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 17 ships sailing the globe on approximately 100 itineraries that range from 7 to 107 days and visit more than 350 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 (renamed Ocean Princess in November 2009), Pacific Princess and Royal Princess (which will leave the fleet in 2011 to join sister line P&O Cruises). In 2007, the line launched Emerald Princess, and its sister ship, Ruby Princess, set sail in the fall of 2008. In February 2010, parent company Carnival Corporation announced that it had signed a memorandum of agreement with Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri to construct two ships for its Princess Cruises brand. The two as-yet-unnamed will measure 139,000 tons and carry 3,600 passengers. The ships will debut in spring 2013 and spring 2014.
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.
The Princess Experience
Private Island: Princess Cays
Innovative features: Anytime Dining, Movies Under the Stars
ScholarShip@Sea program promotes learning
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 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. (Plus, Internet cafes are in place on all ships.)
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. With the popularity of the offering, Princess has decided to install M.U.T.S aboard Golden Princess (May 2009), Dawn Princess (June 2009), Coral Princess (October 2009), Sun Princess (April 2010), Island Princess (October 2010), Diamond Princess (November 2010) and Sapphire Princess (2011).
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.
Finally, Princess Cruises is the first line to bring back a "ye olde" tradition: cruise travelers can once again invite friends and relatives to visit them onboard before sailaway and see them off on their grand voyage. Via the new program, called the "Bon Voyage Experience," passengers' guests can join them onboard for approximately four hours, including lunch and a tour. The line is charging $39 per person -- and banking on the fact that you will get enough of a taste that you'll come back for a real cruise (with or without grandma). If you bite, Princess is willing to apply the $39 toward a future cruise booking.
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.