I joined the beautiful Royal Princess in Rome recently to try cruising a different way. With most cruise passengers choosing the cruise line’s own shore excursions, we struck out to find some personalised, hands on shore adventures with a difference! But first, though, a little about the ship…
The Royal Princess has just been in dry dock for a lovely facelift and a few other improvements. She’s now sporting some absolutely gorgeous new livery featuring the Princess Cruises ‘Sea Witch’:
Around the ship:
The beautiful atrium really is the hub of the ship. The piazza is home to the International Café, which serves great coffee and pastries, as well as a couple of different bars, a sweet little Italian gelateria and even a seafood bar. We met every morning for coffee and I got slightly addicted to the cinnamon buns.
Up on deck, there are the usual pools, sunbeds and jacuzzis, as well as the very clever fountain pool, which plays the spectacular Princess Watercolour Fantasy, a sound and light show with dancing fountains shooting over 30′ into the night sky (we were lucky enough to be treated to a special performance):
Also on deck, there’s the slightly disconcerting glass panelled SeaWalk which juts out over the side of the ship. It really is fabulous, especially on a sea day when you can watch the ocean whooshing away beneath your feet:
My favourite deck area was the adults only Retreat Pool. It’s a proper oasis, with loads of areas to chill out and relax, a lovely pool and also the Retreat Bar (there’s also an exclusive Sanctuary area where passengers can pay a fee to spend the day relaxing on luxurious, steward-serviced cabanas and day beds).
The Lotus Spa
After whiling away a lovely afternoon in the Enclave area of the spa, I can totally see why people pay extra (it’s about $400 for a 14 day unlimited cruise pass – that’s per adult) to spend time there during their cruise. There’s a delicious, bubbly hydrotherapy pool, warm water beds, relaxing aromatherapy calderium, a Turkish hammam and all sorts of tropical, colour therapy showers. I also had one of the best facials I’ve EVER had in the spa (in fact it was so good, I even persuaded fellow traveller and Instagrammer Rich (see his Instagram feed, Paperboyo here) to have one. He wasn’t disappointed.
There are three main dining rooms on board, as well as the Horizon buffet, which I found so much nicer than the usual top deck ship buffet restaurants. It was really calm and well laid out, with a lovely little Pastry Shop area serving with sweet treats, waffles, pancakes etc. There’s also the Horizon court and Horizon bistro for lighter lunches and snacks.
There are several speciality restaurants, including a really good Italian restaurant, Sabatini’s, and Crown Grill, a beautiful dining location serving incredible steaks and seafood in a classically styled atmosphere. We were lucky enough to experience Chef’s Table Lumiere, an exclusive dining experience hosted by Executive Chef, David McDonald. The experience starts with a galley tour and some pretty special appetisers, before you’re led to a beautiful table with a stunning murano glass centrepiece, where a magical curtain of light descends to envelop you in your own little dining world. We loved it, and the food was spectacular:
Whether you’re a first time cruiser, or have cruised quite a few times, choosing shore excursions can often be confusing: should you do the 3 hour trip or the 5 hour trip? What’s the difference between ‘independent Rome’, or ‘Rome on your own’, and exactly how many hours will I be spending on a stuffy coach (I’m looking at you, Florence). If you do fancy striking out alone, there are some really great ways to really immerse yourself in the culture of your port country. We tried four unique experiences from the ports of Civitavecchia, Livorno, Toulon and Barcelona.
In Rome, we explored the city by segway, which was ridiculously good fun, and actually a really clever way to cut through the crowds and discover some of the more hidden away areas of the city.
From Livorno, we hired a private taxi to take us to Florence, where we explored the Galleria dell’Accademia on our own, visiting the beautiful Michaelangelo’s David, before heading off to Pisa, again exploring on our own.
In Toulon we joined Bandol Wine Tours for a day of wine tasting in Provence. Bandol is one of the oldest appellations in France, producing mostly rosé. We visited Domaine de Terrebrune, where we tasted their incredibe, silky 2006 white wine, as well as their rosé, which the New York Times called ‘the best in the world’. After stopping for lunch in the gorgeous town of La Cadiere D’Azur, we visited Domaines Bunan for yet more tasting. A wonderful, if slightly alcoholic, day.
My favourite trip, though, was Barcelona, where we joined BCN Kitchen for a day exploring the Boqueria market, before heading back to the modern cookery school to learn how to cook authentic Spanish dishes like seafood paella, Spanish omelette and crema catalana.
A word of warning here: going off piste with a private shore excursion rather than a ship excursion means that if you’re late back, the ship won’t wait for you. It’s really important that you pick a reputable company that understands how that works. I’d recommend looking at tourist board websites or viator.com.
Love and thanks to Lorraine and Charlotte for organising our fabulous trip.
£799pp for a 7-night Mediterranean cruise on Royal Princess
Sailing from Barcelona, Spain to Rome, Italy. Calling at Cartagena, Spain | Gibraltar, Great Britain | Marseille (Provence), France | Genoa, Italy | Florence/Pisa (Livorno), Italy. Departing on Saturday May 27, 2017. Price is based on two people sharing an inside cabin and includes accommodation, all main meals, 24-hour room service and onboard entertainment. Fare excludes flights.
Seeing as this post covers not one, but four city experiences, I’ve added it to #CityTripping – a collection of city-related travel posts collated by Cathy from Mummy Travels.