A day on board Royal Princess
So I’ve gone from feeling like I need to slow down the travel a bit to plotting another trip. It doesn’t take long… In fact, all it took was a day back on board a cruise ship.
And at the weekend, I was invited on board Royal Princess, one of Princess Cruises’ newest ships, with a group of other cruise and family travel bloggers before she sailed off to America.
With one of my many other hats on, I’ve edited the onboard magazine for Princess, called Journey. Hours poring over their list of 300+ ports and endless excursions, and I feel almost as if I’ve cruised with them already. But there were a few surprises even for me when I finally set foot on one of their ships.
For starters, just how family-friendly it is. Exploring the kids’ clubs, there are three lovely rooms for different age groups, starting with three to seven – if you are travelling with a baby, there are no nursery or crèche facilities though.
The eldest group for teens have their own outdoor section, including a small pool, while there’s also a section for eight to 12, including activities. But I loved the spacious room for the youngest passengers.
Split into sections, there’s soft play, colouring and crafts on tables by huge windows looking out to see as well as books and games. It’s all bright, fun and some clever little touches like a slide joining two of the sections.
And once kids are three, they can be left whenever the kids’ club is open (during daytime but also with evening sessions in lieu of babysitting) whether you’re on board ship or trying a less child-friendly shore excursion.
There’s plenty to do as well. First up, the Sanctuary, an adults-only area with gorgeous curtained cabanas to rent or loungers as well as a pool, plus the spa and ‘enclave’ – similar to the kind of facilities in spas on shore, with heat rooms, different showers, water beds, heated stone loungers. Space is limited so it’s worth being at the front of the queue.
Equally delicious, a cocktail on deck. We had a display of both mixology and entertainment skills from Jorge and Rommel at the Seaview Bar on deck by the pool, mixing several cocktails including the 50th anniversary creation Isaac, including Bacardi, cherries and soda. I was driving back afterwards, so had to limit myself to a couple of sips alas.
What always fascinates me though is going behind the scenes. As a passenger, everything seems to work seamlessly – a bit like a swan where you never see the frantic paddling underwater, only the serene glide.
But the thought and effort which goes into ensuring that apparently effortless result is astonishing. We had a small taste by visiting the main galley kitchens, which fills the deck between Concerto and Allegro restaurants, one of 18 galleys on board, which can serve 1,500 main courses in an hour before restarting and duplicating that feat before the night is up.
In total they average 18-20,000 meals per day, with staff working every day unless they’re sick. And everything is organised so it runs seamlessly – in the evenings, the dining start times are staggered so orders can come through from one, with starters sent out before the next set comes to the kitchen. Each area will focus on one of the seven main courses available, batch cooking them as needed rather than mass producing, so the amounts are always tracked and wasted food kept to a minimum.
100 gallons of ice cream are made every day and there are 57 people solely to wash up.
Each waiter, meanwhile, looks after 24 people with a junior to make the runs back and forth to the galley. Walking through before lunch, with only the start of preparations underway, there’s still a noticeable buzz. Setting foot into Allegro, the doorway opened to a calmer, cooler world – plus a special chef’s table concealed behind motorised curtains, with a seven-course chef’s tasting menu and paired wines.
We got a small taste of what that might have been like (without the envious eyes of the rest of the dining room on us) with some incredible food as well. After which, alas, we had to be escorted off the ship.
Wise, as I’d spotted at least one cupboard I suspect I could have stowed away in. I could at least console myself that even at a top speed of 23 knots (Royal Princess can go as fast sideways as forwards, incidentally), I would still make it across the Atlantic first.
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