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Cruise Ship Review
Princess Cruises

Royal Princess

by John Mills

Royal Princess June 1998 Scandinavia/Russia Cruise

Royal Princess

The Royal Princess debuted in November 1984, christened by the late Diana, Princess of Wales. An industry trendsetter from the beginning, she was renowned for her state-of-the-art design and technology. Today, she remains a favorite of many passengers and one can see in her the features copied by other ship designs in subsequent years. She is a stylish vessel sporting sleek lines and a long tapered bow, making her one of the most beautiful cruise ships afloat.

I recently returned from my second cruise on the Royal Princess, the May 31, 1998 sailing from Dover, England bound on a thirteen-day Scandinavian/Russia cruise aboard this beautiful and classy ship.

May 29, 1998 - Washington, DC, Dulles International Airport

A British Airways flight from Washington/Dulles International Airport during the evening landed us in London Heathrow at 6:25 a.m. on Saturday morning. This was my first flight on British Airways and I had been given rave reviews about them. My travelling companion, Tony Howell, and I were assigned seats near the back of the plane on the window and the aisle, a pleasing location in my opinion. Upon arriving at our seats, I found that the armrest on my seat was broken. I was trying to assemble it back together when the stewardess told me to just throw it under the seat, after all, these are old planes. I was able to get it affixed again (with no help from the staff). If I had not been able to do so, I would have likely cut myself on the bare metal under the armrest. Also, if BA can get the seats any closer together, they may as well call themselves Sardine Air. After getting settled, it was a pleasant and uneventful flight. The crew warmed up to everyone and were very cheerful and friendly.

May 30, 1998 - London, England

We landed at Heathrow to the dawning of a beautiful, sunny day. After going through the routine formalities of passport checking, claiming luggage, etc, we decided to take the underground to our hotel, which was situated across from Victoria Station - MISTAKE! We had arranged our own hotel and airline reservations and opted to not take Princess transportation prior to the cruise. The trip on the underground to the hotel proved to be an interesting experience. We each had two suitcases and a carry on. There are very few escalators and/or elevators on the route we had to take, which included changing trains. I had not packed especially light and my largest suitcase was a 30 inch pullman, and carrying this up and down the steps gives new meaning to working out. Many people on the underground offered to help, for which I was very grateful. Overall, the tube is very easy to use.

We checked into the Holiday Inn Victoria Station, took showers and headed off in the sunshine to explore London. The concierge at the hotel arranged the Original London Sightseeing Tour (double decker bus) for us. Sitting on the open-air top deck, we enjoyed the sunshine and sights. After making the complete circuit, we then headed to Piccadilly, primarily in search of one thing - the Disney Store. I am a 'CruiseAholic' and Tony is a 'DisneyAholic' and had to make the pilgrimage to the London store. Heading there, we chanced upon the Trooping of the Color in honor of the Queens birthday, which was an unexpected and splendid affair, and provided some very nice footage on my camcorder.

A quick nap to recharge our batteries and we then headed to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. Time did not permit us to do both, so we opted for the Tower Bridge tour. The views that this affords are spectacular. The rest of the day, we just enjoyed walking around London, but by the end of the day, we were extremely tired and went to bed early.

May 31, 1998 - London, England to Dover, England

We were up early to catch the train to Dover. This was my first time on a train trip and it was interesting. I had paid the extra for First Class but never found it. There was a problem with the rails at one point and they had to bus us on the final leg to Dover. Catching a cab we headed to the Cruise Terminal and our first glimpse of Her Majesty, The Royal Princess sitting grandly in the harbor. We arrived at the pier around 11:30 a.m. and were efficiently and quickly checked in. Boarding was going to begin at around noon, but since we had plenty of time, we hopped on the complimentary shuttle from the Pier into Dover and/or to Dover Castle. We opted to go up to Dover Castle, and were pleasantly surprised to find a re-enactment of times past taking place. It was a sunny day and the views from the White Cliffs were magnificent.

StateroomBack at the ship, we boarded and made our way to our stateroom, C622. It was an obstructed view cabin with the lifeboat hanging outside the window. However, we could look under it and around the support and glimpse the sights. Of course, I knew this when I booked the trip so there was no sense of disappointment. The room was spacious with plenty of closet space and storage space. One of the nice features about the Royal Princess, is that one of the beds (if made up as two singles) folds up into the wall during the day. The other bed is made up like a sofa. It gives a more spacious feel to the room. Two pleasant surprises awaited us in the room. First, a beautiful flower arrangement of anthuriums and orchids from our friend Jackie and a bottle of champagne from my 'cyber-bro' Braxton. We used the bottle to toast all our land bound internet friends as we sailed away from Dover.

I gave Tony a tour of the ship during which we grabbed a quick bite in the Lido. By that time, the luggage had arrived in the cabin and we unpacked, then headed up on deck for the sailing. At 5:00 p.m., with all the pre-departure checks completed the Royal Princess moved off the berth and sailed out of the southern harbor entrance, and headed North Easterly towards Oslo.

June 1, 1998 - At Sea

We continued our course up the coast of continental Europe following the North Sea traffic separation schemes and passing the oil fields towards the Skagerrak, the area of sea between Denmark and Norway. It was an overcast day with an easterly force 3 wind bringing the air temperature to a chilly 55 degrees. I did brave the cool temperatures for awhile and sat on deck and read. That afternoon, there was a port lecture on Oslo, Norway and Copenhagen, Denmark. Afterwards, I went to the gym for a quick workout. This was the first formal night of the cruise and the Captain's cocktail party. It was a splendid evening with everyone out and about in their finery.

June 2, 1998 - Oslo, Norway

As the day began to break, we embarked our pilot for the transit of Oslo Fjord and our arrival at our berth in Norway's capital and the oldest of Scandinavia's capitals. It was not a 'weather perfect' day, with temperatures around 50 degrees and clouds and rain most of the day. Oslo is a lovely city, which actually wraps itself around part of a fjord. It is a city that is geographically large, including many wooded and recreational areas, but is actually, population wise, relatively small, but lively and very welcoming.

Royal Princess docked in OsloThis was the only port in which we did not take a ship's sponsored tour. We ate a leisurely breakfast, and waited until the tours had departed before making our way to the gangway and beginning our day wandering through the streets of the city. We started our sightseeing tour at the Akerhus Castle and Fortress, a remnant of the Middle Ages, where one can see armed guards marching their paces. From this vantage point, one can glean magnificent views of the city. Also housed on the Fortress grounds (and not to be missed) is the Museum of the Resistance, documenting the entire five-year history of the War, from the German occupation through liberation in 1945.

We then headed down through the charming streets towards the Stortorvet Cathedral. Completed in 1697, this striking cathedral, situated on Stortorvet, Oslo's main square, features an intricately carved and gold leaf pulpit, altar and organ. Leaving the cathedral, we made our way through the wet streets of Oslo, visiting the Radhus (Town Hall), completed in 1950 to commemorate the 900-year anniversary, and the Royal Palace. Although closed to the public, this neo-Classical style palace boasts a beautiful garden (although in the rain it's beauty was lost). We then headed back to the ship, stopping at many shops along the way and grabbed a quick lunch and dried off.

At 5:00 p.m., we cast off our lines and backed slowly down the berth before turning to port and beginning our return leg through the fjord, which provided approximately four hours of spectacular scenery. After disembarking our pilot at approximately 8:30 p.m., the Royal Princess set a Southerly course towards Copenhagen.

 

June 3, 1998 - Copenhagen, Denmark

At 6:45 a.m., we embarked our pilot at the northern end of Sjaelland, the island on which Copenhagen is found. By 7:10, we had passed the legendary castle at Helsingor, home of the Shakespeare novel 'Hamlet'. Once inside the harbor entrance, we swung the ship to starboard before backing onto the berth.

The morning dawned with partly cloudy skies and everyone prepared for another day of 'Oslo' weather. We left on our City Walking Tour and shortly thereafter, the sun began to break through the clouds. The resultant day turned out to be partly cloudy with temperatures in the mid 60's. It was absolutely delightful walking as we proceeded for over three hours through the highlights of this beautiful city, home of Hans Christian Anderson.

CopenhagenWe started at The Little Mermaid statue, Copenhagen's enduring symbol. This 1913 statue commemorates the lovelorn creation of Hans Christian Anderson, then on to the Grefion Fountain honoring the mythical legend of Denmark's creation. We leisurely strolled to Amalienborg, the winter residence of the Danish Royal Family since 1784. This striking palace consists of four identical Rococo buildings situated on one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. The centerpiece of Amalienborg is the statue of King Frederik V, one of the finest and most expensive equestrian statues in the world. It was then on to the Stroget (Strollers Street) and the City Hall Square. About halfway through the tour we munched on authentic danish at a local cafe.

Copenhagen is an absolutely enchanting city with many sites to see, including Chritiansborg Castle, Nyhavn (New Harbor) and Rosenborg Castle. Ending our tour, we opted to stay in the city and headed over to Tivoli Gardens, the best known attraction in Copenhagen. This world renown amusement park is laden with lights, beautiful flowers, shops, rides, restaurants and other attractions all located in the center of the city.

Finally arriving back at the ship late in the afternoon, we anxiously awaited our departure. At 7:30 p.m., the Captain maneuvered us off the berth before taking us out of the harbor and retracing our steps up the coast of Sjaelland. As we headed out of the harbor, we passed by the newly stretched Norwegian Dream. Opting to eat in the Bistro this evening, we were able to take advantage of the marvelous scenery, including a stunning view of Hamlet's castle.

June 4, 1998 - At Sea

In the early hours of the day, we began our southerly trek through the Great belts on the west coast of Sjaelland. With our pilot still onboard from our departure from Cophenhagen, we passed under Osterrenden Bridge, the largest single span bridge in the western world. We disembarked our pilot at 4:00 am. and were clear of the Great Belts at 6:00 a.m. From then, we set courses around the southeastern part of Sweden towards Stockholm. The day proved to be a sunny and very enjoyable, a relaxing day with temperatures approaching the mid 70's.

June 5, 1998 - Stockholm, Sweden

At 4:15 a.m., during a brilliant sunrise (so I'm told), we boarded our pilots for our four hour trip through the archipelagoes of Stockholm, finally berthing at 8:00 a.m.

Having read about Stockholm in Cruise Travel and specifically about the Vasa Museum, we opted to take the City Tour that stopped at this museum. Stockholm is an enchanting port city, made up of many islands. The architecture here was lovely (as it was in all of our ports). The highlight of this tour was of course the Vasa Warship Museum. Heading towards this museum, we visited the Old Town, the Royal Palace, City Hall (place where Nobel Prizes are awarded each year) and the Skansen, the world's first open-air museum founded in 1891 to preserve traditional Swedish architecture, until we finally arrived at The Vasa Museum.

The warship Vasa was to be the pride of the fleet in the 1600's and was ornately decorated with intricate wood carvings and statuary. It was state of the art for the times. However, on it's maiden voyage out of the harbor, it toppled and sunk (it was top heavy). It stayed at the bottom of the harbor for over 300 years. Excellently preserved, it was raised in 1961 and now serves as a reminder of days past. It is the oldest, fully preserved warship in the world and a must see.

At 5:00 p.m., we cast our lines and prepared ourselves for the outbound trip through the archipelagoes of Stockholm. There are some spectacular views every inch of the outbound trip through the islands. At 8:30 p.m., we dropped off our pilots before crossing the entrance of the Sea of Bothnia headed for Helsinki.

June 6, 1998 - Helsinki, Finland

After following the traffic separation schemes in the Gulf of Finland, we turned towards port, passed Helsinki's outlying islands and made our approaches to the berth. We were alongside tied up and by 9:00 a.m.

Our day in Helsinki was another sunny one with temperatures in the high 60's. We took the City Tour, stopping at the highlights of this city including the Olympic Stadium, Senate Square, Market Square, The Lutheran Cathedral of St. Nicholas and Uspenski Cathedral, the main cathedral of the Russian Orthodox religion in Finland, built in 1868. Of course, ship-building is a major industry here and we went by one of the ship yards. Guess what? We saw the Carnival Paradise still under construction. (I tried to get off the bus and see if I could get on board, but was not successful.) This was a fairly short tour and upon completion walked around the city before heading back to the ship, encountering a local folk festival in full swing.

June 7, 1998 - St. Petersburg, Russia

At 3:30 a.m., we embarked our pilot for the arrival into the jewel in Russia's crown. We began our transit of the approach channel shortly afterwards, following the leading lights at Kronshtadt first and then the harbor. At 6:15 a.m., we are tied up alongside the pier. It was a generally lovely day, overcast but dry with light air, temperatures in the low 60's.

This was the city that I was most interested in seeing. In the morning, we took the St. Petersburg Highlights Tour which took us around the highlights of the city including many of their splendid cathedrals. It was a Sunday morning and the city was not crowded which was a nice plus. Street vendors were set up at most of the tourist spots and we enjoyed bartering over prices for many local items. We saw the beautiful views along of the Bal'shaya Neva and visited Nevsky Prospekt, the three mile, most celebrated street in St. Petersburg, dating back to the city's original construction. Our tour took us to Palace Square, the symbolic center of the city and home to the Hermitage and the adjacent buildings, including the Winter Palace. It was here that troops were ordered to disperse a workers demonstration on Bloody Sunday in 1905 and where crowds rallied in 1991 in support of perestroika.

Although we did not go in, we went past the Peter and Paul Fortress, built to repel the Swedish fleet's approach. The fortress was Peter the Great's first project in his new city and is home to the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, burial place of all of the Russian czars from Peter I to Alaxander III, with the exception of Peter II. An interesting note, the last Czar Nicholas and his wife, overthrown and executed in 1918, will be buried here in July.

We visitied St. Issac's Cathedral, St. Petersburg's largest church (it can accommodate 25,000 worshippers) and one of the world's largest domed structures, and St. Nicholas Cathedral. Built between 1753 and 1762, St. Nicholas is a graceful blue and white, gilded-dome cathedral, still in use for the Russian Orthodox services and is yet another of the magnificent treasures in this city. We saw many other sights, too numerous to mention.

After a quick lunch on ship, we headed on our second tour of the day, the Hermitage Museum. Although four hours is not nearly enough to see the magnificent collection of art housed in the Winter Palace and adjoining structures, it gave us a taste of the treasures contained therein. Home to one of the world's finest art collections, the Hermitage includes paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, and Rembrandt. The rooms of the Winter Palace are almost as impressive as the exhibits. One of the oldest buildings in the complex, the Winter Palace was designed by the Italian genius Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who left his imprint all over the city.

We had chosen to not take an evening tour and stayed on the ship. A local dance troop, the Troika Dancers came on board for the evening show.

June 8, 1998 - St. Petersburg, Russia

Peterhof PalaceWe were up early again today and were on the tour to Peterhof Palace. It is normally closed on Monday's but they had opened it just for Princess. The Peterhof is not to be missed if in St. Petersburg. The palace was built on the Gulf of Finland by Peter the Great to rival Versailles, including a 300-acre park and a series of spectacular fountains. Home to the Nazi's during World War II, this palace sustained heavy damage. It has been restored and the work continues. It is a splendid example of the opulence that the Czars lived in.

The day was bright and sunny with temperatures in the 70's. At 5:00 p.m., we completed our pre-departure checks and with the aid of a tug, let go our lines. The Royal Princess swung to starboard and maneuvered into the channel. At 7:15, we again passed through the Kronshtadt and we dropped our pilot at 8:10. The Captain then set a westerly course for Tallinn.

June 9, 1998 - Tallinn, Estonia

We sailed west through the Gulf of Finland overnight so we could be in position to take on our arrival pilot at 5:30 a.m. After being joined by the pilot, we followed the leads into the harbor and up to our berth. It was a fine and clear day with temperatures in the 60's, with only scattered clouds.

On this day, we had chosen to take the Leisurely Tallinn Tour, which provided a nice overview of this extremely charming city and former Soviet republic. The mainstay of the tour was in the oldest parts of the town. The Upper Town was the preserve of the Bishop and the Knights, but the Lower Town was the heart of the commercial district and the town's wealth. It is a truly lovely town and after the tour, which took us by the beautiful Town Hall, Toompea Castle, the seat of the government and parliament, and by the baroque Dome Church and gothic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, we chose to stay and roam the streets, arriving back to the ship on one of the last shuttles, just in time to head up on deck to enjoy the view as we set sail at 1:00 p.m.

June 10, 1998 - Gdansk, Poland

After sailing at full speed throughout the night, we arrived on time at the Polish port of Gydnia, from which we were based for our visit to Gdansk. We joined our afternoon City Tour on what was an absolutely fabulous day in the 70's with bright sunshine. Our ride to Gdansk, during which our guide kept us apprised of the sights we were passing (including Lech Walesa's house), took approximately an hour.

Beginning the tour of Old Town Gdansk at St. Mary's Gate, we walked onto a narrow street named Mariacka, which led to the Church of Our Lady, the largest church in Poland and largest brick church in the world. Built between 1343 and 1502, this beautiful house of worship holds 25,000 people and many treasures, including the Madonna of Gdansk from the 15th century. Legend says that a young man accused of murder carved it in a single night, and that it so impressed the magistrates by it's beauty, that they pardoned him on what would have been his execution day. Other sights we saw, which are not to be missed include the Monument of Fallen Shipyard Workers, St. Mary's Church, Artus Palace and Neptune Fountain. This is another beautiful city full of many charming houses and people.

Applause broke out on our tour bus as Tony and I came on board after the guide let everyone roam for a while. We were twenty minutes late (anyone who knows me, knows that I'm almost never late). Blame it on miscommunication. On the way back to the ship we passed what had become typical housing in Poland, an apartment complex a mile in length, eleven stories tall with over 5500 apartments.

At 7:00 p.m., we sailed away from our last port. Everyone was melancholy as we reflected on the historically important and interesting ports we had visited over the last ten days.

June 11, 1998 - At Sea

We continued to work our way west to the Great Belts throughout the night and in the early afternoon picked up our pilot. Again, we passed under the bridge at a more reasonable hour of 2:00 p.m., and everyone was out on deck as we cruised under this awesome structure. Disembarking our pilot at 4:30 p.m., we headed north for the tip of Denmark, the Skaggerat. It was a fine, but partly cloudy day with an air temperature of 68.

June 12, 1998 - At Sea

During the early hours we proceeded around the tip of Denmark and entered the North Sea and set various south westerly courses for Dover. At around midway, we joined the traffic separation schemes in what are some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. It was a sunny day with a light south easterly breeze, temperature a pleasant 66.

June 13, 1998

We were scheduled to be one of the last groups off the ship, so we slept in a little and went up to the Lido for breakfast. Checking the room one last time, we said goodbye to our cabin stewardess and went up to the Princess Court to wait. Running ahead of schedule, we were off the ship almost a half-hour before we were scheduled to be. We retrieved our luggage and were soon on a bus for Heathrow. This was the end of an absolutely wonderful vacation.

The Tours

The tours were reasonably priced, although more costly than most Caribbean tours, which is to be expected. They were informative and well conducted and thoroughly enjoyable. Princess has this process down to a science and the tours ran very efficiently, smoothly and on time.

The Food

One word about the food - excellent. The food on board was delicious, especially in the Continental Restaurant. Our waiter, busboy and headwaiter were extremely attentive. We only ate in the Bistro one evening, but it was again, extremely good and well done. A nice change of pace.

The consistent quality of the food ranks it among the best I've encountered on any cruise ship and the cuisine a cut above competitor's. The tableside spectacles starring the head-waiters who prepared various pasta dishes was enjoyed by all diners. In keeping with my total Royal Princess experience, dining was first-class all the way.

Our table at late seating, a table for two, was situated next to a table for four, at the window. Our table neighbors, George, Carol and Shannon, had been on Royal Princess Scandinavia/Russia two times before this sailing. They were delightful dinner companions and gave us the heads-up on sites that should not be missed.

Horizon LoungeThe Lido offered a nice selection of buffet entrees, salads, pastas and deserts. The selections changed daily. At busy times, the lines moved very smoothly and quickly. Tables were cleaned almost as soon as you walked away from the table. The Lido staff were very adept at their jobs, performing their duties very efficiently with a smile.

The Entertainment

The evening shows consisted of the traditional production reviews, which were executed very professionally, with the dancers/singers showing great enthusiasm for what they were doing. There were a magician, comedian, jugglers and classical pianist on board who were fabulous. The live bands were good, but I spent most of my time at night in the disco for Karaoke and dancing. The pianist who played in the Princess Court, Pam Austin, was on board last year when I was and she continues to be a crowd pleaser.

The Ship

This was my eighteenth cruise. I have sailed on Royal Caribbean (5 times), Carnival (5 times), Dolphin (2 times), Norwegian Cruise Lines (1 time), Holland America (1 time), and Princess (4 times). Having sailed on the Royal Princess last May (Mediterranean Mosaic cruise from Athens, Greece to Dover, England), I felt like I was coming home when I walked on board. While not the newest and glitziest ship sailing the seas, she is an extremely comfortable and well laid out ship on which to sail. As with all Princess cruises, she is exquisitely maintained and manicured.

With malleable, impartial colors and graceful, sweeping curves, the Royal Princess offers a spacious, free-flowing interior with a scintillating, understated elegance enhanced by an amazing abundance of brass and glass. Few ships can rival her sense of openness, a feeling created by more than two acres of teak decking, plus windows everywhere. Whether you are exercising, having lunch in the Continental Dining Room or Lido Cafe, or enjoying the 360-degree panoramas in the rooftop Horizon Lounge, you have great views of the sea. She boasts more than 15,000 square feet of windows.

The focal point, and most dramatic public space on the ship is the Plaza foyer, a two-story atrium with a curving, glass and brass trimmed staircase. The purser's lobby is on the lower level, as is the Continental Dining Room. Ascending one of the twin curved staircases leads you up to the Riviera Deck, where the circular Princess Court piano lounge overlooks the foyer. This is an excellent place to meet and have cocktails and enjoy the view afforded you by the large picture windows flanking both the port and starboard sides. It is on this level that most of the public rooms are located (interestingly, the passenger cabins are almost all located on the upper decks).

Forward, the International Lounge offers good sightlines from six levels of seating and is the venue for the lavish, Broadway and Las Vegas style shows Princess offers on board. Aft is the Riviera Club, an excellent spot for dancing to a live band. Also located on this deck you will find the casino, boutique, photo shop, theatre (offering first run movies) and the game room.

Up one more flight and you can exit onto the wrap around Promenade, a great place to walk or jog (three-and-one-half times around the circuit equals one-mile). Proceed up four more levels to the Lido deck and you find the main pool area and the Lido Bar. Here, the indoor/outdoor Lido Cafe provides a cheerful setting for breakfast and lunch, and in the evening becomes the Bistro and Pizzeria.

Crowning the Royal Princess is Sun Deck, where you will find the Spa, a fully equipped health and beauty club featuring exercise machines, two saunas, two massage rooms, indoor whirlpool and ocean views. Outside, next to the Sun Deck Bar is one of the largest lap pools at sea. Aft, the Horizon Lounge with slanted floor-to-ceiling windows is a quiet observation area by day, and a dance spot at night.

One of the prominent features of the Royal Princess is the cabins - ALL outside. All feature a mini-refrigerator, color television, bathtub with shower, and amenities package with terry cloth robes. The twin beds convert to a queen-size. Each of the 600 staterooms has a large picture window, not just a porthole. In fact, with the exception of the Princess Theater, there are no inside passenger spaces.

The ship is staffed with a dedicated group of British officers and a top-notch international crew. The personnel are helpful and friendly, always greeting you with a smile. Our cabin stewardess was one of the best I have ever encountered, and her assistant would regularly call the cabin after seeing us come back from tours to see if we wanted juice or needed anything.

The Captain and Cruise Director were regularly seen strolling around the ship and would stop to talk to passengers. They were the most visible and accessible that I have ever seen on any ship.

The Royal Princess is a refined and gracious lady, the matriarch of today's superliners, a ship as smart and sophisticated today as she was when she was christened. I will definitely sail on the Royal Princess again - as she continues to be my favorite ship and from talking to other passengers on board, I know that I'm not alone in that feeling.

Line

John Mills is a Senior Systems Engineer and teaches Computer Science courses part time at his local Junior College in Hagerstown, MD. He has been on a zillion cruises and can be reached for questions or comment at john.mills@hq.doe.gov.


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