These huge, well-equipped vessels are very easy to navigate, never feel as crowded as you'd expect, and are amazingly intimate for their size.
Typical Per Diems: $85-$145
Caribbean sails the Caribbean, from San Juan (Nov-Apr), from New York (May-Oct). She sails Canada/New England, from New York (Sept-Oct).
Crown sails the Caribbean, from Fort Lauderdale (Nov-Apr). She sails Canada/New England, from New York & Quebec City (Sept-Oct).
Emerald sails the Caribbean, from Fort Lauderdale (Sept-Apr).
Golden sails Hawaii, from Los Angeles (Jan-Apr & Sept-Dec).
Grand sails the Caribbean, from Fort Lauderdale (Jan-Apr).
Ruby sails the Caribbean, from Fort Lauderdale (Nov-Apr).
Star sails the Caribbean, from Fort Lauderdale (Mar-Apr).
Princess's signature vessels, the Grand-class ships, were so ahead of their time when they debuted in 1998 (when Grand Princess was briefly the largest cruise ship in the world) that the design of even recent sisters such as Crown and Emerald Princess isn't significantly changed. They look like nothing else at sea, with their 18 decks soaring up to space-age discos hovering at their very stern, stretching from port to starboard. Though the vessels give an impression of immensity from the outside, inside they're extremely well laid out, very easy to navigate, and surprisingly cozy. In fact, their public areas never feel as crowded as you'd think they would with almost 4,000 people aboard, including guests and crew. The cozy carries over to public rooms like the clubby and dimly lit Explorer's Lounge and Wheelhouse Bar, whose traditional accents recall a grander era of sea travel. In the elegant three-story atriums, classical string quartets perform on formal nights and during embarkation.
Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess, Emerald Princess, and Ruby Princess are slightly larger versions of the original Grand-class concept, with a similar layout but one extra deck, plus a cafe serving Caribbean dishes, an international cafe, a wine and seafood bar, a "piazza-style" atrium with a street-cafe vibe, and a steak and seafood restaurant. Ruby Princess, the latest of the series, added some newness to the onboard experience: a British pub lunch on sea days (no charge) and a range of cheeses to go with the wine and seafood snacks available in Vines.
Though staterooms on these vessels are divided into some 35 categories, there are actually fewer than 10 configurations. For the most part, the category differences reflect location -- such as midships versus aft. Cabins are richly decorated in light hues and earth tones, and all have safes, hair dryers, minifridges, and TVs. Storage is adequate with more closet shelves than drawer space. Cabin balconies are tiered so that they get more sunlight, but this also means your neighbors above can look down at you.
A standard outside cabin without a balcony, such as categories F and FF, ranges from 165 to 210 square feet, while insides, such as category JJ, measure 160 square feet. Balcony cabins range from 165 to 257 square feet, including the balcony. At 324 square feet, including the balcony, the 180 minisuites on each vessel are ultracomfortable, with a roomy sitting area with a full-size pullout couch, two televisions, a minifridge, a large bathroom with full tub and shower, generous closet and drawer space, and terry robes. When coauthor Heidi sailed with her young sons on the Caribbean Princess, she had two cribs set up in the living area and there was still plenty of space for playing. Storage was so plentiful that even the kids' copious gear didn't fill it all.
Two Grand Suites measure 782 square feet and feature all the above amenities plus a bathroom with a large whirlpool tub and multidirectional shower, and a separate toilet compartment. There are two 607-square-foot family suites that can sleep up to eight, with two bathrooms. Minibars in the suites are stocked once on a complimentary basis with soda, bottled water, beer, and liquor. Suite guests are also on the receiving end of a slew of perks highlighted in the "Service" section above.
Lifeboats partially or completely obstruct the views from most cabins on Emerald Deck. More than 600 cabins can accommodate a third passenger in an upper berth. Each ship has 28 wheelchair-accessible cabins.
Each ship has three pleasant, one-story main dining rooms, laid out on slightly tiered levels. By way of some strategically placed waist-high dividers, they feel cozy, although the ceilings are a tad on the low side. The 24-hour Horizon Court casual restaurant serves buffet-style breakfasts and lunches and is designed to feel much cozier than it actually is. With clusters of buffet stations serving stir-fry, beef, turkey, pork, and lots of fruit, salads, cheeses, and more, lines are kept to a minimum and you're hardly aware of the space's enormity. This restaurant turns into a sit-down bistro from 11pm to 4am, with the same dinner menu each night. If you like the idea of New York strip sirloin at midnight, this is the place to go.
For a more intimate yet still casual meal, there are two alternative, reservations-required restaurants. Sabatini's specializes in Italian cuisine, featuring an eight-course menu emphasizing seafood. Service is first rate and the food is tasty. The second venue is the Sterling Steakhouse, where you can choose your favorite cut of beef and have it cooked to order. Caribbean, Crown, Emerald, and Ruby also have the Café Caribe, a themed buffet carved out of the Horizon Court, serving Caribbean specialties such as jerk chicken, grilled Caribbean rock lobster, whole roast suckling pig, Guiana pepper pots and curries, and paella-style prawns. Musicians play Caribbean music, and guests can order their meal cooked to taste at the cafe's open kitchen. There's no cover charge here. On Caribbean, Crown, Star, Emerald, and Ruby, the International Café serves food 24 hours a day -- pastries in the morning; tapas, panini, and the like later; and fondue, gelato, and fresh-baked cookies 'round the clock (with some items at extra charge). Ruby, Crown, and Emerald also serve a no-charge pub-style lunch on sea days with traditional pub fare including fish and chips, bangers and mash, and cottage pie. Additionally, suite guests can enjoy complimentary breakfast in Sabatini's with complimentary breakfast cocktails and the full breakfast menu, plus specialty items such as brioche French toast and freshly made Belgian waffles.
These are huge ships with a not-so-huge feeling. Because of their smart layout, six dining venues, expansive outdoor deck space, multiple sports facilities, four pools, and nine hot tubs, passengers are dispersed rather than concentrated into one or two main areas. Even sailing with a full load of passengers (as many as 3,100 on Grand, Golden, and Star if all additional berths in every cabin are filled, and almost 3,800 on Caribbean, Crown, Emerald, and Ruby), you'll wonder where everyone is.
Coupled with this smart layout is Princess's pleasing-if-plain contemporary decor. Public areas are done up in tasteful caramel-colored wood tones and color schemes of warm blue, teal, and rust, with some brassy details and touches of marble.
While the decor is soothing, the entertainment is pretty hot. Three main entertainment venues include a well-equipped two-story theater for big Vegas-style musical revues; a second one-level show lounge for smaller-scale entertainment such as hypnotists and singers; and the travel-themed Explorer's Lounge, decorated with vaguely Islamic tile motifs, African and Asian art pieces, primitivist exotic paintings, and a dark, woodsy atmosphere. It's a venue for bands, comedians, or karaoke nightly. There's also the clubby, old-world Wheelhouse Bar, offering laid-back pre- and post-dinner dancing and jazz in an elegant setting, as well as a woodsy sports bar and a wine bar selling caviar by the ounce and wine, champagne, and iced vodka by the glass. For gamblers, each ship has a sprawling casino.
Skywalkers is a multilevel disco/observation lounge, sequestered 150 feet above the ship's stern like a high-tech treehouse, a unique spot with floor-to-ceiling windows and two impressive views: forward for a look over the ship itself, or back toward the sea and the giant vessel's very impressive wake. It's well positioned away from any cabins (so the noise won't keep anyone up) and is our favorite disco at sea. Check out the view at sunset or read a book during the day.
For kids, the indoor/outdoor Fun Zone kids' play area has tons of games, toys, computers, and an outdoor, fenced-in play area equipped with a fleet of tricycles and mini-basketball setup. It's an awesome place to let your little ones run free while you sit on the sidelines and relax. A kiddie pool is located nearby. A separate teen center has several computers, plus video games, a dance floor, and a sound system. On Grand and Golden, there's also a teens-only sunbathing area with deck chairs and a hot tub, as well as a truly amazing arcade.
Each ship also has a large Internet center (moderate pricing, slow speed), and an attractive wedding chapel where the captain himself performs about six or seven bona fide, legal marriages on almost every cruise.
Pool, Fitness & Spa Facilities
The Grand-class ships have around 1 3/4 acres of open deck space, so it's not hard to find a quiet place to soak in the sun. On Grand, Golden, and Star, our favorite spot on a hot, humid day is portside aft on the deck overlooking the swimming pool, where the tail fin vent blows cool air. It's like having an outdoor air-conditioner. In 2006, Princess introduced a different kind of wonderful at a space called the Sanctuary, which is now installed on all the Grand-class ships. Three-quarters canopied and dotted with lounge chairs, trees, and private cabanas, it's a perfect onboard chill-out space, staffed with "serenity stewards" who make sure things stay quiet. Light meals, massages, and beverages are available. Admission carries a $10 fee for half-day use, a measure intended to limit use to those who really want some peace and quiet.
The ships each have four great swimming pools. On Grand, Golden, and Star, one has a retractable roof for inclement weather. Another aft, under the disco, feels miles from the rest of the ship, while outside the spa, a resistance pool allows you to swim steadily against a current. The fourth pool is for kids. Other recreational offerings include a Sports Deck with a jogging track and a 300-square-foot outdoor LED movie screen for watching movies under the stars (and kids' movies during the day). You can reserve deck chairs for the evening feature films, and, yes, there's popcorn (free) and Raisinettes (for a price). It's great fun, and the sound and picture are awesome.
Spa, gym, and beauty-parlor facilities are located in a large, almost separate part of each ship, surrounding the lap pool set among tiered, amphitheater-style wooden benches. As is the case fleetwide with Princess, the oceanview gym is surprisingly small for ships of this size, although there's an unusually large aerobics floor.