Credit: Princess Cruises

What's cruising onboard Regal Princess really like? We find out

Author: Russell Higham

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Regal Princess joined the Princess Cruises fleet back in 2014 and continues to offer innovative and much-loved cruise holidays. World of Cruising went onboard to review what sailing on the cruise ship is really like.

After two years without setting foot on a cruise ship (thanks Covid!) I’m desperate to get my sea legs back on and sail just about anywhere. Remembering The Beautiful South’s 90s hit song, I decide that Rotterdam could be that ‘anywhere’.

However, the four-day cruise I’m taking aboard Regal Princess from Southampton to the Dutch port city is more about the journey than the destination. Designed to give a bite-size taste of life on one of Princess’s ‘Royal’ class of luxury liners, would-be cruisers can then decide whether to splash out on a seven or 14-day voyage to the Canary Islands or the Caribbean.

After taking a drive-thru Covid test and receiving my result by text in under ten minutes, I hand my car keys to a valet driver who parks it for me, and I board Regal Princess.

Gazing up at the 19-storey ship, I reflect that, despite her huge size, she somehow retains a certain elegance, avoiding the ‘floating tower block’ aesthetic that can blight big cruise liners. This vessel draws a far more debonair comparison: her length, at 1,083 feet, is a soupcon more than the height of the Eiffel Tower.

Stepping aboard into the Piazza, the central atrium area around which many of the restaurants, cafes and bars are located, I’m dazzled by the ornate chandeliers, opulent fittings and tasteful surroundings. It’s more of a sophisticated belle epoque salon than the brash Vegas-style tiki lounge I’d been secretly fearing.

Guests who’ve embarked earlier are already promenading around the boutiques and art galleries, champagne coupes in hand. The whole scene has a very continental-style appearance and I’m struck by how smartly dressed the majority of other passengers are, right across the different age groups.

From couples in their twenties to groups of friends enjoying their retirement and more elderly solo cruisers (no under 18’s on this trip though, due to double vaccination restrictions at the time of sailing), it’s refreshing to see people making an effort to ‘glam up’ a bit. I don’t spot any tuxedos yet, but I do see on the list of upcoming events that there’s a ‘dress to impress’ night later in the cruise. Looking down at my old desert boots, I wonder if I’ve remembered to pack any smart shoes.

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Plenty of time to worry about that later, though; first, it’s time to find my cabin. The ten-pen-piece sized wearable Princess Cruises Medallion I’ve been given at check-in acts as a door key as well as a contactless payment system for all onboard purchases. It also works as a personal location device, connecting to over 7000 sensors fitted around the ship.

Using the Medallion in connection with a free-to-download smartphone app, it’s easy to see where you are and navigate your way around, as you would with Google Maps. You can even track down a missing spouse or shipmate if they’re wearing their Medallion and have permitted you to track them on the app. I use it to guide me effortlessly to my mini-suite at the forward end of ‘Riviera’ deck 14. Sensing my approach, the door unlocks, as if by magic, seconds before I arrive.

I enter and am amazed at how spacious it is. Decorated in classic, neutral tones, the cabin can be divided by a curtain into a separate bedroom and living areas, with a large wall-mounted flatscreen TV in each.

The lounge contains a sumptuous four-seater sofa that converts to an extra bed. A bowl of fresh fruit and a covered dish of canapés have been placed on the coffee table next to a vase of exotic flowers. There’s also an amply stocked minibar and fridge as well as tea and coffee making facilities.

- READ MORE: Princess Cruises launches Medallion accessory made from reclaimed water bottles -

As I’m here to work (well, part of the time), I'm grateful for the wide desk, fitted with both American and European plug sockets. The WiFi (free with Princess Plus package) works well in my room and all around the ship. It’s perfectly reliable for emails and WhatsApp messages but I later discover it’s rarely fast enough for downloading movies once we’re at sea.

I count 17 drawers and shelves in my cabin along with a ‘walk-in’ wardrobe and a safe for valuables. My private balcony, which over 80 percent of the 1,780 cabins on this ship have, is large enough for two people to sit and enjoy the twinkling harbour lights as we sail away from Southampton at sunset.

Checking out the bathroom before I head to dinner, I’m pleased to see there’s a full-sized bath as well as a shower, complete with luxury dressing robes and branded toiletries from the ship’s Lotus Spa.

Even with 22 different restaurants, cafes and bars onboard, dinner times can still get pretty busy. That’s especially true on a Northern European winter cruise where everyone’s inside rather than sunning themselves on deck.

To avoid queuing, I’d booked ahead using the MedallionClass app and am seated immediately at Sabatini’s, an upscale Italian trattoria. The menu has been designed by Angelo Auriana, former executive chef at the Michelin-starred Valentino’s in L.A. It’s one of Regal’s speciality restaurants, meaning there’s an additional cover charge to pay unless you’ve booked a suite or above.

There are plenty of others to choose from included in the basic fare but it’s worth the extra $25 for the beef pappardelle alone, made using fresh pasta and Nebbiolo wine-braised beef cheek ragu.

- READ MORE: What you didn't know about dining on Princess Cruises -

After a tiramisu dessert that’s truly delizioso, I’m determined to burn off at least ten of the thousand-plus calories I’ve consumed tonight, so I take the stairs, instead of one the bank of ultra-fast lifts, to the Princess Theatre.

Sinking into one of the plush seats, I learn that I’ve just missed Katherine Jenkins and Lulu, who’ve been headlining shows here on recent cruises. However, tonight’s production of Sweet Soul Music – a short musical in the style of ‘Jersey Boys’ – keeps me entertained.

Sweet as the singers’ voices are, though, they’re no match for the call of my Princess Luxury bed, which has been designed in collaboration with a Californian sleep doctor. Super-soft and comfortable, it has stiff edges to stop you from rolling you out at night, should the waves get a bit choppy.

I start to read the copy of Princess Patter – a listing of all the shows, classes, talks and quizzes on board – that’s been placed on the turned-down bedsheets by my housekeeper. But I get less than halfway down tomorrow’s list of 67 events before I drift off, rocked to sleep by the lapping of the ocean.

Regal Princess: Sabatini’s, an upscale Italian trattoria, is one of Regal’s speciality restaurants. Credit: Princess Cruises

The following morning, I avoid the gym with its weights room and rows of running machines looking out to sea and decide to exercise my stomach muscles instead. I head for the World Fresh Marketplace food court, the most popular of the numerous breakfast venues onboard.

Although I find a window table easily, I’m told by the helpful staff that it’s a different story after 9.30am. Declining the offers of fry-ups and freshly baked pastries, I opt for a healthy bagel. The one I grab from the buffet is so full of lip-smackingly fresh smoked salmon that I’m sure it’s got a whole European country’s fishing quota stuffed inside it. I devour it quickly before the Dutch coastguard can spot me and head down to the gangway for today’s shore excursion.

Although it’s only 8°c, people are splashing around in the outside jacuzzi tubs up on the top deck. They’re watching a film on the giant TV screen as we cruise past Rotterdam’s 40km long industrial port. It used to be the biggest in the world until Shanghai stole that crown but it’s still the largest in Europe.

We dock slap bang in the centre of the city, our ship taller than many of the apartment blocks surrounding us. I’m booked on a four-hour tour of Rotterdam’s best pubs. Using water taxis to hop around this easy-going modern city, we take in the vibrant art, culture and food scene, as well as plenty of local beer.

- READ MORE: Benefits of staying in a suite with Princess Cruises -

The funky architecture and towering skyline lend it a New York-esque look – no wonder the Dutch call it ‘Manhattan on Maas’ after the river that flows through it. At $160 per person, it’s possible to arrange a similar tour yourself for cheaper but the experience wouldn’t be as seamless. Our knowledgeable local guide meets us shipside and returns us safely in time for our departure back out into the North Sea.

Back on board, I pick up a book from the library and stop by the Wheelhouse Bar to listen to a jazz duet. They’re knocking out laid-back be-bop tunes whilst I get acquainted with a devilishly dirty martini. It’s a relatively quiet space compared to the Piazza, the beating heart of the ship where there’s not a seat free.

I overhear many older guests saying that the Wheelhouse is their favourite part of Regal. The martini’s dirtiness (due to olive brine, not tardy washing up) reminds me that my battered brogues could do with a clean before tonight’s dressy dinner at Concerto. It’s one of the standard restaurants with no supplement payable but there’s still a line forming at the entrance.

I skip the queue, thanks to pre-booking again, and tuck into a starter of crab and Monterey Jack cheese quiche with red salsa. My second starter arrives (don’t judge, I’m on a cruise!) of Granny Smith apple and cider soup with yoghurt cream and Calvados brandy. I discreetly let my belt out a notch to make room for the main course: a succulent Duck a l’orange with Grand Marnier, almond-broccoli and layered herb-potato cake.

Regal Princess: Many older guests say the Wheelhouse Bar is their favourite part of Regal. Credit: Princess Cruises

Imitating the huge dish I’ve just eaten, I waddle into the Princess Theatre again where a comedy hypnotist is trying to persuade guests in the front row that they’re tropical fish.

I give the aquatic impressions a miss and head down to the casino to try my hand at roulette and blackjack as well as the banks of gaming machines. The minimum stake at the roulette tables is an affordable $5 and I enjoy a lucky run on reds and evens. I celebrate with a single malt at Club 6 but forgo a boogie on the dancefloor in favour of a movie back in my cabin on the in-room TV.

The final morning at sea delivers me into the hands of Tiffany for a full body massage ($149). It’s fifty minutes of both pleasure and pain as she seeks and destroys knots in my shoulders that feel even bigger than the ones tying up Regal as we dock back at Southampton harbour.

There’s just time for some water therapy in The Enclave, an exclusive spa (extra daily charge applies) with a whirlpool, caldarium (a light steam chamber infused with herbal aromas), laconium (a heated, dry chamber to help with purification and detoxification of the body) and a hammam (a Turkish-style steam bath) as well as a range of walk-through rainfall and ice blizzard showers.

- READ MORE: Highlights of Princess Cruises luxurious spa and wellness offerings -

My last meal aboard Regal is at my favourite lunch spot on the entire ship, the Ocean Terrace Sushi Bar. Once again, it’s a speciality option so costs extra but the seafood rolls, maki and sashimi (from $5 to $8) I’m served by the Japanese chef behind the counter are on a par with those I’ve eaten in swanky London sushi joints.

The impressive balcony view here also offers excellent people-watching opportunities on the decks below. A classical pianist is playing a sonata in the lounge as a farewell to the departing guests and the sad tune almost brings a tear to my eye. Although that might be down to my calculation of all the vigorous exercise I’m going to have to do to burn off the calories I’ve consumed in the last 96 hours.

The plan may have been for a bite-size cruise, but I’ve certainly bitten off a lot more than that. I’ve enjoyed every minute though, as well as every mouthful and, like many of the guests I’ve spoken to, it’s definitely convinced me to try a longer voyage aboard Regal Princess. Now, wasn’t there a 90s song about the Bahamas?...

Get on board

What: 14-Day Caribbean East/West Adventurer on Regal Princess. Roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

When: Date: February 5, 2022

Where: Eight Ports: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida | Costa Maya (Mahahual), Mexico | Roatan, Honduras | Belize City, Belize | Cozumel, Mexico | Ft. Lauderdale, Florida | Princess Cays, Bahamas | St. Thomas, Virgin Islands | St. Kitts | Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

How much: Prices start from £949pp

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