Princess Cruises has renovated the sedate Sea Princess into the fifth and newest of its ships.
The refurbishing cost $10 million, plus some stylish updating from Princess Cruises, the lively American arm of London-based P&O.
It means slicker entertainment with up-to-date sound, lighting and multimedia equipment, expanded shipboard shops, a new health club and full casino. And, best of all, an Italian kitchen and dining room where the pasta, sauced and served at table side at lunch and dinner, is glorious.
The redone ship made its debut in mid-December, and there is royal sparkle aplenty. The updating has traded sensible greens and basic reds for elegant mauves and roses, well-done English beef and potatoes for grilled fish and veal scaloppine, variety show evenings for lavish revues with dazzling costumes and choreography.
Launched in 1966 as the highly regarded Kungsholm of Swedish American Lines and one of the last great ships built by John Brown on the River Clyde, the Sea Princess combines stateliness and solid seaworthiness with the big deck dazzle of a fun-in-the-sun ship.
Pools, Spa, Game Areas
Two outdoor pools and one indoor one, plus whirlpool spa, sauna and gym mean you can work out every day, and a special sports afterdeck provides an out-of-the-traffic area for playing shuffleboard, quoits and table tennis or driving golf balls.
Warm wood paneling and finely detailed carpentry throughout the public rooms and cabins show the extraordinary custom work that went into the ship, and the new decorators have retained and enhanced it with gentle pastels. Generous groupings of green potted plants alternate with wicker lounge chairs and turn the enclosed promenade, a mainstay on transatlantic vessels, into a conservatory garden.
The renewed ship has enough bars and lounges to visit a different one every day of the week, as well as several big comfortable reading rooms overlooking the sea, most of them designated for nonsmokers.
The staterooms are unusually large and beautifully fitted, with closet and storage space adequate for a three-month cruise. Most have big British-style bathtubs, three-way mirrors and excellent bedroom and bathroom lighting, including individual reading lamps over the beds.
Six new suites in lush pastels contain bathroom spas, and all deluxe rooms and suites have sitting areas and mini-refrigerators. About 40 single inside and outside cabins are great for the solo traveler, too often overlooked in today's new ships or hit with a hefty surcharge for occupying a double cabin alone.
The minimum-priced inside and outside doubles on the Riviera deck, added in 1979 when P&O acquired the vessel, are smaller and less appealing than the original cabins even though they are on an upper deck.
The ship recently changed from British union stewards to younger, non-union European stewards and stewardesses. The staff was still being trained during our cruise, so housekeeping was not yet up to Princess standards but should improve as the new workers settle in.
The dining room transformation, however, could not have been smoother, as maitre d'hotel Omar Silingardi and chef Elio Allegra ("the best chef we have in the fleet") consistently presented delectable Italian and continental cuisine.
Instead of the usual two or three, the 424-passenger dining room has seven captains tossing salads and serving pasta and flaming desserts, and six wine stewards where some ships would have four. The service is outstanding.
Among the amenities are a comfortable cinema with good sight lines, self-service laundries and ironing rooms on several decks, laundry and dry cleaning service, a hospital and a beauty shop.
After the Sea Princess completes its Caribbean season at the end of April it is scheduled for a 14-day transcanal cruise departing San Juan on May 5 for Los Angeles, followed by a four-day party cruise out of Los Angeles to San Diego and Ensenada. Then it will reposition to Vancouver for two seven-night Alaska sailings.
On June 15 the Sea Princess will begin 10-day round-trip Alaska/Canada sailings out of San Francisco that include a full day of cruising Glacier Bay and calls at Vancouver, Juneau, Sitka and Victoria. Fares range from $1,870 per person (double occupancy) for an inside twin to $4,180 for a luxury suite. Single cabin prices are $2,300 for an inside, $3,090 for an outside.
Japan to Hong Kong
After Alaska, the Sea Princess will be repositioned to Kobe, Japan, for a series of 17-night sailings between Kobe and Hong Kong via China, Japan and Korea in the fall and spring, and winter cruises out of Bangkok, Sydney, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Early birds who make reservations and full payments six months in advance for the Orient and Pacific sailings get 5% off the fare, with an additional 1% off for each additional month early, up to 11% with a 12-month advance payment. A third cabin occupant pays only 50% of the minimum fare.
Shore excursions on the Kobe-Hong Kong sailings plus a three-day pre- or post-cruise hotel package and air fare from the West Coast are included.
Prices before discount range from $3,024 per person (double occupancy) for a 15-night Hong Kong to Bangkok sailing to $8,918 for a 17-night Hong Kong to Kobe cruise.
Call Princess Cruises at (213) 553-1770 or (800) 421-0522 for a free brochure.