 cruise days and Elite after 150 cruise days.
There are special offers and early booking incentives, which you can receive by mail, email or phone. A representative of the Princess Captain's Circle is onboard every cruise to make sure you receive all the benefits to which you are entitled.
Some of the nicer aspects offered by Princess include free laundry service, free Internet access and a complimentary bar setup with your choice of spirits in your stateroom when you arrive.
Seven- to 14-night cruises offer two opportunities to put on the Ritz in formal attire. Many men opt for dark suit instead of tux, while their distaff companions often prefer dressy pants to gowns. The rest of the time, think smart casual.Tipping
Aboard all ships a charge of $10 per person (including children) per day is added automatically to your stateroom account for dining and stateroom personnel. This applies whether you choose traditional or personal choice dining. The amount may be increased or lowered at the Purser's Reception desk during the cruise. A 15% gratuity is automatically added to all Princess beverage tabs. Gratuities for spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion.