Is Princess Cruises On A Journey Downwards? What Are They Getting Right And Wrong?
Is Princess Cruises On A Journey Downwards? What Are They Getting Right And Wrong?
Has Princess Cruises lost its way? Or is it just a temporary blip as it gets back up to full speed?
I’ve been asked this increasingly by cruisers disembarking recent Princess cruises. They’re worried about the service, the menus, the food, and the much-hyped medallion.
I’ve been on three Princess trips in the last 12 months, on Regal Princess, Sky Princess, and Majestic Princess. And here’s what I think are 4 key things they’re getting very wrong right now. And the 4 things they’re getting perfectly right.
Getting Wrong #1: Confused Offer?
While some of the issues people are raising, like erratic service, should be temporary and can be put down to post-shutdown challenges all lines are suffering, I am convinced some are more permanent.
As I see evidence that Princess Cruises is in transition, and they aim to appeal to a different cruiser. The enforced cruise shutdown has accelerated and made it more obvious.
While waiting to board a competitive line recently, I was chatting to some followers of the channel whom had also recently cruised with Princess Cruises. They said they were confused about what Princess now stood for, as their recent trip had just felt off.
Mostly big ships
I said to them that during the cruise shutdown ,Princess Cruises made big changes. First, they are now a big ship fleet. During the shutdown, they sold many of their smaller ships. This has left them a mostly mega and large ship cruise line.
Mega ships are those carrying 3,500 passengers or more. So, all their 6 newer ships (Sky Princess, Regal Princess, Discovery Princess, Enchanted Princess, Majestic Princess, and Royal Princess) are mega ships.
Then they have 4 large ships carrying over 3,000, and only 5 mid-sized ships left under that.
This means they need to fill these big ships with more people per trip than ever before. And I think we’ve seen some changes in focus and priorities to do that. Leading to us to experiencing a Princess Cruises sailing that we’re less used to.
I’m seeing they’re becoming much more family, and multi-generational family friendly. I’ve seen many more kids on Princess than ever before.
When I was on Majestic Princess in Alaska, it was packed with families, with Kids overtaking the pools, busy Kids Clubs and multiple occupancy of cabins and fully booked family cabins. Both cabins on either side of me had 4 people staying in them with parents and kids.
Even on excursions they’ve got partnerships with Discovery and Animal Planet to have more family friendly offers.
And they have really elevated and expanded the Kids Cub size, facilities, and program significantly too. Friends of mine have started choosing Princess for the great kids’ club option.
I’ve been following their sailings this summer out of the UK on ships like Sky Princess based there and seen so many more families.
A wider (not so traditional) audience
Princess seems to be shifting away from what it traditionally has been, an adult and couples experience.
They are now appealing to a wider audience, including giving families and younger groups of friends a traditional more sedate classic cruise experience alternative to the hectic resort-style mass lines with like Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, MSC, and Carnival with all their bells and whistles and water parks and rock-climbing walls.
Further evidence of this focus is they have no solo cabins, even on their newer ships, unlike other similar lines like Holland America, Cunard, and even new entrant Virgin, but the ships do have increasing numbers of cabins that can take a 3rd and 4th guest on sofa or pull-out beds.
So, I think it’s going through a shift and that could be throwing regular and historic Princess travellers like me off and why some are feeling it’s different. Like me to be honest!
Getting Wrong #2: Complicating Fares?
While I could argue Princess are trying to offer choice and help people on various budgets as part of this evolution, they are in danger of confusing us, as they keep changing and making their fares more complicated.
At time of recording, they have recently changed to three fares.
Princess Standard, which is a basic standard cruise fare with all extras charged individually on board.
Then there’s Princess Plus with beverage package, Wi-Fi, and what they call “crew appreciation” (or as we call them: gratuities).
Next, there’s Princess Premier, which includes the plus package and adds some specialty dining, a photo package, and the chance to win various Princess Prizes. Each day on your stateroom door, you look to see if you’ve won a prize, such as onboard spending, wine tasting, chefs table, and even free cruises. Once a year they give away $100,000 cash.
Fares are not as straightforward as they used to be and trying to work out if the levels are good value can be challenging. Especially if like me, you don’t want or need all of them, like a drinks package.
Getting Wrong #3: Food?
Based on those three cruises on 3 ships in the last year, I did not find food as good as their closest competitors in the included dining venues, although pretty good in the speciality added-charge Crown Grill and Sabatinis.
Having also been on all those similar cruise lines in the last year, I felt Princess Cruises had a smaller menu choice and the food was not as good, compared to Cunard, Holland America, Celebrity or Virgin Voyages. It was probably on par with P&O Cruises in the UK, which is a cruise line with many similarities.
The other lines have upped it with culinary councils and partnerships.
I suspect that Princess knows this is a weakness as they recently announced the appointment of the US chef Rudi Sodamin as “Head of Princess Culinary Arts”. He leads their sister Carnival owned Holland America Culinary Council which did an amazing job upping the food there.
So hopefully this will change from a weakness soon.
Getting Wrong #4: Medallion?
The fourth thing that Princess is not quite getting right presently is delivering on what they have chosen as their big point of difference to other lines.
While other competitive lines have chosen physical features as their standout point of difference, Princess have not.
Holland America’s unique feature is their series of themed music venues called the Music Walk. Celebrity Cruises has their distinctive new ships with Infinity Balconies and The Retreat Suites with lounge and deck. Virgin Voyages has it’s ‘no main dining room’ and multiple all-included speciality restaurants and quirky entertainment. Cunard with the only ocean liner at sea, boasts Transatlantic crossing, Grills suites options, an Insights programme and white glove afternoon tea.
The thing Princess have chosen to be what sets them apart from others is making all their ships what they call Medallion class. This uses a technology entwined with the cruising experience with a wearable medallion, an app linked to it and supposedly better Wi-Fi.
It is supposed to make the cruising experience faster, easier, and more personalised. Especially with ships getting bigger and having to handle more passengers. With bigger ships, crew will struggle to remember guests, but the medallion brings up your picture and name, in order to assist. It unlocks your cabin, you can order food and drinks to where you are, and charge items on board and even when ashore in some ports, like in Alaska.
Other than the medallion itself, which is great for simplifying things, the app on all my trips was very glitchy. And social media and review sites are full of the same comments.
The Apps on less technology leading lines, like Holland America and Celebrity Cruises worked better, though admittedly, there were less features.
Like most, I was expecting amazing Wi-Fi from all the hype. On all my three trips, Medallion Net was not as good as on other cruise lines. I’ve seen lots of people posting about frustrations about their Wi-Fi.
Princess is making a big play with Medallion Class ships but it’s still glitchy and not quite running. So, now, until it is up and running, it’s not really a key strength or advantage for me, yet.
So, those are 4 things they’re not quite getting right these days – but let’s get more upbeat and look at what but Princess is getting right these days.
Getting Right #1: Wining Popularity Stakes?
First, Princess was and remains incredibly popular. It is the largest in the premium lines category, bigger than Holland America, Celebrity, Virgin, and Cunard, based on passengers carried.
It is the biggest cruise line after the big four resort mass lines, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, MSC and Norwegian.
So clearly appealing to an ever-wider audience seeking a premium classic experience is working.
And I think that is driven by their consistency. Even though I am less a fan of it, but many clearly many see as a big plus, is that all their ships, layout, venues, and decor are basically carbon copies. They are very much the same.
This means incredibly predictable and consistent experience right across the fleet no matter which ship you step on. This seems to be appealing to many.
Getting Right #2: Places They Go?
Another key reason for their popularity comes down to destinations.
They call on over 300 ports, but not only do they have this massive range of destinations that most of the others also claim, but because they have a bigger fleet (15 ships) they call on them more frequently and with more depth.
In Alaska, while they are second only to Holland America in terms of time there, they have multiple ships based there in the season. Sailing from Seattle, Vancouver and Whittier, they own and operate scenic trains, busses and lodges.
They home base ships around the world offering intensive trips. So, for example, they base ships in Japan, and they do incredible intensive Japan itineraries.
They base multiple ships in the UK and do incredible Round UK, Norwegian Fjords, and Northern Europe sailings. Ships based in Australia do phenomenal cruises around Australia and New Zealand.
They also base ships on the US West Coast and do Hawaii and West Coast deep dives.
The other close competitors visit many of these but with limited sailings by comparison.
Getting Right #3: Multi-Generational?
The next thing that I think Princess are doing well is, although I’ve touched on it, is offering a viable classic cruising option for multi-generational travellers.
Many traditional cruisers are less keen to go on Mass Resort Lines, but this was our only real option to include and satisfy when travelling with families and grandkids.
But now Princess offers a real alternative with the range of cabins, excursions, Kids Clubs, and activities, so multi-generational travellers know even their younger family members will not feel out of place.
Getting Right #4: Affordability?
Another thing that I think they’re doing well is making it more affordable. As they’re moving into bigger ships, They’re able to leverage costs much more. But, when I look at what Princess Cruises is doing, they’re constantly offering deals, attractive pricing in the premium category, especially 3rd and 4th guests in a cabin, and usually very low deposits. Sometimes as little as $75 / £50.
They have a wide range of cabins and choices from inside cabins to suites. Even suites tend to be less costly than direct competition. This is partly as they do not have many added suite features. Just a small lounge and area within the Main Dining Room, unlike other lines like say Celebrity with separate restaurant, expansive lounge, and deck.
If all this though makes you think that Princess Cruises isn’t the right cruise line for you, and you want a premium experience that’s a more adult, watch this video about Holland America starting with the one thing that I think people get wrong and misunderstand about Holland America. See you over there.
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