A magical cocktail, dinner surrounded by a sparkling curtain and a welcome with a really personal touch are all part of the service on Princess Cruises.
“I just need your help, we are going to count from one to three” says mixologist Mark as he pours the pale liquid into the purple mixture already in the glass. As we count down a curious alchemy occurs that transforms the drink into the pink Butterfly Tea cocktail made with gin, Cointreau, lemon juice and the seemingly magical ingredient brewed from the Asian butterfly pea flower. “Abracadabra,” declares Mar as he sets down the drink.
Next, with his sidekick Vicente, he takes the next order and shakes, stirs and mixes another exotic drink in a theatrical display that can be seen and then, of course, tasted at the Good Spirits At Sea bar. The demonstration is one of many pleasurable novelties on Sky Princess, launched in 2019 and one of the newest in Princess Cruises’ fleet.
Originally homeporting in America, the ship repositioned to Southampton for a season of round-Britain voyages for UK passengers, and I joined one of the last ‘Summer Seacations’. As well as providing the opportunity for cruise-lovers to get back on the ocean wave, it also offered the chance to experience the new ship closer to home; in the process also attracting curious new-to-cruise travellers to find out what life on the ocean wave is all about.
In short, the 3,660-passenger Sky Princess is akin to a floating resort with more than 20 restaurants, bars and lounges to choose from, a 900-seat theatre and a packed programme of daily entertainment starting from fitness classes in the gym and running through the day until the last night owls leave the casino and late night live music lounge. The added bonus is that each day you wake up somewhere new or have the chance to relax by one of the pools on a sea day.
The fourth of the line’s Royal-class vessels, Sky Princess boasts some all-new facilities including the cool Art Deco-style jazz lounge Take Five, the WakeView bar and pool for drinks and dips with sweeping vistas at the back of the ship, and a hot tub in the exclusive adult-only Sanctuary pool deck which can be booked for a half day or full day. Redesigned cabins include the two huge Sky Suites, which sleep up to five and have the largest balconies at sea. Overlooking the pool deck and video screen, a unique perk for passengers staying in these swish rooms is to pick one of the films screened on movies under the stars nights.
What Sky Princess does share with its counterparts is MedallionClass technology, which is being rolled out across the entire fleet. Checking in at Southampton, I was handed my OceanMedallion, the size of a 10p coin, which I wore around my neck on the lanyard provided or kept in my bag. You can even turn it into a piece of statement jewellery by purchasing a necklace or wristband; the latter made from recycled plastic recovered from the seas.
The first time I sat down at a bar, I was amazed when the waiter came up and greeted me by name, one of the many clever capabilities of the medallion in providing a really personalised service and making passengers feel extra special. Used with an App, its multitude of other functions include replacing a room card – the door clicks open as you walk towards it – guiding you step-by-step back to the cabin and other venues on the ship and being able to keep in touch with friends and family on the same sailing.
A really clever function is that you can order food and drink wherever you want on the ship and serving staff will track you down, often going the extra mile in the case of one story we were told by a couple who ordered a drink and then got contacted by someone in their party. Momentarily forgetting the order, they went to find their friends and later discovered the waiter had been steadfastly following in their footsteps up and down deck to deliver the gin and tonics before the ice started to melt.
Smart technology aside, I was also impressed by the intuitive helpfulness of the friendly crew members. In one bar, I went off-piste and asked if I could have a cocktail that wasn’t on the menu. Waiter Fabian said yes straight away and a few minutes later a perfect French 75 was duly set down in front of me. The next day, he asked if I would like to order it again, but I’d spotted the rather intriguing wine flights served in Vines. Starting from $10, and included if you have purchased a drinks package, three tasting servings of wine are set out at different heights in an elegant holder and, in order to savour them best, you drink them from top to bottom. As well as being a fun concept, it’s a great way to try new wines.
When it’s time to eat, there are casual and more formal restaurants. The main dining rooms, buffet, pizza restaurant, 24-hour International Café and snack bars are all included in the fare, and you pay a supplement to dine at others such as the Crown Grill steak house, Sabatini’s Italian, French-inspired Bistro Sur La Mer and Ocean Terrace sushi bar.
For a real treat there’s the Ultimate Balcony Breakfast which is good value at $45 for two and looks lovely as staff come to the room and set it out on a crisp white tablecloth on the balcony table. It includes half a bottle of Champagne, freshly squeezed orange juice, fruit, smoked salmon, pastries and assorted hot and cold dishes. I was still eating mini muffins from mine at teatime!
Another standout eating experience later in the day is to book a place at the Chef’s Table in the Cielo dining room. Due to post-pandemic restrictions, we had to opt for a slightly pared down version, but usually the Executive Chef meets diners for Champagne and hors d’oeuvres and then hosts a multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings. However, what we did get to experience in full was the dramatic moment when a shimmering curtain surrounds the circular table and turns it into an intimate private dining area in the middle of one of the main restaurant.
If you’re looking to try and work off any excess, the ship has a large gym and an outdoor jogging track. Or if you simply want to relax in between meals and shore excursions there are the sun decks, a spa and various venues where everything from comedy to classical music is performed throughout the day. There’s something for all tastes.
In fact, whether you’re after the colour-changing Butterfly Tea or a traditional afternoon tea, you can find them both – and much more – on Sky Princess.
From now through to November 2023 Sky Princess will sail on a variety of round-trip Southampton itineraries visiting destinations including the Mediterranean, Norwegian Fjords, Scandinavia and the Baltics. A seven-night Norwegian Fjords cruise starts from £589 pp including four-course dining rooms, 24-hour room service and entertainment, or guests can opt to sail all-inclusive with the Princess Plus fare starting from £799 pp, which includes the premier drinks package, unlimited Wi-Fi and crew incentive.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Princess Cruises.