I’ve always been fascinated with traveling; mostly by air though as that was my main form of travel when not taking a road-trip with my family. For almost three years now I’ve had the honor of working for one of the largest airlines in the United States which only enhanced my love of travel. Cruising had been the one form of travel that I hadn’t done, but wanted to experience. My parents, avid cruisers themselves, took me on my first cruise in August 2012 to Alaska onboard Princess Cruise Lines Golden Princess and then followed that cruise up with another in January to the Bahamas and Key West onboard the Disney Magic. Not long after, I found myself on a Caribbean cruise with Royal Princess ship, and was confident about wheelchair access.
Needless to say I was more than hooked. Less than three months after my return in January I found myself booking a Caribbean cruise on the Royal Princess. Actually, this wouldn’t be just any Caribbean cruise; this was the 5-night Maiden Caribbean Voyage of the Royal Princess. Our itinerary would include port calls at Princess Cays (Princess Cruise Line Private Island), Grand Turks and two glorious sea days.
Finally the day had arrived, it was October 29th and I was on the shuttle from my hotel to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Our destination was the Royal Princess berthed at Terminal 2. Upon arriving at Terminal 2 I had my first full look of the Royal Princess. She would be the largest ship I’ve cruised to date and the most beautiful. My shuttle driver helped me with my wheelchair and bags curbside before I went up the ramp and was directed to follow a line for those in a wheelchair that generally was reserved for Platinum and Elite Level Princess Cruisers.
After clearing security, which by the way is easier than airport security, I made my way to the check-in desk and about five minutes later I had my Princess Cruise Card which would serve as my room key and allow me to make purchases while onboard. I was escorted to a reserved seating area for those who needed assistance getting onboard. It was there where I met the first of many wonderful people that I would be cruising with over the next 5 nights. Now, I will admit the boarding process for the Royal Princess was a little erratic compared to my previous two cruises. There seemed to be too many people trying to give orders/direction with no one having the same ideas.
Having a pretty good idea as to what I needed to do, I took it upon myself to get upstairs and across the gangway onto the ship. Upon first boarding you are greeted by some of the Crew and Princess Security who scans your cruise card and takes your photo for facial recognition purposes at each port. Then it’s off to fight the crowds at the elevators and get up to your stateroom. This is where normally getting onboard ahead of everyone else comes in handy as embarkation/disembarkation days can be a bear when trying to get an elevator. I’m happy to say I didn’t wait more than 15 minutes for an elevator and I was on my way up to my Accessible Balcony Stateroom C302 on Deck 10.
My stateroom was on Deck 10 and extremely close to the forward elevators. Upon opening the door to my stateroom, which was very easy to do, I was amazed at the size. I had a large queen bed, desk that I could wheel up to and under, plenty of storage space, a very large bathroom with a vanity that allowed for my wheelchair to wheel up to, roll-in shower with grab bars aplenty, grab bars all around the toilet and two emergency call buttons with one being next to the toilet and the other in the shower itself. The balcony was amazing! It wasn’t very deep but it was wide and deep enough for me to take my wheelchair out on to and turn fully around. The balconies do have a lip however when you open the sliding balcony door a flap comes down to form a ramp. My only complaint about the room was the balcony door took a little more effort to close than I would’ve preferred.
I think anyone that has cruised before will agree there is so much food to try onboard that if you go hungry at any point it’s your own fault. Well, that is no different for the Royal Princess. Like many cruise lines Princess offers a wide variety of dining options. You have the main dining rooms that offer breakfast, lunch and dinner (Traditional or Anytime seating options), you have the Horizon Court Buffet which was expanded for the Royal and her sister ship the Regal, the all new Horizon Bistro which offers sandwiches, soups, salads and has a brand new Pastry Café that serves breakfast pastries or a wide-variety of delectable desserts to include cookies, brownies, cakes, jello, puddings and my favorite; Crème Brule. Onboard the Royal Princess there are four Specialty dining options; The Crowne Grill Steak and Seafood, Alfredos Pizzeria, The Crab Shack (select nights only) and Sabatini’s Fine Italian dining. The Crowne Grill and Sabatini’s are available any night during the cruise for a nominal $25 cover charge. The Crab Shack, which as I stated above, is on select nights only and has a $20 charge.
As with any dining option should you want a different beverage you will either be charged extra or you can purchase a beverage card. It should be noted that reservations are required for all Specialty dining options except Alfredo’s which is first come, first served only. A Princess staple is the International Café or IC and can be found on most Princess ships. The IC is a place, generally on Deck 5 in the Grand Atrium, where folks can grab something to eat, order gourmet coffees/teas, 24 hours a day with little or no extra charge. This tends to be one of the favorite hangouts while onboard as it offers plenty of room to sit and chat or is a great place to people watch.
The service I experienced while onboard was impeccable and up to the Princess standard. The lone exception to this would be Alfredos, which I visited with a group of about 8 on the last day of the cruise. They seemed a bit understaffed that day for whatever reason and it took a while before we even had water. But I must say the pizza I had was wonderful and I will go back during my next Princess cruise. Each dining area had plenty of space for me to maneuver around. The Horizon Court Buffet which has a couple different aisles of food to choose from was more than spacious enough for me to navigate. Servers at Horizon Court/Bistro and the International Café were more than happy to assist me in any way I needed.
This was probably the first cruise of mine where I didn’t go to a lot of the shows at night. It wasn’t for the lack of shows/entertainment, very few of them really peaked my interest. I had more fun meeting with friends in one of several lounges each night, people watching and listening to the many bands and pianists around the Grand Atrium. I did see each of the major entertainment venues; Princess Theatre, Vista Lounge, Princess Live and Club 7. All were very accessible and easy to locate. I don’t recall about Club 7 or Princess Live, but I do know Princess Theatre and Vista Lounge have accessible public restrooms right outside their doors.
For anyone who likes to try their luck the Royal Casino is there to serve you. Aside from getting the by-standers to leave your path while they watch their loved one try their luck, the casino poses no threat to anyone in a wheelchair. I did do a little gambling on one of the slots which was accessible and easy to use. My only problem here was I didn’t win, but at least it was only $10 and I did make it last an hour.
Ports of Call
On this cruise the Royal Princess called upon Princess Cays and Grand Turks. Princess Cays serves as Princess Cruise Lines Private Island in the Bahamas and is a tender port. Generally speaking most cruise lines are very careful about whether or not they allow anyone in a wheelchair to get off at a tender port. If you are unfamiliar, a tender port is one where the ship anchors offshore and uses a couple of lifeboats to transfer passengers ashore. This can be a very tedious process even for able-bodied folks under the best of conditions. I did read on Cruise Critic, a cruise blog I belong to, where the Royal Princess does have a lift of some type for anyone in a wheelchair. However, based upon people I’ve talked with including my parents, I really didn’t miss anything at Princess Cays. So, with Princess Cays not on my personal agenda I was looking forward to Grand Turks part of the Turks & Caicos Islands in the beautiful Caribbean Sea.
When I woke up on Grand Turk day we were already in port; I opened up the shades and looked out over the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. After getting dressed I went down to the disembarkation area on Deck 4; the ships Security team there offered to help me down the ramp and onto the Grand Turk pier. I declined them actually taking me down themselves but just kindly asked if they would walk next to me since the ramp down wasn’t anything I hadn’t handled before. Before the cruise I had talked with my parents and others about Grand Turk to find out what would be worth while doing there. Everyone pretty much agreed the best thing to do is just hang out at the Grand Turk Cruise Center or GTCC as it is a safe gated, accessible area. There I would find shops, a historical site dedicated to John Glenn and his return from space in Friendship 7 just off the coast during the Mercury space project, plenty of beaches and of course my destination, the largest Margaritaville in the Caribbean.
After going through the initial Welcome Center and Duty-free shop I emerged into the center of the GTCC. Everyone was right; there were several shops, concrete paths and Margaritaville. I did go explore most of the non-jewelry shops and for the most part I felt they were accessible enough for me to accomplish what I wanted. There is one store in particular and I don’t recall the name off-hand that wasn’t as accessible as I would’ve liked. They had the aisles way to close together for any wheelchair to get through, but otherwise they all had ramps in/out, the sidewalks either had ramps or they were low enough to the ground that it didn’t make it any more difficult to get up or down. When folks from the shops or other tourists saw me looking at something up high, most everyone asked if I wanted any assistance. I generally declined as I was just browsing but a couple items did call for a closer inspection.
After an hour or two in the shops I made my way over to Margaritaville where I found a pool that offered plenty of space for loungers and people watching and several cabanas for folks to rent. Now when you first see Margaritaville you’ll notice the stairs, don’t get alarmed, there are two ramps. One is located just off to the left of the front and the other is around back by the pool area. Both eventually lead to the same area which is where the host/hostess is ready to great you and seat you, hopefully at your table of choice should you arrive before the crowds do. She did start me off toward a table in the middle of the dining area but I requested another table providing me with a view of the beach, water and of course the Royal Princess.
If you haven’t visited the Caribbean before you might be tempted to complain because you feel the service isn’t fast enough. Rest assured this is normal as things are a little more relaxed compared to what most Americans are use to. Once you are use to this pace, I believe you’ll find the service to actually be better as it provides you a more enjoyable, relaxing experience without the hustle and bustle of trying to make it back to work for your next meeting or getting the kids to a ballgame. Now I’m a seafood lover. One of the things I absolutely love is lobster and Margaritaville has a delicious lobster dinner on their menu. It’s probably a 2 lb Caribbean lobster tail that is seasoned and grilled to perfection so much that you may not need the drawn butter. It comes with in-season steamed veggies and your choice of potato. At $27 you might find it pricey, but I assure you, well worth it.
After enjoying my wonderful lunch I decided it was time to head back onboard the Royal as the crowds were getting to be a little too much for my personal preference. Upon returning to the ship I was greeted by ship Security who I did allow to push me up the ramp back onto the ship where my bags were x-rayed and I was given a brief pat-down before being allowed to go back up to my room. Once back in my room, I opened my balcony door and just sat outside for a couple hours watching the personal watercraft, people taking walks on the beach, playing in the ocean and watching helicopters give aerial tours of the island and the ship. All too soon it was the end of our day in Grand Turk…I hope to visit there again in the future.
Open Air Decks
I spent some time up on deck, but not a whole lot as I try to caution the amount of sun I get due to my BP medications and I generally don’t swim that much. I know that the main pool has a portable lift to assist with wheelchair accessibility into/out of the pool. It is my understanding you just need to speak with a Deck Attendant and they will get you in the right area. Of the folks onboard who used a wheelchair, I did not run across anyone who had been in the pool. I had access to almost everything I wanted while on the top decks, except a jogging track. On most Princess ships the Promenade Deck has a jogging track all the way around the ship. However on Royal for whatever reason they did not build her with this ability. They built a track up on Deck 18, but there is no elevator up to it just stairs.
In the long run I probably didn’t need it as I did so much moving around on the other decks that I got in my exercise and I am sure a lot more. The open decks are spacious but as with any cruise tend to get crowded on sea days. Most of the time there were still enough aisles for me to pass and when there weren’t people were happy to move for me. I want to make sure I point out the doors to the outdoor decks are vastly improved from other Princess ships as they are automated now and also have an accessible button should the motion sensor not work. This feature made me very happy and took away probably the one true concern I had about cruising alone for the first time. Princess does a great job of providing entertainment on the top decks with various bands and a DJ throughout the day/night.
Also synonymous to Princess is the Movie Under the Stars or MUTS screen which is a large HD outdoor movie screen that plays some of Hollywood’s biggest hits at various times and shows concerts from some of the tops Singers/Bands of today and yester-year. Never fear; there is popcorn available along with a Princess favorite of milk & cookies. Princess does offer an adult-only retreat area on the top deck called The Sanctuary. This is a great area to escape from the areas where kids/teens might be playing around or if you just want to relax in some quiet while working on that tan you plan to brag about to your best friend or family when you return. The Sanctuary includes private cabanas that you can rent by the day or half-day, a private adult pool & spa and bar area that is accessible and boasts a friendly bar staff.
Prior to the end of my cruise, a form was sent for me to fill out with Flight Information and port transportation arrangements. This is done to allow Princess the ability to stagger the times people are let off the ship based upon color-code and specific meeting time and place. Doing so helps keep Customs lines down and since your luggage is color-coded it helps with finding your luggage as it will be located with only luggage of the same color-coding. Disembarkation wasn’t nearly as chaotic as Embarkation was in my opinion. I was asked if I wanted assistance with embarking but I respectfully declined as gangways don’t bother me since I use jet ways all the time. Once back into Terminal 2 I located the elevator, rode it down to where I was met by a Skycap who assisted me in getting my luggage and over to the location where I was to meet my shuttle back to Fort Lauderdale airport.
Since returning home I’ve already started to think about my next cruise adventure. No matter where I go next, I can say without a doubt in my mind I will one day return to the Royal Princess.