Princess Cruises' newest, biggest ship showcases a series of fabulous "firsts" for the fleet.
''Magnificent. Graceful. Serene," is how the captain of the Royal Princess, Tony Draper, describes the new 3560-passenger ship under his command.
Christened in June by Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, the Royal Princess is a "smooth ride", Draper says, its hull and bridge design "absolutely state of the art".
While we passengers are relieved to know the vessel passes exacting industry tests, it's much more fun exploring the ship's features as the Royal Princess is a new design for the cruise line and has several notable "firsts".
The most obvious is the SeaWalk, which has views from all sides and, through glass, to the sea 39 metres below. (If you book a balcony stateroom on Deck 15, make sure you're not in one that is in full view of people gazing from the SeaWalk, unless you're a bit of an exhibitionist.)
On the ship's port side you can have a drink in the similarly cantilevered SeaView Bar. Here, at midday and sunset, bar staff undertake theatrical cocktail "flairing" shows.
From the bar, you can also check out the Dancing Fountains show, another Princess first, and the massive movie screen on the the top deck.
Theatrical displays are the order of the day in the piazza, on Deck 5. This three-deck atrium is a glittering central space. During the day the sound of classical music fills the air here and in the evening performances by acrobats, singers and jugglers are crowd-pleasers.
According to a Princess Cruises spokesperson, the inspiration for the piazza, a 24/7 hub of entertainment, bars, restaurants, cafes and shops, is the "street style of Covent Garden or Las Rambla".
While eateries familiar to seasoned Princess passengers are in evidence (Sabatini's Italian restaurant, The Crown Grill, an expanded Alfredo's pizzeria) Royal Princess has also paired bars with restaurants.
Thus Sabatini's is next door to Vines wine bar and the Wheelhouse Bar flows into the Crown Grill.
Menus have been tweaked, too; Vines serves snacks from neighbouring Sabatini's and you can enjoy an English-style pub lunch in the Wheelhouse Bar.
Several new bars and cafes are available, too: Bellini's cocktail bar, the Ocean Terrace seafood bar, a gelateria and pastry shop.
Princess Live! is a fully equipped television studio on Deck 7. It seats hundreds of passengers and broadcasts chat shows, cooking demonstrations, games and music.
In-room entertainment has been taken up a few notches too, with an extensive program of free on-demand movies and TV shows.
On the top deck, the adults-only Sanctuary is larger than on any other Princess ship. It has private cabanas and indulgent Lotus Spa cabanas, where passengers can enjoy a selection of spa treatments.
The Lotus Spa on Deck 5 is a huge space, has more treatment rooms than any other Princess spa, has the fleet's biggest thermal suite (the Enclave) and its first hydrotherapy pool. There are two couples "villas" in the spa and packages can include a butler service.
CRUISING THERE Royal Princess is undertaking Mediterranean-based cruises until October 9, then cruising Caribbean waters until April and returning to northern European waters for summer 2014.
MORE INFORMATION princess.com.
The writer was a guest of Princess Cruises and Emirates Airline.
- FFX Aus