Our cruise started with a fairly easy embarkation process. Our ship, the Regal Princess, was one of many in port. After we maneuvered through the arrival area, we found our long line to board the ship. We had decided, after our first-time cruisers research, to not leave our bags with the porters to be delivered late to our stateroom. Many travelers reported instances of extremely long waiting times for their baggage to be delivered to their rooms. We kept ours with us as we navigated the on-boarding process. This turned out to be a very advantageous choice. As we wound our way through the large arrivals room there were stations where we had our passports reviewed, filled out a medical questionnaire, and put our bags and ourselves through an airport style screening process.
On arrival in our stateroom, we felt the size was small but the balcony added a lot of light and a feeling of spaciousness. We were impressed with the use of space in the cabin, from the large closet for hanging clothes, the small cabinet with many shelves to place clothes and other items, and the layout of the small bathroom allowing for two passenger’s personal products. Though only one person at a time could take care of their needs. After settling on where our things would live during our voyage, we headed out to find some lunch. During the previously mentioned research, we were clued in to the International Café, a small coffee shop that also serves savory and sweet dishes such as sandwiches, salads, and such. The word was that this spot, while a limited menu, was a good option to the embarkation day crush at the lunch buffet. And it was a great choice. The tuna sandwich, quiche, prawn & fennel salad, and roasted vegetables we chose were all quite good. Served in a quiet area inside the “Piazza”, the 3 story open-air atrium style section at the center of the ship.
The first difficulty we encountered came as we arrived at the Spa for my wife’s facial appointment. This appointment was made, as recommended by the cruise line, prior to departure through their website. Site allows choice of day and time for spa service and massage appointments. My wife’s choice was 2:30pm on our departure day. Upon check-in, she was told that her appointment time had been changed to 4:00pm due to a conflict with the timing of the full ship muster drill. Imagine our surprise that the appointment time available through the cruise line’s website was actually unavailable to anyone because spa services are not allowed during the muster drill. This is a problem that needs to be rectified by Princess Cruises as soon as possible to prevent future customers from encountering this same disappointing situation. Take those early appointment times out of the system for the arrival day and start after the muster drill is finished.
The muster drill was well done, with appointed gathering places and a pleasant and reasonably brief speech given on the PA as to what to do and where to do it in case of an emergency. We then chose to explore the ship for a little bit before my wife’s facial. The ship has the previously mentioned “Piazza”, encompassing decks 5 through 7. On these decks there are multiple shops, the spa, a theater and various bars and restaurants. The staterooms are on the middle decks and the top decks are for the pool areas including a huge screen for outdoor movies, fitness track, outdoor recreation (basketball, putting green, ping pong, shuffleboard) and various food and drink areas. The décor and furnishings throughout the Piazza are lovely with whites and golds and beautifully polished brass railings along the spiral staircase that rises up all three stories. Very stylish and photogenic space.
My wife’s spa appointment time arrived so off she went while I explored some shops. Shopping on the Regal Princess is definitely going to eat into your vacation budget. Prices are high compared to on land for the same item/type of item ie: clothes, toiletries, etc. The ship has a co-branded women’s clothing space with Chico’s which seemed to draw in a big crowd during the voyage. Other shops include an art gallery, a tax & duty free shop pushing liquor and fragrances, a small space dedicated to chocolate and snacks, a jewelry store, and a seagoing convenience store stocked with essentials like deodorant, tissues, and souvenirs. Upon my wife’s return from the spa, she was pleased with the outcome of the facial itself but felt a majority of the spa staff was in an unpleasant mood and definitely spent a significant amount of time, to her annoyance, trying to sell products and convince you that you could not live without them.
While we were in our stateroom earlier, one of the bits of information in our greeting packet was a coupon book for discounts in various shopping and dining places throughout the voyage. We chose to take advantage of the embarkation day coupon (2 for 1 on the upcharge) to eat at the specialty steak restaurant, Crown Grill. This is a worthwhile deal IMO for the $29 savings but good ONLY on embarkation night. Make a reservation upon boarding if you decide to use. Crown Grill has a retro gentlemen's steakhouse feel with dark wood and brass. The first two courses (beets and goat cheese salad, scallops with corn cake and grits, prawns over shrimp salad and a salad with a grape balsamic vinaigrette) came quickly (pre-made) and were generally quite good (grits were somewhat disappointing) and I was able to add an extra four delicious grilled prawns to the prawn salad. For some reason the entrees (porterhouse and filet mignon) were very slow to arrive. When they did finally the filet was considerably underdone and we had to send it back. When it returned to the table it was now done a bit more than my wife’s preference. We then barely had time to wolf down dessert before heading to the theater for the evening’s entertainment.
Regal Cruises introduced to this ship about two years ago their Medallion Class cruising, incorporating a small RF device (the Ocean Medallion) about the size of a quarter which allows, along with the Medallion Class app, passengers to do things such as order food, track their cabinmates location, open your cabin door, view all the daily activities onboard, and even gamble in the virtual casino from anywhere on the ship. The medallion also is used to facilitate entry and exit from the ship as passengers will have already entered all their necessary travel info and a photo onto Princess’s website before departure, thus being “Ocean Ready”. This innovation is very convenient and for the most part customer friendly. The MedallionClass app could definitely use some refinements to improve the usability, especially given the varying strength of the onboard wi-fi based on time of day and your location on the ship. Some areas of improvement for the app include:
>Remove a large portion of the unneeded graphics to improve load time
>Add ship location on a world map for reference
>Add filters to the daily events page to help reduce line items as the configuration now is difficult to navigate, especially on a small phone screen. It’s almost too busy to very useful.
>Chat function needs to add a pop up onscreen or some other way to see it fully
This innovation though is going to make future cruisers on ships that use it very happy with all the convenience it provides. They even sell some specialty holders and celebration inserts (Birthday, Wedding, Anniversary, etc.) onboard to spruce up your Ocean Medallion.
One other suggestion to Princess to assist passengers. Different color carpet in each stateroom hallway to designate the port and starboard sides of the ship would be helpful for navigation.
There was some considerable confusion onboard regarding the Anytime Dining plan we chose before embarkation. We were fully aware of which restaurants we could visit using this plan and the time frames involved but it seemed like each time we arrived to dine, there was some problem with the fact that we were there. I feel like the details provided by Princess for this plan prior to departure did not match up with what the specifics were regarding the details once on board the boat. More than a little bit frustrating for us. This led to more visits to the Horizon Court/Horizon Bistro Buffet than we had planned or hoped for prior to departure as my wife is not a fan of buffets. This situation turned out to not be as disappointing as we were afraid to might become because the food for all 3 meals, especially in the Horizon Bistro, was much better executed than we, as first-time cruisers, were afraid it would be. The variety was usually outstanding. The Horizon Court seemed to generally consist of more traditional “American” offerings during the day. Meaning what you would find on long standing American menus. The Horizon Bistro’s offerings were more adventurous in nature, including many dishes found in “ethnic” restaurants such as Indian, Chinese, and Mexican. It was clear that these dishes were a big draw to the multi-national mix of passengers on our ship.
Just about all the food throughout the day was consistently fresh, well prepared, and replenished quickly. And almost everything we tasted in the buffets exceeded our expectations. Some things, especially more carb forward items-pancakes, waffles, hot bread based items, cakes/desserts-suffered from long air exposure times and became quite dry. Other dishes like roast turkey, prime rib, pasta dishes, and seafood were really delicious. All in all, I would rate the food served on the boat very highly. Our one real disappointment came during the specialty night on board that Princess calls The Crab Shack. It is described by Princess as “a full Crab Shack experience” consisting of “Bayou style options such as popcorn shrimp, boiled crawfish with spicy sausage, and a mixed steamer pot with jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels, and snow crab”. Also on the menu was a pot of Alaskan King Crab legs served with clams and mussels.
This was all served in a cordoned-off section of the Horizon Court buffet that came with the feeling you were being segregated from the rest of the passengers, which I suppose you were due to the fact passengers had to pay a $29 surcharge to enjoy this menu. In addition to the above-mentioned entrée selections, options included clam chowder, shrimp cocktail, and Caesar salad as starters. While all our chosen starters were fine, things went south after choosing our entrees. Again, as at the Crown Grill, it took a ridiculous amount of time for the entrees to be brought to the table. Especially considering that most of the items were pre-cooked and thawed from frozen before serving and the fact that the “Crab Shack” was not very busy during our time there. My entrée was the Alaskan King Crab Legs with Clams and Mussels and my wife chose the Steamer Pot. Alaskan king crab should taste sweet and succulent and mine tasted mealy and wet, having definitely been thawed from frozen. Really a disappointment considering the added cost for this meal. Additionally, the clams and mussels were still in the shell and quite time consuming to prepare to eat. In this context, better to shell before serving. The Steamer Pot served to my wife was missing the promised sausage and had the same issue with her snow crab as I had with my king crab. I feel like this option needs to be profoundly refined or the cost reduced to suit the level of the cuisine and experience.
Universally the dining and beverage staff we came in contact with were personable, courteous, and very helpful when it came to assisting us or answering any questions we approached them with. Princess appears to have an excellent service staff training program in place. Our ship’s crew was very multi-national with numerous areas of the world represented. From the cleaning crew, the deck staff, and shop personnel it was very refreshing to be greeted warmly and helped professionally during our voyage. Special kudos to our stateroom attendant Alexei who always greeted us by name, answered our inquiries, and made our room look fresh and lovely every day. And always left us some chocolates.
Our interaction with staff ship-wide was a very pleasant experience overall. Unfortunately, the ones we remember most were the unpleasant ones with a particular staff member at the guest services desk. A gentleman (missed his name I’m afraid) who seemed to have a bit of responsibility-possibly a manager or team leader-was on more than one occasion condescending, dismissive, and down right rude when we approached him with any questions. To the point that we would physically avoid approaching the desk if we saw him there. Someone in my opinion who should consider a different line of work. An example of a different level of professionalism was shown throughout the crew when on our second night at sea there was a passenger medical emergency that required an airlift evacuation. The ship was forced to wait in port at Princess Cay while a plane arrived from Fort Lauderdale to evacuate the passenger. This pushed our departure time back by about 5 hours which in turn did the same to the arrival time in St Thomas and that affected passenger’s opportunities to join their previously booked shore excursions. Guest services staff did an admirable job of working with the entities running these excursions, including our snorkel trip, to adjust them as much as possible so the passengers would be able to still enjoy their day in St Thomas.
Based on our experience on this trip alone, I wouldn’t recommend the Turtle Cove and Shipwreck Two Site Snorkel trip booked through Princess. This has nothing to do with the company that took us out. Well run boat, really friendly and fun crew and the boat was lovely albeit with a scarcity of shaded seating. This has everything to do with the two locations where we went into the water on that day, which can be different depending on weather and currents. The Turtle Cove site was devoid of coral, low on fish, and very crowded with other snorkelers searching for the random turtle. Not enjoyable at all. Moving on to the shipwreck site, again it was crazy crowded and the shipwreck was close enough to see but too deep for decent pictures. Again, disappointing. Other locations on other days may be much different but we felt like the cost to enjoyment ratio of this trip was very underwhelming. While in port at our next destination, St Maarten, we chose to fill our time on our own rather than book any other excursions.
The onboard entertainment on our cruise was pretty enjoyable for the most part and the Cruse director and his assistants did a commendable job of hosting and presenting many different shows and activities throughout the trip. Directing sporting and trivia competitions, running dance exercise classes, and hosting television style game shows that were actually recorded for later shipboard broadcast were just some of the well-done aspects of this group of fun and friendly crew. The evening shows presented on our cruise were mostly worthwhile, especially our onboard comedian, Robbie Printz. The performers in the dancing and singing reviews, while very energetic and passionate, showed a wide range of talent levels onstage that made for an uneven experience for the audience. Having a professional guest singer appear in one of the productions was a nice touch and a definite upgrade of talent. In my opinion, the Voice Of The Sea competition needs to be overhauled or eliminated due to its really poor presentation. Long and drawn out to the point of being boring.
The Regal Princess has four outdoor hot tubs that always seemed to be in use and 4 outdoor pools, all of which were always neat and tidy each morning. The scuttle butt we had read regarding getting out early to “reserve” yourself a lounger in the prime pool and sun areas turned out to be spot on. Put down your towel to save your space. Only one of the pools, in our opinion was large enough, to qualify as more than a plunge pool, that being the Retreat pool at the bow of the ship. Interestingly, Regal Princess has all freshwater pools while the Pacific Princess only has saltwater pools. In the same area, there is also a place Princess calls The Sanctuary, an adults-only, extra charge space for quiet enjoyment of the sun, a bar, and a light meal menu served to you by Serenity Stewards. While we did not experience this, we heard they also provide alfresco massage and cool face towels. Our cruise did not seem to occupy this area much as there were not a lot of high-volume youngsters about.
Notes on some other aspects of the ship and our experiences:
>The casino seemed to be doing steady business each time we walked by. Small with a bit of everything.
>Regal Princess has what is billed as the first over the ocean glass walkway called the Seawalk. An interesting view looking down through the glass floor panels. A bit quease-inducing in rough seas.
>The giant screen Movies Under The Stars was in use during a long portion of the day. During daytime hours it screened mainly music concerts and at night turned to Hollywood films. It seemed to get regular use most nights even with some cool breezy evenings. Popcorn provided!
>The Fitness Center is well stocked with numerous different exercise apparatus and space to work out. But it sure is a different experience attempting to walk on a treadmill in choppy seas. And the walking track outside isn’t much easier. Also a court for pickleball-very popular-and basketball. Ping Pong too.
>An amenity that was very welcome and appeared to be quite popular was the self-service laundry areas on all the stateroom decks. Washers, dryers, built-in ironing stations, and machines to purchase soaps connected to your Ocean Medallion so as not to need coins attracted many passengers.
>One of the dining offerings we only chose to enjoy once was the Ocean Terrace, small sushi and seafood bar area where all the choices were ala-carte. Big draw was a seafood tower with a good-sized quantity of chilled seafood. The sushi that I enjoyed was quite good and a good value.
>Also onboard are two wine focused bars, Vines and Bellini’s, both of which were quite busy most evenings. Not being wine-folk we have no details on the experience here.
>Some type of live music is being played in some venue onboard throughout much of the day, whether it’s a steel drum player, a soul combo, or a quiet piano player, you can enjoy something almost anytime.
>The ship has a portrait photography studio, programs for both teens & younger children, & art piece auctions, none of which we had experience with. The internet café staff was very helpful with the wi-fi.
We had two events that were quite unexpected during our journey. The first was highlighted by a very classy gesture by the ship’s staff. One year previous to our sailing, the Regal Princess had been put to use as a rescue vessel for two men whose plane had ditched into the sea. It was made known to the captain and crew that one of these gentlemen was onboard with his wife celebrating one year from the occurrence. On short notice-we were told-a Q & A lecture was put together by the Cruise Director staff that provided an opportunity for this gentleman to tell his story to those of us who wanted to hear about it. Additionally, again previously unplanned or so we were told, it turned out that there was a significant number of passengers onboard who had also been traveling with the Regal Princess when the rescue took place a year previous. The whole thing was handled with the class and reverence it deserved. Kudos to all involved.
The second event, which actually was slowly occurring during our entire voyage, revolved around the spread of the Covid-19 virus crisis and it’s affects on all aspects of life in the US but was affecting the cruise industry-Regal in particular-greatly during our sailing period. The virus issue was a topic of conversation and consternation amongst the passengers right from the start due to a Princess ship being held off the California coast due to passengers and crew becoming infected. News reports during our trip provided information on the situation onboard that ship and in other areas of the world and we just had to keep holding out hope we would arrive back in Fort Lauderdale without any disruption to our vacation.
It came to be our final night at sea before returning to Florida when, at 5:30 am before an 8 am disembarkation, the familiar 3 tone signal came over the ships PA system. Our captain-who did an admirable job during this whole development-had the unpleasant task of informing us that rather than being in Fort Lauderdale at that time, we’re holding off the coast of Mami. As it turns out, two members of our crew had been on the Grand Princess (currently held off the California coast) two weeks prior to transferring to our ship. They had been tested and cleared before joining the Regal and come back negative. Additionally, it was past the two-week incubation time for the virus and crew in question were not showing any symptoms. But the CDC was requiring the crew members be tested for Covid-19 before our ship could make port. So, as we held off Miami, two test kits were being acquired and then headed by boat out to our vessel. Once the tests were administered, they would then return to a Miami lab to be completed. Fortunately, the ship would be able to move onward to Fort Lauderdale to wait for the results, rather than have to stay in place. Our intrepid captain made and uneducated estimate that disembarkation would be pushed back until noon due to this wait.
As this was supposed to be disembarkation day, the ship was not expecting passengers onboard past the breakfast hour. And many passengers had placed their luggage outside their staterooms to be collected by stewards and be waiting for them on the dock after leaving the ship. We really felt for these passengers and also felt really pleased for not doing the same. This unexpected development had a distinct effect on numerous passenger’s onward travel plans. Ability to catch air flights especially. And this had a domino affect for things like hotels, car rental and even folks who were due to continue on this ship for the next voyage. Fortunately, during the night and continuing into the day, staff had set up stations in one of the dining rooms with computers, phones, and people to assist as much as humanly possible those passengers that had to rearrange transportation issues while we waited at sea. Once it became clear that noon wasn’t a reasonable expectation for leaving the ship, the kitchen staff had put together lunch in the buffet area just as if it was another day at sea and the cruise director staff began scheduling more games, movies, exercise class, and music throughout the vessel as we waited and wondered.
The delay in our docking in Ft. Lauderdale dragged on as the Captain waited for word on the test results. Were we kept reasonably well informed as to what would unfold onboard during our wait with continuing announcements regarding activities, meal service, and the availability of more assistance with rearranging travel. At some point in the day it was announced that the next sailing of the Regal Princess was canceled. Numerous groups onboard were due to travel on that sailing, not to mention any passengers who were waiting or due to arrive in Florida to depart later that day. But it turned out Princess went a long way in compensating those folks affected, which was commendable. Fortunately for us, any adjustments in our continuing travel we were able to resolve ourselves using the internet.
As the dinner hour approached, free drinks started being offered. And we were informed of activities onboard now being scheduled out until 10 pm. About this time word finally came down that the tests had come back negative and the clearance was given to be allowed to dock. It was then announced we were required-as most ports do-to have a pilot come out to bring the ship into the dock. And that person would have to be located and ferried out to the Regal Princess. More time would be needed to accomplish this. Again, the kitchen staff did a very good job of setting up dinner with delicious and varied dishes just as if it was another day on the water. It seems apparent that excellent training is given by Princess on how to handle these extra meals type of situations.
A bit later, a disembarkation schedule was distributed to the passengers showing your group number and where you were to exit the ship. We were then told that due to the lateness of the hour, passengers would be allowed to spend the night on the ship if they wanted. Initially we decided to do this. BUT, we were informed those people would still have to exit into the terminal to undergo a health check AND they would be the last group allowed to leave the ship to do this and to reacquire their luggage. This was really the one real aspect of the whole situation we felt should have been handled distinctly differently. Making people who were going to stay onboard overnight, especially at that hour, wait until after everyone else had disembarked was unfair in the extreme. While I understand rules in place may have made this necessary, I believe a different solution could have been provided. Looking at the crowds of people waiting to disembark plus the fact we still had our bags with us quickly made us rethink this plan. So, we found a hotel in Ft. Lauderdale before disembarking.
As our departure time came closer, we joined the long line in the Piazza area that led to our gangway onto the dock. People were still frantically inquiring with staff on questions and concerns they had on any number of subjects, not the least of which appeared to be how Princess was going to handle passenger’s additional costs due to this long delay in arriving back in port. The staff we saw were very patient and understanding and if they did not have the best information for that passenger, they were connected with someone better equipped to provide answers. I definitely want to commend ship’s staff with how well they cared for older and physically challenged passengers during this hectic and stressful disembarkation process. Surprisingly, as we finally left the ship, nothing was required of us to complete our departure. No paperwork, medical checks, nothing. This situation was different than other travelers throughout the world as this virus issue continued to unfold. The sight of thousands of bags arrayed across the floor of the exit lounge made us feel for the passengers who would still not be done with their trip for quite a while.
All in all, we had a pretty good time on this cruise but have decided it’s probably not something we will look to do again for a long while. The cons for us far outweighed the pros. Not the least of which was a re-determination that we are much more independent travelers than folks that can enjoy being herded. Princess as a company, despite the mentioned faults, appears to be a cruise line that has many, many things going for it and would be an excellent choice for first time cruisers. And the Regal Princess’s full staff is to be applauded for their handling of the unprecedented situation they confronted in the Covid-19 virus outbreak. Someday we will choose to cruise again. Princess will be who we look to travel with.
neat clean colorful well laid out balcony adds a lot furnishings comfortable