The ultimate guide to Princess Cruises ships and itineraries
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Call it the cruise line for people who want a big, amenity-filled ship that isn’t a floating amusement park.
Princess Cruises operates relatively large, reasonably priced vessels. But unlike many of its competitors in that space — most notably Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises — it doesn’t load them up with sprawling waterparks, go-kart tracks, laser tag courses and other flashy, family-focused diversions.
Compared to most of its big ship-operating rivals, Princess is known for a more serene, almost “old school” sort of cruising that isn’t about a lot of gee-whiz attractions.
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As Princess executives like to say, the line is all about warm and gracious service in an atmosphere of comfortable elegance designed to spark connections between passengers. Instead of bustling attractions, its top decks offer lots of quiet and relaxing pool and lounge areas where you can enjoy the experience of being at sea without a lot of hustle and bustle. Inside, the experience revolves around dining, classic showroom entertainment and a classy bar and music scene — just as it has on Princess ships for years.
This is, notably, just the way Princess customers like it. Popular with middle-aged couples, retirees and multigenerational families, the “Love Boat” line caters to people who like a more traditional type of cruising than you’ll find on the vessels of most other big-ship lines.
Related: Which cruise brand is right for you?
3 things TPG loves about Princess Cruises
- The abundance of outdoor pool and lounge areas on its ships
- Its expansive spas
- Its far-flung itineraries
What we could do without
- The lack of big suites on its vessels
The Princess Cruises fleet
Princess has downsized the size of its fleet considerably over the past year with the removal of five vessels. But it’s still the world’s fifth-biggest cruise line by passenger capacity, with 14 ships that together offer more than 42,000 berths.
In general, Princess operates big ships. But they’re not quite as big as the vessels operated by Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC Cruises — the three lines best known for giant ships. The biggest Princess vessels, the line’s five Royal Class ships, measure around 145,000 tons. That’s about 35% smaller than the biggest ships operated by Royal Caribbean.
The Royal Class ships are the belles of the ball in the Princess fleet. Newer and more amenity-filled than the line’s 9 other ships, they began rolling out in 2013 and carry about 3,600 passengers a piece at double occupancy. (In case you’re curious, the name of the series ties to the godmother of the initial Royal Class vessel. Dubbed Royal Princess, it was famously christened by a royal, the U.K.’s Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. The cruise line’s first Royal Princess, which debuted in 1984, was christened by Diana, Princess of Wales).
One more Royal Class ship — Discovery Princess — is on order from a shipyard in Italy for delivery in 2022.
Still, at the core of the Princess fleet are its seven Grand Class vessels. Unveiled between 1998 and 2008, the ships are smaller than the Royal Class vessels at around 107,000 to 116,000 tons in size. This smaller size allows them to operate a wider range of itineraries than the Royal Class ships. But they’re still big enough to have a lot of onboard venues. The Grand Class ships carry between 2,600 to 3,100 passengers at double occupancy.
Princess also has two even smaller vessels that measure around 92,000 tons a piece. Named Coral Princess and Island Princess, they are sister ships that make up the line’s Coral Class of vessels. They each carry around 2,000 passengers at double occupancy.
The downsizing of the Princess fleet over the past year has a lot to do with the coronavirus crisis. Three of the ships that have left the line’s fleet in recent months — Sun Princess, Sea Princess and Pacific Princess — were sold as part of an effort to cut costs during the line’s coronavirus-caused global shutdown. Still, two of the ships — Golden Princess and Star Princess — had been scheduled to leave the Princess fleet even before the coronavirus pandemic began. They have been transferred to one of the line’s sister companies, P&O Cruises Australia.
Destinations and itineraries
Princess Cruises sails to more than 100 countries on seven continents, from North America and Europe to Asia and Australia, and it offers a wide range of itineraries — around 170 in a typical year. The line’s ships visit more than 380 different ports and destinations and take passengers to more than 100 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Among the line’s voyages, you’ll find everything from three-day sampler cruises along the West Coast of the U.S. to 111-day around-the-world voyages.
Princess is particularly known for cruises to Alaska, where it dominates the market for cruises along with sister line Holland America. In a typical year, Princess will deploy seven or eight ships to Alaska in the summer — far more than most other lines. It also operates its own wilderness lodges in the state, as well as tourist trains and buses. It uses the lodges, trains and buses to offer a range of 10- to 17-night Alaska “cruisetours” that combine a cruise with land-based touring.
Princess also deploys as many as eight ships to Europe in the summer, and it has a big presence in Australia, where it can deploy as many as six ships for parts of each year. In recent years, it also has become a major player in cruises around Japan that cater to both Americans and Japanese travelers as well as Australians.
Who sails Princess Cruises
Princess appeals to an older demographic than lines such as Carnival and Norwegian. The average age of passengers is around 57, and you’ll usually see a lot of couples on board in their 50s, 60s and 70s.
As noted above, these aren’t people necessarily craving go-kart tracks and ropes courses at sea. They’re people looking to explore the world in a comfortable, classy sort of way that also is relatively affordable. That last part is key. Princess offers a lot of globe-circling itineraries of the sort often offered by high-end luxury lines. But it does so at a much lower price.
While not the biggest line for families with young children, Princess does draw a lot of multigenerational family groups. It’s the line you take if you want an affordable ship that’ll appeal to your 70-year-old parents as much as your 12-year-old kid.
Princess also draws a lot of passengers celebrating milestones. The line markets heavily to people marking birthdays and anniversaries with special packages and programs. It’s also a huge player in the market for destination weddings at sea, with a division that will help you arrange a ceremony on board or at an exotic location on land during a port call.
Princess was, notably, the first cruise line to host modern-day weddings on ships, offering ceremonies officiated by the ships’ captains hosted in onboard chapels.
It is, after all, the “Love Boat” line.
Cabins and suites
When it comes to rooms, Princess is sort of the Marriott of the big-ship cruise world. Its rooms are comfortable and functional but a bit bland. Avant-garde style is not a Princess thing.
The vast majority of the accommodations on Princess ships fall into one of three broad categories: windowless “inside” cabins, oceanview cabins and balcony cabins. Balcony cabins, in particular, are widespread on Princess ships. Among mass-market lines, Princess was the pioneer in adding large numbers of balcony cabins to ships.
While balcony cabins are common on Princess ships, you’ll find relatively few suites on them. Just 46 of the 1,830 rooms on the line’s 1-year-old Sky Princess are suites, and — believe it or not — that’s an improvement from earlier vessels in the same series, which had just 36 suites.
What this means is there aren’t a lot of ways to live large on a Princess ship, or to pack a lot of people into a single accommodation. Until the debut of Sky Princess in 2019, the line didn’t have a single cabin that could accommodate more than four people.
That said, the Grand Class vessels each offer two “family suites” that can be created by connecting a minisuite with an adjacent inside stateroom to create a six- to eight-person complex.
Sky Princess has the line’s first truly large standalone suites, dubbed Sky Suites. There are two of them, and they measure a generous 1,800 square feet (though more than half of that space is taken up by a huge wraparound balcony). With two bedrooms plus a living room with a pullout sofa, they’re designed for up to five people.
Still, even the Sky Suites on Sky Princess aren’t the sort of truly epic suites with huge interior living spaces that you’ll find on the latest Royal Caribbean or Regent Seven Seas Cruises ships. If that’s what you’re after, Princess isn’t your line.
Restaurants and dining
Every Princess vessel has one to three main dining rooms where meals are included in the fare, and these dining rooms are at the heart of the dining experience on Princess ships. Many passengers have all or most of their dinners in a main dining room.
For dinners in a main dining room, you must sign up for either Anytime Dining, which is where you can show up for dinner whenever you want, or Traditional Dining, where you have a fixed table and time for dinner.
Every vessel also has a casual buffet eatery where meals are included in the fare. Located near the main pool area on ships, it’s usually called Horizon Court but also is known as the World Fresh Market or Panorama Buffet on some vessels.
Other included-in-the-fare options found on at least some Princess ships include poolside pizza outlets and poolside grills serving burgers. Also, on sea days, Princess transforms a bar or dining venue at lunchtime into an included-in-the-fare English-style pub. It serves traditional pub food such as fish and chips and cottage pie, along with (for an extra charge) Bass Ale or Guinness.
Every Princess ship also has at least a couple of extra-charge eateries. On most ships, you’ll find the line’s signature Italian restaurant, Sabatini’s. It serves up homemade pasta, seafood and other Italian specialties in an elegant setting and comes with a flat fee of $25 per person.
Most Princess ships also have a signature steakhouse. On most vessels, it’s called Crown Grill and offers premium beef and seafood cooked to order in an open, theater-style kitchen. On two ships — Diamond Princess and Sapphire Princess — it’s called Sterling Steakhouse and involves passengers choosing their cut of steak from a tray presented by their waiter.
On two ships — Coral Princess and Island Princess — the steakhouse has a Cajun and Creole twist with New Orleans-style peel-and-eat shrimp, alligator ribs and gumbo on the menu in addition to steaks. On those vessels, it’s called the Bayou Café and Steakhouse.
All the steakhouses come with a flat fee of $29 per person.
Princess ships also offer a Chef’s Table experience — a concept the line pioneered in the cruise world. Costing $95 to $115 per person, it includes pre-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the ship’s galley with the executive chef before a main dining experience at a private table in the dining room.
One more dining option that has just begun popping up on Princess ships — it’s only on Enchanted Princess, Sky Princess and Majestic Princess — is a French eatery called Bistro Sur La Mer. It offers dishes created by star chef Emmanuel Renaut, whose restaurant in the French Alps boasts three Michelin stars. Like the Princess steakhouses, it has a $29 per person cover charge.
Related: The 7 best meals you can have at sea
Entertainment and activities
Princess ships are loaded with entertainment that ranges from Broadway-style theater shows to “street entertainers” who appear in each vessel’s central piazza. But they’re not floating amusement parks. Unlike some big-ship lines, Princess isn’t topping its vessels with waterslides, go-kart tracks, ropes courses and other family-focused attractions.
Theaters and shows
There’s no shortage of theater and lounge entertainment on Princess ships. On a typical night, you might find a flashy, fast-paced production show playing in the main theater, a comedian performing in a secondary lounge and live music on offer in several more venues.
In many cases, the main theaters on Princess ships are quite elaborate, with Broadway-level lighting and special effects, and the productions housed within the theaters are elaborate, too.
Princess has been upping its game with its theater productions in recent years through a partnership with Stephen Schwartz, the Tony Award-winning composer of “Wicked,” “Godspell” and “Pippin.” Among new productions that Schwartz has worked on is “The Secret Silk,” which features life-size puppetry from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, dance and special effects. It was created and directed by John Tartaglia, a star of Broadway’s “Avenue Q” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
Schwartz also provided the score for “Magic to Do,” a musical revue paired with onstage illusions that features many of his best-known songs as well as an original number he created just for Princess.
Princess also is known for its karaoke nights, and it recently began holding a new “The Voice of the Ocean” competition during cruises that is a spinoff of the TV show. Passengers compete in a live performance after karaoke auditions and rehearsal sessions with the shipboard band and backup singers. A team of coaches sits in giant “I Want You” chairs just like on the show, and passengers vote to choose the winner.
Other interior attractions and activities
In addition to entertainment spaces, the interiors of Princess ships are filled with other venues where passengers can kick back and let loose day and night, including a range of bars, lounges and nightspots.
On many ships, the hub of activity is the Piazza, a sprawling, multilevel space that is designed to resemble a square in Italy. The configuration of the Piazza varies by ship, but the area typically offers several shops, a coffee bar called International Cafe, a wine bar called Vines and (on some vessels) additional bars and eateries. The Piazza also is home to roving “street performers.”
Every Princess ship also has a casino, often just off the Piazza, and spas are big on Princess ships. The Lotus Spa complexes on the line’s Royal Class ships offer nearly two dozen treatment rooms, an extensive beauty salon and a thermal suite with a hydrotherapy pool, heated stone beds, Turkish-style steam bath and other steam chambers.
The new Sky Princess is home to the first jazz club on a Princess ship (called Take 5) and the line’s first escape room. Called Phantom Bridge, the latter attraction takes place in a digitally enhanced room that can be adjusted so the experience is different every time you try it. It’s designed for six players at a time, and the experience lasts 23 minutes.
In addition to such venues, Princess offers a lot of enrichment activities on its ships. The line has partnered with the Discovery Channel to offer a Discovery at Sea program on vessels that include things like stargazing with a specialist from a top deck. The program also brings destination specialists and naturalists on board in places such as Alaska to offer insights.
Inspired by Discovery’s popular Shark Week, Princess also has created Shark Week at Sea programming that runs on select sailings in the summer with activities and games designed to challenge adults and kids alike on the myths and interesting facts about sharks.
Culinary demonstrations, wine tastings and dance classes also are big on Princess ships.
The top decks of Princess ships are notable for what they don’t have: There are no pedal-powered sky rides or ropes courses like you’ll find on Carnival ships or the go-kart tracks that top some Norwegian vessels. There are no surfing simulators, sky diving simulators, rock climbing walls or zip lines of the sort found on Royal Caribbean vessels. For the most part, there aren’t even waterslides or watery splash zones (one vessel, Caribbean Princess, now offers the Reef Splash Zone for families).
Princess executives long ago decided not to engage in what they call the “amusement park arms race” taking place between lines operating big, resort-like ships.
Instead, the line has stuck to the basics with its top decks. They are covered with relaxing pool and lounge zones — and lots of them.
On the new Sky Princess, for instance, there is a main pool area at the center of the top deck with two full pools and three hot tubs, and a secondary pool area at the back of the ship with another pool. There’s also an adults-only pool area toward the front of the vessel along with an extra-charge, adults-only relaxation area called the Sanctuary.
Between all these pool and lounge areas, running along the sides of the ship, are additional sunning areas with lounge chairs and four more hot tubs.
In short, there is a ton of space for relaxing on the top deck of Sky Princess — more than you’ll find on any other ship of comparable size, save for its sister vessels.
The one big “attraction” that you will find on the top deck of Princess ships, always at the main pool area, is a giant Movies Under the Stars movie screen. A growing number of cruise ships now have movie screens on their pool decks, but Princess was the pioneer with the concept.
The screens are used to show movies, concerts and sporting events during the day. But it is at night when they really shine. In a longtime Princess tradition, the line turns the main pool areas of its ships into outdoor movie theaters at night by reconfiguring lounge chairs to face the screen and bringing out blankets to ward off the evening chill. They even serve popcorn.
Some ships also have basketball courts, miniature golf putting courses, shuffleboard games and pingpong tables tucked into corners of their top decks.
While it doesn’t draw as many families with young children as Carnival or Royal Caribbean, Princess offers an extensive children’s program that gets high marks from parents.
The Princess Youth and Teen centers were recently rebranded “Camp Discovery” as part of the line’s partnership with Discovery Communications, and offer free, supervised activities daily for children ages 3-17. The line splits children in the program into three age groups: the Treehouse (ages 3-7 years), the Lodge (ages 8-12 years) and the Beach House (ages 13-17 years). Each age group often has its own separate facilities on ships. On some ships, the age groups may be further divided based on available space.
Each group has its own age-appropriate activities, with newly revamped experiences designed to “help young Princess explorers learn, play and create fun memories.”
While the free programming for children ages 3-12 ends at 10 p.m., you can pay extra to leave your kids at shipboard Youth and Teen centers past 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. During those hours, they’ll be supervised in what is essentially a group kidsitting service.
The Youth and Teen centers also will welcome children under the age of 3 if they are accompanied by an adult.
What to know before you go
A passport is required for all international itineraries including sailings to Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Europe, India, Central and South America, Panama Canal (partial and full transit), Caribbean voyages that visit Martinique or Guadeloupe, South Pacific, Tahiti and World Cruises. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you don’t need a passport for many domestic itineraries (including Alaska, Bermuda, Canada, Caribbean, Hawaii and Mexico sailings). You instead can travel with an official copy of your birth certificate and a driver’s license or other government-issued photo identification. A few other forms of identification such as a passport card also are acceptable. That said, Princess strongly recommends that all travelers bring a passport.
Passports must be valid for at least six months. Note that it is important that the name on your reservation be exactly as it is stated on your passport or other official proof of nationality.
Princess adds an automatic service gratuity of $14.50-$16.50 per person, per day to final bills, depending on your cabin category. If you are unhappy with the service you receive, you can adjust this amount before disembarking at the Guest Services desk. (You can also increase the tip amount if so desired.) Also, an 18% gratuity is added to bills at bars, dining room wine accounts and spas.
Princess has been rolling out faster Wi-Fi systems with landlike speeds across its fleet in recent years, such that you now can stream video on some ships. Pricing changes over time, but the line recently was charging $9.99 per day to hook up a device.
The faster Princess Wi-Fi system is called MedallionNet, and it’s one of several technological upgrades that Princess is rolling out to ships under an umbrella called MedallionClass. MedallionClass also brings expedited embarkation, keyless cabin entry, on-demand food and beverage delivery, and the ability to locate friends and family on board — all via several apps for mobile devices and a Princess-issued medallion that passengers carry while traveling.
Carry-on drinks policy
Princess allows you to bring one bottle of wine or Champagne per person onto ships at boarding at no charge (for consuming in your room; you’ll be charged a $15 corkage fee if you want to bring it to an onboard restaurant or bar to drink). You can bring even more bottles of wine on board, but you will pay a $15 corkage fee per bottle.
On all ships, smoking (including electronic cigarettes) only is allowed in designated outdoor areas and in cigar lounges, designated sections within nightclubs and at designated slot machines within casinos (for those who are playing). It’s forbidden in cabins and on cabin balconies. Passengers caught smoking in their cabins will be charged a $250 fine per occurrence. One exception to the above rule is that e-cigarettes are allowed in cabins (but not on cabin balconies).
Princess ships have self-serve launderettes on cabin decks with washing machines, dryers, irons and ironing boards. There’s a $3 per load charge to use a washer or dryer. The launderettes also have vending machines that dispense small boxes of detergent and water softener at $1.50 per box. In addition, vessels offer extra-charge laundry and dry cleaning services.
All vessels have standard North American-style, 110-volt outlets in rooms and some also have European-style, 220-volt outlets and USB ports in cabins.
The currency used on most Princess itineraries is U.S. dollars. The exceptions are select sailings on ships based in Australia, where pricing is listed in Australian dollars. All vessels operate on a “cashless system” with any onboard purchases you make posting automatically to your onboard account. You’ll receive a card (or medallion on MedallionClass ships) that you can use to make charges. This same card or medallion also is what lets you into your cabin.
You must be 21 to consume alcohol on many Princess itineraries. The exceptions include sailings between ports in Europe, China, Australia and New Zealand, and Singapore, where the drinking age is 18. For cruises between Japan ports, the drinking age is 20.
During the day, there is no specific dress code, and people dress casually. If it’s a sea day in a warm-weather destination, and you’re bound for the top deck, that means looking like you’re going to the beach — T-shirts, shorts and bathing suits (with a cover-up to go inside) are just fine.
During the evenings, there is an official dress code that is enforced when entering restaurants. Most nights are designated “smart casual,” which Princess takes to mean pants and an open-neck shirt for men, and skirts and dresses or slacks for women. Beach attire, shorts, baseball caps and casual jeans (think the fraying kind or those with holes) are not allowed. One or more nights a cruise, depending on the cruise length, will be designated as a “formal” night when men are expected to turn out in dark suits with a tie or even a tuxedo. The suggested attire for women on such nights is evening gowns or cocktail dresses.
Related: What to pack for your first cruise
Princess Cruises’ loyalty program
Princess has a four-tier frequent cruiser program, the Captain’s Circle, that is worth joining for the perks — if you’re willing to bear with its convoluted tier qualifying structure.
You reach the first tier, Gold, by taking a single cruise. But from there, you move to each successive tier either by accruing a certain number of “cruise credits” (which aren’t necessarily the same as the number of cruises you’ve taken) or by sailing a certain number of days.
To reach the Ruby level, for instance, requires three cruise credits (more on those in a moment) or 30 days on Princess ships. Platinum status kicks in after five cruise credits or 50 days on ships.
In most cases, members earn one cruise credit for every cruise they take. But members who book a suite or travel solo in a cabin meant for two will receive two cruise credits for the voyage. The number of cruise credits you have earned is thus often the same as the number of cruises you have taken, but not always.
As is typical with cruise line loyalty programs, lower tiers don’t bring all that much in terms of truly valuable benefits. You’ll get things like an invite to a private party (at the Gold tier) and a free upgrade to your travel insurance package when buying it through the line (at the Ruby tier). But higher levels of the program start to be enticing.
The second-to-highest tier, Platinum, brings such perks as priority check-in and boarding, and a free internet package.
The top Elite level (15 cruise credits or 151 cruise days) adds such things as an exclusive window to preview and book new itineraries, priority ship-to-shore water shuttle service, complimentary laundry and a complimentary minibar setup.
Members at all tier levels get access to special pricing on certain cruises. They also receive a monthly newsletter and membership pin.
Note that, in contrast to airline frequent flyer programs, cruise line loyalty programs do not require you to requalify for status every year. So, yes, the perks with lower tiers aren’t great. But it’s not as difficult as it might at first seem to hit the more rewarding higher level tiers in just a few years if you’re cruising a lot.
A Princess passenger staying in suites will hit the Platinum level after just three cruises. The top Elite level is reachable with just eight cruises for someone staying in suites.
How much does a Princess cruise cost?
Princess ships are very reasonably priced. They’re not the least expensive vessels out there. But they’re not pricey by any means. It’s possible to find Princess voyages to the Caribbean, Bahamas or Mexico starting under $100 per person, per night including all taxes and fees — at least in the offseason.
As of the date of this story’s posting, for instance, seven-night sailings from Fort Lauderdale to the Eastern Caribbean in May were starting at just $571 per person, not including taxes and fees of $140. That works out to just $102 per night, per person with taxes and fees for a package that includes your lodging, transportation and meals.
As you might expect, pricing for ships generally will be lower during offseason periods such as September, October, November (not including Thanksgiving week) and parts of December.
The timing of when you book also can matter. Cruises book up much further in advance than airplanes or hotels, and many cruisers will tell you that the best pricing for any given sailing often is available when cruises first go on sale (which can be a good two years before a departure). Booking far in advance also will give you the best chance of getting your preferred cabin type and location on a ship.
Once on board a Princess ship, you’ll pay extra for most drinks, extra-charge restaurants, spa services, shore excursions, internet service and a few other things — unless you’ve bought a package for some of these items in advance. Most onboard activities such as theater shows are included in the fare.
How to book
If you’re sure you know what sort of cabin you want, on which ship, on which itinerary — and about a dozen other things — you can head over to Princess.com to make a booking directly.
That said, given the complexity of booking a cruise — there are a lot of decisions to make during the booking process, trust us — we recommend that you use a seasoned travel agent who specializes in cruises.
A good travel agent will quiz you about your particular interests, travel style and preferences, and steer you to the perfect cruise line, ship, itinerary and cabin for you. They also can help you if something goes wrong just before, during or after your voyage.
If you’re sure that Princess is your line, look for a travel agent who specializes in trips with the brand. You want someone who understands all the little quirks that are unique to Princess cabin categories and, preferably, has done ship inspections to see the cabins first hand.
Whether you use a travel agent or not, make sure to maximize your credit card points when paying for the cruise by using a credit card that offers extra points for travel purchases. This could be the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers 3x Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining (excluding the annual up-to-$300 travel credit). There’s also the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which brings 2x Ultimate Rewards points on travel and 3x Ultimate Rewards on dining.
Princess offers big, amenity-filled ships that are comfortable and classy, at an affordable price. If you’re looking for a lot of deck-top pizzazz — waterslides, go-kart tracks and the like — it’s probably not the line for you. But if you’re on the hunt for not-too-expensive vessels that will take you to the farthest corners of the world in comfort, the ships of Princess should be on your shortlist. It’s also a great line if you’re trying to put together a multigenerational trip, as its ships are designed to appeal to a wide range of age groups.
Featured image courtesy of Princess Cruises
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