By Ewout Rijk de Vries
Twenty seven years ago the TV series “The Love Boat” ended. It was this show that first introduced “cruising” to the American public. During the record nine years the show aired, people everywhere hummed the popular theme song and the show helped make the romance of cruising a dream for many.
The original ship used for the show, the Pacific Princess, was sold by Princess Cruises in 2003 and last summer – ten years later – moved to a scrapyard in Turkey. At the same time Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge christened the line’s newest ship, the Royal Princess in Southampton in England.
I had the opportunity to experience the new ship on its inaugural sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale highlighted by a brilliant fireworks display. During the cruise I talked to actor Gavin MacLeod, the famous Captain Merrill Stubbing of the Love Boat. “The show first aired on Saturday night at ten o’clock,” he recalled. “That was the TV equivalent of the ‘graveyard shift,’ and the critics were sure the show would sink like the Titanic.” Gavin looked up from his seat on deck five into the dramatic multi-deck atrium of the Royal Princess and smiled. “I could not have imagined how my life changed in these twenty seven years and being here today.” Now a born again Christian, MacLeod certainly has seen lots of changes.
The Royal Princess is the first of two sister ships being introduced. The Regal Princess will follow in 2014. The evolution of cruise ships is staggering since cruises became part of mainstream America. The Love Boat was only 13,500 tons and 561 feet long. The first Royal Princess was 44,348 tons and 755 feet long. When I sailed on her on the Amazon just before it was sold in 2005, she still offered a wonderful nautical atmosphere with beautiful polished teak decks. The historic memorabilia were all over the ship, including photos of Princess Diana who christened her in 1984. Most new ships entering the cruise market today look like luxury hotels instead of cruise ships, and they miss that nautical feel and cozy corners of the old ships.
The new Royal Princess is an exception. Despite its size with 141,000 tons, a length of 1,083 feet and 17 decks to accommodate 3,600 passengers and the overall feeling of space, one can still find cozy corner bars such as Crooner’s, Vines, or the Crown Grill located near the central atrium. There were piano players in three different areas playing classical music mixed with jazz and old-time favorites. Such atmosphere has always been the aim of Princess Cruises. There are no simulated surf pools, or zip lines. It is more traditional style cruising, although Princess was the first to introduce features now copied by other cruise lines like “adults-only” Sanctuary, Movies Under The Stars and the change from the atrium area as a check-in and service area to a bustling expanded piazza. And the line continues to come up with great innovative ideas.
The spectacular multi-story atrium is the ship’s social hub. The Pastry Shop here is the largest at sea. Alfredo, Princess’s signature pizzeria has been expanded. There are now 16 eateries, several of them brand new and including Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar, Gelato Parlor, a Fondue corner and Crab Shack in the Horizon Court buffet. Chef’s Table Lumiere is for those few who look for a unique dining experience and don’t mind forking out the $115 cover charge. Passengers sit at a custom-made glass table and are magically surrounded by a curtain of light – providing a soft wall of privacy that envelopes them as they enjoy the chef’s specially prepared meal.
However, probably the most talked about feature on the Royal Princess is another first in the industry. A glass walkway extends 28 feet beyond the edge of the ship on both sides of deck sixteen! It was a show in itself to sit at the SeaView Bar and witness the reaction of people. Some were fearful of walking on the glass floor; some walked only along the inside edge of the glass; and there where those who could not get enough from the thrill of walking on glass that high above the sea.
The Youth Center offers an outdoor sun deck especially for teens. The “Movie Under The Stars” screen is the largest in the Princess fleet. At night there is a Las Vegas Style water and light show next to the new large swimming pool and “Princess Live!” is the first television studio at sea with audience participation
The cabins on the new Royal Princess are slightly smaller than on their other ships but very well appointed and extremely comfortable. A stunning 81 percent now have balconies, albeit small ones. The Royal Princess is catering to those seeking an atmosphere of casual elegance. Because of the family and children options and separation of special kids areas and luxurious adult only areas like the Sanctuary, she is a wonderful venue for three generational family vacations. The service on board is excellent and some much more expensive cruise lines can learn something from the many buffet choices, outstanding quality and freshness. I therefore highly recommend a Caribbean cruise on the new Royal Princess, or perhaps a Scandinavia and Russia cruise next summer. At the prices for a cruise today compared with prices in the Love Boat era, cruising is a terrific value for the money. So enjoy the luxury and service on Princess’ newest Love Boat, the Royal Princess.
Lastly, we enjoyed the sense of humor of the Princess shipbuilders. Andrija Milovan is a welder who was working on the construction of the Royal Princess. In his free time he used to work with scrap material and welded the whimsical sculpture of the peacock now proudly adorning the entrance to the Allegro restaurant.
Ewout Rijk de Vries and his wife Jill have been on Marco Island for 30 years and own America Travel Arrangements, Inc. They offer full service at the same price or less than booking direct with the cruise lines. In addition to offering expert advice from personal knowledge on most cruise lines, the company operates its own small luxury safaris and soft adventure journeys all over the world. Ewout also has a background as a journalist. His photography and articles have been published in a wide array of newspapers and magazines. His other company, Ewout Rijk de Vries Photography offers wedding & commercial photography.www.americatravelarrangements.com and www.photodevries.com