There are days when I feel like the most privileged person on earth. Many of these surround my family and home life when my children achieve a goal or entertain me with their incessant chat, but on some occasions also include work experiences. In March of this year I was lucky enough to win a travel competition and became the Princess Cruises’ Royal Correspondent. I think the reason that I won is that I feel I have an empathy with the cruising industry, as not only do I currently work selling cruises, but on a personal level I met my husband 21 years ago onboard the former Royal Princess where we both worked.
It was with excitement and trepidation that I was flown to Venice by Princess Cruises and the trade magazine called Travel Weekly, in order to film a report on the ship’s status from Monfalcone where she was being built. Monfalcone is one of eight shipyards operated by Fincantieri who have been operating since 1959. They are one of Europe’s largest shipbuilding groups and are currently working on three ships at Monfalcone (Royal Princess due June 2013, Regal Princess due June 2014 and Britannia for P & O due 2015).
It is impossible to describe the emotion and excitement as I arrived at the shipyard, as I had just been informed that not only would I be visiting the Royal Princess for a ship inspection but I would also be witnessing the float out of the sister ship of Royal Princess, the Regal Princess. This is when the ship meets the sea for the first time once blessed by a Madrina (Godmother). All work had stopped for this very important moment in the life of Regal Princess and the dock side was filled with the Italian workers in their hard hats and overalls, as well as local dignitaries. After a brief message of thanks to his workers and Princess Cruises’ Executive Vice President, Rai Caluori, the owner of Fincantieri, Carlo di Marco, handed over to a local priest for a blessing before handing a very sharp looking machete to the ship’s Madrina, Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor-In Chief of Cruise Critic, to cut the ribbon and allow the champagne to smash against the side of the ship. Thankfully it smashed and as a loud siren sounded the lock gates opened and the water slowly began to flood into the area surrounding the ship. Almost en masse the shipyard workers rushed to the dock side to watch as the ship they had been working on over the past seven months slowly became engulfed by the sea. Not ashamed to say many people had a tear in their eye – myself included.
After a short lunch the highlight of my day was just a few moments away and I was filled with fear and elation at the thought of seeing the new Royal Princess. After donning a less-than-flattering hard hat I was driven to the pier in order to embark the ship. First impressions were that there was no way this goliath of a ship would be finished in time for her inaugural cruise from Southampton on 16th June 2013, as she was surrounded by cables and cranes; and in fact two of her Jacuzzis were right next to the coach I had just stepped off! At 141000 tonnes and 3600 passengers plus 1346 crew this was the largest ship to be built for the Princess fleet.
Stepping onboard was an experience as the group of various media that I was travelling with were escorted by several worried looking Health & Safety officials and, as we were briskly escorted to the Bridge, it was apparent why. The ship was a building site and even though in my head I knew this, I was not prepared for the sheer scale of the operation before me. There was emergency lighting everywhere, no ceilings, no walls, and miles of cable hanging out plus banging and scraping as various items were screwed, nailed and welded in place. What I also noticed was the number of builders onboard as they scurried around like worker bees frantically trying to finish their part in the building of the ship. 3500 are currently working onboard to meet the shipyard’s deadline.
It was on the Bridge that we were introduced to the ship’s Captain, Captain Tony Draper, who had worked for the company for 7 years. Captain Draper pointed out various equipment on the Bridge and then signalled for us to gather round for a surprise! He was going to sound the ship’s horn for the first time and there would be a twist! As he pressed the button we could hear the opening bar to “The Love Boat” theme, “Love, exciting and new, come aboard, we’re expecting you”. I am sure that this will be the highlight for the ship’s passengers as they are sailing into or out of port. I, for one, loved it.
It’s difficult to envisage certain elements of the ship but areas that stood out for me were the ship’s central pool area where the signature Movies under the Stars would entertain on a screen that’s twice the size of the screens on existing Princess ships, plus a dazzling water and light show at Fountain Pool’s tropical island. Another area was the Horizon Court which had doubled in size and could now accommodate 1500 in one sitting for a wide selection of quick meals or snacks, in addition to a hibachi grill, multiple rotisseries and carving stations, a taqueria and salad-tossing stations. Finally, two of my lasting impressions of the ship were the SeaWalk, a glass-bottomed walkway extending 28 feet beyond the edge of the ship and 128 feet above the ocean, and the spectacular Atrium which was over 50 per cent bigger than other ship’s Atriums.
My final impressions were of a ship that was built by many people with love and dedication. Certainly for me I think she lives up to her old namesake and all will be revealed in my next blog when I revisit the Royal Princess during her naming ceremony and a short inaugural cruise.