Fodor’s Expert Review
Unlike the theme park atmosphere of some other cruise lines, these Grand-class Princess ships decor bestows a refined, understatedly elegant atmosphere, with hand-painted murals and etched glass partitions in the dining rooms. Little apparent expense was spared on materials, with rich fabrics, beautiful woods, and marble everywhere, all topped of with a $2 million art collection aboard each ship. The cabins are tastefully decorated in soft, inoffensive shades – beiges, creams and muted pinks.Read More
The Vista Show lounge presents production shows, cabaret, comedians and magicians. The performers in the smaller lounges are of consistently high quality.
Skywalkers, the real disco, is suspended between two pillars protruding high above the stern, fully 18 stories above sea level. The moving sidewalk you ride up to Skywalkers is one of the most breathtaking views on any ship, and one that many passengers probably never discover.
As with all Princess ships, you will quickly find the Wheelhouse Bar and the Explorers’ Lounge offering cabaret, trivia competitions, art auctions, and pre-dinner dancing. Churchill’s Lounge, the one-time sports bar, is now behind the casino and is used for the cognac and cigars set. The sports paraphernalia is still there, but seems oddly out of place.
The main gathering spot, the maple-paneled atrium paneled, has boutiques, cafes and public rooms on each of its three levels, all connected by a circular glass staircase. A string quartet adds to the airy ambiance. The gigantic Casino contains some 285 slot machines and gaming tables beyond counting. You can view live sports on ESPN in the Sports Bar, or recline in leather chairs while perusing any of hundreds of books in the beautiful library.
The Internet room on these Grand-class ships do not qualify as “cafes” as there are no cafe-style treats available. Even worse, there is no tech support and if you can find the printer you may have to fix your settings on your computer to make it work yourself. The connection is generally slow and inconsistent. Sadly, these are some of the worst, and most under-utilized, Internet centers at sea.
Those who want the captain to pronounce them man and wife will meet him in the Hearts and Mind Wedding Chapel, which has much stained glass.
While Princess has a well-deserved reputation for good service securely footed in its British roots, truly personalized service may be too much to expect on a ship this size. That noted, cabin stewards and waiters are both efficient and personable. And rote processes that should be standardized and well executed on other ships but often fail miserably, such as efficient disembarkation, are generally practiced and polished to the point of excellence here.
A charge of $10 per person per day (including children) is automatically added to your stateroom account for dining and stateroom personnel. This applies to all passengers, adult and child alike, whether or not they choose traditional or personal choice dining. The amount may be increased or lowered at the Purser’s Reception desk during the cruise.
A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion.
Cabins are built out from the body of the ship so as to permit bigger staterooms. Seven hundred ten of the 1300 staterooms have balconies, ranging up to 257 sq. feet, but they’re not very private, as they’re in plain view of the occupants of the cabin on the next deck up. Standard inside staterooms are 160 sq. ft., while outside cabins range from 168 to 210 sq. feet. Closet space is minimal except in the suites; leave some things home! Mini-suites with private verandas are 325 sq. feet. Vista Suites, called mini-suites on other Princess ships, range from 515 to 800 sq. feet. Sun and Dawn Princess offer larger minisuites for less money.
All staterooms have color TV with CNN and movies, a radio and small refrigerator, and spacious bathrooms with storage space and hair dryers.
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.
One of the early Mega-ships still with the Skywalker’s Nightclub, look for bargains.
Best For People Who Want
A roomy ship with ample choices for alternative dining, wide-ranging fitness programs; true onboard weddings as well as vow renewal; programs for children of all ages, tweens and teens; balcony cabins; lots of nightlife choices, extensive golf and snorkeling programs.
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
A more personalized cruise experience on a smaller ship, world-class cuisine.
Star Princess entered service in 2002, a sister ship to the 2,600-passenger Grand Princess, once the biggest cruise ship at sea, though that didn’t last for long. Despite the mega-ship status size of these ships at 108 gross tons (anything over 100,000 ton is considered mega-ship for now), the fact is Star Princess and her sisters carry far fewer passengers (2600) than cruise ships of similar size from other cruise lines. The Carnival Conquest class at 110,000 tons, for example, can carry close to 3400 passengers at maximum capacity. This means that the space per passenger ratio on these ships results in lounges, theaters and dining rooms that are all intimate enough to make passengers forget they are aboard a megaliner.
Thanks to shrewd layout, multiple dining venues, four expansive outdoor deck areas (1.7 acres!), multiple sports facilities, four pools, and nine hot tubs, passengers are rarely concentrated in any one area. As a result, these ships often feel almost too spacious, eerily empty at times. Not that this is a bad thing, most luxury ships have the same feel. Meanwhile, the mega-ship amenities included for those who can never get enough dining, entertainment, and fitness choices, means the Princess ships of this class make the best of everything for ships in this size and price range. Their programs for younger passengers are exemplary, and their Lido buffet dining spot is open around the clock.
Having offered the first wedding chapel at sea (with the Captain doing the honors) on Grand Princess, Star Princess now also features a complete professional digital photography studio in the F/X Digital Photo Center for those all-important wedding photos. The medical center is one of the most advanced at sea, the first to offer real-time teleconferencing support from a leading national cardiac care center in the United States.
The most incongruous factor about these mega-ships is that the public rooms aren’t much bigger than those on much smaller ships, and there are surprisingly few bars and lounges for a ship this size. The one head-scratcher to the design is the compromised privacy of many balconies that extend out far enough from the ship that people from several decks above can look right down into your “private” enclave. From the Baja Deck, for instance, you can watch other passengers on their Caribe and Dolphin Deck balconies. Caribe occupants can in turn observe their counterparts on the Dolphin Deck.
What can you say about a ship that offers three main dining rooms instead of the usual multi-tiered, bigger than life one? They are more intimate and definitely quieter, but like the Princess “included in the cruise fare” cuisine, they are not likely to elicit a “wow” response either. These main dining rooms predictably offer Princess’ Continental-style cuisine unlikely to win any culinary awards, but also elicit few complaints. For gourmet dining, try the alternative option, refined but not snooty, Sabatini’s Trattoria for a wonderful selection of Italian antipasti, complemented with such garnishes as Sevruga caviar, delicious pizza, homemade pastas, soups and breads. Salads are tossed before your very eyes, and soup ladled into fresh bread bowls. Seafood predominates on the list of main courses; there are lobster, langoustines, tiger prawns, Chilean sea bass and scallops, with red meat dishes also on offer. Save room for the exquisite Italian pastries that will be wheeled before you toward meal’s end.
The three principal restaurants, Amalfi, Portofino and Capri Dining Rooms, seating from 486 to 504 passengers, feature hand-painted murals and etched-glass partitions. The drapes and carpeting in the main dining areas absorb sound efficiently enough to preclude diners having to holler across the table to one another.
Personal Choice Dining offers either traditional cruise dining (In the Amalfi), with a set seating time (6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) and the same waiter and tablemates each evening, or new restaurant-style seating, allowing passengers to dine when and with whom they choose, with each party seated at its own table, as at a restaurant ashore (offered in the other two dining rooms). Restaurant-style diners may be seated in either of the two elegant main dining rooms any time between 5:30 and midnight. Many passengers are understandably grateful for this reprieve from having to hurry to dress for dinner in the traditional way after a long day ashore.
Sabatini’s, (surcharge $20 per person) described above, seats 100, the Sterling Steakhouse features Angus beef and other grilled red meats (surcharge $15 per person). The Horizon Court is open 24 hours per day, with menu service at night, plus casual breakfast and luncheon buffet. There’s also a festive pizzeria. For $100 per couple, you can book the Ultimate Balcony Dinner, to be served by a butler who discreetly makes himself scarce behind drapes or out in the hall between courses. The ship’s photographer snaps a complimentary photo while you’re eating.
With a dozen or so venues for nightlife, you’re virtually assured of finding something that floats your boat, to coin a phrase. There’s no faulting the lavishness of the production shows, which feature extravagant special effects. The performers in the cabaret are a talented bunch.
It is rare to find such ample fitness facilities. The four pools, including a “swim-against-the-current” lap pool, are uniformly gorgeous, thanks in no small part to colorful mosaics and surrounding palm trees. Low marks, though, to whoever decided to put the separate jogging track right above the spa, as the relentless thundering of hooves overhead isn’t terribly conducive to one’s enjoying her massage or beauty treatment. Even though prices are substantially higher than ashore, spa services are very popular, especially in the afternoon. You’ll occasionally have to stand in line for some of the more popular workout apparatuses in the gym. There’s a golf simulator and 9-hole putting green, and courts for basketball, volleyball or tennis.
The third ship introduced to Princess Cruises’ Grand-class in 2002, Star Princess remains essentially a twin of Golden Princess. Extensive renovations of Star Princess have added many of the cruise line’s most popular signature elements, including Movies Under the Stars and The Sanctuary.
When Grand Princess was introduced as the world’s largest cruise ship in 1998, futuristic Skywalker’s Disco hovered approximately 150 feet above the waterline, but in a dramatic—and fuel-saving—transformation, it was removed from Grand Princess in 2011 and replaced with a more conventional nightclub in the heart of the ship. Subsequent ships did not have the same design problem, so Skywalker’s remains.
Like their predecessors, the interiors of Grand-class ships have splashy glamour in the sweeping staircases and marble-floor atriums. Surprisingly intimate for such large ships, human scale in public lounges is achieved by judicious placement of furniture as unobtrusive room dividers. The 300-square-foot Times Square–style LED screens that hover over the pools show up to seven movies or events daily.
Princess Cruises may be best known for introducing cruise travel to millions of viewers, when its flagship became the setting for The Love Boat television series in 1977. Since that heady time of small-screen stardom, the Princess fleet has grown both in the number and size of ships. Although most are large in scale, Princess vessels manage to create the illusion of intimacy through the use of color and decor in understated yet lovely public rooms graced by multimillion-dollar art collections.
Princess has also become more flexible; Personal Choice Cruising offers alternatives for open seating dining (when you wish and with whom you please) and entertainment options as diverse as those found in resorts ashore.
Lovely chapels or the wide-open decks are romantic settings for weddings at sea with the captain officiating.
- 14 passenger decks
- 2 specialty restaurants, 3 dining rooms, buffet, ice cream parlor, pizzeria
- Wi-Fi, safe, refrigerator
- 4 pools (1 indoor), children’s pool
- fitness classes, gym, hot tubs, sauna, spa, steam room
- 9 bars, casino, 2 dance clubs, library, 2 showrooms, video game room
- children’s programs
- dry cleaning, laundry facilities, laundry service
- Internet terminal
- no kids under 6 months, no-smoking rooms
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
What to expect on board
Staterooms & Cabins
On these ships, 80% of the outside staterooms have balconies. The typical stateroom has a seating area with a chair and table; even the cheapest categories have ample storage. Minisuites have a separate seating area, a walk-in closet, a combination shower-tub, and a balcony, as well as two TVs. More deluxe suites have even more room, some with sofa beds. Two Family suites have interconnecting staterooms with a balcony that can sleep up to eight people (D105/D101 and D106/D102). Staterooms in a variety of categories will accommodate three and four people, and some adjacent cabins can be interconnected through interior doors or by unlocking doors in the balcony dividers.
Decorated in attractive pastel hues, all cabins have a refrigerator, hair dryer, safe, and bathrobes to use during the cruise. Bathrooms have shampoo, lotion, and bath gel.
Twenty-eight staterooms are wheelchair accessible.
Food & Drink
Passengers choose between two assigned dinner seatings or open seating; breakfast and lunch are open seating. Alternative dinner options include the reservations-only Crown Grill and Sabatini’s Italian restaurants (both with cover). Lido buffets are open around the clock. Crab Shack—adjacent to the Lido buffet—serves shellfish for an extra charge. A pub lunch is served in the Wheelhouse Bar, and a pizzeria and grill offer casual daytime snack choices. The International Café serves light snacks, panini, and pastries, most of which are complimentary, although there is a charge for specialty coffees. The ice cream bar charges for premium ice cream. A wine bar serves extra-charge evening snacks and artisan cheeses. Ultimate Balcony Dining and Chef’s Table options are available, as is afternoon tea and 24-hour room service.
Nighttime production shows presented in the main show lounge lean toward musical revues; guest performers might include comedians, magicians, jugglers, and acrobats. Live bands play a wide range of musical styles for dancing and listening in the lounges, and each ship has a disco. The cruise director’s staff leads lively evenings of fun with passenger participation. Movies Under the Stars, where popcorn is free, is a popular evening option.
Spa & Fitness
Spas operated by Steiner Leisure offer a menu of massages, body wraps, and facials, as well as treatments specifically designed for men, teens, and couples. Acupuncture is also available. Only Star Princess has a thermal suite (complimentary for those in suites but open to others for a fee), but saunas and steam rooms adjacent to men’s and women’s changing rooms are complimentary on all three ships. Adults can escape to The Sanctuary, a relaxing outdoor spa-inspired setting for which there is a fee.