In this article I share my Princess Cruises Tips, and the 10 things you need to know before cruising with them.
Princess Cruises is one of the largest ocean cruise lines based on number of passengers carried, ships and destinations. But is being big and popular mean that they are right for your cruise? There is much more to consider when selecting the right line and ship to go cruising on. This article is designed to help. I will cover ten important things I believe you need know if considering Princess for your next vacation. These are:
- Who are Princess Cruises?
- What class of cruising do they offer?
- What do Princess do the same and better than other comparable lines?
- What is included and excluded in their fares, and how can you to save money once on board?
- What are your accommodation options?
- What dining options will you have – and which do you have to pay extra for?
- What sorts of facilities are there on their ships?
- What do you need to know about their excursions?
- What is the dress code and must pack essentials?
- What sorts and ages of passengers will be on a Princess Cruise?
After reviewing these points if you decide to cruise with them, take a look at the deals available on Princess Cruises below the article, as you could save money or receive extra benefits like on board credit.
#1: Who are Princess Cruises?
Princess Cruises started sailing in 1965 with a single ship that cruised from the United States to Mexico. It’s popularity and name burst into the mainstream thanks to the 1970s and 1980s TV series “The Love Boat” which was mostly filmed on the “Pacific Princess”.
By 2017 Princess Cruises had 18 ships in its fleet (with more on order) and carried over two million passengers to more than 350 ports annually. This makes it one of the four largest cruises line in the world according to CruiseMarketWatch.com based on passengers after Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruise Line.
The line is based in Santa Clarita California and is owned by the huge Carnival Cruise Corporation. They also own other cruise lines including Carnival, Holland America, Seabourn, AIDA, Costa and P&O Cruises.
The ships range from smaller passenger ships like the “Pacific Princess”, which carries 668 guests, to mid-sized vessels like the 1,970 passengers “Coral Princess” and then into large mega ships, like the “Regal Princess” with 3,560 passenger capacity. To review the entire fleet visit princess.com/ships-and-experience/ships/
#2: Class of cruising?
There are different ways of classifying the grades and types of cruise lines, but most agree there are five main categories:
- Ultra-Luxury. These are lines like Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas and Crystal Cruises. They tend to run smaller all-suite ships, have more all-inclusive fares and high level of personal service.
- Luxury. This includes Oceania, Windstar and Azamara. They also operate with smaller ships, but usually have wider range of accommodation categories and are less all-inclusive and exclusive.
- Premium. The key cruise lines competing at this level include Holland America, Cunard, Celebrity, P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises.
- Mainstream. These are more value-based lines and include Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival and Costa.
As a Premium Cruise Line, you should expect friendly and responsive service although it will not be as tailored and personal as the more expensive luxury lines. It will be more akin to staying in a four-star hotel than a five-star, and the quality of items like linen and sheets will be good but not plush. There will fewer added features and touches than luxury lines, so do not expect prestige brand name toiletries, flowers and fruit in the cabins. The ships will also generally be larger than the luxury and ultra-luxury cruise lines.
#3: Do same or better than other lines?
If you have decided that a Premium Cruise line is right for you, here are some thoughts on how Princess Cruises compares to others in that category:
What is likely to be the same?
- Cruise experience. The lines in this segment tend to cater for cruisers seeking a more traditional style of cruising, with a focus on dining and bars over resort-style features and attractions.
- Food, service and cabin quality, in my experience, is broadly comparable across all lines in this category.
- The production shows are very atypical cruise review-style shows (like 60s & 70s, Rock, Piano singers (Elton John, Barry Manilow, and Billy Joel) along with guest entertainers (singers, comedians, and musicians) and some local folk performances. These tend to focus on older songs and are not very contemporary. Personally I found the shows to be somewhat dated and the same format and quality as the competing lines. I did seem to be in the minority based on the reaction I saw to the shows I watched on the ship though.
- Live musicians around the bars and lounges including string quartets, pianists and guitar playing singers.
- On-board activities focus on quizzes, deck games, bridge, bingo and karaoke. These are supplemented by a number of un-hosted meet ups for solo travellers, LGBT travellers, knitters, bible studies and travellers in recovery (“Friends of Bill W”) and some religious services.
- Destination and enrichment speakers, primarily on cruises with sea days.
What is likely to be better?
- Range and number of destinations. Princess Cruises travel to more worldwide destinations than others in the premium class. Due to the number and range of ships, they cruise to six continents, calling at more than 300 ports. If you are looking to visit the Caribbean, Alaska, Panama Canal, Europe, Mexico, South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific, Hawaii, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Asia, India, Africa, Canada, New England or do a world cruise then you will find a Princess Cruise is available.
- Alaska. Princess Cruises is the largest cruise and tour operator of any line to this region. They sail up to eight cruise ships a year in the region, own and run five wilderness lodges as well as a fleet of motor coaches and rail cars. This means you can book and take a seamless combined sea and land Alaska vacation though Princess.
- Innovations. Princess Cruises has a history of bringing new features to cruising before others, many of which become standard across its competing cruise lines. For example they were the first to offer:
- Private balconies to non-suite grade cabins. They claim to be the first to offer balconies to more affordable grades and to have the highest percentage of balcony cabins today.
- 24-hour dining with the first around-the-clock restaurant.
- Traditional and Anytime Dining.
- Wedding Chapel.
- “Movies Under the Stars” pool movie screen.
- The Sanctuary, the adults-only pool and deck area.
- “Ocean Medallion”. This is a smart device token worn as a wristband, pendant or simply be kept in your pocket. It acts as your cabin key, cruise card and tracks and advises crew of your preferences so they can better tailor service for you. It can even be enabled to track the location of others in your party on the ship. The “Ocean Medallion” ensures the interactive boards across the ship give specific information and suggestions based on your habits and preferences, and it can be used to place orders for drinks and other items (e.g. sunscreen at the pool). This started rolling out across ships in 2017.
So why would you choose Princess Cruises?
The price and overall on-board experience will largely be similar to the other premium line, so I think the key reasons you should consider Princess would be:
- Wider choice and range of ships and sizes to meet your preferences for how you like to travel.
- Destinations you want to travel to, as all the competition may not cruise there.
- If you want to visit Alaska.
- Constant innovations for the category, such as the “Ocean Medallion”.
#4: Fare Inclusions and Saving Money On Board?
Princess Cruises follow a similar approach to competitors in the premium category when it comes to fare levels and inclusions. Like those lines, they will entice you to spend as much as possible once on board. Being aware of what is (and is not) covered by the headline fare, and then budgeting and planning how to manage spend during your trip will enable you to avoid surprises and returning from your vacation unexpectedly overspent.
What is included in your fare?
- Meals in the main dining rooms, buffet, casual dining restaurants, 24-hour room service, afternoon tea and ice creams.
- Entertainment in the theatre, bars and lounges.
- Usage of most of the facilities, including fitness centre.
- Most daily program events, such as quizzes, games and dance lessons.
What will you have to pay for on board?
- Gratuties. These are auto-added to your bill and at the time of writing were $13.50 per person per day, rising to $14.50 for mini-suites and $16.50 for suites. All drinks and spa treatments will also have a 15% gratuity added.
- Dining in the specialty restaurants. This was, for example on the Caribbean Princess, $12 in Planks and Steamers, $25 for Sabatini’s Italian and $29 for Crown Grill. There was also a $45 charge for the special Deluxe Champagne breakfast in cabin for two.
- Drinks. Complimentary tea, coffee and water are available at meals, but all your alcohol, sodas and premium teas and coffees will be charged for. Juices are available at breakfast.
- Premium coffees and teas.
- Transfers to and from the ship at start and end of the cruise.
- Activities like Spa treatments, Gaming (including Bingo) and some fitness classes (many are included but there are charges for some, like Yoga and the Tour De Cycle of between $12 and $20 a class).
- Sanctuary (an adult-only secluded sun bathing area on some of the larger ships). Access at time of writing per person was $20 for half of a day, $40 full day and packages for every day access averaging at $30.
How can you save money on board?
You will find there are many attempts to encourage you to spend money on board. There will be photographers constantly taking pictures of you to buy, shop promotions and events and promotional events from every revenue-generating department around the ship. This is standard for most cruise lines, including Princess Cruises.
Here are some ways to help control your spend:
- Consider buying a beverage package. You can only bring one bottle of wine on board for use in your cabin, and so you cannot get around buying drinks by brining your own. So, first assess carefully how much alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks (e.g. sodas, hot chocolates, specialist coffees like Lattes, bottled water etc) you are likely to consume each day, and then see if you would pay less by taking one of the Princess Cruises packages. They can be bought in advance or once on board. For example on my Caribbean Princess these included:
- All-Inclusive Beverage Package: Unlimited cocktails, wine, beer, bottled water, specialty coffee, smoothies and sodas were $52 per person per day (you had to sign up in first two days of cruise and everyone in a cabin has to sign up).
- Unlimited Soda & More Package: Unlimited fountain soft drinks, plus “mocktails”, juices, and hot chocolate for $7 per person per day.
- Specialty Coffee Package: These were 15 for $31 on my cruise.
- If planning to use the Internet on the ship, look at the Wi-Fi packages. It is costly to access and can cost from 33c to 79c a minute based on the package you purchase. If you can wait until you are in port, you will usually find free access in many port terminals, bars or coffee shops. I always ask the crew where they go to get free Wi-Fi. You will also be able to tell where these spots are as you will inevitably come across groups of crew and guests glued to their phones somewhere in every port!
- Photo packages, or just take your pictures! Buying the ship-taken images is fairly costly but if you don’t want to take your own, look at the packages on offer. On my cruise there was a package at $249 for all photos and along with digital copies.
- Other money saving tips on Princess Cruises:
- If there is something you see in the on-board shops you want to buy, first know land prices to make sure you are getting a good deal, and then wait for the promotions. They tend to roll these across most categories across a cruise.
- As you work up the Princess Captains Circle levels you get added benefits including free laundry, Wi-Fi minutes, discounts in the on-board shops, free minibar, and even On Board Credits.
- Enter the Treasure Hunt with $1,000 of prizes. Everyone was given a card on boarding on my cruise and, in return for going to all the revenue-earning departments and getting a stamp, the card was entered in a draw for prizes.
- Book your next cruise on board and you will get up to $300 on-board credit for that cruise.
- Do your own laundry. There are token-operated machines on most passenger cabin decks.
- If you are a Carnival Shareholder, you can apply for on-board credit of up to $250 per cabin for 14 days or longer cruises (have to send a claim to Carnival Head Office before cruising).
#5: Accommodation Options?
Princess Cruise ships offer a range pf cabins to suit a range of budgets. While the numbers and configurations vary, you will usually find Suites, Family Suites, Balcony, Ocean View and Inside cabins. There are also wheelchair accessible cabins across grades.
For example on the Caribbean Princess the 1,556 cabins were split across seven types as follows:
- 25 Suites with private balconies.
- 7 Window Suites.
- 2 Family suites.
- 178 Mini-suites with private balconies.
- 669 Balcony cabins.
- 230 Ocean view cabins.
- 445 Inside cabins.
There were 25 Wheelchair Accessible Cabins.
Watch my video your of a Princess Cruises balcony cabin
Watch the video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/qo6LrcKOjpI
#6: Dining Options?
On all Princess Cruises ships you will find choices of places to eat, with (not surprisingly) the more choices the bigger the ship. Here are the key things you need to know about dining:
- Traditional or Anytime Dining? You need to decide which you prefer when booking your cruise, and may find it impossible to change once your cruise has started. While both take place in the main dining rooms and the menu is the same, the difference is that:
- Traditional Fixed Seating means you will have a regular table for dinner, the same serving staff and tablemates. You will also have to select either First Sitting (usually around 5:45pm) or Second Sitting (usually at 8pm).
- Anytime Dining is usually between 7:30 and 9:30pm and you can make booking on the day for any size table and time, or just pitch up and be allocated a table. The latter may mean some wait time if the restaurant is already full.
- Older and more traditional cruisers tend to like traditional fixed seating, as this has been the style of cruising they are familiar with.
- The fixed times and tables apply at dinner, and for breakfast and lunch it is Anytime Dining and you will be allocated a table on arrival.
- There will be a number of Casual Dining Options, which are included in the fare and tend to be buffet, burger, pizza or small bites venues. For example on Caribbean Princess these were:
- World Fresh Marketplace (buffet).
- Salty Dog Grill (burgers, hot dogs & street tacos).
- Slice Pizzeria (poolside pizza).
- 24-Hour International Café in piazza (coffee, snacks, light meals & desserts).
- Coffee & Cones (coffee & ice cream).
- 24-hour room service, which at time of writing had no extra charges for using.
- Specialty Restaurants with Surcharges. On the Caribbean Princess these were:
- Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria, a popular standard on most Princess ships and are a partnership with Chef Angelo Auriana, the executive chef of Los Angeles restaurants The Factory Kitchen and Officine BRERA.
- Crown Grill (Steakhouse restaurant) serving aged and cooked-to-order steaks and seafood, including grilled shrimp and lobster.
- Steamers Seafood (Seafood restaurant) where you could choose from Black & Blue Mussels or Classic Clams “Steamers” or a Broiled Platter, which included scallops, shrimp and crab-stuffed flounder. All came with sides and dipping sauces as well as starters and dessert.
- Planks BBQ, a classic American-style dinner with “Planks” loaded with four meats, chilli, coleslaw and seasoned fries along with starters and dessert.
- Vines (wine & seafood bar), which served made-to-order sushi and tapas, are complimentary with any wine purchase.
Princess Cruises ships all have fairly traditional design and facilities. You will not find resort-like features that are more common on mainstream lines like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line or MSC Cruises. Those often have waterparks, bowling alleys and climbing walls. Princess ships tend to be more like a large hotel and so the facilities will centre more on pools, fitness and spa, bars and lounges, theatre and shopping.
For example on the Caribbean Princess there were five swimming pools, over five bars and lounges which had music in the evenings, a Wedding Chapel, large fitness centre and Spa, Movies Under The Stars Screen, Casino, multiple shops and guest facilities like an Internet Café, Library and Medical Centre.
There are Kids’ Clubs on board. There are usually three, catering for 3 to 7 year olds, 8 to 12 year olds and then teenagers. Daily programs are run in each. However, you should not expect the facilities to be as large or comprehensive as some of the mainstream lines that are actively targeting families.
Watch my video tour of Caribbean Princess showing all the facilities
Watch the video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/430rTHRbn7o
#8: Excursion Must-knows?
In general, Princess Cruises offer similar excursions to other mainstream and premium cruise lines in most ports. The larger the ship the more range and choices are likely to be to cater for the numbers and diverse levels of fitness and interests.
“Discovery” and “Animal Planet” Partnership
However, they do have and are developing a partnership with the Discovery and Animal Planet channel to develop unique excursions. You will find five excursions linked to this arrangement: “Discovery Exclusive”, “Animal Planet Exclusive”, “Discovery Recommended”, “Animal Planet Recommended” and “Discovery Family”. It appears to me that some existing tours have become the recommended ones but there are definitely signs of more innovation and options emerging in the exclusive area, which should be different to other lines visiting the same ports.
When choosing an excursion you should look for the following categories that every tour is identified by:
- Most Popular.
- Off the beaten path.
- World Heritage Site.
Also carefully look at the activity level to make sure it meets your needs. These will be:
- Easy (light walking).
- Moderate (walk and climb).
- Strenuous (highly active).
- Wheelchair Access. Though you do need to check with the Excursion desk at least 24 hours before to confirm that you will need this and it is going to be possible still.
Princess Excursions range from about $80 for a simple several hour bus tour up to several hundred dollars or many hundreds for private tours.
Check the cancellation for any tours you book. It is usually 48 hours without incurring a penalty.
There are benefits of going on Princess tour, like the ship will wait for you if the tour is delayed getting back to the ship. However, if you want to manage costs by doing some self-exploring, Princess Cruises provide the following:
- Port Guides, which are placed in your cabin the night before. It has tips on what to see, maps and some information on public transport and opening hours.
- Local tourist help is usually arranged either on the ship or quay. They will also give tips on how to get to places using public transport.
- Shuttle bus is usually provided if the ship is docked too far to walk into the local town and there is no easy alternative (e.g. we had a shuttle bus in Dublin but not Cohb where the local train station to Cork was right next to ship).
Always take the Daily Program (Princess Patter) with you if self exploring as it will have the contact details for the local port agents who you must contact if you have any problems or running late getting back to the ship.
#9: Dress Code and Packing Tips?
Dress code is a question I get asked a lot when discussing and recommending a cruise line. There is a dress code and some restrictions on Princess, but there is some flexibility, and it does not seem to be as strictly enforced as lines like Cunard and P&O Cruises.
Princess has formal and smart casual nights
Princess define these as follows:
- “Formal attire is tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suits for men and evening gowns, cocktail dresses or elegant pantsuits for women”. These will be held on average about once per six days of a cruise.
- “Smart casual attire includes pants and open-neck shirts for men and skirts or dresses, slacks and sweaters for women”.
- There is a written policy that says you cannot wear cut off t-shirts, shorts or halter tops in the dining rooms, and jeans can only be worn if not frayed or have no holes in them.
I found a mixed adherence to the formal night code, although those dining in the main dining rooms, and especially at Traditional Fixed, followed it more to the letter. On formal nights you can eat in the buffet in smart casual clothes. As a result around the ship and in the bars and theatres there is a mix of dress.
Other than clothes for the dress code and expected weather and excursion type you plan to do, I recommend the following:
- Adaptors for USA style two-pin plugs if you are not from the United States, as these are the only plug sockets in the cabins.
- Toiletries, as although in room provide soap, shampoo and shower gel it is not a brand name and so you may prefer to use your own favourite brand.
- Gown and slippers (although you can ask for one from steward).
#10: Passenger Types?
On a Princess Cruise you are mostly likely to be on the ship with the following guests:
- American.This is the largest group of cruisers in the world, and Princess is popular with USA-based travellers. The experience and ambience has a strong American bias. You will though find a large mixture of nationalities, but with English as the on-board language there is a natural bias towards these countries.
- Older (50s, 60s and 70+) especially on longer cruises and out of school holidays.
- Couples, but good representation of solo travellers.
- On cruises heading to beach and sunshine areas you will have more families during vacation time. There are three Youth Clubs offering daytime activities and evening kid sitting for 3 – 12 year olds from 10pm to 1am (fees per hour)
Princess Cruises is a premium cruise line competing with lines like Celebrity and Holland America. Whilst offering similar fares and a traditional cruise experience, it has more ships, more varied sizes of ships, usually is the first to innovate and cruises to more destinations every year. It carries more passengers and if you are looking for a good quality line, that is akin to cruising in a four-star hotel, then you should consider it – and even more if going to Alaska. It attracts a range of nationalities, although you will likely find most passengers will be American.
I enjoyed my time on Princess and found it a welcoming and comfortable cruise experience, with a good range, choice and quality of food and dining.
Click banner for latest deals on Princess Cruises
Please note that I travelled as a guest of Princess Cruises on the Caribbean Princess on a 6-night British Isles Cruise.
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