The 3 classes of Princess Cruises ships, explained
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Nearly all of the line’s 14 ships fall into one of just two groups, known as “classes” in cruise industry lingo: The Royal Class and the Grand Class.
Each of these two groups are made up of ships that were constructed around the same time to the same basic design. If you know one member of the group, you know them all.
There are five Royal Class ships and seven Grand Class ships in the Princess fleet in all. After a significant amount of downsizing over the past year, the line now operates only two vessels that are not part of these groups: The Coral Princess and the Island Princess. Older and smaller than the rest of the Princess fleet, these latter ships make up what is known as the Coral Class.
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An introduction to Princess Cruises ships
Princess has downsized 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 Cruise Line 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 nine other ships, they began rolling out in 2013 and carry about 3,600 passengers a piece at double occupancy.
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 in this class 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.
Rounding out the Princess fleet are its two Coral Class ships which, at around 92,000 tons, are the smallest of the line’s ships. They each carry around 2,000 passengers at double occupancy.
The significant downsizing of the Princess fleet over the past year has a lot to do with the coronavirus crisis. Three of the ships that left the line’s fleet — Sun Princess, Sea Princess and Pacific Princess — were sold as part of an effort to cut costs during the cruise industry’s 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.
Ships in class: Enchanted Princess (2020); Sky Princess (2019); Majestic Princess (2017); Regal Princess (2014); Royal Princess (2013)
Size: 142,229 to 145,281 tons
The five Royal Class ships in the Princess fleet are significantly bigger than the rest of the line’s vessels and, thanks to all the extra space, offer more of everything — more lounge space, more restaurants, more bars and more entertainment. If you’re in the “bigger is better” camp when it comes to cruise ships, these are the Princess ships for you.
On the Royal Class ships, you’ll find all of the things for which Princess is known: Lively, piazza-like central atriums surrounded by bars and restaurants that serve as central gathering points; lots of entertainment venues for live shows, comedy acts and more; and relatively uncluttered pool decks with lots of space for sunning.
But you’ll also find some “extras” including, on some of the ships, a glass-floored “seawalk” that extends over the side of the vessel.
Each of the ships has at least half a dozen eateries, including main restaurants and a casual buffet where meals are included in the fare. Extra-charge restaurants on the vessels include versions of the line’s signature steakhouse, Crown Grill, and Italian restaurant, Sabatini’s.
Some of the ships also have an upscale French restaurant called Bistro Sur La Mer that features dishes designed by French chef Emmanuel Renaut, whose restaurant in the French Alps boasts three Michelin stars. Plus, you’ll find pizzerias on the vessels and the gourmet hot dog- and taco-serving Salty Dog Grill.
Royal Class ships also have Princess’s most elaborate spas with large thermal suites. If you’re a spa lover, you’ll revel in the hydrotherapy pools, Turkish-style steam baths and other spa features you’ll find on these vessels.
The most recent vessels in the series — Sky Princess and Enchanted Princess — also have more suites than is typical for Princess, which never has been known for high-end accommodations. If you’re looking to live it up on a Princess cruise, these probably are the ships for you.
Sky Princess, notably, was the first Princess ship ever to have truly big suites — a pair of so-called Sky Suites that measure more than 1,800 square feet and lord over the main pool area. They’re also the first cabins at the line that can accommodate more than four people. With two bedrooms plus a living room with a pullout sofa, they’re designed for up to five people.
As noted above, the Royal Class ships can carry about 3,600 passengers a piece, based on double occupancy (two people per cabin). But, it’s possible you’ll find even more people than that on these ships when you sail on them. When additional berths from pull-down bunks and pull-out sofas are factored in, the total capacity of the ships jumps to around 4,600 passengers.
In case you’re curious, the name of the Royal Class 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.
Ships in class: Ruby Princess (2008); Emerald Princess (2007); Crown Princess (2006); Caribbean Princess (2004); Sapphire Princess (2004); Diamond Princess (2004); Grand Princess (1998)
Size: 107,517 to 115,875 tons
The Grand Class ships long have been at the core of the Princess fleet, and they continue to be highly popular with Princess fans. About 20% smaller, on average, than the line’s Royal Class ships, the seven vessels in the series offer a more intimate feel than the Royal Class ships while still being big enough to offer a lot of features and activities.
Like the Royal Class ships, the Grand Class vessels have interiors that revolve around lively, piazza-like atriums with cafes that serve as central gathering places. They also have big theaters home to production shows, comedy clubs and multiple restaurants and bars spread across their interiors.
On their top decks, they feature 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 — a notable difference from the vibe on a lot of big ships at competing lines.
Indeed, what you won’t find on the Grand Class ships (or any Princess ship, for that matter) are a lot of family-focused deck-top attractions. Unlike many of its competitors in the big-ship market — most notably Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises — Princess doesn’t load up the tops of its vessels with sprawling waterparks, go-kart tracks, laser tag courses and other flashy 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 attractions.
While all of the Grand Class ships are roughly similar, you’ll find a fair amount of variation from ship to ship, as they were built in clusters with some design changes along the way.
Among the biggest differences is that the three oldest of the Grand Class vessels — Grand Princess, Diamond Princess and Sapphire Princess — each have one fewer deck than the rest of the ships in the class.
You’ll also find some variation in restaurant choices on the seven Grand Class vessels. While all have a signature Princess steakhouse (either called Crown Grill or Sterling Steakhouse), only five of the ships (all but Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess) have a Sabatini’s Italian eatery. Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess instead have a restaurant called Share designed by Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone.
Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess also have a gastropub called Salty Dog that isn’t found on the other vessels. Some of the vessels have a seafood outlet called Steamers.
In addition, one of the Grand Class ships — Diamond Princess — has been specially overhauled to appeal to the Japanese market with extensive Japanese baths, a sushi restaurant and cabin bathrooms retrofitted with Japanese-style bidets. This ship often sails around Japan on voyages that are marketed to the local market but also to Americans and Australians.
Three of the Grand Class ships — Ruby Princess, Emerald Princess and Caribbean Princess — have more elaborate spas than the others with thermal suites. And one of the vessels, Caribbean Princess, has a family-focused pool deck with a splash pool — a nod to family vacationers that’s unique among ships in the class. As a result, Caribbean Princess makes for a top choice for Princess fans who will be cruising with small children.
Ships in class: Island Princess (2003); Coral Princess (2002)
Size: 91,627 tons
The Coral Class ships are even smaller than the Grand Class ships — about 15% to 20% smaller — and have a more cozy feel. Because of their smaller size, they also have somewhat fewer features and amenities than the ships in the other Princess classes.
In general, these are ships that appeal to cruisers looking for a more intimate experience on a cruise than what you’ll find on the big Royal Class ships. They also draw cruisers who care more about the destinations that they visit on a cruise than onboard attractions.
Along those lines, Princess often deploys the Coral Class ships on its more far-flung, destination-rich itineraries, including lengthy around-the-world cruises.
For the coming year, for instance, Island Princess is scheduled to sail a 111-day world cruise out of Fort Lauderdale (starting on Jan. 5, 2022) and also trips to the Arctic, the British Isles and the Baltic.
Coral Princess will spend much of the coming year based in the Australian ports of Sydney and Brisbane for sailings to Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. These sort of itineraries mostly draw local Australians but Americans are welcome, too. Coral Princess also will sail a 107-day, around-the-world voyage out of Sydney that will begin on May 18, 2022.
As is typical for Princess ships, both Coral Class vessels have a restaurant scene that revolves around main restaurants, a casual buffet, a steakhouse (in this case, one with a New Orleans theme called Bayou Cafe and Steakhouse) and an Italian eatery called Sabatini’s.
Entertainment venues on the ships include a relatively large main theater for production shows, secondary lounges that offer comedy shows and other entertainment, and a casino. Like other Princess ships, the top decks of the vessels are mostly devoted to pool areas with hot tubs and lounge chairs. Both ships also have spas.
The Princess fleet is relatively easy to understand. There are just three types of ships in the Princess fleet, and they aren’t wildly different from each other.
Princess believes strongly in offering a consistent product from ship to ship, and it doesn’t make revolutionary changes with each class of vessels it unveils. The big difference between the line’s three classes of ships is the size of the vessels in the classes. If you’re a fan of big ships, you’ll want to gravitate to the new Royal Class vessels. If you like your cruise ships more intimate, you’ll probably want to steer to the Grand Class or Coral Class vessels.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:
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- A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
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- 15 ways cruisers waste money
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- What to pack for your first cruise
Featured image courtesy of Princess Cruises.
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