We were extremely happy to get back on a cruise ship after three years and several false starts. Our 10-day adventure on the Royal Princess marked the first time we have been able to do nothing together since the pandemic/endemic and other disruptions took over the world. It was an important and positive experience.
We took a Mexican Riviera trip with portFroyal calls in Manzanillo, Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo. We were on board January 6-16, 2023.
We were delighted with the cruise, but we kept running into things that just should have been done a bit better.
Here are some thoughts on our days. Maybe our notes will help others plan. Or, just maybe, someone in the cruise line will stumble across this post and get some ideas on how to make 2023 cruising better!
First, the staff was excellent with several standouts for above and beyond service. We will mention them by name in the Princess survey.
We also appreciated being in Club Class because we avoided long waits which our traveling companions reported in the regular dining rooms. We missed being allowed to have breakfast in Sabatini’s – a Club Class perk on prior cruises, but still found the extra service and care worthwhile.
We also had our best LGBTQ group gatherings of any cruise. Thanks to a savvy, friendly fellow passenger, Terri, the Wheelhouse gathering space welcomed 10-20 people every day. Ten or so of us were regulars, and it was great fun to get to know people over the days.
Problems with Passenger Service
Unfortunately, the Passenger Service service was definitely off. It took us four days for our cabin phone to operate properly. The telephone’s Voicemail button didn’t work. Retrieval of messages was impossible. We tried to call Passenger Service Saturday morning — the first full day on board. We waited on hold for 10 minutes two times before giving up. Someone at the Cruise Critics meeting said we should report problems like the phone via the “Chat” function in the Princess Medallion phone app, and we made that report later Saturday morning during the Cruise Critics meeting. We were told on the app they’d look into it, but nothing happened. On Sunday I wrote a comment about the phone on the Princess form that was was delivered into our cabin soliciting our “First Impressions”. I took that note down to the Passenger Service desk and handed it to the worker there. Nothing happened. Monday we went to Passenger Service and they sent our cabin steward to check the phone. He confirmed the problem and someone fixed the problem Monday afternoon. The first message we heard was for an occupant of the room on a prior cruise.
In addition to being put off by the four days it took for our phone to work, I am disappointed that my First Impressions comment received no response. I mentioned the phone and some other topics but never received an acknowledgement. Why ask for First Impressions if you’re going to ignore them?
Speaking of being ignored, we asked on Monday and later on Wednesday (Thursday?) about Chef’s Table dining. We were told we were put on the list and would get a letter when things were organized. We saw two seatings of chef’s table gather in the Wheelhouse but we received no letter or even a “we are sorry message.” We were platinum Club Class mini-suite passengers which would seem to call for SOME response. To be honest I wonder if someone didn’t want an LGBTQ couple in the group.
Princess Medallion App
As I mentioned, we used the Princess Medallion App to initially report our phone problem. That app is heavily plugged by Princess and we are supposed to use it for all sorts of things from dining reservations to downloading photos. It is a good idea,… with lots of room for improvement.
For example, you are supposed to order drinks on the app. You can, but you cannot customize the drink. There should be a line for comments so we can order a gin martini with “no vermouth” and other simple requests.
The app takes too long to download the events and information, and every time you come back to look at the schedule, the app re-loads the whole schedule. The app should do caching!
Some of the information on the app is not appropriate for phone display. Princess puts PDFs of the old printed port descriptions to tell you about the upcoming stops. The approach doesn’t work well.
We liked being able to look at and download the Princess photographers’ pictures of us on the app. However, as soon as you leave the ship, you can no longer download your photos or look at other historical information. We think you should be able to savor your memories when you’re back home.. at least for 30 days or so.
Finally, the app advertises certain higher end cocktails. That’s fine, but on our trip from day one the ship had no Hendricks. The whole ship was out. But, the app kept suggesting that we order Hendricks. They should have pulled the suggestion.
We know no cruise is perfect, and here are some items that could have gone wrong on any cruise,.. before or after Covid!
- The food was inferior at times. Papaya and melons were rock hard several tries. Lobster tails in the main dining room were way over salted. The special salmon fettucine Alfredo was very rich with some nice salmon bits, but there was no flavor in the sauce. Generally the food was at the low end of normal.
- We all thought the band, Supersonics?, was not great. The lead female vocalist didn’t sing very well.
What Was the Designer of the Royal Class Ship Thinking?
This was our first cruise on the huge Royal Princess. It was the first of this larger class of ship, and it holds 3560 passengers. Surprisingly and unfortunately, the larger number of passengers is not matched by larger public areas and facilities.
Overall the floor plan of the Royal is disappointing. There is no real promenade deck to walk around. The only walking space for exercise is on the top deck, and it only covers about 1/3 of the length of the ship.
The public areas feel smaller even though the ship is larger. The Wheelhouse bar area is cramped and blends into the Crown Grill. That makes the Crown Grill tremendously noisy and less special. There is a general lack of elegance… it feels like Princess is devolving. I hope it doesn’t continue down that path.
Not only does the Promenade deck not let you walk around the ship, it is closed off a lot of the time. Sometimes the deck was closed during arrival/departure moments when the Bridge referred to the view outside. The view was out there, but you couldn’t get to it unless you climbed up to the top of the ship.
The “Vista” lounge was tagged as the meeting spot for the afternoon Elite Cocktail party. It usually had all of the window shades pulled resulting in no “vista”. Further, the room is not conducive to casually meeting people. The set up is more for watching a show instead of socializing or seeing a sea vista. It felt like a waste of a room. Why be on a ship if you’re going to keep the shades drawn all the time?
Similarly, the shades along the hallways near the Wheelhouse bar and the TV studio were almost always closed. Why? I’d emphasize the sea view!
And, as I said before, the Wheelhouse opens up to the Crown Grill making the fine dining experience a noisy mess. Also, the ship schedules meetings in the Wheelhouse (LGBTQ, chef’s table, etc.) at 6 when the music starts. Why have people meet when the music starts? You cannot easily talk over the music.
Our hope is that Princess will stop supersizing the ships and focus on the passenger experience. Our ship wasn’t full, and I suspect that the ship design keeps some people from booking on the Royal class cruises. We hope that smaller, better designed ships will be home ported in San Francisco in the future. We will happily go back on the Royal, but we would go back more happily to the Grand!
What Do We Really Think?
The cruise was wonderful. We spent time together while others took care of us. We met and enjoyed warm people. We had good weather and saw beautiful and interesting sights.
We recommend Princess and the cruise we took. We hope some of the nits we picked are resolved, and we also will be scouting the schedules for smaller ships that come to San Francisco!
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