About Princess Cruises
What began as the little cruise line that could has evolved into a cruise industry giant. Beginning its operations with a 6,000-ton converted ferry chartered from the Canadian Pacific Railway as a small luxury liner between Los Angeles and the Mexican Riviera in 1965, Princess Cruises now has 16 ships sailing the globe on approximately 100 itineraries that range from 1 to 107 days and visit some 280 ports.
Princess Cruises' fleet is among the industry's most contemporary: The line has launched half of its ships in the 21st century. In 2002, the company acquired three vessels from now-defunct Renaissance Cruises: the rechristened Tahitian Princess (to be renamed Ocean Princess in November 2009), Pacific Princess and Royal Princess. Most recently in 2007, the line launched Emerald Princess, and its sister ship, Ruby Princess, is due to sail in the fall of 2008.
Princess is now part of the industry's giant Carnival Corporation, a merger that occurred in 2003 when Carnival acquired Princess' parent company, U.K.-based P&O Cruises, in a hostile takeover tug of war with Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. From what we've seen, the operation of the line has, by and large, remained the same although some repeaters say they are starting to notice the Carnival influence.
Falling into the cruise line's recent growth spurt is the Grand class, which includes the 109,000-ton, 2,600-passenger Grand Princess, Golden Princess and Star Princess. Technically, the Diamond Princess (and its sister ship Sapphire Princess) is considered part of the Grand class, but because there are fairly significant differences, these 116,000-ton vessels really do belong in a class of their own.
Caribbean Princess, which could be considered a Grand-class sibling, actually began a new era in the ship's basic character when the ship introduced now-popular innovations, such as Movies Under the Stars. Crown Princess, the next ship to debut (back in 2006,) added its own unique features, such as the adult-only Sanctuary Pool area, a new steakhouse and seafood restaurant, and a slimmed down Skywalker's Disco (which lost the bulky shopping cart handle shape that overshadowed the aft pool.) Emerald Princess, a near identical sister, debuted in 2007.
Filling out the cruise line's mid-range, or Panamax, class of ships are Coral Princess and her twin, Island Princess, with the capacity to hold 1,970 passengers, as well as Sun Princess, Dawn Princess and Sea Princess, equipped to handle 1,950 passengers.
Princess also operates a trio of small ships, namely Pacific Princess, Tahitian Princess and Royal Princess. These vessels can handle 670-710 passengers.
Princess Cruises is known for introducing innovative features, amenities and programs. Just like a restaurant at home, its Anytime Dining program gives passengers the freedom to dine when and with whom they wish between 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. And the program just keeps getting better. Diamond Princess, for example, features one traditional style dining room with set seating times, three smaller dining rooms that feature Anytime Dining and a fourth that is often used for both — a traditional early seating, with Anytime Dining offered later in the evening.
Anytime Dining is available on all ships except for Royal, Tahitian and Pacific Princess.
The cruise line can also take credit for an array of alternative eateries; the Bayou Cafe & Steakhouse, available on Coral Princess and Island Princess, is the industry's first New Orleans-style restaurant featuring Cajun and Creole cuisine as well as premium steaks. Crown and Emerald Princess, meanwhile, hold bragging rights to Crown Grill, a real showplace with an open, theater-style kitchen where chefs custom-prepare seafood and cooked-to-order steaks and chops.
Another popular concept is the "Chef's Table". The program is available fleetwide except on the trio of former R ships. It costs $75 per person and gives passengers the chance to enjoy hors d'oevoures and champagne in the galley, followed by a multi-course tasting menu at the Chef's VIP table in the dining room. It also includes wine pairing. This can only be booked once you are onboard.
Another innovation is Princess Cruises' ScholarShip@Sea program. Available fleetwide, the program features numerous learning experiences in areas ranging from cooking to digital photography to ceramics. Computers@sea is another program offered — and it does what it says on the tin — for $25 a session you can learn how to master Photoshop, HTML and Web design.
Passengers have given a big thumbs-up to the line's Movies Under the Stars, which debuted on Caribbean Princess and features movies on a giant LED screen above the main pool. Passengers can find this program on Emerald, Crown, Caribbean, Grand and Sea Princess. Princess is also the first cruise line to bring Nintendo's highly coveted Wii Fit system onboard; on ships equipped with a Movies Under the Stars screen, Wii tournaments are shown on the giant poolside screens.
Internet cafes are now in place on all ships.
The breadth of itineraries is a great strength for Princess, whose ships offer everything from the same-old, same-old Caribbean to exotica like Africa and the Far East. The company sails to all seven continents and returned to world cruising in 2008, with plans to expand to two world cruises in 2009.
Notably, Princess is an industry leader in Alaska/Northwest Canada. Not only can it boast one of the highest concentrations of ships sailing seasonally in that region (eight in 2007), but it is also highly regarded for its pre- and post-cruise land options. In fact, Princess, alone among cruise lines, owns five lodges in Alaska — close to Denali National Park, on the Kenai Peninsula, in Fairbanks and on the edge of Wrangell-St. Elias, the nation's largest national park.
Princess continues to be a leader in the Mexican Riviera market as well. As for Europe, the line had a total of six ships there in 2008. In 2009 Grand Princess will replace its smaller sibling, Sea Princess, as the line's new U.K. flagship with Mediterranean itineraries out of Southampton from April to September.
Princess Cruises attracts a widespread passenger demographic, but as its ships vary so widely in style and services, choosing carefully is a good idea. The large and mid-range ships attract broad multi-generational demographics — everyone from solo travelers to family groups will find something to like.
The smaller ships — Tahitian, Pacific and Royal — cater more to travelers who want longer itineraries, more exotic ports of calls and fewer family-friendly elements.