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Sun Princess: New and different, yet familiar for Princess cruisers

The Piazza is a hive of activity aboard Sun Princess
Sun Princess is 'something new, something different, yet something familiar for our Princess guests,' a cruise line spokesperson said. That sums it up well.

Striking the right balance isn't easy. During this current second Mediterranean cruise, passengers seem to be enjoying themselves. There are 4,282 on board, with more than half (2,353) new to the brand.

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Sun Princess is Princess Cruises' biggest ship

For its biggest ship, Princess Cruises introduced more features for multigenerational families such as a top-deck family zone (still being completed), a wider variety of accommodations and more connecting staterooms. The line has been very ambitious with its entertainment and food and beverage changes and a bevy of new partnerships.

Since Sun Princess's delivery was delayed, that's set back the implementation of some of the most anticipated features such as Cirque Éloize in The Dome and all of the production shows in Princess Arena with the line's first in-the-round stage.

'Once everything is ready, it will be a great ship'

'Once everything is ready, it will be a great ship,' a travel advisor on board told Seatrade Cruise News. She and a colleague felt there already was plenty to do and both said: 'The service is really good.'

Some 'growing pains,' as they put it, are to be expected during the first two months of any new ship or a hotel property, but they liked what they're seeing in Sun Princess.

Still, both said they'd promote the ship to 'more mature, 60-plus' or '50-plus' travelers because it 'doesn't have as many things to do on board for younger people.'


The triple-deck Horizons Dining Room is a hit

New things well-received

On the F&B front, the new triple-deck Horizons Dining Room with its Americana option on one level (including an all-day breakfast menu), is a hit. The Eatery replaces the self-serve buffet, and it's circled by an attractive alfresco Promenade with further food options.

There are more alternatives throughout the ship. The Butcher's Block by Dario presents a very different and congenial experience (it's not just another steak house).

And a soft open of the exclusive 'Spellbound by Magic Castle' was enthusiastically received.

The Piazza

Standing in The Piazza — a three-story space that's different on Sun Princess than other Love Boats, with light coming in from The Sphere, the big glass expanse at midships on each side of the ship — the two travel advisors were complimentary. They like the seating that rings The PIazza, which is much more of an entertainment space now.

'It's not as flash' as the other Princess Piazzas with their 'more ornate decor and glass elevators,' one said. 'It's still nice, just different. I like that it's livelier,' she added.


The captain's welcome party — one of the many activities that takes place in The Piazza

The Piazza is a hive of music and activity, from early-morning Zumba to game shows, dance classes and live music (vocalists, bands) throughout the day/evening and a late-night Club Piazza with a DJ. On embarkation day in Barcelona, the pulsating music gave more of a Carnival Cruise Line energy than the string performances of Princess past.

Two extra-charge dining spots, Makoto Ocean (which replaces Kai Sushi) and Alfredo's Pizzeria are open to The Piazza, and diners at both said the sound carries there.

A first-time cruiser said she liked all the entertainment and activity, while one Princess loyalist missed a quiet spot to read.

Upgraded dining

Los Angeles-based food writer David Yeskel ('The Cruise Guru') said Rudi Sodamin, Princess Cruises' head of culinary arts, 'reimagined menus in all casual and fine dining outlets to create premium offerings that represent a substantial upgrade from the line’s previous fare.'

According to Yeskel, this 'broad, sweeping effort modernized main dining room menus, enhanced specialty dining venues with new and interesting dishes; and introduced novel dining concepts' such as The Butcher's Block by Dario.

Everywhere Yeskel found quality ingredients and careful preparation. He liked the high-end Sabatini's signature venue's tomato soup with langoustine ('lots of seafood and a great tomato broth'), dishes in the mainstream Horizons and the freshly baked pizza 'in all three locations' (Alfredo's, the poolside Lido Grill and The Promenade).  

The Eatery

For Yeskel, the most noticeable change may be The Eatery, the full-service food hall that replaces Princess’ World Fresh Marketplace buffet. During lunch particularly, Yeskel found an 'impressive array of dishes' such as seafood ragu, carved prime rib, dim sum, authentic focaccia and 'pastries that taste as good as they look.'    

The Eatery is in a central location on Deck 9, steps from the Piazza. It extends in two sections with the back part converting at night into specialty venues The Catch by Rudi on one side and The Butcher's Block on the other.

Wrapping around The Eatery, alfresco dining/seating area The Promenade serves free pizza, creative burgers, hot dogs, burritos and ice cream. All food on board — even at casual spots like this, is handed to diners from stations or grills; there is no self-serve F&B — not even coffee, juice or soft serve ice cream.

Perhaps for that reason, the ship seems tidier and more upscale.

Horizons Dining Room

Horizons has enormous glass walls overlooking the ship's wake for spectacular views. Staircases curve around the entrance where wall panels have a wave pattern. A decorative sculpture snakes through cutouts in the floor.


The entrance to Horizons and, at right, the Chef's Table in a corner of the dining room

Deck 6 is for traditional dining, Deck 7 for 'anytime dining' (reservations recommended) and Deck 8 offers 'Americana,' a casual menu of sandwiches and comfort food, plus all-day breakfast. There's even a 30-minute breakfast guarantee on port days.

Horizons' menus were refined with input from the Culinary Institute of America.

Some sample dishes: marinated goat cheese and vegetable antipasto, crab and seafood cocktail, mushroom soup, roast chicken, braised short ribs, asparagus risotto, Norwegian salmon, linguine vongole, pork tenderloin and 'always available' items like fettuccine alfredo and caesar salad.


The Butcher's Block by Dario is a new specialty dining venue with meats galore

The Butcher's Block by Dario

The Butcher's Block by Dario ($45 cover charge) was a favorite among a group of 15 or so who dined there this week. It's not a conventional steak house (Sun Princess also has the line's signature Crown Grill).

In partnership with Tuscan buther Dario Cecchini, The Butcher's Block is like an Argentine or Brazilian parrillada in that meats are carved tableside, and there are few sides (Tuscan beans with olive oil and a baked potato.) Part of the charm are the explanations by the personable servers of the meat cuts and how best to enjoy them.

'This restaurant is family-style. Feel like you're at home,' a server told arriving diners who congregated around the impressive butcher's case for bread spread with lard and cups of Chianti before being seated.

The fixed menu started with beef tartare (from the rump, a server indicated, shaking his backside) and carpaccio, then Tomahawk steak, beef belly (diner comments: 'It's like eating bacon' ... 'You don't even need a steak knife. You can just cut through it with a fork' ... 'This is one of the best meats I've ever had') and bistecca Fiorentina (T-bone). For dessert, olive oil cake was served with grappa shots.

There's a full, multi-course vegetarian menu ($35), too.

Makoto Ocean

Master chef Makoto Okuwa, a James Beard Foundation honoree, created a menu of traditional Edomae-style sushi for Makoto Ocean ($45 cover charge), formerly Kai Sushi. Diners over several nights gave it a thumbs-up.


Ingredients for a feast at Umai Hot Pot

Umai Hot Pot

Joining Umai Teppanyaki ($45 cover) is a new shabu-shabu (hot pot) offering at tables that seat up to four. Diners cook their choice of meat, seafood and vegetables in a hot pot with three types of broth (including a vegan option) that's served with rice or noodles.

The menu offers signature cocktails like 'Singapore Fling' (a variation on the classic sling) and an unusual green pea drink.

200 new craft cocktails

A couple of avid cruisers/cocktail fans called the drinks 'amazing' and noted there are 200 new craft cocktails Sun Princess. That's 'a lot,' and 'The variety is striking,' they said, comparing Sun Princess favorably to other recent new ships they'd sailed on, including Icon of the Seas and Celebrity Ascent.


Love by Britto, housed behind the dark windows at the top, will have stunning views

Love by Britto to come

This new spot perches in an iconic location: a curved space all the way aft on Deck 17. The views are stunning.

When it opens April 17, Love by Britto will serve a fancy seven-course, prix fixe menu by Rudi Sodamin ($149 cover) in a room that's being fully redesigned to incorporate the pop art of Romero Britto.

Princess Arena

The two travel advisors who spoke with this reporter were most excited about the Princess Arena, the flexible new theater that has three configurations: in the round, a 270-degree keyhole or traditional proscenium.


The set for 'Vallora, A Pirate Quest,' is under construction

Eventually it will debut three new productions and a reimagined Princess favorite, 'Fiera!' Currently, theatrical crew are building the set for 'Vallora, A Pirate Quest,' which Madi Adams, entertainment director, said should be ready for curtain time in about three voyages.

After that, 'every three or so weeks, we hope to add a new production. In a few months, we'll have a fully in the round experience,' providing a 'much more intimate' show for theater-goers, she said. Princess Arena has capacity for up to 980.

For now the shows include a magic act and various vocalists.

The Dome

A Sun Princess showstopper may be The Dome high atop the ship — even though the aerialist Cirque Éloize performances that will transform it after dark aren't happening yet.

The terraced, glass-enclosed space high above the bridge has been busy on rainy days with people relaxing, reading and sipping drinks on cushioned loungers that will become upright seats for the cirque shows with seating for 250 plus standing room. On sunny days, The Dome was a bit warm.

A foyer bar can be roped off for cocktail parties, and outside and forward the Sea View Bar serves terraced decks with loungers for forward-facing views. Glass screens shield from the wind.


An acoustic guitarist plays in The Dome

One afternoon an acoustic guitarist played in The Dome; it was surprisingly loud, however people clapped and sang along and seemed to enjoy it. Meanwhile, a lone swimmer did laps in the pool under the stage that extends outdoors.


A swimming pool extends outdoors from The Dome

Cirque Éloize is in rehearsal and should be ready in a couple weeks or maybe even next cruise, according to Adams, the entertainment director.

The artists will have 360-degree flying capability, and it doesn't take much to imagine how spectacular The Dome could be.

Family spaces

Soon Sun Princess will have Park19, a new top-deck family area, with a ropes course and the first Rollglider at sea. They're not available yet, but this week people were playing ping-pong and cornhole inside a net-enclosed recreational court that's part of the complex, or lounging in hammocks or walking or running on the outdoor track.


Still to open — the ropes course at Park19

Otherwise, children's and teen areas are inside (Firefly Park for ages 3-7), Neon Grove (8-12) and The Underground (teens) are all enclosed spaces lower in the ship (Decks 6 and 7).

Exclusive places

The quiet, by-reservation pool area The Sanctuary is aft on Deck 18 and suite passengers get their own Signature Sun Deck space — both are glorious at sunset.

Below, on Decks 15 and 16, is the Signature Lounge with glass walls and a bar for drinks and snacks throughout the day. Suite passengers have the Signature Restaurant in an enclosed space down on Deck 6 at the base of The Piazza, while Reserve Collection (mini-suite) guests have the Reserve Collection Restaurant a bit further aft.


The Signature Restaurant for suite passengers is down on Deck 6 at the base of The Piazza

The two advisors who spoke with Seatrade Cruise News are in mini-suites, and they raved about the Reserve Collection Restaurant ('Absolutely fantastic food and a top-notch waiter').


Sun Princess offers more categories of accommodations than any other Love Boat to serve a wider clientele. There are 100 connecting rooms, ideal for families, while cabana staterooms on both sides of the ship open to a private cabana deck with hot tubs and, on Deck 6, cove balcony staterooms are closer to the water.


Cabana staterooms have a sitting area that opens directly onto the private cabana deck

Altogether, more than 70% of the rooms have balconies, and all of those come with a sofa. Bathroon shower curtains are replaced with glass cabinets. And space has been optimized by doing away with walk-in closets.


All balcony staterooms come with a sofa

Features in the (most numerous) deluxe balcony staterooms, 200 square feet plus 35-square-foot balcony, include ample drawer/shelf storage, motion-activated floor lights beside the bed and in the bathroom, large flat-screen televisions and many electrical outlets and USB ports.

The color palette for most accommodations is light (beige, cream, gray) while the higher categories have some richer/deeper tones (brown or taupe with pops of blue, gold or rust).   


'A lot of windows so you don't feel cramped' — here, The Sphere

First-timer impressed

A first-tme cruiser said she was really wowed by Sun Princess. She praised the service and said: 'The food was above any restaurant [ashore].' She loved the running track on top of the ship, adding: 'Even when inside, there are a lot of windows so you don't feel cramped.'

Finally, she understands what her friends like so much about cruising. 'I will definitely come back,' she said.