Princess Cruises has made so many changes to the way they do things, but are they all for the good, and more importantly, will they satisfy people like me and perhaps you who’ve cruised on Princess and like the way they were doing things? So, have they made things better or perhaps a little bit worse? So, I decided to put the five things that they’ve changed to the test by booking myself on a series of Princess cruises, to put those to the test.
The first change is one that a lot of diehard Princess fans are probably disappointed about, which is the focus on only bigger ships in their fleet really. So, during the pandemic, they got rid of four ships, the much-loved Pacific Princess, Star Princess, Sea Princess, and Sun Princess. They’re now focusing on bigger ships like the Regal Princess that I’m on, which is 3,550 passengers, or the newer ships, like the Sky Princess, Enchanted Princess, Discovery Princess, which is 3,660 passengers.
So that’s a little bit on the sad side, the focus on bigger ships. However, for me personally, I’m quite happy about that trend because it means that these ships, they’re all pretty much a familiar footprint. They all are very similar. It’s a world class of ship and they have the things that I really like, so they haven’t stripped out any of the big, popular facilities and venues that certainly I like as they’ve gone through this whole change.
They still have the magnificent, glitzy gold atrium, which is the real heart of the ship. And it’s a real throbbing centre, probably more so than many other cruise lines. You’ve got the International Cafe, you’ve got bars, you’ve got shops, you’ve got the photography centre, quick access into the casino. And it really is a great throbbing heart of the ship. And during cruises, I find that an exciting place to be.
They’ve got things like Crown Grill still. They’ve got Sabatini’s, they have a great spa, they have a great fitness centre. They have two great swimming pools, the adults-only retreat pool, and the big pools in the centre. So, all the kind of facilities that you like. They also have a good range of cabins still. You’ve got your inside cabins, your balcony cabins, which is the bulk of them, and they also have really, nice suites, I think some of the nicest that are around and in terms of price, more realistic for suite accommodation. So certainly, that big change is one that, for me, gets a tick because I think the bigger ships like Regal Princess, Sky Princess are great-looking ships.
So personally, I’m quite happy about this trend into the focus on ships like Regal Princess and Sky Princess, because it has the things that I want and it’s big enough to have a wide range of choice. And it has still had all the very familiar Princess things. However, there is one big change they’ve made to every single ship that may divide people much more.
The big change that Princess have made is their entire fleet, all their ships, are now what’s known as Medallion Class ships. There are five key components to the whole kind of Medallion Class of ships.
The first is the much talked about Medallion itself. The second is the app, which is really, important. The third is the interactive television. The fourth are the screens around the ship, which are dotted everywhere. And the fifth is the actual Wi-Fi itself, the MedallionNet. Each of those are important, and some of them are particularly important if you’re not a smartphone user.
The Medallion, which is what everyone talks about, as a passenger, has relatively limited capability and does quite limited number of things. So basically, as a passenger, as I see it, the Medallion does two key things. First, it means touchless opening of your cabin. You approach it, it unlocks the door. So that’s handy.
The second thing it does, it replaces your cruise card. So, if you’re going to the casino and you want to charge money to your account, or you’re buying something around the ship, you just tap it and it’s all hunky-dory and fine. And so basically it just replaces the cruise card. The other thing it does as a passenger is because it has location tracking, and you will find when you go into a venue, people know exactly who you are and will call you by your name. So that’s kind of handy.
But that’s all the Medallion pretty much does. The rest of it is what happens behind the scenes because the cruise line then knows where you are, what you’re doing, and all that kind of stuff. So, the real heart is the app. And most of the cruise lines do have an app. But most of the things that you do are linked to the app. One of the best things that they do is make you ocean ready. So, before you go on the cruise, you go on the app and you upload things like your photograph, your ID, your card that you’re going to charge everything to, you choose your arrival time, and all that kind of stuff.
So, when you get to the port, you basically breeze through, and it’s really, quick from arriving at the port, getting on ship. In fact, the only thing that slows you down now, and this may have gone by the time you watch this, is COVID testing. That’s the thing that slows you down. But the app and getting ocean ready is the key thing.
Now, the Medallion, if you’re in some countries like the US, gets sent to you in advance, which does speed things up. In other countries at the moments, so at the time of recording, you collect the Medallion when you check in. On the app, you can do a whole bunch of other things, like you can look at the daily program and you can order food. More on that later. You can order things to your room. But the real heart of everything that Medallion does is linked to the app.
If you’re not a smartphone user, you have several options. One of the options is use the interactive TV. So many of the functions that you can do on the app, you can do on the interactive television within your cabin. And it’s easy to use and has all the functionality that you need. So certainly, that’s one option.
The other option is the screens around the ship. But everything you do on the app; you can do on the screen. So, you can either look at it by tapping your Medallion on the screen, and it’ll bring up all your details and you can do things like look at the daily program, choose the events you want to go to, and so on and so forth.
The other thing that you can do with a combination of the app and your Medallion is you can order things to your stateroom. So, if you want more towels, you want room service, or stuff like that. Or if you’re at the swimming pool or elsewhere, and you want to order a drink, because of the medallion, it knows where you are, and you can order for delivery to you. I didn’t try it at all because I found the services when you went to the bars and stuff were so good that you didn’t need to really worry about ordering it to where you were, but it’s something that you can do.
The other thing that you can do, which I didn’t do, is I certainly didn’t play casino games. I’d much rather go to the casino. I didn’t use the locate people you’re travelling with, and I didn’t use it to find my way around the ship because I found the screens did that much more.
One of the downsides I would say of the app, which didn’t work that well for me is the daily program, because it’s quite hard to navigate on the app. It’s a little bit easier on the screen. The idea is to replace the Princess Patter, which is the daily program in printed form, by having it on the app. I found this much easier in printed form or on the screens, but if you don’t have a smartphone, you can do everything on the screen. Or in fact, you can just go to guest services and get things like paper copies of that.
The fourth aspect is MedallionNet, which they claim is the best Wi-Fi at sea. Now in reality, I’ve had mixed experiences in that, because a lot of it depends on where you are and how good the satellites are. I’ve certainly been on some cruises on Sky Princess where it was phenomenally fast. On this Regal Princess, because we’re sailing a little bit more around the UK, it’s good, but it’s not super, super fast as it would be in other parts of the world. But it’s better than some of the other Wi-Fi that I’ve had on other recent cruises.
So, what did I think overall of the Medallion and the whole process? Certainly, I really liked it. I found the convenience of carrying this was so much better. I found that the functionality of the app or the screens did smooth things up. It made it a lot easier to do. I think there’s still a couple of glitches in there, which I’m sure will get better and better as more and more people use it, particularly around the daily program and finding events. I still found the old paper version a little bit better, but I’m sure that that will improve over time as they work and figure that out.
The question, of course, is all this move to Medallion, MedallionNet, and all this stuff, is this going to cost us as cruisers much, much more? And that brings me to the next critical point.
Princess have made a really big change to their fares. And this is following a trend that other lines they compete with, like Celebrity and Holland America have done, which is to make the fares a little bit more all-inclusive by covering and including some of the things that everybody pretty much spends on a cruise. So, Celebrity has their Always Included fare, Holland America have their Have It All fare.
What Princess Plus is, and this is how it works, is first, you can opt in. So, they have normal the Princess fare and they have the Princess Plus. Princess Plus fare now, at the time of recording, will cost you £30 per day, or that’s $40US per day, and includes three key things. It includes a premiere drinks package. It includes unlimited use for one device of MedallionNet, the Wi-Fi at streaming level so you can watch Netflix, YouTube, FaceTime home, and thirdly it includes gratuities for the cruise.
So those are three of the big costs that people normally have. Now, what they argue is those prices are roughly half the price of what it would be per day if you bought those individually. So, they argue it’s quite a big saving. You do need to opt in before you come on the cruise and most people would do it when you make the booking.
A couple of watchouts on the Princess Plus. I find it a really great thing because you don’t have to worry about all those extra costs because by the time you come on the ship, they’re done and in theory, they’re much cheaper. As I mentioned, it’s only one device. You must log out of the device if you want to use another device. Secondly, everybody in the cabin must go with Princess Plus, although you can, if you’ve got a third or fourth person in the cabin, have it removed for those people. But everyone must have it.
When it comes to the drinks package, now I, for example, don’t drink alcohol, so perhaps it wasn’t as good a value as it would be if you drink alcohol. And of course, the Premiere Package also has a number of restrictions as most drinks packages do. So, for example, you can only have drinks that cost $12 or under, you can only have 15 beverages over a 24-hour period, alcoholic beverages that is.
When it comes to gratuities, obviously if you go in a suite, because gratuities are slightly higher than they are say in an inside cabin, you do gain a little bit there as well. I really like the Princess Plus fare. I think it’s a pretty good price versus if you were paying the full whack for it and it takes away a lot of the hassle and stress. So, I really like that. I also like the fact that unlike Celebrity, you have the choice of opting in or not opting in. So, you can basically decide if it’s worth your while. So, for me, the move to Princess Plus I really like. I like that much more all-inclusive fare.
However, with both the move to the Medallion and the move to the fare, there is still one big change that I think probably does divide people.
Cruisers who like the old traditional way of dining are perhaps going to be less excited by this change. The change that they’ve introduced on Princess is called Dine My Way. And they basically scrapped, in the main dining room, the concept of first sitting, second sitting, and then you can sort of opt into that freestyle dining. And they now have a concept where you basically choose your dining time in the main dining room or the specialty restaurants, and you can also choose who you eat with. So, they’ve completely given you control of your dining experience.
So, for me, I really like that because you now can completely decide what you want to do. You can book a time and you can book it ahead in time and you can decide what you want to do and who you want to eat with. So basically, this is how it works. You either can do it on the app and you can do it before you come on the cruise. You can do it on the interactive television if don’t want to use the app, or you can do it on the screens.
So, you can choose before you come, the restaurant you want to go to, and you can select perhaps the same dining time every single day. So, if you’re one of those people that likes fixed dining, you can choose that before you come, or you can choose every single day, a different time slot. And it means you don’t have that whole thing, if you’re on anytime dining, of queuing up and so on. But you can only do it for the main dining room and the specialty dining restaurants. You choose your time; you choose your table size. And I really like that change. So, you don’t have that whole first sitting, second sitting thing.
When it comes to the other venues, like the buffets, the World Marketplace, the Horizon buffet, that’s just arrive as you like. Same with things like International Cafe. The other thing you can do with Dine My Way is you can use the app or again the television or whatever to order things like room service. But also, if you’re around the ships, you’re at the pool or something, you want to order food through the app, you can order food. And because of your Medallion, they know where you are, and they can bring it to you.
When it comes to dining, as I mentioned, all those key venues that people have come to love are there. The main dining rooms, the buffet restaurant, the Sabatini’s, the Crown Grill, the informal dining venues, International Cafe. They’re all still there. So that’s the good news. So, they haven’t shaken that up. They’ve just changed the way that you control your dining and personalised it.
I personally think that is a really great change and you can plan it before you go on a cruise, and I like that a lot.
There was another change that Princess have made, which I think is absolute genius and I absolutely love it. And that change is around the muster. No longer do you have to grab your life jacket, head off to a venue, sit there, be checked in. What happens now is you come on board, on your television, or in fact on your device, we mostly watched on the television, you must watch the safety video. Once it’s done, it’s registered with them that you’ve watched it. You then must go to your muster station; you check into your muster station, so they basically know that you’ve done all that process. And it’s fantastic.
You don’t have to have that set time where the whole ship stops at four o’clock or whatever to do the process. And it’s an absolute genius change. Love it.
The changes that I experienced on these cruises has put so much more power into me as a passenger and you as a passenger as well, through the technology, through the actual Medallion itself, which has all that location data and all that kind of stuff, and the technology which you interact with it, whether it’s on the app, the television, or the screens, is as a passenger, I have so much more control over what I do, and it makes things so much faster, so much more efficient, and unlocks so much more time.
I really like the changes that are made. I found it streamlined the process. It made it easier. It was much less stressful, much less hanging around. And I thought the changes were pretty good.
ABOUT TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
Gary Bembridge’s Tips For Travellers aims to help you make more of your precious travel time and money on land and when cruising the oceans or rivers of the world. To help you, in every video I draw on my first-hand tips and advice from travelling every month for over 20 years and average of 10 cruises a year.
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